Are killers products of violent culture?
For many days after the Newtown tragedy, we witnessed an all-too-familiar script playing out. We had posts going up on Facebook that were fairly indicative and representative of the dialectic occurring nationally. Two familiar polemic positions presented themselves: gun control versus gun rights. Also, we had considerations on how to best deal with the mentally ill of our society. Comments ran the gamut from crude to compassionate.
On the TV, we had football commentators fumbling awkwardly for segues between a game based on violence, promoting the latest Tom Cruise movie with a staggering body count and brutal methods of dispatch - all while lamenting how anyone could commit such a horrendous act as what occurred in Newtown.
We had a president tearfully calling for a national conversation, using all the proper politically studied phrases for what has become an all-too-frequent occurrence in this country.
Yet one had to look far and wide to find critiques that called into question the role the sociopathic and psychotic behavior our own culture and policies - both foreign and domestic - may play in contributing to such events. It is a culture that tacitly endorses acts of horrific nature when those acts are done in the name of what has been defined as our "national interest." A clear example of this cognitive dissonance is a statement made by President Obama after the attack on the embassy in Benghazi. In his speech, he stated repeatedly "violence is never justified," while openly announcing that we would bring the perpetrators "to justice," essentially justifying soon-to-be exercised acts of violence.
All this played out in concert with news of further U.S. drone attacks in both Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a mountain of evidence of the devastation caused by such attacks. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, an independent organization based at City University in London, reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562 to 3,325 people in Pakistan alone, of whom 474 to 881 were civilians, including 176 children.
Amidst all these mixed messages, we have further saturated ourselves with desensitizing stimulus by immersing into violence as entertainment. The popularity the fantastic hits, fights and crashes of the NFL, WWE, NASCAR speak to this dynamic. Further evidence is found in the popularity and proliferation of police dramas such as CSI, NCIS, Law and Order in whatever city or department the latest spinoff occurs. The patterns are the same: a horrific crime occurs; righteous avengers swoop in and dispatch the bad guy with only a begrudging, cursory concern for due process and civil rights. Usually, most of these shows include a gunshot laden car or foot-chase finale.
Our immersion into violence as entertainment and our celebration of its value in pursuit and protection of our perceived "national interests" has sickened, corrupted and corroded the moral fiber of our communities and the nation as a whole. We have lost our way. And so we shall continue to stumble through this wilderness of pain, paranoid schizophrenia and psychosis until we cure ourselves of this addiction to violence as a means of resolving any given perceived conflict or perceived threat.
We've made monsters of ourselves.
We have every right to be saddened and horrified when these mass shootings happen - but we should not be surprised or shocked. These lost souls visiting violence upon the innocent are this country's chickens coming home to roost. No law regarding weaponry or the institutionalization of our mentally ill can cure our culture. Whether they use a gun, machete or a homemade mustard gas bomb does not matter. What matters is that yet another marginal-but-at-one-point-functional individual either went or was driven mad. What matters is yet another soul went dark and was lost. And, in that terrible moment, took so many innocents with it.
Ian C. Thomas is the editor-in-chief of The Scope Magazine, a local online publication (www.thescopemagazine.com). He lives in New London.
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