Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Are we courageous enough to face the why?

It’s hard for me to approach this subject. I have no desire to capitalize on the current news cycle frenzy, but each time something of this magnitude happens I find myself thinking along very similar lines, and I feel I would be remiss if I did not call attention to the pattern that I see played out over and over and over...

Despite the continuous coverage dedicated to these events, the incessant repetitive replaying of every possible detail, the why of the tragedy never seems to come fully into focus. Those responsible are quickly categorized as “crazy,” their actions as “senseless,” any acknowledgement of their motivations is carefully sidestepped to avoid the appearance of endorsing their actions. Faced with such horror, people reflexively recoil; it is too frightening to think that there could be a reason for this behavior, that there might be a rationale to it, that it might be a predictable pattern. It is far easier to see it as the random terrible act of a disturbed individual, to see the act and the perpetrator as “evil.” But if we refuse to deal with the specifics of these tragedies in this way, how can we ever hope to address the multitude of factors that give rise to such tragic events?

We live in a society that is perpetually redefining our very concept of reality. Our leaders routinely tell half truths and often outright lie in order to score political points, their agendas validated by a media that willfully reinforces the chosen narratives. They initiate pre-emptive wars based on false intelligence, rationalizing the death of innocents through an ever escalating campaign of fear. While we watch our president shed tears for the Sandy Hook victims, his administration executes a predator drone kill list, resulting in numerous civilian casualties; men, women and children. We have been at war for the longest period in our country’s history, but less than 1% of our population is actively serving in our military. More soldiers are committing suicide than are being killed in action. The best selling video game of all time is a first-person shooter called Call of Duty: Black Ops, selling more than 25 million copies worldwide with more than half of those sold in the US alone.

We have “reality” television where the focus is almost invariably fame and fortune, certainly not the banal day to day details of our daily lives (there’s no ratings potential in that). Similarly, the “news” is so focused on sensational stories, that investigative reporting has become the exception rather than the rule. Important events often go unreported - as if they didn’t actually occur. Blockbuster films are increasingly dark and “gritty,” to infuse them with a sense of “realism.” Of late I have noted a reliance on depictions of pain and suffering to connect with the audience on a more visceral level, to convince them that what they are witnessing on the screen is more than fiction. These type of depictions no longer seem to have a genre (or story) specific character, and show up all over the map. Of course, the more common these depictions become, the less we respond to them, and the more intense they must be to elicit any response at all.

Inundated with images of violence and cruelty, our dominant narrative one of competition and conflict - are we losing our ability to envision alternatives? Politics, entertainment, & marketing have become indistinguishable, their influence on our lives so omnipresent that it is increasingly difficult to recognize their presence. The privatization of education is but another step in this process, another method for restricting our perception of “reality.” Many parents & teachers believe that they are preparing children for “the real world,” sparing them future suffering by forcing them to follow the rules. But the resulting stigmatization of difference, of resistance, of creativity can create a confusing impasse. We encourage them to be the best, to excel, to stand out from the crowd while we simultaneously demand they fit in. How are their young minds to make sense of this contradiction? Are we teaching them to create their own reality or simply accept the ones marketed to them?

Somehow, despite all the mixed messages, we expect people to be able to discern what is real and what is not, to recognize right from wrong, and to do it on their own. Ruling with absolute authority, whether as a politician or a parent, leaves precious little space for dialogue. In our punitive culture, where any deviation from the prescribed plan is met with ridicule, is it any wonder that people suffer in silence rather than seek counsel? Do people stay silent because they fear there will be consequences if they reveal their thoughts? Are we tolerant enough not to penalize those that step forward - tolerant enough to hear perceptions that may not match our own? Are we compassionate enough to deal with the sense of powerlessness that many in our society feel? Are we responsible enough to recognize our role in modeling violence as the solution of choice? Are we creative enough, and sensible enough, to come up with alternatives?

In the wake of the tragedy there are calls for gun control legislation, treatment for mental illness, greater security in our schools; but perhaps we need to move beyond these singular solutions. Are we courageous enough to face the why?

Related - NYT Business, 12/24: Real and Virtual Firearms Nurture a Marketing Link


  1. Okay, what are YOUR "creative" and "sensible" alternatives?

    1. Thanks for your reply :)

      Well - any of the points raised throughout the rest of my post could be a place to start. All of the things that I mention as factors that influence how we think could be reversed and elaborated on, quite possibly to great effect. For example, what would happen if, rather than accepting (and simply complaining about) our politicians telling half-truths and lies, we held them accountable and voted them out? Or if we only voted for politicians that level with the American people and speak to them in a way that is clearly non-manipulative? Perhaps we have to modify the voting process itself in order to allow more truthful candidates to come forward so that we CAN actually vote for them, and/or modify the process so that we are not constricted to voting for the “better of two evils.” And on and on... You can pretty much go through my entire post line by line and come up with these kind of starting points. What I’m getting at is it’s really up to all of us to come up with the alternatives. I'm trying to get the ball rolling by calling attention to some of the things here that I think get overlooked in the rush to “resolve the crisis.” The most “obvious” solutions are often more familiar to us only because someone has a significant stake in them coming to pass, and has therefore gone to great lengths to promote them to us to begin with. These solutions may or may not be in our best interest... So, what alternatives come to mind for you?

  2. "Perhaps we have to modify the voting process itself in order to allow more truthful candidates to come forward so that we CAN actually vote for them, and/or modify the process so that we are not constricted to voting for the 'better of two evils.'"

    Modify how?

    1. Assuming this is the same "Anonymous," are you genuinely interested in having a dialogue? You didn’t respond to my question. To answer yours - you could start with this:

  3. Very nicely written article. Isn't this all just part of the historical nature of the US. The US is a frontier, it was formed through overt violence, revolution etc, people who fled Europe because there was the opportunity to regain control of their lives or create a new life. It is a region of potential opportunity. That is the reason why. The issue is more to do with the lack of certainty for people trying to live their lives. The high expectations for people in the US to achieve is now more competitive than ever. So some end up responding in a primeval way. In someways this could be interpreted as another kind of civil war for the US. Perhaps only time can fix this, perhaps it can never be fixed because that is the nature of living things(competing for resources), it just goes in cycles.

    1. Thank you Anonymous!

      I think I understand what you are getting at in terms of the historical context of the US - but I tend to think of that context as a construct rather than a given. I wrote more about this construct (independence, competition and the work ethic) in an earlier post:

      As you might gather from reading that post I don't subscribe to the belief that the nature of living things is to compete for resources (or to respond with violence for that matter - as I have often heard said). There are abundant examples of cooperation in nature, but I believe we are conditioned to focus only on competition because it allows the powers that be to maintain control over us. The more intensely we compete with each other, the less likely it is that we will recognize our common oppression.

      I'm not sure I understand your reference to "another kind of civil war" - can you elaborate? Civil war between whom?


      Anonymous (December 24, 2012 10:48 PM) writes, “...that is the nature of living things (competing for resources)...”


      (Capitalism is not about competition, as so many of us believe.)

      The premise of COLLABORATION as capitalism’s foundation can be discovered in the first two pages of THE WEALTH OF NATIONS, which text is freely and readily available online.

      You can find it here:


      Adam Smith’s world-view is based on the general HUMAN DESIRE TO DO GOOD.

      Smith fleshes out this view in his first book, A THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS.

      You can find this book here:


      According to Smith, we humans thrive on doing good for one another. And collaboration and cooperation, as developed into capitalism, give us the best mechanism for doing the greatest good.

      Here’s what the Adam Smith Institute has to say about Smith’s first book:

      “The Theory Of Moral Sentiments...a real scientific breakthrough....shows that our moral ideas and actions are a product of our very nature as social creatures....Self-interest and sympathy. As individuals, we have a natural tendency to look after ourselves....And yet as social creatures, explains Smith, we are also endowed with a natural sympathy—today we would say empathy—towards others. When we see others distressed or happy, we feel for them—albeit less strongly.”


      Those who believe that COMPETITION underlies and drives capitalism are sadly misinformed.

      And those who believe that GREED and EXPLOITATION could possibly serve the forces of GOOD are not serving the Creator they believe they are serving.

      In terms relevant to our Christian brethren, this is about as politely as it can be expressed:

      Conservative ideology serves a false god.

      (($; -)}

  4. All ideologies are false gods; that is what an idol is. As for the article, it is well written and gratefully received; but most of us know all this already. The point isn't missed, at least not by my 72 year old self, demonstrating against war since 1968. However, I have come to believe that war is a component part of our multiplicity of human "nature," (intellectual, sexual, rational, survivalist, aesthetic, productive, et al), just as killing is a part of all animal nature that eats any sort of living thing (except perhaps plants.) I think the internet is going to replace most social movements and many ideologies, such as socialism, fascism, etc., with something totally new and unpredictable; it already has. Look at Anonymous, which, besides hacking into valuable information, is wise never to show its real faces. Ideas exist before life, as Plato said. They are essences, and humans only can discover and imitate them with art, merely moving materials and concepts around that already existed, but never approaching the essence, for example, of beauty, except through imitation and representation. We are imperfect, we will always be imperfect, and war will last for as long as humans encourage that part of their nature. It will never vanish, and moralizing about it is a zero sum game. And then there is the planet Earth itself, which has a way of purging itself of diseases.
    We are told that we should not judge; this is misleading and false, because judgement is part of the reasoning process. Rather, let us teach not to judge harshly. And you are absolutely right: we need to hear completely and understand the Why of all this. People do not blow themselves up for no reason. Thanks for the article.