To cure the violence, we must identify and heal
the causes of hatred and violence.
If we don’t deal with the causes we will never be safe.
The term random violence suggests that there is no explanation for such acts which have become all too commonplace recently. Acceptance that there is no explanation implies that that there is nothing we can do about it. The approach of placing more guns in the hands of civilians has been promoted as one possible solution although it sounds scary to me.
Commentators and others have scratched their heads trying to clarify the reasons for this violence. Among the possibilities are parenting styles, the effects of mental illness, the proliferation of guns, violent video games, media sensationalism and violent lyrics in music. We would like to find a reason for the violence which does not include our own culture and attack the problem as lying outside us.
What if the reasons lie within the culture of which we are a part? Then the search becomes uncomfortable. We would need to examine our own thoughts and emotions as people living in this culture.
In his article, The Autogenic Massacre, P. E. Mullen reminds us that guns and violent revolution formed one basis for founding the United States. He also revises a well known slogan to read “Guns don’t kill people, but people kill people with guns.” He notes that many popular movies glorify gun violence. Most people do not use guns to actually protect themselves. Most seldom have the intention of murdering others. Yet some people do have such motivations and some become mass murderers.
Mental illness is often seen as an explanation or in common words, “He must be crazy!” For the most part it is a “he.” Violent attacks are much more likely to be carried out by men than by women. The result of this kind of thinking is to identify and isolate these mentally ill individuals from mainstream society. Yet the mentally ill are far more commonly the victims of violence than they are perpetrators of violence.
Attempts to clarify which traits predict violence have been largely unsuccessful and tend to include people with moderate or little risk of becoming violent. The great majority of mass killers are white males, but no other characteristics are helpful in defining who is likely to become violent. They are not clearly psychotic, delusional, crazy or insane.
Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University, has listed the features most relevant to mass shooters. They include antisocial traits, depressed mood, recent loss and perception that others are to blame for their problems.
He sees these risk factors as common to violent adults as well as children. Yet these are not mental illnesses in themselves. They imply unwanted emotions and difficulty coping with challenges and life events which we all face from time to time.
Mullen suggests that mass murderers may not differ from the rest of us in how they think or feel. They may just differ in the degree to which they experience feelings such as rage and motivations like revenge.
Another factor might be an exaggerated sense of entitlement which fuels rage in certain people when their expectations are not met by society. Other people disposed toward violence often feel marginalized by society, also leading them to anger, rage and feelings of wanting revenge.
Trying to isolate such individuals and punishing them for their emotions only increases their sense of isolation and pent-up rage. As we saw when we discussed the criminal justice system, another approach would be to try reaching such individuals before they become hardened into seeing violence as their only alternative. Such an approach would not be easy, and it also goes against the vigilante or cowboy thinking of many people these days. Yet it promises a much more productive way of going about making lasting changes.