Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A LOT of killing

Over 50 people, are now dead in a matter of a few days, in some spectacularly gruesome mass killings at the hands of several different gunmen.

This does not count the murders that happen in every city, on every day of the week, nor does it count those who are deciding to take their own lives on a daily basis.

This article from the Washington Post is titled Some Link Economy with Spate of Killings:

From the article:

"The factor underlying the violence, some experts think, is the dismal state of the nation's economy. Criminologists theorize that the epidemic of layoffs, the meltdown of storied American corporations and the uncertainty of recovery have stoked fear, anxiety and desperation across society and unnerved its most vulnerable and dangerous."

I absolutely do believe that economic conditions could be one causative factor of the recent mass killings, but I just can't bring myself to believe that they are THE causative factor.

When trying to correlate the killing to the economic situation, you have to wonder, did the same kind of thing happen in the Great Depression when 25% of the population was unemployed (as compared to 8.5 or 9% now), and many other dismal statistics towered over the current statistics?

I did not do any in depth digging, but a general check of Depression crime statistics reveals that the crime rate was relatively low in the depression, among all socioeconomic levels, and among all ethnic groups.

It should be said up front that in analyzing these violent acts and their possible causes that I do not ever want to forget the victims, and the pain and suffering that has been visited randomly on their families.

So, what does it all mean?

It means that for whatever reason, in this day and age, people are deciding to kill, and sometimes kill spectacularly. Buy WHY? What is the difference now, as compared to then?

In what I'm about to say, I am not idealizing that time, or "the olden days". I am not one to pine for the good old days, but I do believe there are some fundamental differences now as opposed to then, and some of the changes haven't generally been for the better.

For instance, I believe that generally, families are not as tightly knit as they once were. Then, you would not want to shame your family, or give your family a bad name. Your family also, for the most part would take care of you.

I also believe that for a lot of people, they do not have a sense of place, or a sense of community. Often the themes in these types of shootings are those of a loner, or someone who was "picked on" or made an outcast by the people he lived around. Even those who don't intend to ever go on a rampage may feel isolated, or lonely. As a society, we have isolated ourselves. A lot of people don't "do" church anymore, and a lot of people aren't involved with their communities, nor do they know their neighbors.

I think Mother Teresa had it right when she said "The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved."

I certainly think the 24/7 news media, with some of it being very specific opinion related content contributes to a climate of fear, anxiety and agitation. Adding to this, is a general glorification of violence, and saturation of violence which desensitizes us from violence towards other people.

Lastly, the guns aren't responsible for the killing, but they certainly enable a quicker piling up of the bodies. Easy, unlimited access to powerful guns and lethal ammunition certainly does not help the situation.

It was reported that the Binghamton New York shooter fired 98 shots in a minute. That is an incredible amount of firepower for an ordinary citizen to have.

So, what is the answer? I must confess that I really don't know. Certainly, there will be knee jerk reactions - stiffer gun laws will be debated, etc.

I do not think it will change or get any better though, even as the economy improves. I seem to recall that fairly regular mass killings happen in good economic times and bad.

I think it's us. If it didn't happen in any great frequency before, that should tell us something shouldn't it? Or, at least give us something to think about?

In the final analysis, you can't make people go to church, or get involved in community. You can't make family members who are cold and unloving to one another love one another. You can certainly encourage, but you can't make people turn off the 24/7 media that divides and polarizes us as a people.

I think that is the most frustrating part. We are accustomed to thinking that we can snap our fingers and make the problem go away (or throw money at it). But, I don't think this problem will be solved in that way.

And, then, a week from now, or two weeks from now, or tomorrow another one of these killings happen, and we are left to try to again figure it out with fresh feelings of pain and sorrow.

I wish I had some pithy words to close it out. Or some kind of deep, meaningful thing to say that could make it all better.

I don't have that. Every time I think of it all, I just get weary. I even think, what is the point of even writing this right now?

Again, I defer to Mother Teresa.

This is the mantra we should think about when thinking about our neighbors and how we can help each other out. Or helping or identifying that kid who might be in trouble and headed down this road. Or trying to instill a feeling of hope among our friends and neighbors:

"In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Information. Or lack thereof....

I came across this piece by Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post yesterday called Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In. Interestingly enough, the piece echoes a lot of the themes I wrote about in my last blog (TV).

In the piece she says:

"The unknowableness of current circumstances, combined with a lack of trust in our institutions, may partly be to blame for our apparent info-insatiability. People sense that they need to know more in order to understand an increasingly complex world."

I think William Greider, in his book the Soul of Capitalism puts it just as well, when he says:

"One recognizes a deepening dependence on the mysterious new machines and on the complicated organizations of modern economic life, which are operated by distant systems of decision making, themselves opaque and mechanical."

He goes on to say that:

"One paradox of the information age is that, while we are able to find out instantly so many more things than the ancestors could ever know, the anchor of self-knowledge-who we are and where we fit in, what we count for in this new scheme-seems to be weaker."

I have said for awhile that we live in a "Just in Time" world. When all the systems are operating well and in the background, we never think of them. When they start to falter, we suddenly want to know why, and what we can do about it.

I think that people sense that they need to know more as Ms. Parker says. I think it is similar to our ancestors wanting to know more about farming. Or fishing. Or whatever craft they had chosen.

The difference is, they, for the most part found the information. The ones who did not, did not survive. It was really that simple.

We search for the answers, but, I don't think we're going to find them any time soon. ESPECIALLY in the circus that counts for the media. Unfortunately, I think the big organizations who run the JIT system don't WANT you to have too much information on them. In a lot of cases, I have come to believe that the systems have become so complex, that even the "experts" don't fully understand them.

On one side of the political spectrum, we are told that the future of the earth is a dry, waterless, foodless, husk, teeming with too many people and not enough of anything else. On the other side of the spectrum we are told that the future is that of Orwell, Big Brother, Socialism, perhaps even Communism. Terrorists and bad guys behind every tree and mail box waiting to snuff out your life.

The truth MUST be somewhere in the middle. Contrary to a lot of conservative pundits, that is where most of America resides. Some slightly to the left of the middle, some slightly to the right. We must shepherd our resources, and make our industrial systems more environmentally friendly. We also must remain diligent about our security. We didn't in the years leading up to 9/11 and paid the price. But to live in fear all the time of both specters is not at all healthy.

In the very middle of those media poles, we have what is known as the Mainstream Media (although those on the right would debate this and say the MSM are decidedly pushing leftist agendas). For the most part, the Mainstream Media is looked down upon and in some cases vilified by those on the extreme information poles.

For me, they seem to be more worried about filling 24/7 worth of coverage. Most of this coverage vacillates between sappy, human interest stories, and dire coverage of dire situations. For instance, today, the big story was the First Lady touching the Queen of England - was that appropriate? Was that out of protocol? Who cares? A little bit of it is good. 24/7, not so much.

Nothing about their coverage stimulates me into any kind of deeper thought. I simply go there to find out, for the most part, basic information about world events.

As I've said before, one needs to have a balance. Too much information, and you go crazy - it is literally all you think about. Not enough, and you are ignorant, in a world that needs no more ignorance.

So how do we find the answers?

I think that is different for everyone. For some it will be a reading of the classic literature. Others it will be found in discussion and dialogue. Others will be found in a philosophical mood. For others it may be a combination of the three (and in a previous blog, I wrote about Robert Greenleaf's tasks of a competent leader - to be a historian, a contemporary analyst and a prophet all at the same time).

The answers are NOT going to be found on the churn that is 24/7 news cycles though. THAT much I'm sure of.