Treating the problem

I have tried many times now to comprehend the Connecticut shooting and understand it well enough to put those thoughts into words. Frustration has prevented me from doing so. I will try my hardest to refrain from metaphors in this post but please excuse me if I slip. We have been trained our entire lives to tie so much emotion to everything that it makes it damn near impossible to actually comprehend the actual event in a logical manner. My frustration following the shooting was mostly due to people’s reactions to the incident. It was yet another thing that I watched tear my country apart. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone thought they knew what was best. And when it came to the actual shooter, words such as “evil” and “crazy” were thrown around without any authority. We dehumanize these killers and therefore make it impossible to see the potential for murder among ourselves. I saw few evidence based arguments made by the general population and still everyone felt passionate that they were right. All the media and passion involved in the incident overwhelmed us and made it seem like it was an impossible task. Many people said “Well, no one can know how to fix it,” and they would be right but unfortunately that predominant attitude is also a terribly unproductive one.

We can fix all this. Or at minimum, we can try. One of the greatest things about this nation and many others is that we have fifty different states that we can run experiments in. In Virginia, let’s say we put an armed guard at the entrance to every school. In Maryland we fund increasing accessibility to mental health centers. Hell, maybe someone could even study Mike Huckabee’s biblical theory. There has been so much debate over this but soon all conversation will quickly fade out. It is like an overplayed song on the radio. You’ll hear it for a month and then never want to hear it again. Our fascination with sensationalist media ruins the actual action element of these shootings. We get so tired of hearing about it that we want to ignore it until the next shooting, whereupon we’ll exhaust the subject once again without any action.

With these fifty states, we have so much opportunity to run experiments. While historians help us navigate the present by highlighting mistakes in the past, it is tough to fully comprehend the effect of an ancient policy in modern society. With regard to Huckabee’s statement, I think we can reflect on the impracticality of such a policy. But that is my opinion and that is what is so beautiful about it. He has the right to propose that policy and I have the right to oppose it. If a private school wants to teach in such a manner, they can. But the majority has argued against his views and that is what the public schools have adopted. The problem I believe with the common Christian response to these acts of violence is that they attempt to demote the violence as evil. They take an extraordinarily complex case of mental instability, possible psychopathy, and lack of empathy and turn it into something undefinable. Adam Lanza wasn’t evil. He was shaped by his biology and the world around him, not by some supernatural force that we don’t stand a chance at combating.

With respect to the desire for more guns, I’ll cite the obvious saying “you can’t fight fire with fire.” This is an obvious one but one I firmly believe. Yelling only creates more yelling. War drives future wars. The shootings that occurred here on my campus happened despite the almost absurd numbers of Virginia Tech Police drifting around campus. They’re bored because there are so many of them and yet they could do nothing to prevent a massive school shooting. This wasn’t because they are inadequate at their job but rather because more guns doesn’t stop violence and often only promotes it.

I actually believe that the opposite would provide a diminished risk of this issue. The Second Amendment was created in a different time and to cite it as quintessential America is plain ignorant. I have heard a lot of statements about arms being our freedom to which I respond with the simple example: nuclear weapons are not available. We are not free and we are not free for goddamn good reasons. I believe we are at a time where tighter restrictions should be made. I have nothing new to contribute to this argument but I do believe psychological evaluations in addition to tight control and limitations on purchase and selection would be extremely effective.

Another suggestion was for the media to stop sensationalizing these massacres. The problem with this request is that people are asking to infringe upon the First Amendment and they are missing the true root of the problem. The media is like any other company: it simply reflects our desires. They provide a product that sells. As disgusting as it is, gore and violence sells. Since I realized this, I became prudent in rejecting violence in every form. I refused to watch media that sold these sensationalist products and chose to essentially cut myself off from the world because nearly all media centered around violence. This is the action that could have the most impact on this issue. If we as the consumers collectively decide to stop buying violence, then the media will be forced to show other things. It is our responsibility, not the governments, and not companies that are dominated by the desires of consumers. If we show that there is a demand for media not centered around death and destruction, that is what we will get. With respect to this issue, I do believe it would have an enormous impact and I believe it has even had an impact with me personally. I have always believed that we weren’t quite ready to know the sorrows of the world so I chose to cut myself off. It has helped me a lot to be ignorant of the war and genocide worldwide just as it would help someone in the center of a war to focus on their schoolwork or family to keep from having to manage the overwhelming violence surrounding them. It may seem selfish but to help combat the worlds problems, I need to first treat my own. I do believe though, that several of the shootings in the past few years would not have occurred had it not been for our vicious craving for emotional stimulation with violent media.

People propose that Adam Lanza was craving attention. To this I wonder why he would have killed himself. Maybe instead the media and other aspects of humanity provided shooting of children as a thrilling experience. However, I am sure in several of the recent shootings, attention was the justification. Recently, I wrote about our imagined self importance and how we deceive ourselves to believe that we matter despite the astronomical and biological evidence to the contrary. Religion strokes our deceitful conceit and praises anyone who believes they matter on a cosmological scale. This supports the concept of fame and results in people who chase it. It detracts from the truth that with the end of the human race, our fame will eventually be but a collection of disordered molecules, no more defined than a mass of dust. People argue that this belief in significance builds confidence and morality. But I believe conceit only acts to build attention seekers in the form of cold celebrities, cheating athletes, and unstable murderers seeking out attention and remembrance. If we debased these beliefs to understand that we can create our own purpose and do what we want to do, I believe that Adam Lanza wouldn’t have found as much of a thrill with his massacre. Instead, shooting elementary school students wouldn’t be sensationalized and he would be forced to find something more exciting and thrilling to him personally, without the mode of media and imagined self-importance driving him. He may have adopted something intrinsically rewarding, like base jumping or snowboarding, rather than something we have created as rewarding to him, such as murder of school children.

The commonly cited and ever present argument against violent video games I find to be an important one. Violent video games, I do believe, do have an impact on manipulating the mind of a child or teenager. From a former player of violent video games, I will say that if I do have children, they can do what they want with their own money but I will never purchase those products for them. I do believe that Adam Lanza had an inability to comprehend emotion in the way we do. He probably felt numb, not getting excited with simple things like family in the way we do. I don’t believe that he was a normal person turn deranged. I believe that he was born with this incapacity. It is an unfortunate case of genetics. So when violent video games were introduced and provided some basic stimulation, Adam felt a hint of what we feel when we snowboard or play soccer or learn something new. But just as the snowboarder does not remain content with the green slopes and the black diamonds provide for better stimulation and in turn, happiness, Adam would not remain content with his games.

Mental health accessibility has also been promoted as a solution to this issue. People desire, on a massive scale, access to psychological evaluations. However, most people are unwilling to study mental health in their own home. The issue of mental health, I do not believe, can be treated by government intervention. Instead, I find that education at the family level can help diagnose disabilities from subtler symptoms. Additionally, the anathema surrounding discussion of mental disorders needs to fall. In fact, I believe taboo in every regard needs to dissolve but I’ll save that for another post. Parents currently are unwilling to admit their child may be different from the majority in a dangerous sense. But with increased prevalence of unjustified mass killings, the internet needs to become a tool for suspicious parents. Additionally, educators need to be aware of signs of these mental disorders. However, these are actions that necessarily need to be made on a personal and familial level, not within the policies of the government.

We are living with a broken system. For one, the language surrounding this incident has distracted us from treating the problem. The belief that a shooter’s actions are inspired by a supernatural force blinds us from the psychology behind the action. Taboos about restricting freedoms, mental disorders, violence, and religion among others inhibit us from reaching any sort of progress on the issue. I believe that open conversation, a healthy dose of skepticism, transparency, and destruction of this believe that humanity matters on a cosmological scale can help prevent these acts of violence from occurring at such high rates. We can trace the process of evolution to see how the man that was the best at surviving, which often meant the best at killing, was the one who survived to reproduce. However, the times where that was true have passed, so we need to advance beyond these violent cravings just as we need to advance beyond our desire to stuff our faces with food or reproduce at absurd rates.

While my beliefs are grounded in evidence, I organized that evidence in a manner that someone else may have done differently. However, even arriving at different methods for treating this issue, we have a great country in which we can study what works and what doesn’t in different states. Oftentimes, however, our emotional response prevents us from actually accomplishing this. A year ago I wrote a post on a similar subject to this one, dealing with a shooting on my own campus. But I realize now that I let the emotion overwhelm me and turn me into a vector of sensationalism and attention to vultures and lowered me to the level of popular media agencies. I believed the crime to be incomprehensible and was infuriated at the killer. Instead of attempting to understand him, I rejected him. Instead of treating the problem, I only acted to propagate it. I had an idealized belief that love could save the world. While I do think it has its place, I now see that there are more tangible, treatable issues. It is amazing to reflect on the change of who I am from a shooting that occurred just over a year ago. I am slightly embarrassed at letting myself fall to the level of those I intended to criticize. So now I will refrain from the metaphors that attracted such attention and readership to my post a year ago. We have a problem of biology not yet ready for a technologically based society but we also have the knowledge and wisdom to fix it.

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