Time to disarm.

Denver SafetyOn the day of the Connecticut massacre, I heard a radio show caller say that the recent run on U.S. mass murders is attributable to “stateism.” He claimed that stateist parents now blindly follow the dictates of stateist psychologists who assert  — without solid evidence, he incorrectly stated — that spanking and physical disciplining of children is not effective. The result, he reasoned, is that undisciplined children grow up to be mass murderers.

The conservative Michael Brown — who was hosting the KHOW show solo whereas he usually co-hosts with counter-point progressive David Sirota — concurred with the caller and added that stateism is especially dangerous because it is a departure from the moral compass of religion. Caller and host also agreed that stateists are so interested in limiting individual rights (in this case, gun ownership) that they do awful things like create gun-free zones and they resist concealed-weapon initiatives. They didn’t say which religion’s moral compass has gun rights as its True North, but the agreed-upon fantasy was that their true-conservative / anti-stateist / pro-individual-rights policies would deter a potential mass murderer from acting or would allow for a heroic gun-guy to gun the bad gun-guy down before murdering so many.

This argument amazed me especially because it was nearly the polar opposite of how I reacted to the horrific events in Connecticut. My thought immediately after hearing the tragic news was that we may be beyond  arguments about mental health screening and gun control, both of which obviously need to be improved but neither one of which will stop an individual who is determined to act out their most violent impulses. We need to think more societally, I thought, and through my psychologist lens I thought of what we could do to address the environment that cultivates such intense violence. We have an average of 34 murders per day in this country, so the concentration of large-scale murderous violence into a singular event like the shootings yesterday is somewhat of a distraction from the real issue.

But if we are products of our experiences, I thought, what are the likely experiences that spawn an individual who could kill young children in a school? I find it unlikely that it’s that individual’s experiences of not being spanked, or of having to navigate a system of government that sometimes considers constituents’ collective safety in tandem with individual rights — whether or not that consideration is a departure from someone’s religious or political ideologies.

I believe that violence, just like any social behavior, is socially learned. For example, the most consistent finding about spanking children is that it teaches them to solve their own interpersonal problems with physical aggression. If it’s not physical discipline from caretakers, then video game and popular entertainment kill-or-be-killed messaging may achieve the same antisocial results, with the added twist of systematically desensitizing individuals to the use of firearms — not just striking someone with your hand — to solve relational problems.

“Mental illness,” the idea that an individual’s mind or behavioral patterns may be isolated, defective, and distinguishable from the culture that produced it, is also implicated when you listen to the news coverage about mass murder. If this is true, we in the mental health field may need to start classifying whiteness, youth, and male-ness (or the combination of the three) as a population that needs to be screened for potential mass murderous-ness.

Even though this is what white psychologists have historically done to “profiled” groups who behaved outside the norms of white male culture, this seems a bizarre premise on its face, doesn’t it? Or maybe I’m just saying that out of self-preservation as a white male (who, at least, isn’t young anymore).

Despite the divergence in political, philosophical, and psychological ideals I found I had with the above-referenced analyses of mass murder and its roots, I also recognized a similarity in our arguments: that we both believed that some aspect of our larger culture is culpable when we try to figure out what’s going on with these mass shootings.

I know I’ll never convince someone otherwise who believes ardently in the social responsibility they have to spank their children or in carry-and-conceal mass-murder- or home-invasion-interruption fantasies. But maybe we can build upon their belief that government is somehow part of the problem in that we socially learn murderous violence as a solution to our problems from our government:

  • A few dozen religiously zealous men collaborate to carry out mass murder on our soil, and our government kills or displaces hundreds of thousands of regionally-similar but wholly-uninvolved citizens of Iraq
  • The federal government continues to condone state-sponsored murder of murderers through the death penalty

Many Americans use illicit drugs and we use our police and judicial systems to threaten and carry out war-like violence and mass incarceration upon the drug market’s actors

It’s chicken-or-the-egg; our goverment is of and by our people, and our people have a problem with violence right now. You know things have shifted when there is a palpable, likely statistical reality to the gut feeling that we are daily putting targets on our backs by engaging in the previously safe-from-automatic-weaponry activities of going to school or the movies or the mall. But I think if our government really wants to stop future murderous rampages, it’s got to first stop perpetrating its own murderous rampages.

I for one don’t see how the problem can be fixed without changing the culture. I think it’s possible; as I heard the great Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison point out Friday we have changed our culture drastically in the past. I think we must unite around the simple idea that peacefulness and compassion for others’ suffering is a far more effective solution to our problems than is aggression or violence. A commitment to a peaceful culture allows us to talk out our conflicts and emotional difficulties rather than acting them out.

Maybe we can start to see the seeds of these possibilities in our government’s actions: the ending of our wars and the refusal to start new ones; the number of states abolishing the death penalty; the discussion of ending the drug war in favor of legalization and treatment.

Just as important is the individual’s peacefulness responsibility. I would argue that this might require individuals to re-examine beliefs such as, “I cannot protect my family without a gun.”

It’s time to disarm, people.

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