Monday, August 12, 2019

Culture of Violence

We have unwittingly produced a culture of violence . . . it bears a relationship to addiction.   No one intended that, it wasn’t consciously willed; it just crept up on us.  Much like in any addiction, there is denial of its danger—the chosen thing seems harmless . . . ‘it’s a stress reliever’, ‘everyone does it’, ‘it is our right’. And excuses abound for supporting its continuation—until something so serious happens the problem can no longer be denied.

A week ago, within a 24-hour period, there were two mass shootings in two different cities leaving 31 people dead.  What words are left to capture the horror of another mass shooting in America? Haven’t all the words already been used for such atrocities?
The first mass shooting of strangers by one person was in 1966 (53 years ago).  Charles Whitman climbed to the observation deck of the Texas University clock tower with a rifle and proceeded to pick off passing students.  There were 18 deaths counting the shooter.  The nation was in shock, it was described as ‘the worst mass killing in American history’.  How could such a thing happen? He was an ex-Marine, it was later determined he suffered from PTSD.  That was in the mid-1900; in the 2000’s there has been a steady increase of mass murders—it is said it has become ‘the norm’.

Can a culture or society be addicted?  I believe it can be.  Not every member of that society need be involved and the addiction shows itself in different expressions, but where a majority supports something that is clearly unhealthy, it constitutes a kind of social addiction.  Violence is unhealthy and a continuous focus on it is psychologically damaging.

When we see evidence of this disorder expressed in a mass killer, people strain to find an explanation, a ‘reason’: guns, mental health, childhood abuse, violent video games, divisive and insulting rhetoric, negative rap music, pornography, violence in movies and on TV, radical right-wing ideology, lure of the forbidden . . . and always there is denial that that thing can’t be it . . .  ‘that’s nothing new’, ‘it has always been around’, etc.  But that misses the point, it isn’t any one thing, it’s the repetitive, all-pervasive presence of many forms of violence in our everyday lives that assaults the psyche of people.  Not any ‘one thing’ alone but the cumulative effect of our obsession with violence . . . then someone here or there demonstrates an intense reaction.

Taking some of the violence issues we live with, perhaps first and foremost is the nation’s love of/obsession with guns—it is matched nowhere else in the world.  There is a misinterpreted constitutional amendment with which gun-lobbyists block any attempts to put controls on guns. Centuries ago when the constitution was written the young country was largely lawless and the amendment was meant to give citizens the ability to protect themselves.  At that time there were only muskets, rifles and pistols—that was the ownership that was protected. Over the centuries technical advances brought forth automatic assault weapon for use in war; surely there was not foresight for these weapon and our forefathers would not have protected private ownership of them.  

Currently there are more guns than people in our country, surely that suggests we are a violent culture. Although there are many laws to protect the public from faulty merchandise that may be harmful, yet all attempts to secure protection for the public against assault weapons are blocked. The near-religious fervor to ‘protect our gun rights’ seems as ‘unhealthy’ as any other addiction.

Another thing that is contributing to the demise of our culture and fueling violence is the coarsening of rhetoric.  Not so many years ago, politeness coupled with sensitivity was a desirable virtue. It was considered a sign of maturity to be able to engage in debate without resorting to name-calling and insults. Such restraint is necessary for diplomacy.  That politeness has been in a downward spiral since the 60’s, but has taken a notable plunge since the 2016 presidential campaign.

One more thing I will single out from my list of signs of a disordered culture is the emphasis upon violence in our entertainment industry.  But before going into the violence, consider the fact that the entertainment industry alone is capable of making instantaneous millionaires: sports stars, movie and TV stars, singers with smash hits are materially rewarded far above the norm of society.  It points to something unhealthy about a society in which entertainers are valued more than scientists, educators, researchers, health professionals . . . anyone else except money manipulators who add nothing to the advancement of society; their purpose is to help make the already rich yet richer, and they profit disproportionately doing it.

Back to the point of violence—movies came into prominence in American culture in the beginning of the 1900’s, TV in the 1950’s.  Very soon it became apparent that the most popular themes were sex and violence;  movies attempted to control both with censorship from the early 1900’s to the ‘50s and 60’s when finally censorship was abandoned in 1966.  I don’t argue for the return of censorship but I do want the public to realize that the constant exposure to violence and immorality is damaging to young minds still in the process of forming . . . sex and violence are exciting and stimulating and we seem to be automatically drawn to them, and that is the same problem that occurs with cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Wisdom tells us to approach them with care, using self-control.

There has been nothing more influential in contemporary society than television—in our homes with 24/7 availability—that was true until the Internet; those two influences supersede all other influences.  The person one become results form a duel interaction of heredity and environment, and the environment of TV and Internet makes violence readily available.

We humans are the only creatures blessed with reflective awareness, the ability to see forward and back so we can plan and choose.  That constitutes our consciousness—it is a huge responsibility—together humanity makes the world to be what it is.  There have been both good and bad choices.  As we expand our consciousness we learn to make better choices.

The cumulative effect of many negative influences without a positive counter balance creates a culture of violence.  For all intents and purposes any concept of a God has been eliminated from our secular materialistic society.  About mid-way into the 1900’s laws were passed to prohibit prayer in schools and all mention of God in public affairs.  

Now I know and don’t deny ‘religion’ is a volatile issue, wars have been fought in its name, but that results from one religion claiming superiority and insisting all others are wrong. God is so far above religions and so beyond our ability to comprehend, any religion insisting upon its exclusive ‘rightness’ is in error.  A ‘God concept’ embodies all that is good: love, mercy, justice, hope, truth, compassion . . . that goodness needs expression.   You can remove from the public specific religious ideologies, but not God. Call God by whatever name or names you choose, or no name other than ‘the good’.  There is a need in any and all societies to hold up before all people—especially children still in a formative stage—an articulated set of values that are regularly called forth.  Does it really matter if God is preexistent or if God is something we strive and hope for?  In our lives we need a ‘God image’ to carry forward the good we long for.

I recommend Marianne Williamson’s book:  Healing the Soul of America

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