The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It


Other than having read more than my fair share of Freud, Jung, Skinner and various others in their field, I have no training in psychology or psychiatry.  So it would seem that trying to understand the psychology of what motivates people would be best left to those with greater credentials in the field.

I do have training in other of the social sciences – all of which are inexact in both their methodology as well as their conclusions.  But it is not on this training that I will rely in this post – rather something quite different.  That is my own power of observation.

Perhaps it is a function of genetics, perhaps the environment in which I was raised or both but I am very observant.  I say that with no aim to self-promotion. On the two occasions that I have witnessed a crime the police have commented that, “they wished more witnesses were as descriptive and accurate as I was.”  By the way, the guilty parties were both apprehended.  (One conviction – one plea bargain).

I have been trying to make sense of the seemingly endless stream of impersonal group murders that have been making all too frequent news.  Whether it’s a movie theater or a Sikh temple or a military installation or a high school.  Yesterday’s shooting in a conservative organization’s offices in Washington, D. C. might well have been added to this list had it not been for the brave intervention of a security guard.

Can these all be incidences of copy cats run amok?  Or is there something else going on?  The motivation and the targets seem to be disconnected.  Yet, I believe there is a connection, if not in terms of the victims, but in terms of the perpetrators.

It is difficult to walk up to someone and insult that person to his face, let alone take his life.  Direct confrontation makes things very personal.  But it is not difficult to say something malicious about someone and post it on Facebook so that thousands of people can see it.

Are we becoming disconnected from one another on an interpersonal basis?  Let me offer this example for you to consider.

One of my acquaintances asked for my advice about her relationship with her boy friend.  She told me she wanted to talk with him about where it was going and what their mutual expectations were.  So she called to speak with him, actually wanting to have a sit down face to face conversation.  He chose not to do that – although he was willing to discuss the matter – but only if they did so by texting each other.  After hearing this it took me two days to recover from the shock.  By the way, my advice was, “Move on.”

Our technology has done many wonderful things for us.  We can communicate faster and stay informed under almost any circumstance or location.   That is a good thing.  But the bad thing is the impersonality of how we achieve this as we sit behind our computer screens and our smart phones.

Would it have been as easy for James Holmes to pull the trigger in the Aurora, CO  movie theater if he knew the victims he was about to shoot?  Would the shooter at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin have been able to carry out his plan if some of the worshippers were his neighbors?  Perhaps there is something so twisted about these people that it would have made no difference to them.  But perhaps not.

If we are becoming people who can only express our feelings about our inter-personal relationships through texting; if we view each other merely as out-of-body avatars and gravatars; if we give up our innate need to communicate on a personal level with each other through touch and compassion and feeling, is it any surprise that these sort of events are occurring with greater frequency?

I can’t help but think of the proverbial poor fish who are swimming in the barrel, the hunter poised to strike with his rifle outside their little world, looking in on his victims.  And we are the fish.


Comments on: "OUTSIDE LOOKING IN" (13)

  1. I certainly have no definitive answer, either. But I find a certain irony in the fact that we now have [probably] millions of Americans thinking about the “Why?” question, but even in this know-it-all age we live in, nobody seems to be able to really explain this mass-shooter mentality. Because they typically shoot a bunch of innocents, maybe we can conclude that they simply put no value on human life outside of their own circle — sort of like a religion I know. And why would this be? Breakdown within family units? Bad upbringing? Too much numbing of our sensitivities by gratuitous violence on TV, in movies, in vidoe games? Too little of the respect-and-compassion side of religion? Too much concentration on self-gratification, thus unable to withstand opposition and hardship? Whatever the reasons, mass murders seem to me to be the ultimate in selfishness and navel-gazing — if they can’t have it their way, it must be someone else’s fault, and if that specific someone else is not here, or is amorphous, then innocents must be sacrificed at the altar of personal ego.

    Not sure this makes any sense at all — it just occurred to me that I appear to be rambling.

  2. Rambling is sometimes good for the soul.

    I think it’s probably a combination of at least some if not all of the conditions and circumstances which you cited. I guess feeling that you are empowered to take one or more lives is the ultimate rush for those who have a low opinion of themselves and need some external sign of justification for their existence.

    Of course, there’s also the conspiracy theory … all these incidents were paid for by those who would like to restrict the ownership of guns, causing a general panic among the public. But that’s a conversation for another time.

  3. This post invites deep contemplation. I agree with the connection you make between technology and disconnection, which is ironic since tech touts itself as the millennium tool for greater connection. But what I would like to add to your accurate assessment regarding disconnection, is the role tech games play in this & the ubiquitous violence inherent in these games.

    I have yet to meet a kid who didn’t have at least 10 apps in which killing someone or something is the end goal (people, animals, the undead, you name it – if it moves, there’s an app that can kill it with plenty of blood & innards for more realistic graphics). And the apps that sell best are the ones with the highest body count & the most realistic killing. I believe, over time, this brand of tech successfully alters sections of the brain, and blurs the line between virtual & reality in still-developing young minds, so that by the time they reach adulthood, they have nearly become bots themselves – jaded to violence, in fact stimulated by it, and unable to empathize with actual pain which accompanies actual violence because apps & video games don’t have this element.

    These tech kids (which realistically is probably, by now, most kids) are not developing in the way children of pre-tech generations did. Emotional elements which foster, rather than erode, human connection are no longer as present as they once were. The guy who wanted to discuss his relationship by text is all too common. I see it every day at school & in fact, it’s the rare person who’ll tackle negative relationship interaction face-to-face when it can be done with much less discomfort through some form of tech.

    These are just my thoughts on this…

    • Thanks, SB for your thoughtful comment and expansion on my thinking.

      I had thought to add a part about video games – but I really couldn’t get my thoughts sufficiently well connected – and they’re not something with which I am extremely conversant. So I sincerely appreciate your helping flesh out this post with your comment. I agree, if we spend our time blowing up things in cyber space, over time, it is going to have some kind of effect on our thinking.

      The closest I can come is a wander through any casino which has the latest generation of high tech slot machines. There are sounds and whistles, voices, animation, explosions, all with a seemingly infinite number of variations. As you walk by any of them you can almost see the glazed look on the person’s face who is playing – hoping for a big score. The only human interaction they seem to need is the young lady walking by saying, “Cocktails.”

    • “jaded to violence, in fact stimulated by it, and unable to empathize with actual pain which accompanies actual violence because apps & video games don’t have this element.”

      Beautifully said, Sylver.

  4. I have to admit that I’m surprised the casinos haven’t found a way to deliver the drinks through a “Star Trek” type replicator – thus saving costs by eliminating the cocktail waitresses and sparing the players with having to deal with any fellow humans at all.

  5. At the risk of sounding prudish I feel that the violence promoted on film, video and games desensitizes our emerging youth to the point they look on violence as entertainment or a way to get what you want that others have.

    • I don’t think there’s anything prudish about going against the mainstream when the mainstream happens to be behaving badly. I read an article a few days ago about the number of kids who are so addicted to video games that they have literally gone for several days without taking their eyes off the screen and have become physically ill. (Where their parents were while this was happening and why they permitted it is another story).

      I truly believe, “You are what you eat.” And by that I am not referring solely to physical nutrition but to what we take in through all our sensory experiences.

      • [I truly believe, “You are what you eat.” And by that I am not referring solely to physical nutrition but to what we take in through all our sensory experiences.]

        And I say “Amen” to this.

      • Mom preached that gospel while raising me. In addition to providing the family with well-balanced, nutritious meals, this doctrine also regulated the limited amount of television which I could watch (and determined which content was acceptable) and meant that I had a never ending reading list which she prepared.

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