In Blog 4 I asked whether this country is governed by reality or by ideology. I used the Iraq wars, banking, and gun violence as examples. That example of gun violence raises a larger question.
Does the continuing public debate on guns overlook violence itself as an underlying cultural characteristic, an unwritten rule of interaction in a complex social system?
Here’s a condensed set of facts behind the current discussion. On Dec 14, 2012, Adam Lanza (age 20) used his mother’s guns to kill her, then killed 6 adults and 20 children in the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown CT before killing himself. The resulting Senate action on a firearms bill was terminated by a successful filibuster. The following comments posted on Bill Moyers’ web pages (Newtown and Sandy Hook) suggest that something more than guns is involved in the Big Question posed above.
“Wyoming has the highest gun ownership in the country yet it has almost no gun deaths. Meanwhile New Jersey has the lowest and yet it can’t be seen on the map because of too much red.” [Red circles on Moyers’ map indicate locations of 3819 gun deaths between Newton and May 3, 2013.]
“Guns are part of a complex culture and certainly were a factor in the Newtown shootings, but our inability to take care of our mentally ill is a much greater problem.”
“The people of Newtown built the bomb which was Adam Lanza, as surely as the Islamic brothers built the bombs in Boston.”
“If you want to cast blame…you’ll have to cast the net far wider than Newtown.”
“…it is the HISTORY of the USA and the irrational fear and even paranoia bred into Americans to believe they are about to be ATTACKED any minute by some horrible enemy…”
“In order, Japan, South Korea, Iceland, and Israel have the least gun violence per capita. We are talking about killing rates of the order of less than one percent that of the United States.”
“Guns are the coward’s way to vent anger.”
“More Americans die daily by the use of illegal guns in this country than died that day in Sandy Hook. …where is the outrage for the criminal activity that takes place daily…”
“I think we need to focus on the glorification of guns by Hollywood and the Video Game industry. Also what about the Media frenzies whenever there is a shooting? … Regulating guns might fix a small part of the problem, but it’s not stopping the cause.”
“Since 1968, the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy, 1,384,171 have been killed by firearms. That’s more than all the solders who died in all the wars the US has been involved in…” [No citation was given for the data.]
The quotes suggest that violence is a systemic issue. Does our cultural tendency for violence stem from widespread feelings of alienation and injustice?
Does Newtown relate to every town?
Although gun deaths and gun regulations make spectacular headlines, it is the entire culture that presents an impression of violence. Many people feel that only the capability for armed resistance prevents the government from forcibly limiting freedoms. Maybe they’re right. The German and Polish Jews exterminated by the Nazis during WWII might have been better off if they had been armed. But are we fantasizing historical battles where the good guys are always obvious, while ignoring our current challenges, such as our own inability to agree on a federal budget and social priorities? Do we encourage the media in its labeling of states as red or blue, although most of us individually are a mixture more like purple? Do we imagine we are still fighting King George and his tea tax while we are unwilling to fight the self-righteous polarization within our current society? Our cultural refusal to analyze what we’re doing ignores the actual dangers of ecology, economy, and disunity.
We have a history that glorifies power, from the initial subjugation of native Americans to the enduring myth of justice by western gunslingers. TV dramas depict virtue in combat by car chase. Dragons and dystopia infuse young adult novels and video games. Youngsters are imprinted with images and role models of success by force, not negotiation. Where does this come from, and where does it lead?
Our political and economic philosophy is one of dominance, not cooperation. As in football, the object of winning is to make others lose, not to benefit everyone. As my Swedish friend said, every four years the U.S. has a revolution, not an election.
In elections, one side argues that business should operate largely unrestricted by regulations, free to acquire and expend resources, generate pollution, and control people. The other side overlooks the need for personal responsibility by working, saving, investment, and self-care. Despite these political differences, our society has adopted social security, worker safety, a modicum of environmental protection, pure food and drug laws, and safety regulations for vehicles. This history demonstrates that we can get along with each other. However, our kids see success presented by conflict more than with cooperation. Our political rhetoric is inconsistent. Big business demands free markets but also collects subsidies (as, for example, when large centralized farms capture 70 percent of the $20 billion of annual corporate farm subsidies*). Organizations who demand social welfare do not propose to pay for it. Voters are swayed by negative advertising on either side, advertising designed to generate fears and hide information.
Sixty years ago, a person’s connections were largely with in his local community. Today, persons, careers, businesses, and politicsconnect across the world, potentially leaving an individual feeling alienated and powerless. The continual barrage of inconsistent conflict provides a background of verbal violence against which a simplistic mind might rebel with physical violence.
We can restrict guns and/or increase food stamps, but such narrow actions won’t reduce the violence. We must purposely develop a culture that is more oriented to caring than to dominance, that is more engaged with values than with violent entertainment, and that is as protective of the underdog as it is of the top dog.
* Christian Science Monitor, March 11, 2013, p. 38.