The day after the mass murder at the Naval Office Building in Washington D.C. on September 16, 2013, I spent much of the day listening to the talking heads on radio and television as they presented analysis after analysis and interview after interview in a repeated attempt to “make sense” of what appeared to be, yet another, “senseless act” of violence.
Many experts shared their “professional” opinions on the matter from a variety of perspectives – conservative, liberal, pro gun control, anti-gun control, mental health, social policy and the like. On radio talk shows from National Public Radio to Sirius XM stations, callers repeatedly questioned “expert” guests – challenging what can only be described as their rehearsed and stilted responses to the usual questions.
During Kathleen Dunn’s radio program on National Public Radio entitled, “State Gun Laws” (State Gun Laws ), I listened in utter amazement as caller after caller posed questions to her guests (Adam Winkler, Author of The Right to Bear Arms in America and Danielle Thompson, Press Secretary for the National Association of Gun Rights) that demanded responses to specific questions only to be met with replies that were either evasive or entirely off topic in relation to what had been asked.
Throughout the day, I recorded the sentiments expressed by media hosts, guest “experts” and concerned citizens and noticed a striking pattern that emerged. Citizens were either responding to this latest tragedy with alarm, outrage and concern for the future of American society, or they responded with a learned sense of helplessness, apathy and indifference, earmarked by reactions such as “here we go again”.
The media hosts, depending upon their political bent, framed questions that have, by now, become cliché. “Why does this continue to happen? What are we going to do? What laws have to change? Should we be looking at the mental health of these assailants?
By in large, the “experts” that were interviewed by these hosts simply churned out the same old rhetoric – regardless of their political or professional perspectives. Examples of their “expert” opinions included comments such as, “There are over 30,000,000 guns in the hands of the public. There’s no way to eliminate them. We have to strengthen our mental health programs to identify, diagnose and treat individuals who may become violent threats to our safety. We need to strengthen gun-control laws. We need more guns in the hands of the citizenry so that they can protect themselves,” and on, and on, and on.
It quickly became obvious that there is a media channel or site that caters to every political, religious, scientific or philosophical taste that may exist in the audience base – their consumer market. So no matter what take an individual may have in relation to this issue – there will be a media source that validates their personal perspective.
This issue, in and of itself, is just another branch of an already divisive social structure that strengthens and perpetuates our differences. If we don’t “like” what we’re hearing, seeing or reading – we need only to change the channel as a quick fix to our dissonance. This is far easier than engaging differing points of view and working toward a common solution to our collective problems.
I continued to listen hoping to finally hear a dialog that, at the very least, grazed the real issue of what is truly going on – but to no avail. And what occurred to me – with increasing alarm – was that the real tragedy facing us is not merely the repeated and increasingly frequent nature of mass murders in our society – but rather our complete unawareness of and/or unwillingness to acknowledge what is at the source of this violent, social dynamic.
Acute vs. Chronic Acts of Violence
If we were to seek medical attention for a physical ailment we were experiencing, such as a headache, our doctor would likely ask us if this was an isolated incident or a recurring condition. The reason this question is important is because if our headache only occurred once, or rarely, it would suggest a far different approach than if we were consistently plagued by this headache on a continual, repetitive basis. This is the difference between a condition that is considered acute (sudden and isolated) vs. chronic (ongoing).
The medical response to an acute headache may be to take an pain reliever and get some rest. In contrast, the response to a chronic headache would likely warrant further and extensive testing to get at the systemic cause of the pain (CAT scan, MRI, etc.).
When we look at the frequency and nature of mass murders in recent years, we see that they are occurring at an alarming increased rate of frequency, and as such, cannot be regarded as “isolated incidents” of an acute nature.
Since the Columbine mass murder in April of 1999, there have been 37 mass murders where, in each case, between 4-20 individuals have been killed with guns. As alarming as this may be, this figure pales in comparison to the murders that are committed on a daily basis involving fewer than 4 victims (A Guide to Mass Shootings in America | Mother Jones).
In each of these 37 cases, the murderer was a different person, in a different state, in a different setting, and with different targets (students, co-workers, shoppers in a mall, movie-goers, etc). So how on earth can any reasonably intelligent person conclude that the source of our trouble lies with the “individual” assailant?
Clearly, we are dealing with a chronic social issue that is systemic in nature vs. an individualized, acute case of poor mental health. Are we really this simplistic and narrow-sighted as to believe that identifying a “mental health issue” with Aaron Alexis (or any other individual assailant over the last several decades) will help us predict and prevent the next massacre?
Individual vs. Societal Mental Health
Clearly, the individuals who opted to open fire on masses of people were disturbed. But the real question is – what were they disturbed about? And how many more of us are deeply troubled in the same way – about the same thing?
The term “systemic” refers to a condition that is generalized – not specific. And I feel it’s safe to conclude that there appears to be a generalized problem within our society of which violence is only the symptom. In my opinion, we cannot and will not effectively address these incidents of mass murders until and unless we are willing to take a long, hard, critical look at the structure that governs our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in our daily lives.
Our society has become chronically ill and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to identify the reasons why. History has factually demonstrated that American society was founded on the willful violence toward, and the bloodshed and murder of others who we deemed as less “worthy” than ourselves. We have a deep and passionate connection to weapons of mass destruction – so much so, that we have devoted a Constitutional Amendment as a shrine to maintaining our rights to bear arms – with the sole purpose of taking lives.
In every aspect of our society, violence is promoted, merchandised and worked systematically into the hard-wiring of our thoughts, feelings and perceptions. And while parents dutifully teach their young that they should use words, not violence, to solve their social dilemmas, we, in no way, demonstrate this by way of example.
Quite to the contrary, we teach generation upon generation, that violence is the ultimate solution to perceptions of threat. We continually manufacture and market toy guns and weaponry to millions of children every year and validate the necessity of power, domination and control over others through our television, movie and video-game industry that frames our Heroes as those who can “kill” the bad guys.
We fund, to grossly disproportionate degrees, our own military industrial complex and flex our muscles of violence in wars of mortal combat. We have even worked the word “kill” into our social colloquialisms to refer to supreme accomplishments, as in the phrase “You killed it” – meaning you did an outstanding job.
We’ve come from a place of social inequity, racism, sexism, classism and political and religious opposition. We allow millions of our own citizens to go without health care, jobs and homes. We accept outrageous numbers of families to live in poverty while we line the pockets of corporations, world banks, and military operations.
The NRA is the most powerful and wealthy lobby in the U.S., while State after State has passed leniency laws since the Newtown massacre (only 9 months ago) making guns even more readily available and to a wider consumer market. I just learned that Iowa now has a law permitting legally blind individuals to carry a firearm in public. These leniency laws have also extended the rights to carry firearms in public to convicted sex offenders and now include, in some states, the rights to carry guns onto playgrounds.
What’s puzzling to me, if this weren’t enough, is why we question the occurrence of repeated outbreaks of mass murders. Those that we give our power to, the “decision makers”, clearly have no interest in lessening the instances of violence in our society. Quite to the contrary, the data clearly show that the current trend is one that, not only condones, but encourages continued violence as a fact of daily life.
What Appears to be the Real Agenda?
Regardless of one’s personal perspective on the “gun-control” issue, one cannot deny the violent foundations that founded and continue to permeate our society. But if we are serious about change, we must turn our focus to those entities that are in control of making decisions. They are, in effect, the drivers of the societal vehicles in which we travel through our daily lives. They are the cartographers, the navigators, the suppliers of our fuel.
Why are we simply agreeing to ride as passive passengers down the road to ruin and destruction? And more importantly, why are we being driven, by design, toward a destructive destination in the first place? The more information one collects and analyzes, the more it appears that there is a consorted effort to keep us in a perpetual state of fear, anxiety and struggle. Could it be that there are those who benefit from such a carefully crafted design? Is it possible that a peaceful, loving and unified society would not be as profitable to those who benefit from their positions of power and control?
They say that “sex sells” – but so does fear, and to an even greater extent.
Because fear is the deepest primal instinct related to survival, as long as we’re kept in a constant state of fear toward a real or perceived threat, we will fail to evolve beyond our fight/flight mechanisms. After all, who has time to worry about corruption, greed, deceit and the well being of others if we’re led to believe that our personal lives are in imminent danger? And there in lies the irony: what we really need to be concerned about is the agenda of the Fear Factory and not one-another.
Perhaps the time has finally come for American citizens to start asking some critical questions. For example, isn’t it an ironic coincidence (synchronicity) that the latest mass murder just happened to fall on the very same day that the Senate Hearing on repealing the Stand Your Ground law was scheduled to meet – and was subsequently cancelled as a result of the massacre?
From a social-psychological perspective, these events coinciding would easily strengthen the Fear Factory’s position of strengthening perceived imminent threat among the population at large, as concrete evidence of why we all need to carry guns to protect ourselves.
The Declaration of Independence Revisited
I have before me the verbatim transcript of the Declaration of Independence – the document that specifies the reasons why America decided to separate from England – and the document that outlines the very principles on which our nation was founded. I have provided the first few paragraphs below.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence – Text Transcript)
(While most American’s are familiar with the more cliché sentences included in this document, few have read it in its entirety. There is an extensive itemization of reasons why the “Founding Fathers” saw fit to sever their ties with England. Many of these same objections are present in our current system of government, but are overlooked by the populace either out of ignorance or indifference. It is highly advisable that you refer to the link provided above to familiarize yourself with the principles our governmental officials are sworn to uphold).
In this article, I have summarized the striking increase in mass murders over the last few decades. I have also summarized the many ways in which our current system of leadership (political, corporate, etc.) which I am referring to as the Fear Factory, continues to promote and encourage violence as an acceptable, if not honorable, way to solve personal and social problems. I have further presented a reasonable argument for why attempts to approach these problems by focusing on the individual assailant as an acute instance of mental illness make no sense in the larger scheme of things. In contrast, I have stated that our current social structure is plagued by a chronic preoccupation with violence in combination with a market flooded with easily acquired weaponry. And when viewed in conjunction with the rampant poverty, racism, sexism and obstructed access to vital resources, we are dealing with social time-bombs of mega-proportions that are exploding at record speed.
If we sincerely want to put an end to the violence and murder that has become an earmark of American society, we must revisit the founding principles to which we pledge our allegiance. We must critically evaluate our current state of affairs and ask the hard questions that no-one really wants to address. Are our elected government officials meeting their obligation as outlined in Declaration of Independence?
Or, are we in dire need of a massive change – one that shifts the power from agenda laden leaders who promote fear, violence and social conflict to the hands of the population whose unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are being threatened?
I reiterate the last sentence in the quote above, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”
The truth is, we don’t feel safe. We don’t feel happy. And the reason is not that certain individuals among us are mentally ill. It is because the system that governs every aspect of our daily lives (The Fear Factory) decidedly continues to promote violence, weapons and social struggle in exchange for our unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace
As Einstein once quoted, “problems cannot be solved by the same minds that created them.” If we’re really outraged by the continuation of mass murders, then we, as individuals and communities, must be proactive and take back the driver’s seat en route to our future.
Einstein also stated that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting difference outcomes”. Therefore, we must stop focusing on circular arguments that lead us no-where. We must realize that it is our society that has become “insane”, as a collective. As long as we continue to point fingers at specific laws, individual psychologies, and social disagreements, we will continue to spin our wheels in the mud while victim after victim meets their violent fates.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that, “Peace is not the absence of violence – but the presence of justice.” So we must ask ourselves – is it just to live in a society where violence has become the steady diet of every American man, woman and child? Is it just that we live our lives in constant fear and anxiety over not only what violent attack we may meet around the next corner, but over our financial security and health?
In practice, The Declaration of Independence was, admittedly, a farce in it’s day, as it excluded anyone who was not a land-owning white male from it’s principles. However, in theory, this document clearly outlines a structure in which, if all are included in practice, will cultivate the soil of a beautiful future in which every seed has the equal opportunity to grow and flourish in pursuit of its life, liberty and happiness.
To this end, some may opt to protest, some may organize, some may write letters to officials and editors of newspapers, but in reality, all that is truly needed is to wake up and rise to a new level of conscious awareness that allows you to see through the smoke and mirrors. Just like a magician or illusionist, the tricks of the Fear Factory will no longer be spellbinding once you clearly see the slight of the hand.
The violence agenda relies on our continued fear, ignorance and indifference. But the fate of our future relies on our conscious awareness.
Namaste – We are One