I am worried that we will grieve for Aurora, Colorado and then move on, as we do, to life as usual. It’s not that I want us to dwell on our sorrow; but I don’t want us to live in denial about this disturbing aspect of modern culture.
All cultures in all ages have experienced both peace and killing. It’s not as if longing for safety and stability, yet living with uncertainty is anything new. Some cultures have been able, however, to offer long periods of peaceful prosperity. Our culture has not always existed without violence. We have been at odds a number of times in our short history. We fought over slavery, we fought over labor unions, we fought about civil rights, and we are in the midst of a non-violent fight about what our American policies and our government and our society will be like in the near future. We have also experienced times of unity and national productivity.
But the kind of violence represented by incidents like shopping mall shootings and Columbine and now Aurora represent a new sort of violence. This violence does not seem to arise from ideological disagreements or even imperialist tendencies. It is an expression of personal deviation and alienation. It is also, in a sense, an expression of egoism. It is cold-blooded and has a quality of unreality about it, as if the person is not killing real people, as if the person is shooting targets. The very randomness of it and the fact that it does not involve any one-on-one confrontation between killer and victim, or any political motivation, separates it from the modus operandi of most serial murderers.
Since we don’t know how to protect ourselves from such attacks (short of carrying a gun and shooting back, which, so far, has not happened and is, apparently, problematic) we just take a pause to mourn, recognize that we are probably not happy with what is going on, and then shake it off and go back to living normally. There must be some things we can do however. Our Constitution does give us the right to bear arms, but if you go back to the times when the Constitution was written and think about why our forefathers put this in the document, I think that you would not have a problem limiting the ability to buy or own semi-automatic and assault weapons.
Why aren’t groups of experts meeting to work on identifying and helping people who are in denial about psychological problems? There must be some approaches we could take that would not affect those who are managing their mental issues well. Why are we sitting tight with our fatalism and our denial, our ‘this-probably-won’t-happen-to-me’ rationalization? Why are we not calling for some kind of study and some plan of action? We are Americans. We believe problems can be solved if we put our minds and hearts to it yet we have let America’s children kill each other in our cities and suburbs, and we have accepted mass killings. We have come up with a few approaches especially in the area of urban violence and some have been somewhat successful and some have been dismal failures.
Has anyone in an appropriate field of study kept track of these approaches, made a collection of what has worked and what hasn’t? Is there a body of work about this? All I hear is the same speculation that is offered each time we encounter this disturbing new aberration. We hear an outcry about gun control, we hear that the person may not qualify as insane (what does it take to qualify), we hear that TV, movies, and video games are too violent and then we move on. As we move on another erratic individual decides that s/he (a theoretical she) will take a stab at putting together the perfect mass killing. Well James Holmes has set the bar pretty high. Can we expect escalation? I am sure we can find better ways to help our young people, both those involved in “gang” warfare and those committing crimes of alienation. Helping those who have already been in the system should be even easier. Let’s have some conferences where experts meet to devise some strategies. Let’s not just act like sitting ducks.