Guns, Games, Mental Illness, Media, Mindfulness and Grief.

We are looking for answers. We aren’t going to find them. Lots of folks I respect in the field are pulling out some compelling data – but we need to look at the data altogether, in a complex quilt, and not just one piece at a time. And there are lots of anecdotes out there being pieced together from prior cases – but at the end of the day the plural of anecdote is not data – it’s just shooting in the dark trying to make sense of this.

Bottom line – we want answers, we want the madness to stop – but we don’t want to pay for it or change our habits. We want things the way they once were, before mass shootings, and dead children, and fear. But the world has changed too much.

I think we can make a dent in these tragedies – but everyone wants to fix just ONE piece of the machine – it’s a bit like fixing a flat tire on a car with a broken fan belt – it’s still not going to work.

1. Guns: Second amendment rights. Antiquated legislation. And does a hunter really need a weapon designed to shoot out 30 rounds in seconds? Guns and angry, agitated, unstable people do not mix well. At times of utter dysregulation and “snap” – every second counts – and guns work fast – which is why they are such a lethal combination.

The fix: Amend legislation, make it harder to get a gun, take draconian measures. Most people don’t kill – but lots of more us will if we have a gun in our hands when we lose our sense of control. Keep guns out of the hands of most – and we may see less of this.

The truth: Make them illegal, and they will go underground – people who want guns will always get guns, and the higher costs of black market-ism will incentivize gun production and ownership even more (is anyone out there familiar with the drug trade??).

2. The Media: This is such an easy straw man, and thousands of years ago, the media was brutal gladiatorial games in the Roman Colosseum where thousands of people sat in the sun to watch people brutally kill each other. Freud would argue we are working out our aggressive instincts that we all have when we look at violence in film, on TV, and in video games. But it is everywhere – and with guns available, it makes it easier to play out the fantasy. And mean spiritedness is the spirit du jour of too much of what we watch on TV. Mean sells media.

The fix: Have less of it, be more aggressive in enforcing warning labels on violent media, stop going to these films – studios respond to bottom lines. Most people who watch violent films or play violent games don’t hurt other people, but it does increase violent ideation, and in the hands of the vulnerable or suggestible it increases the possibility of danger. Visual violence through media reinforces a culture where human lives lose value, and murder and mayhem become glorified. Tell the networks we want programming that makes us strive to be better.

The truth: It isn’t going anywhere – again, it makes the industry too much money. Parents and teachers need to regulate these things – keep their kids from the imagery when they are most impressionable, keep a latch on the violent video games, talk about what is going on instead of playing naive. Regulating the media will also mean it goes underground, and You Tube would become a veritable treasure trove of violent videos – it is part of the landscape.

3. Mental illness. As soon as the tragedy erupted – everyone wanted a diagnosis for Adam Lanza – Autism spectrum? Personality disorder? Schizophrenia? Psychopathy? To what end? Most people with these diagnoses will NEVER do these things – does smacking these labels on people make it go away? As a rule – no. Treat the problem, don’t just diagnose it after the fact.
The fix: Mental illness is often associated with issues around judgment, decision making, and dysregulation. Not necessarily violence, but sometimes – yes and that can be directed at the self or towards other people. And the problem with mental illness is that it is costly because it requires chronic treatment, and most people who need it don’t want it or can’t afford it. Our ability to treat mental illness not just acutely, but over a lifetime is critical. And yet, not always enough.

The truth: People like mental illness as an explanation after the fact because it assuages our need to “understand” – but most don’t want to pay into systems that could ensure that more people get better care in the long term. We need to put the money into schools and other institutions that can provide the requisite support. We don’t.

4. A disconnected world. Ironically, in a world that seems so connected – we are not. The very way we are learning so much so quickly (sometimes too quickly, sometimes not quickly enough) about Newtown and other tragedies are the very social networks that may be pulling us away from our own core. We are all so distracted that we may not be paying enough attention to each other. There was a time when all we had to do was get ourselves fed, and sit around the fire at night. Those fireside chats of yore were how we kept an eye on each other. Now it’s every man, woman, and child for him or herself. Alienation can be a dark space, and can result in us not paying attention to others. Too many of us “keep to ourselves.”

The fix: We are a social species. We need each other, and that is just not love and conversation and connection. It is also awareness. And enough of a connection that more than a few people are are aware of the subtle shifts in one another. If it looks like someone is having a bad day – reach out. If that happens enough, some people may get help.

The truth: This doesn’t always work. We live in a litigious world – where if you call someone out on “possibly being off” – you could be dealing with accusations of defamation or worse. We may overinterpret some signs and underinterpret others. We don’t always get it. It’s easy to piece a story together backwards.

So what do we do? Just like in any good multiple choice test – when in doubt – choose “All of the Above.” We must do all of the above – we curtail the supply chain of weapons that can do this harm, we pay attention to young kids growing up with a steady diet of violent games and media, we treat and monitor mental illness, and we start paying attention to the people around us. That may create a net that will still have holes, but perhaps the holes would be smaller, and we could stop this more often. We will never succeed in eradicating it altogether – and I think the policy makers are wasting time and lives trying to create a dam that holds back all of the water. Let’s try to make it so that any step in the chain, we can minimize the harm and damage. And none of this is solace to the families in Newtown, Connecticut who are enduring inexplicable loss.
As we face down a new year, it’s time to stop trying to fix the broken systems one part at a time – we have to have the courage, the conviction, and the sense to roll up our sleeves, and take the entire machine apart.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 at 11:58 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Your comment

Powered by WP Hashcash