The weight of the garage door is extraordinarily heavy today, as Alonzo raises it to enter the evening light of a now unfamiliar world. He returns to the darkness within and removes the small child’s bicycle that was once his daughter’s. Walking it to the curb he thinks about all that it meant to him, the care he gave it to insure safety for his daughter–the training wheels, her helmet, the small da-glow vest. The handlebar streamers he added that would fly in the wind hang lifeless from the grips. Tomorrow another innocent child will fall victim to a senseless act of mass violence. Given the only institutional defense offered her, to hide under her desk and wait, she watched her friends fall one by one. More broken dreams are given over to the street.
He wonders what would compel a human being to resort to the mass murder of innocent, defenseless children? How can any human look straight into the eyes of a small child before cavitating their skull with a single round from an AR15, then moving on, remorseless and guilt-free, repeating it over and over again until the supply of remaining victims is exhausted?
It begins with the abrogation of responsibility. If we are to find the source of this horror, we must surely look within. It is we who are fault. As parents we must have failed to instill compassion as the central motivating life force. Compassion begets morality. Morality born of religious dogma is useless in the face of the pragmatic reality of survival at any level, real or perceived, because rigid rules cannot adapt to need. The carrot and stick approach to religious training fails in its obligation to develop compassion. It informs children to seek reward or avoid punishment as a course of action, but fails to develop morality, not as a set of rules, but as an outgrowth of compassion. Public schools are hog-tied by constitutional issues and are unable to implement instruction in what would be considered religious philosophy. They are not free to develop compassion in any substantive way. In this way, society has sacrificed the spiritual for the physical.
If dogma remains the emphasis, churches are useless. Tedious rituals hold little interest for young, active minds. Tradition speaks only to its seniors. It validates their life choices but offers nothing to the restless mind of an ADHD child. As attendance to Sunday services has dropped precipitously, so too has the morality of compassion. As a society we have failed to make a transition from required church attendance to joyful attendance, from mindless obedience of rules to willing participation in meaningful actions. It’s a structural problem. Because spirituality is not a way of life but some abstract state of being, without defined consequences except those attached to rigid dogma, which are all theoretical and unproven, waiting for heaven or hell is a lifetime without guarantees. To a mind without compassion, there is only the here and now. Consequence, reward or punishment, is the function of temporal structures but gratification is instant. Gratification is its own reward. We have become a society self-medicating gratification as the salve for our wounds.
Furthermore, in the absence of spirituality fostered emotionally and intellectually through compassion, children are introduced to a lifelong process of desensitization. Television programming and blockbuster movies carry most of that weight, but so does popular music. We live in the age of the “anti-hero,” a character far more interesting than a “Dudley Do-right” and the realistic portrayal of violence has grown ever more bloody and repulsive while music carries the hateful message of one oppressed culture to the other. While news programs shield sensitive viewers from scenes of actual violence and blood, children watch realistically simulated violence at all hours of the day and night. More graphic than reality, it is a hyper-reality and over time becomes less and less shocking, until they are dulled to its effect and accept it as the defacto language of effective storytelling while simultaneously becoming the intuitive framework of their own story, and for many, that story has been a life of oppression without relief, and unjustified persecution. Our systems have failed them.
Video games hasten the process. Bloody shooting galleries of war, crime and science fiction, they myelinate the neural pathways of children up to age eleven through practiced repetition, strengthening reactive connections of thought to action. In a seemingly never-ending onslaught of victims the player develops skill and racks up points that affirm success as a mass killer. It is a brainwashing process of desensitization through points reward, a reward of no real value except to the defenseless ego.
Now all that remains is the application of those skills to a personal cause.
All causes begin with the failure of institutions to secure and protect basic rights, constitutional or otherwise. These are easily understood in the most intuitive way, as common sense. The simple right to continue to live, to participate in a society with equality, to maintain freedom of choice and the right to happiness, these are but a few. No law, no document, is needed to understand these basic rights. They are inherent in all humanity as self-evident. We need not be taught them.
When legislators fail to act in the public interest, when police abuse their power, when the courts favor one class of people over another, then society becomes fragmented, and divided into the favored and the marginalized. When the marginalized realize that all paths to justice have been exhausted, violence becomes the only remaining solution. Where no solution is provided, one will be inevitably be created. Frustration is the trigger.
It is here where a father figure is most useful in developing a sense of purpose, defining a cause. Validation is therefore required. It frees the conscience from reflection, tightening the gap between thought and action and affirming belief. A developing child has only to exist to extract the passive validation a culture can offer. It’s everywhere. On a lower level it is imbued in the music of an aggrieved culture flowing passively on car radios, mobile phones and the internet, but on another level it is propagated by media coverage of competing political factions seeking power through division and hate. Through division, groups can be identified, terrorized, prosecuted and eliminated. We need to understand that we are allowing this to happen. We need to understand that we are one.
Today, one politician will denounce all competitors on a deeply personal level, even those within their own party, resorting to lies and name calling in an effort to influence public support. Tomorrow, they will all join forces supporting the winner in an effort to obstruct any meaningful change that may benefit the broad range of their constituents, while sharing the spoils among their chosen class. Lies and insults mean nothing in the long term to hypocrites with no moral compass. They all have the same goal, and for too many, the same tactics. The loner becomes the champion who propagates the pack mentality that will follow.
The loner looks outside the boundaries of convention to the power enjoyed by ruthless dictators and in the face of no meaningful progress on any single issue, foists strongman values on hapless supporters as the effective method to implement policy. Unlike the fellow politicians and established government agencies he denounces, the loner lavishes praise on these villains as a way of creating a pragmatic illusion that might makes right.
When opponents become supporters, and lies and insults have replaced thoughtful discourse, it becomes the accepted state, sending a message far and wide to be embraced by those most likely to share these baseless values that this is normalcy. From this effort a foundation of fanatics and zealots, kooks and conspiracy theorists is maintained. A cacophony of misplaced causes that finds institutional support in its leaders where none exists in law, dominates the media and reason and normalcy become forgotten traditional values. Conservatism is a ruse. In the hands of this political riff-raff it’s just a tool, a Trojan horse and a banner to follow that in the hands of hypocrites leads nowhere productive.
In this context it’s easy to understand that mass murders and the events of January 6th share the same roots.
Even today, moral clarity is being sacrificed to pragmatic action as Biden attempts to influence Saudi Arabia to ease up on the supply of oil. We are held hostage by a policy stalemate of fifty years regarding sustainable energy sources in the face of climate change. Too little, too late, long-range wisdom was overcome by short-term greed, and we now find ourselves squeezed between to murderers who hold the financial health of our democracy in the balance. It is we who allowed this. Surely you must see that meaningful change is long overdue.
Our government is like a crew with each side of the boat rowing in opposite directions. Without an agreed destination, the boat just turns in circles and goes nowhere. This is important to those who wish to maintain the status quo. They label it conservatism, but this is misdirection. It ignores the reality that all things evolve. Like anyone suffering from a drug or alcohol dependency, a society has to reach the bottom before it can save itself. We may well have reached that bottom.