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Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Darkness

Flames 9/28/12
"Some people just want to watch the world burn."
I started writing about the topic of mass killings after James Holmes shot several people at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in July, but I never finished that piece.  Twelve dead, 59 injured, and an untold numbers of lives changed forever by a loss of a loved one, the loss of physical well being, or the loss of a sense that the world is a safe place.

My thoughts returned to the topic when a gunman killed six and wounded four in a Sikh temple near Milwaukee.  Still I did not return to the topic to collect my thoughts about it. 

As our country has just experienced another mass killing, today seems to be the day to finally formulate my thoughts on this subject.

In Newtown, Connecticut 20 children aged five to ten and six adults were killed.  The details of what motivated this shooter are not clear at this point.  But I doubt his motivations will ever be completely clear, they never are.

As I do every time our country experiences such a tragedy, I ask why.  This case seems to be a bit different than the others but the outcomes are the same. 

I wrote a poem in college about a high school classmate who committed suicide.  I have been intending to revise it to make it more inclusive of deaths from gun violence.  Today was also the day to take on this task:

Who Will Be Next?

They are gone;
that cannot be undone.

"Who will be next
to use a gun?"

"Did he feel unloved?"
No one saw the clues.

"Did he feel alone?"
No one solved the puzzle.

We did not suspect,
until too late.
"Were all the warning signs

Were there any at all?
"Whoever gave him the idea that
this was his fate?"

"Did anyone see the darkness he hid
behind his childlike eyes?"

No one is to blame.
"Did I miss some clue?"

We will miss them, move on,
value life more (at least
for a few days), and
wish for never again.

The works done with a gun
can never be undone.
They are gone;
that cannot be undone.

*     *     *     *     *

I read a theory recently that said that there has only ever been one story told:  The Story of "Who Am I?"  Part of each story is answering related questions like, "Why am I here?" and "What am I supposed to do with my life?"

Those are the same question that we all attempt to answer in a life time.  We spend our years on this earth trying to define who we are either by actively pursuing our dreams, by introverted introspection of our past choices and possible future actions, or a combination of both.  Some people answer the question like Alfred does in The Dark Knight to explain the men who burned the rainforest:  "Some people just want to watch the world burn."

I recently finished reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.  The book weaves together the story of the planning and building of 1893 World's Fair with the story of Herman Mudgett, a serial killer who carried out his murders before, during, and after the fair.  Mudgett was one kind of "world burner."  There are many different kinds.

As I remember from Joseph Campbell, cosmos and chaos are the two most primal human forces.  Creation and destruction certainly seem to be inherent in the biologic systems of the world.  What shocks us most when events like these shootings happen is that we all tend to believe that as a species we have risen above this biologic reality.

Meanwhile, we are also able to forget on a daily basis that our country is still involved in what seems to be a never ending war/conflict/police action half the world away.  

And then there is the gun debate, again.  I agree with David Greenberg's 1999 article about school violence.  The headline and sub headline sum it up nicely, "Students Have Always Been Violent:  They're Just Better Armed Today."  Greenberg doesn't come right out and call for gun legislation but similar arguments have been used to call for more gun regulation.

I wish I could believe that regulation and legislation would help.  I know it will not.  Neither, however, does it help to have everyone armed.  In our quest to answer how to handle the issue of guns we have to deal with the real issue that it isn't simply the number of guns but the motivations of the people holding them that are the problem.

Gun control is a fiction right up there with "The War on Drugs" and "The War on Terror" because if any of those attempts to limit and control human behavior worked, we would no longer have a drug problem and terrorism would be a thing of the past.

So, we are left to wrestle with the motivations of people like Adam Lanza.  Again, we don't know any of the background yet; however, I suspect there will be some history of mental illness that arises.

But instead of dealing with the real issue we get more talk of gun control.  This is from CNN:

"'We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics,' Obama said.

The president stopped short of calling for gun control measures, though the White House said later Obama supports a reinstatement of a federal ban on assault weapons."

I am not opposed to reducing the number of guns available in the world.  Certainly, have a few less around might save some lives.  But I am not naive enough to believe that the presence of guns is the primary problem we are dealing with.  It is the mixture of readily available guns and bad motivations or impaired thinking that causes such tragedy.

The CNN story notes a point of irony in this regard: 
"The weapons were legally purchased by Lanza's mother, said the official, who was not authorized to release details of the case to the media.

After killing his mother, investigators believe Lanza took her guns and made his way to the elementary school."

Before this shooting happened yesterday, a colleague and I were having a debate/discussion about the role of technology in the world today.  The most recent applications of the theory of generations has labeled the teenagers we are dealing with today as the "Reset Generation."  The theory is that ready access to technology has caused this generation to have a drastically different way of viewing and understanding the world.

If you have had to sit through any inservice sessions as a teacher in the last few years, you have likely seen the videos where the kids are telling you how horrible you are because you are not reaching them through YouTube, Skype, text messaging, and Facebook.  These kids are supposed to be the "digital natives" of the Reset Generation.

I think this theory is shaky at best.  Today's digital technology is a tool, a distraction, an obsession, or an annoyance depending on each individual user.  Just like every advance in technology over the last 200 years today's gadgets are in themselves neutral.  It is how they are used that is either a benefit or a minus.

Rodney Wedig, a football coach, wrote about his experience with these digital natives:

"Suddenly, I feel like I am that guy stuck in a generational gap. We can blame video games, our education system, our instant gratification society, or social networking that makes everyone the most important person in their little world such as, 'I have 626 Facebook friends. How many do you have?'

But, I believe it may run deeper. I have expressed this concern with several coaches and many seem to be running into the same problem. Maybe it isn’t the kids. Maybe it is this generation of parents. They are a group growing up in the reality that the American Dream might not be possible today. Of all the developed countries in the world, the United States is now the hardest to be upwardly mobile. Is it really possible to go from rags to riches in our society today? Our political climate has polarized the U.S. and the parents still living in small towns and rural Wisconsin are not the ones making money with money."
It is hard to quantify and probably impossible to prove (certainly with the "budget" I have available it is impossible) how these pieces fit together.

My theory is this:  in times of high stress people make less rational decisions and as a nation we are experiencing the highest and most prolonged stress levels since World War Two or the Great Depression.  That stress seeps out into the world in the form of increased violence and other poor decisions.  We see it in schools with students who are obsessed with technology because it meets some sort of primal or addictive need.

And those among us who are already strained because of mental health problems are likely to react in very unpredictable ways in the face of such unpredictable times.

"'Why? Why?': 26 Dead in Elementary School Massacre"

"Students Have Always Been Violent" by David Greenberg

"Theory of Generations"

"It's Difficult To Motivate the 'Reset Generation'" by Rodney Wedig
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