Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Culture of Rage

As soon as the news revealed the horror of what happened in the grade school in Connecticut, the theories began about why it happened. What led to it? What could stop it? Why our country? Although these things have happened elsewhere like Norway last year, they are more frequent here. This one though was as bad as it gets. It is impossible to imagine anything that would more stab the heart of all Americans than what happened in that grade school.  He attacked us all and hit home. In this emotional moment, the words have flown as to what led to it.

Too many guns
need more guns
Assault  rifles
school prayer 
 You name it and somebody said that's what was at fault. I think everyone is clear that it's really the fault of the one who did it (and I would add an irresponsible mother if that doesn't seem too unkind given she was killed), but we are desperate to think there is something we can do because, as it stands, anytime we enter a restaurant, a mall, a theater, send our children to school, drive down a highway, take a walk, go to work, sit in our home, we are vulnerable to it being us or ours. There is absolutely no way to prepare for it and mostly we have to live as though it could not happen-- even as we stop for a moment to listen when we hear a loud noise.

Americans want answers, but the ones I am personally coming up with aren't what anybody on either side wants to hear. People want one simple answer. They want someone/something to blame. My answers are complex not lending themselves to quick fixes. They are more like when we get a disease like cancer and there are multiple factors that led us there. That's what I think this is, and it's a part of our culture not just one group or thing.

I will say that the media's coverage of this horrified me. Yes, we want to know but they gave us misinformation as if it was facts. Mother, shooter, you name it. I don't know if all the networks were as bad, but MSNBC even had interviews with some of the children who had been in the school as reporters asked how they felt about it. Were those reporters nuts? And what led to the network putting it on the air? These little kids did try to answer, but they should have not been asked to make what was already horrible even more difficult. I also didn't like how the networks were trying to calculate if this was the worst in the nation based on numbers-- as though this was some kind of contest. That just seems nuts to me, and frankly I can answer it-- when it targets small children in their schools, yes, it was the worst!

The gun was not illegally purchased.  It is hard to say if we can get a ban on assault rifles, good if so; but the gun he used was purchased by his mother, from all accounts a well-off woman, who encouraged her son to learn to shoot, who collected guns, who was apparently living in fear of economic collapse. Was she feeding her son that kind of fear?

Some have said other nations, like Japan with rigid gun control laws, don't have gun killings. Okay, I can see that but there also are other differences with Japan. It's pretty much of a mono culture. It is not at war. Maybe they monitor the video games/movies that are available  (I don't know this about them by the way).  Could it be they don't have the politics of rage that permeates our country. Maybe they are not caught up in a culture of violence as we justify wars and torture to keep ourselves safe. Moral confusion here is rampant.

I have no idea if this young man watched the news or cared about politics. Isn't it possible though that the politics of rage impacts the energy surrounding us all? And I do not mean just right wingers. You hear it on both sides with the near hate and rabid rhetoric. Talk of overthrowing government does not just come from one side or the other.

From what I read, the murderer was a gamer. What kinds? Most Americans have no clue how very violent, realistic, and oriented to shooting others the video games have become.

And movies-- argh! Last week we watched the last of the Batman movies, The Dark Night Rises.  Part way through I told my husband that this kind of film could incite to violence a mind already unstable. The violence was glorified and used to bring excitement time after time. My opinion is it was a horrible movie, and although stable people could all watch such and not be impacted, what about unstable where it makes violence an exciting solution.

How do we as a nation, where time after time we have used violence as our solution in wars and countries that someone in our government decides threaten us, where over there innocent children have died as we try to kill terrorist leaders, where we have had wars going on now over 10 years, how can we be surprised when the violence becomes an atmosphere that is unhealthy for those unhealthy to begin?

At first I thought how could someone educated, a kindergarten teacher buy those weapons when she knew she had a troubled son. then it turns out she wasn't a kindergarten teacher. Educated or not I wondered how would she have brought such weapons into her home?Others knew her son was troubled. She had to have also and yet she had all those guns accessible to him?

That brought back the memories of the other such events. There was a school shooting in Oregon at Springfield High School in 1998. The teen-age killer's parents (liberals by all accounts) had also bought him guns (his psychologist said it'd be a good thing). He used those guns (and I think stole more) to kill them and then head for the high school where he shot 27 students, killing 2 of them.  When he had to reload, one of the wounded students jumped him and put an end to the carnage.

In my area of Oregon, there have been several families where the parents were murdered by a disturbed son. The last one, the son used a machete to slaughter them both. Once again they had known he was troubled, mentally not healthy, but they were fundamentalist Christians, good people, but naive about mental illness. They paid for that with their lives. He'll spend the rest of his life in prison-- hopefully.

So what am I saying? I have no problem with blocking ownership of assault rifles, ending the right to buy extended magazines, but unless we find better ways of dealing with mental illness, it won't stop such tragedies. Maybe less will die in each assault, but is that okay? Collateral damage? Acceptable to have five children killed but not twenty?

Can we really not find a better way to deal with mental illness? For those who worry about infringement of freedom, it's an infringement of freedom to not know we can safely send our children to school, walk into a mall without fear or be in our own homes.

On MSNBC, a research expert said most of these type of murders are committed by three types of people. One is totally delusional but they are the less common. Another is psychotic like the one who recently committed suicide in Alaska after many serial killings including home invasions. That killer said he did it because he liked killing and knew exactly what he was doing and could plan it out-- that's psychotic. The final one he had as an example were most common-- the clinically depressed.

I would add another level of mental disorder because it takes more than depression to want to kill a bunch of small children. I think that something else is out of control rage. Is there a clinical title for that? Everyone of these killers has had a rage going. What are they mad at? Maybe like the one who just killed his father with a bow and arrow in Casper Wyoming-- he said he was enraged he had been born with Asperger's.

There's a scene in the film Tombstone that might say it well for some of these callous murderers:
Wyatt Earp: What makes a man like Ringo, Doc? What makes him do the things he does?  Doc Holliday: A man like Ringo has got a great big hole, right in the middle of him. He can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it. Wyatt Earp: What does he need? Doc Holliday: Revenge. Wyatt Earp: For what? Doc Holliday: Bein' born. 
Read the following story and expect to feel upset as it's what some parents are facing and on their own with no real help from our laws or culture:  

This is clearly, as was the case with our most recent shooter, something chemical or in the DNA which is seen from the youngest of ages. For someone like that probably nobody can do anything to fix it by the time they are adults. But are we researching it? How about those who are better at hiding it? Many serial killers can hide their rage as did Ted Bundy until they have their victim vulnerable.

Are we really ahead as a culture to have this rampant rage that is being stirred up in all manner of ways when you end up with road rage, strangers hitting strangers trying to shop, someone walking down the street bumping into another, or pushing someone onto a subway track? Some murders have a purpose, gangland types, drug dealers, family disagreements. It doesn't make them okay but we understand them better. But killings where there is no purpose only to kill, how do we understand those?

As a culture, we can do something about feeding rage through our words, our choice of media, our acceptance of violent movies and video games, our belief that we can fight wars overseas to keep the blood over there. It doesn't work but even if it did, what kind of people would buy into such thinking? It's okay to kill there as long as I stay safe? I said it during Vietnam and have seen it ever since-- the blood comes home in different ways.

I had an idea about mental illness. What if when it is identified in children, besides professionals, there could be adult mentors, those who had that illness and had learned to live worthwhile lives despite the difficulty it posed? If such a young person saw that it wasn't impossible to live a good life and got help for how to do it, could it make a difference?

In some cases, we might need, as a culture, to force the meds on the person.  I've heard the complaint that it takes away their freedom. They don't like the side effects. Well, it's not so great to end up in prison for life having slaughtered innocent people either.

Why can't we put more into research and treatment for mental disorders instead of regarding them as a shameful thing to hide. If we treated mental disorders as we do diabetes, might the attitude of parents be more open to their child being treated? If, as the mother in the above article said, nobody will do anything until there is a criminal charge, isn't that too late?

Maybe with better treatments for mental disorders, we'd have more families living happier lives and less total loss of life whether from a knife, strangling, poison, bomb, or gun. We likely can't stop all such attacks, but we aren't even trying right now. It's as though we have given up. Not everyone with such a disorder is dangerous but don't we have tests to determine who might be? I know, because of personal experiences with those suffering from schizophrenia, that we do.

To add to this, what if we look at our entertainment and put up some standards where we don't allow what is purposing only to inure someone to the cheapness of life and making it look exciting to kill? When a child of five is already talking violently, it wasn't entertainment that caused it, but a lot of kids today are being fed on a diet of violence because they like it. Their liking it doesn't mean it's okay. And when small children have no empathy for others, isn't that a warning sign?

I don't have a problem with looking at guns, making stricter rules to block instant purchase, government help for background checks, blocking ownership of assault rifles (the resistance will be fierce), but if we don't look at the root cause of the rage, it will be for naught. We will never get all the guns. but we could admit that a culture of rage is not a healthy place for children to grow up-- mentally stable or otherwise. It's not great for the rest of us either.

We are not helpless in this unless we refuse to look at the real causes, unless we give up before we start. Parents like the one who wrote the article above should not be in this alone because someday that child might be the one grown up and wielding a weapon. Using this tragedy as a way to hit on a pet cause like prayer in schools won't get us anywhere. It takes courage and determination to change something. Why can't we do it?

No way am I saying I have the answers. Like everyone else I am trying to sort through it. I think it's more diverse than one easy solution. Go for assault rifles, background checks, etc. but don't ignore the elephant in the room-- mental illness.


Annie said...

You are completely right, it is complicated, there are no easy answers or solutions. And governments rarely take on complex and expensive solutions such as better mental health options. However I do think a bit of gun control would help and I do think the American government needs to show the people it has the moral strength to stand up to the powerful gun lobby.

In my country we had a terrible massacre back in 1989--not as awful as this Connecticut one--that spurred the government to beef up gun control laws. That has been a political can of worms ever since with some good and some bad results, but still, better than doing nothing at all. Police chiefs all over the country appreciated that law change.

Rain Trueax said...

My fear is that with the drumbeat on guns that it's all that will be done. What we do about mental health is pitiable. Since over the years, in different situations, I have had personal experiences with schizophrenia and other mental disorders, I just don't want to see Americans do their usual-- this is exciting and that is too expensive and difficult. The sad part with how we treat mental disorders is it leaves families at the mercy of it and it is seen as some kind of disgrace (if not possession by the devil). It is a nightmare for those with such in their family and there should be more we do about it and not just out of fear for ourselves but also because it's the right thing to do.

Lynn said...

I shall add another word to your list : apathy. We built this monstrous rage. All of us own it. In honor of tomorrow’s silence I’ll see you Wednesday. May you continue to have a good week.

Rain Trueax said...

I like that addition, Lynn. What is this about tomorrow's silence? I don't have on the news much right now. Is this an honoring thing? If so, please tell more about it.

Lynn said...

cye, Rain.

Rain Trueax said...

From Lynn's link regarding the day of silence Day of Silence.

I have a blog written for Rain Trueax but it is soothing and not about this thing. I won't likely write about this again as I said what I think.

karmanot said...

Absolutely excellent article. I wish it could published in every media forum throughout the country.

Hattie said...

I'm sitting here thinking about what can be done. ):

Ingineer66 said...

There must have been some kind of law violation by interviewing the kids just after the shooting. I can't imagine a parent giving permission for that.

As horrible as it was for the mother to get murdered, she should have had her guns locked up. Especially with a son with mental health issues. All my guns are in the safe or have a lock on them.

I would bet we will see a national magazine limit. We have a limit in California now though and a 15 day waiting period for all guns and many guns are banned here that you can buy in other states and there still seems to be plenty of crime and murders in the big cities. My small town has seen a huge number of stabbing attacks this year.

Rain Trueax said...

A lot of people won't appreciate this suggestion but as a way to give school authorities an ability to defend themselves but without guns in the school, bear spray is the right idea. It could be kept up high in the principal's office, and it requires some adjusting to use, but it likely would have stopped this guy cold. It works at 30'. If outside with a wind, it's got some limitations, but it's not all that expensive and as a first response could have left everybody alive. We have them for hiking in Yellowstone which is why we know about them.

Rain Trueax said...

that and glass in those doors that cannot be shot out. The doors were locked but the glass was capable of being shot out.

Hattie said...

Your idea about bear spray is good.

Lynn said...

Bear spray . . . absolutely brilliant solution, Rain.

Rain Trueax said...

My husband said he heard this morning a man discussing the issues with schools and dealing with youths like the one who did this shooting. He said he's had them in his schools and authorities provide no help until there has been a crime. One of the ones he knew who would not feel pain killed himself. We simply have to have ways to get to these people before innocents pay.

From what I have read (and boy I distrust a lot of what I read right now), this killers mother tried to get help for him but it's just so hard. We need to have better answers than we do. Whether someone wants all guns gone or just assault rifles, can't we agree on the mental health problem?

Lynn said...

Rain, family help for mental health fell apart twenty-five years ago. “They” would frown upon using bear spray on those you contact for assistance. Overwhelming sad . . . the statistic I saw yesterday was one in five children has some form of mental illness. The reality is those parents have no place to turn.