The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘video games’

CULTURAL BARBARISM

As I was driving Gracie back from the dog park this morning I was listening to the Guarneri String Quartet perform Dvorak’s Op. 96 No. 12 best known as “The American” string quartet.  It happens to be one of those pieces I would take with me were I to be marooned on a desert island, so I was enjoying the experience.

As we waited for the light to change, a late model pickup truck pulled alongside us.  I couldn’t tell you who the “rap artist” was, but the driver had cranked this cacophony up to maximum overdrive.  I am not sure whether this particular piece qualified as “Gangsta Rap” or was an example of the genre in its purer form, “Crap Rap.”  I do know that I rolled up my windows, closed the sun roof and could still feel the beat from the woofers pounding at me.  When the light turned, I purposely waited a few seconds to allow the other vehicle to move down the street ahead of me so that I could escape this noise and go back to enjoying the string quartet.

While I realize that there is no accounting for taste – or lack of it – I can’t help wonder what sort of effect listening to a steady diet of rap with its mostly demeaning lyrics must do to an individual’s psyche.  Or perhaps the psyche is already predisposed to wanting to listen to this type of stuff and is merely finding an expression for its own ideas and feelings.

When we returned home I enjoyed my coffee and some yogurt and Gracie enjoyed her morning treats.  I sat in the back yard watching Charlie the mockingbird, who is a regular visitor, perch on the wall, waiting for his morning treat.  So I went in to the pantry and set out his raw oatmeal which he seems to enjoy more than traditional bird seed.

He and Gracie have reached a sort of détente.  She isn’t quite sure why I tolerate his presence and I suspect he wonders why I tolerate having such a massive canine in the house – but other than staring at each other they have come to an understanding.  Would that humans could do as well in the way of interpersonal relations.  And I went back to thinking about the fourth movement of the Dvorak, my favorite movement in the quartet.

After some time re-playing the music in my mind I decided it was time to start the day as it was already 7:30.  So we went upstairs and I turned the news on the television.  As it happened two stories caught my attention.

The first was that a new video game, “Grand Theft Auto V” had been released and attained sales of $800 Million in a 24 hour period of time.  After I did a little checking I was able to discover that it sells for $60 a copy – so over 13 million people purchased this game.

The game, of course, extols those who have mastered the art of car theft and it does so in an extremely violent manner.  Perhaps that explains, at least in part, why a car is stolen in this country every 44 seconds – and less than 12% of those who are responsible are ever apprehended.

The second item which aired a bit later in the morning was that the Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis apparently enjoyed playing video games – sometimes for as long as 15 hours at a time.

As you may recall, on Monday the media leaped all over the shooting.  Virtually every station first reported that the weapon that Mr. Alexis had used was an assault rifle – and most pointed out that it was the same weapon used in Newtown.  They were wrong.  Not only were they incorrect with their “facts,” which seems to be a secondary concern for most of our news sources, but they are wrong as to their underlying assumptions as to the cause of these mass murders.  They insist on citing guns as the cause rather than looking at the persons who are standing behind them and pulling the trigger.

Mr. Alexis was a mentally disturbed man who needed help.  He didn’t get it and as a result 12 innocent people died.  Whether or not his absorption in playing video games contributed to his condition is anyone’s guess.  But I think a reasonable assumption is that it might well have aggravated his mental problems.  Perhaps banning violent video games will be the next thing on the agenda for our liberal friends, though I doubt it.  It doesn’t fall within the purview of their agenda.

Mom used to say, “You are what you eat.”  The same is probably true of how our minds are fed – whether that is with positive or negative nourishment.  So to start your day right, I’ve attached the Dvorak for your enjoyment.  Be well.

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DODGING A BULLET

As I write this it’s early morning PST on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012.  From a personal standpoint I view this as Gracie’s sixth birthday rather than the Mayan Apocalypse.

Of course, I guess whatever the Mayans had in mind – if they indeed had anything in mind – still has the rest of the day to play out and we won’t really be safe until it’s turned December 22nd everywhere on the globe.  That is assuming that the predicted date was computed correctly.

Did those making the calculations adjust from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, as one example where we might have gone wrong?  Did we start our computation using the correct day – there’s another possibility.  But I know with certainty, that there is something definite about December 21st.  In the western Church’s calendar, it is the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Whether or not you’re religious, you probably have heard of him through the phrase, “Doubting Thomas.”  He was the disciple who, when told of Christ’s Resurrection didn’t believe it was true.

“Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”    John 20:25 (KJV)

Thomas was one of those whom we might describe as an empiricist.  He lacked faith and needed to see for himself – and I guess in a certain sense, I have to join with his philosophical view as it comes in our rush to craft yet another law which will further control our lives.

A week after the tragedy in Newtown, CT we are busily working in Washington to fix our problem of violence by restricting gun ownership and the type of weapons that Americans may own.  As a non-owner of weaponry, this is a theoretical event for me – nonetheless I think it is an important one for all of us, because it speaks to our allowing emotion rather than reason to drive our actions.  And I have said repeatedly in these posts that when emotion prevails it is often closely followed by chaos.

If we could pass a law which would eliminate murder in our society I would be the first in line to support it.  Oh, wait, we already have one.  “Thou shall not kill.”  We as a species have been consistently ignoring that since God handed it to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  We have simply found better, faster and more lethal ways to disregard it. 

We have celebrated a culture of violence, exposing our children to all that is vulgar and brutal in our video games and in our movie theaters and on our televisions – and we wonder why children and young adults commit the types of atrocities that Adam Lanza perpetrated on the citizens of a small town in Connecticut.

We have abandoned the two parent family with a spiraling birth rate among unwed mothers and justify that because some of our Hollywood celebrities and sports heroes don’t bother with that staid old institution called marriage.  If it’s good enough for them whom we idolize, why shouldn’t it be just as good for us?

When those of us who object to their behavior as being unprincipled go to watch a movie in which they star or a professional sports game in which they play, we have sullied ourselves and undermined our own right to criticize all that is wrong in our society.  Because we have endorsed the problem and not acted to implement the solution.  And that solution is really quite simple. 

Like Caesar’s wife, each of us needs to accept accountability for her or his actions and try, as best we can, to be mindful that we should always be “above reproach.”  At the very least, we should be thinking about our actions, both as to how they effect our own lives as well as the lives of others with whom we share a place in society. There’s been a lot of “doing” in our society but not a whole lot of thinking.

We have geared our lives to revolve around which pop-culture activities will provide the greatest immediate sensual gratification and we run with that one.  No further value need be inherent in it other than “it pleasures me now.” 

Perhaps that was what ran through Adam Lanza’s mind when he murdered those children, his mother and the other adults in Newtown, CT.  “If it feels good, just do it.”

The cries of outrage are being heard all around the country and all around the globe over Newtown.  And those cries should be heard because they are the sound of pain and anguish.  Pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. 

But passing another law regulating guns will not silence the rifles or the assault weapons or the pistols.  Those weapons do not fire themselves.  It takes us to pick them up and use them.

If we continue to ignore the narrow path of decency and morality and stay on our present course, in some small but very real way, each of us was that deranged person in Newtown, CT.  And each of us helped pulled the trigger.

ON CLOISTERED VIRTUE

During the Reformation, the concept of monasticism came under serious attack from several of the reformers.  Among those were John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli.  Calvin, in particular assailed the concept of monasticism and it is in large measure due to him that we have the term “cloistered virtue.”

Christians of that time viewed the world and our place in it as a struggle to enable that which was good in us to overcome that which was evil.  That the world offered many temptations then as it does now is undeniable.  But Calvin believed that only those who confronted evil and overcame it had the potential of being one of God’s elect.  Those who sat in monasteries, far away from the world’s allures could never overcome evil because they were secluded from it.

Allow me a simple example to explain his philosophy.

We will assume that consuming alcohol is a “sinful behavior”.  There are two people involved in our discussion.   One lives on a desert island where there is no alcohol.  As a result, he never consumes any.  But he is not virtuous because he never was in a position to consume it.  The second individual never takes a drink either.  But he lives in a home within a few minutes of six alehouses.  He is virtuous because demon rum was available to him yet he rejected its temptation.

Obviously, the world has changed in the last five hundred years.  There are few uninhabited desert islands left – and virtue is something we leave to dull people who really aren’t with it.  That brings me to the subject of this post which is the horrific shooting spree in Aurora, CO.

If you read my earlier post,  https://juwannadoright.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/i-have-an-idea/ you realize that I do not want to talk about the young man who was the perpetrator of this tragedy.  I don’t even really want to talk about the tragedy itself.  I want to talk about why this happened – and how we can minimize the likelihood of such events from recurring in the future.

But I am going to break my own rule for a moment and discuss a specific aspect of this event because it provides a good segue into my main discussion.  That is that there was a three month old infant who was among the injured.

What kind of people are these parents to bring a newborn who needs rest and quiet to a movie theater with sonic-level audio effects when their child should be at home sleeping?  How self-absorbed are these two – and what further damage will they inflict on this child as they “rear” him?  What sort of future is in store for this infant, growing up in a home lacking positive and thoughtful parental direction?

Okay, I’ve gotten that out of my system and I apologize for what may be a rant.  But I know that my parents took far greater responsibility with me than the parents of this newborn.  I was very fortunate.  And I admit that I’m more than a little mad that there are so many people roaming planet earth who possess the genitalia but not the common sense to bring children to life and then fail to nurture them.

We should not be surprised at the incident in Colorado.  We live in and extoll a culture of violence.  We are almost inured to it through the daily reports of how people, whether a rogue individual, a cadre of extremists, a gang or a government inflicts death on others.

When I say extoll, I mean that we stand in line to buy the newest and most violent video games.  We enjoy movies in which there is violence – the more gruesome the better.  We spectate at boxing matches which have produced numerous permanent brain injuries and wonder why some of those boxers go home and physically abuse their spouses and children.

Is there an explanation for our increased embrace of violence in our culture?  Some will suggest that we have abandoned our standards of decency – and I think there is much to argue for that viewpoint.  But I think there is something even more insidious – if you can imagine something that is yet worse.

There is an historical corollary between what is happening in America today and what befell the Roman Empire as it went into decline.  As the Empire started on its way to collapse, so did the moral standards that had been its underpinning.  Depravity and orgies replaced philosophy and reason.  And the games in the Coliseum became more and more gruesome.

“Panem et circenses.”  Bread and circuses.  It was described by Juvenal as a way those in authority used to distract the common people from the collapse that was imminently to befall them.  The uneducated can easily be lead down the path that leads to destruction.  And there is no one more willing to initiate a policy of distraction than a politician who is looking to hold on to his own job.

So is there anything we can do to reverse this trend?

We can elect people to represent us who hold to high standards of ethics and actually serve as examples to the rest of us through their conduct. And we can rid ourselves of those who talk the game but prove through their actions that they are unworthy of our support.

We can refuse to buy any violent computer games and demand of those companies that create them that they stop producing them, explaining our reasons for boycotting their products.

We can stay home and read books that have guided mankind for centuries rather than sit and watch worthless drivel in our movie theaters and explain to Hollywood that unless they elevate the quality of their product we will not patronize them.

We can turn off our cable boxes and instead of exposing our children and ourselves to a constant stream of violence and infidelity, we can support each family member in a loving environment.

We can insulate ourselves and our children, at least in small measure, from some of the atrocities of this world that we have begun to think are the norm rather than the exception.  Or we can allow our exposure to continue to all that is most dehumanizing and destructive.

Do we want to raise the next person who will randomly kill tens of people?  Or do we want to sequester our kids from exposure to the sort of behavior which leads to these acts of violence?  Isn’t that what responsible parenting is all about?

I guess it’s a question of whether we believe in the validity of “cloistered virtue.”  I think you know where I stand on this issue.

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