Greetings and Salutations;
If, by the by, this essay seems a bit disjointed at times, I beg your patience. It is a complicated subject and one that I am still trying to condense into a graspable format, and, perhaps, come up with some actions that we, as a nation, can take to address the problem. Now…let us dive into the cesspool and see what we find.
The events of 2020 and so far in 2021 have focused my attention on a worrisome trend in American society that, I believe, will destroy us if we do nothing about it. That is, as the title of this essay indicates, the culture of violence that has been fostered and grown in America over the past decades. I believe that it is the root cause of many of the serious issues we are facing now, and, if we, as a society, do nothing about it, this country will become unrecognizable, and will be doomed to dissolution.
The concept of a “Culture of Violence” is not a new one by any means, and there is already a vast library of papers discussing the intricacies of the issue available online. A simple Search Engine query will turn up literally millions of papers and essays discussing aspects of this worrisome problem. I, though, want to focus on my experiences and observations as I have lived in the South for the past 65 years. During this time, I have seen dramatic changes in the way that we citizens view each other, and interact with each other.
First off…what do I define as the characteristics of a Culture of Violence? And Where do these characteristics come from?
- As one might expect from the name…this culture is not oriented towards rational discussion, understanding and perhaps compromise. Rather, there is a tendency to use violence against anyone that does not think exactly as we do.
- As a part of this, we tend to react to events emotionally rather than rationally. Those emotions often come out as they would in a 2 year old, not as they, perhaps, should be expressed by an adult many times older.
- Tolerance is a distant pipe dream. Those engulfed in this culture do not like, nor do they accept, the idea that another person’s views and opinions can be as valid as their own.
- Hate, and its sidekick Fear. Fear, whether founded in reality or not, generates hate for others. That hate makes it much easier to use violence against them when they disagree. That fear can range from fear of loss of power, prestige or position, to misogyny, to racism to a simple fear of the unknown.
- A rather egotistical point of view that, to one extent or another, has us believing we are the only smart/talented/physically beautiful/physically powerful person in the room, and everyone else is a lesser being because there is no way anyone else could live up to our personal perfection.
- A society engulfed in a culture of violence also loses empathy for others, whether they are truly different (ethnically, in gender, etc), or even part of the “tribe”. This is an odd extension of the old concept of The Other, which I have written about before… In a very real sense, they become a tribe of one…themselves…
Of course, several if not all of these are inter-related, and as such build on each other. And, because humans lie to themselves ALL the time, it is quite possible that one or more of these and various other facets I have not included, are being ignored…that we are willfully blind to them.
So, what happens when we have a nation with a significant number of citizens who are driven by and controlled by the above, emotional controlling factors?
- We see interactions that go south because we are reacting emotionally, and not rationally. For example, a member of my extended family was murdered a few days ago, in what has been reported as a “road rage” incident. Something annoyed another person enough to pull out a gun and shoot him to death.
- We see a mounting number of mass killings of strangers by people whose motivations are questionable. For example, in 2019, there were over 400 mass shootings (defined as three or more people shot and injured or killed by the same gunman, in a single incident). In recent such events, there have been causes listed ranging from no particular reason, to hate crimes, where white supremacists are trying to wipe out as many people of color as possible on their own, to the white supremacists are trying to trigger a race war that will wipe out all people of color in America and turn it into the lily-white fantasy world they think of as their idea of perfection, to the fascists who have taken control of the Republicant party spending months spewing lies to trigger violence.
- Just recently, as a result of the hate speech and incitement by public figures, pushing the idea that the Covid-19 pandemic that is sweeping the nation is a product of China, we have seen a huge spike in the number of attacks on Asian Americans.
I am going to note here that the examples I have listed here not only exhibit the characteristics I spoke of earlier, but in every case they highlight the cowardice of the attackers. In the case of the mass shootings, the murderers always choose soft targets that are unlikely to have a defense against them. In addition, a very common theme of the attacks on Asian Americans is that it is nearly ALWAYS a younger, white guy who attacks an older, more vulnerable, Asian American. Often these are sneak attacks, so the target never knows what is coming until they are struck. Even the events of January 6, 2021 have aspects of this cowardly behavior. As multiple videos of the events show us, the insurrectionists that breached the Capitol did so against a small force of lightly-armed officers who did the best they could in many cased, but had no chance of holding the mob back. The officers were not only outnumbered by 4 or 5 to one, but, it appears that some of them actually were supportive of the insurrection, and so both opened the gates to allow the mob in, but took no actions to keep any damage from happening. We have recordings of that same mob rampaging through the Capitol, looking for the Vice President – with the express goal of hanging him on the pictured gallows. They were also looking for any Democrats they could find, to kidnap them, give them a Kangaroo Court hearing, and then kill them. It was only by some significant luck, and the efforts of the Capitol Police, and the other LEOs there that we did not see televised images of our elected officials being murdered.
Speaking of which, the trial of the cop, named Chauvin, who murdered Mr Floyd started last week. The events of that day when Mr. Floyd was killed and his execution was recorded and broadcast to the Net – where it will live forever – are a perfect demonstration of several of my points about a culture of violence. Mr. Floyd was stereotyped as a big, black Monster, who was putting every cop’s life there in danger. In spite of the fact that the restraint hold that Chauvin used on him, that caused his death, was not legal under the department’s guidelines, it did not change his attitude that he was handling the situation properly, at all. The striking thing about that video is the reality that looking at Chauvin, he had the emotional reaction of a person killing a cockroach, not at all that of a person taking the life of another person. He showed lack of empathy, intolerance, hate, and a willingness to use deadly force well beyond any sane limits.
We have had so many examples, I could go on for page after page relating them. However, again, they are preserved in the Net, and a search engine query will bring up reading material to cover days, if not months.
So, Let us move on to considering what we can do to fix the problem, and remove the septic infection that is killing us as a society.
- Of course any time there is a mass killing, where, typically, a gun is used, there is a temporary burst of enthusiasm for increasing penalties for the use of guns in crimes, for making guns more difficult to get, or, for some people…removing guns from American society entirely. I, though, have come to a different conclusion. While guns are an issue, I do not think that focusing on them is going to solve the problem. Their use is a symptom, not a cause. When I was growing up, guns were quite a part of society, and yet, we had very few mass school shootings. Why? I think part of it was the fact that around 1960, there was still a respect for the lives of others…and while folks may have been annoyed by the beliefs of others, they did not consider the holders of those opinions to be a lesser being-not really human at all. Also, for example, when I was in elementary and high school, there were often fights between students. Yet, in all my years in that environment, I do not recall a single time when a weapon was pulled out in those fights. We all carried knives, of course, and some of them were barely legal…yet, if we were in a conflict, we never even thought about pulling those knives out. Again…because there was both a respect for others and, the reality that if we had done so, we would have been publicly shamed for a LONG time thereafter, and likely would have been mobbed and disarmed by the onlookers. Now, I realize that this is anecdotal evidence, and not really data, but it is the reality I saw around me, and knew of from other schools in the area. No…the weapon is not the problem in my view. The issue is the culture of violence, and if we can move to solve that, the issue of weapons will become even less of a problem.
- Over the past 40 years or so, the level of truthfulness we require of our elected leaders has eroded away to the point that the previous administration produced somewhere in the vicinity of 30,000 lies (20,000 of those just from the Occupier of the Oval Office). It has been true since day one that politicians lie. However, until just recently, they were not so blatant about it, and when called out on it, with proof of their lies, they would walk away from that lie – either by deflecting, or claiming they were misunderstood, or, in a few cases, owning the lie, admitting they were wrong, and retracting their statements. Now, though, there is not even the faintest attempt to pretend the words are the truth. The previous administration is infamous for telling two different groups totally contradictory stories (which support those groups and their causes) on the same day, and then acting surprised when the news media would ask about these contradictions. I believe that it is past time to start holding our elected officials to a higher standard. This includes not only NOT accepting their claims at face value, but, if they build a history of lying, voting them out in the next election.
- Right now, and for at least the past 20 years, we have had an increasingly vile demonization of the other political party, mostly by the Republicants against the Democrats. This has to stop. After all, when one has spent an entire campaign claiming that one’s opponent is nothing more than a demon from Hell, intent of destroying everything you love, including your country, your life and your family, it is pretty damn difficult to sit down with them in Congress and negotiate deals where both side compromise and both gain a little of what they want, but the country as a whole benefits greatly. The current, Senate Minority Leader, Moscow Mitch, is a perfect example of this. He not only makes outrageously false claims against Democrats and their programs, but, he has, for at least the past dozen years or more, done his absolute best to roadblock ANY bills that come to the Senate with the name of a Democratic Legislator on them. As of the 2020 election he had a stack of around 400 bills that he had blocked…many of which had been voted for by both Democrats AND Republicants in the House. How can this change? Well, I suggest these actions. 1) Watch what bills are coming through the Congress, and contact your House and Senate representatives to support the ones that will help America become a better place for all. 2) Be sure to contact your elected representatives and let them know, politely but specifically, what they are doing well and what they are doing wrong. 3) Vote in every election. 4) Find out about the candidates being elected and seriously ask yourself – is the person in the office doing the best for us, or would one of these alternatives be better…If the answer is the latter…then vote for those candidates. Never just vote for the incumbent because, as one person said quite some years ago, “he might be an SOB. But he is OUR SOB”.
- Be mindful. Be aware of how we look at the world, and the prejudices we bring to that view. If we find ourselves slipping into any of the characteristics of that culture of violence, then find a way to stop that. Walk away, instead of engaging with a negative situation. Speak not from pure emotion, but from intellect, fueled by emotion. Humans are supposed to be the most rational species on the planet. Having seen the behavior of so many of us over the past decade or two, I find it difficult to support that view. It is up to ALL of us to regain that title.
- If you are a parent…taking my previous point into account, work to teach your children to be open minded…to be interested in, and empathetic of the plight of others. Work to NOT imprint them with the same prejudices WE might struggle against. Remember the old saying “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”.
It is not a quick process to wipe the culture of violence out in America…it has taken decades to build to this level, and will take at least as long to eliminate. However, it is vital for us, and for the country, to do the work…to start taking those steps of this Long March.
God Help Us All
Be Safe…Wear your mask, social distance, wash early and often…and most importantly, get vaccinated.
Bee Man Dave.