My perspective in this article is limited by my position as a white male.
I was born into privilege. Growing up in predominantly white Oregon, I was met by validation from every side that I was the “right” color.
So my experience with racism and racially motivated violence is limited, and everything I write is hampered by that.
But I was brought up to know right from wrong. I was taught to not lift a hand against my brother or sister, and I was taught to help others. That is what I wish to do now, to the extent I can.
This article addresses the twinned problems of racism and violence and their intersection. I don’t know the solutions and I don’t know exactly how to help. But I will do all I can.
SINS OF THE FATHERS
As someone accustomed to using words to express himself, it is amazing how hard it is to put words around the latest tragedy in a long line of American tragedies, the slaying in South Carolina.
I feel obligated to put down the cliches that have become all too well-worn: “hopes and prayers with families” and “deplore this senseless violence” and all the rest. But thus ends my compliance with the grisly etiquette of mass violence in America.
What I really want to say is, what’s wrong with us? Why does this happen here, and so few other places?
I believe in cause and effect. So I have to start from that question: what would be the cause of this?
And that leads me to the fact that America is a nation founded on the backs of black African slaves who were brought here in chains and died in chains.
And the fact that even before that, America was a nation founded on naked ambition and unpremeditated biological warfare.
The Europeans who came here found that their plans for the continent were incompatible with the lifestyles of the indigenous people. Rather than compromising or co-creating, the Europeans exerted their will through various levels and types of force, and created a genocide.
The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.Numbers 14:18
So how do contemporary Americans deal with this history of violence?
A good start would be for every American man, woman and child of European descent to spend one day per month in mourning for the crimes of their forebears.
Actions have consequences. The seeds of violence blossom into gardens of killing.
So now we live in the deadly gardens. Presumably we want to return to the peaceful garden. What seeds must we plant?
These would be the seeds of compassion, of forgiveness, of understanding, and of non-violence. It’s time to go to work to turn towards our brothers, to reach out and help them in their suffering. It’s time to gain competence in non-violent speech, non-violent thinking, and non-violent actions.
American society today is racist and violent. Racism comes from fear, and violence comes from hatred and ignorance.
If we want to live in a world where we are free from the constant threat of being gunned down, we need to release our brothers and sisters from the prisons of fear and ignorance.
And we need to end our poisonous culture of permissive violence and extra-legal, retributional killing.
HOW OUR YOUNG MEN ARE TRAINED TO KILL EACH OTHER
It is a little-known fact that in the World Wars, very few men deliberately fired their rifles at the enemy in an attempt to kill him.
Studies of firing rates show that only about 20% of soldiers actively tried to kill the enemy — as recounted in the book On Killing by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman. The vast majority fired over the heads of the enemy, or did not fire at all.
It turns out that man has a natural aversion to killing his fellow man. This natural moral compass can be overturned, however, with training.
The training I speak of was introduced in time for the Vietnam war and drew from the psychology of Pavlov and Skinner: operant conditioning, classical conditioning, and social conditioning.
When the Sergeant says “Fire”, you fire. When the target pops up, you fire at it. If you hit it, it goes down, and you get rewarded. Simple.
This stimulus-response conditioning is now the basic game mechanic in every First Person Shooter video game on the market.
Then you have the constant stream of murders and violent killings in the media and in movies, which we simply call “action movies.”
Our movie heroes are vigilante anti-heroes: James Bond, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, Judge Dredd, Batman, and Riddick. We applaud these men precisely because of their competence in violence. They are merciless and efficient at killing. Those who do show moral restraint — notably Batman — still take the law into their own hands. They are extra-legal, extra-judicial, and retributional.
When these are the only male role models left, and their choice is either fast money in the streets or training to knock people down with guns via violent video games, what do you expect to happen?
Now you’re thinking “My son plays video games and idolizes James Bond but he’s not a killer.” And you’re right. But that’s because your son has you, and at some point, I bet you taught him that you don’t point guns at people.
Now imagine your son didn’t have you, but instead his closest male relative was on the block saying, “Someone steps to you, you back them down, by any means necessary.” Now what is your son going to do?
When was the last male in the media you saw choose a non-violent response to a crises? President Obama himself wages a not-so-secret drone war that is extra-judicial, extra-legal, and essentially state vigilantism. If this is the norm for our government, why not for its people?
The message is simple: men are weapons. They gain status by showing competence in violence.
Modern society has taken away [boys’] fathers and replaced them with new role models whose successful response to every situation is violence. And then we wonder why our children become ever more violent.Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, On Killing
The American Psychological Assocation’s commission on violence and youth concluded in 1993 that “there is absolutely no doubt that higher levels of viewing violence on television are correlated with increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior.”
By 1994, there were more than 200 studies demonstrating the correlation between television and violence.
Twenty years later, the killings continue.
Could it be that it is time for the “entertainment industry” to reign itself in?
“Oh, we don’t decide what to make,” Hollywood may say. “We just produce what people want.”
So convince me that people want a Gone With The Wind less than a Die Hard. Show me the data that correlates increased social cohesion and reduced rates of violence with the showing of The Dark Knight Returns.
You can’t do it. Partly because The Dark Knight Returns opened to an armed gunman killing people in Aurora, Colorado.
Are we really so surprised that this happened at the screening of a movie that asks the audience to essentially play the role of the cheering section for a vigilante-vs-vigilante deathmatch?
We accept the correlation between smoking and cancer. So why won’t we accept the correlation between violent media and violent citizens?
Why would we regulate cigarettes, and not regulate violent media?
Censorship is external regulation and therefore professional anathema. Yet such sanctions is the community’s natural response to what it feels might threaten its stability, be it adulterated food, dangerous drugs, guns or films that incite social evils. Film-makers, like all artists, claim a license from such sanction. They are observers outside of society looking in. But the license is held on lease. It is not free-hold. It can be withdrawn.Simon Jenkins, London Times editorial
It’s fairly easy to restrict a minor’s access to a two-ton vehicle.
It’s harder to restrict their access to information, images, videos, and virtual experiences that will accustom him to violent gun battles.
And that is why any regulation of access is going to have to start at the top — with the content creators themselves.
The television, movie and video game industries and their handful of (nonmedical) defenders can say anything they want..ultimately what they are doing is for their own personal gain and the result — intentional or not — is killing innocent men, women, and children. They are ultimately making individual moral decisions to participate in the destruction of their fellow citizens.Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, On Killing
When Robert Oppenheimer, father of the Atomic Bomb, saw the first bomb explode he wept and said, “I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.” He realized what he had done as a maker.
He didn’t turn away and say, “Well, what you choose to do with it has nothing to do with me. Your parents should have raised you better.” He wept because he realized that he held responsibility, as a maker, to make things that would improve the world for humanity.
And he had failed.
You may say, “Well, it was us or the Nazis, so it had to be us.” Fine, I agree with you. But don’t get caught up in historical hindsight. The principal is what is important.
And the principal is this: if you’re a maker, you can make a better gun or a better house. You choose.
And it can’t be an economic decision or just up to your personal preference. Your decision has moral weight and to ignore that, or to acknowledge it and still choose based on economics, or expediency, or social pressure, is to abdicate your role as a moral animal in the betterment of your fellow humans.
We had the courage to ban atmospheric nuclear tests. We have the courage to break down our nuclear stockpiles and begin recycling towards zero. So too we must develop the courage to recognize the power of mass distraction that media gives us. Content creators must behave morally if we are to turn the fountain of violence and bloodshed into the calm spring from which flows the peace, the strength, and the equanimity, and the compassion of a mature civilization.
I understand that this requires great courage. May we all have the courage to make a better choice.
ARE YOU RACIST?
The racist in a culture with racism is therefore normal. He has achieved a perfect harmony of economic relations and ideology.Frantz Fanon
If you were brought up in America, you are probably racist.
I’m not saying this to be unkind. Racism is the water we swim in. It’s normal.
If you’re white, you might not consider yourself racist because you don’t actively and passionately feel hatred towards anyone of another skin color, and you’d never say the N-word.
Okay. That’s a good place to start.
But it’s not enough to be “not racist” by that definition. That is the price of admission to polite society, but it doesn’t move us farther down the path of healing.
At the heart of America is a gaping wound that weeps the blood of millions of people who were exterminated for being the wrong color. That wound is still crying to be seen and to be healed by acknowledgment, listening, compassion, humility and heart.
For every one of us who says “I’m not racist” it falls to you to make a friend who is racist and influence him or her in a more compassionate direction.
That’s your work. You were gifted with influences that helped you to be non-racist and your mission is therefore to reach out to someone who is and help influence them as you were influenced.
If you’re part of the white community you probably need to seek out a way to connect with the black community. Seek where you can sit down and listen and hear what life is like for them. Seek and ask what you can do to help draw off some of their pain.
There’s a lot of pain in the past. Genocide. Slavery. Discrimination. Terrorism. It will take a long time to heal. But we need to heal it. So we can grow up.
The future of America has to be everyone together, accepting one another, or nothing. That’s what we’re here for.
ARE WE FREE?
This article is being published on July 3rd, as good a time as any to decide what kind of freedoms we value as a country.
Do we value the freedom of the individual to violently massacre his brothers, at will?
Or do we value freedom from worrying that our children will be shot dead in school today?
Do we value our freedom to sit in church, or in a coffee shop, relatively free from threat of being shot by someone we don’t even know?
Or is it more important to us that we don’t have to do hard things?
Or is it more important to use that we can own fully-automatic assault rifles?
To all of you who say that your owning a fully-automatic assault rifle keeps me safe from being shot at, I don’t believe you, primarily because I cannot count on you to be in that same coffee shop that I am sitting in when the gunman opens fire. Nor do I want to live in a world where Starbucks has to hire armed guards.
Moreover, even if you are there with your concealed carry, and even if you do happen to be the prize-winning pistol-shooting champion of the entire Western United States, you will still be in a tactically reactive position, from which you cannot possibly recover in time to save us all from having our day fully ruined.
I support my fellow citizens’ right to bear arms but I do not see any use for them being able to buy guns without a full background check, mental health check, and mandatory waiting period before they can buy matching ammo.
Every destructive act gnaws away at the restraint of other men. Each act of violence eats away at the fabric of our society like a cancer, spreading and reproducing itself in ever-expanding cycles of horror and destruction. The genie of violence cannot really ever be stuffed back into the bottle. It can only be cut off here and now, and then the slow process of healing and resensitization can begin.Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman, On Killing
Right now, on this 4th of July 2015, the freedom we Americans enjoy is the freedom for ourselves and our children to get shot up randomly in our own homes, schools, churches, synagogues, mosques, workplaces, parks, coffee shops, cars, and streets.
I would exchange this freedom for a new and better freedom: the freedom from the threat of racial violence, and the freedom from the threat of the “random mass killing.”
We built this world. It’s time to choose again. It’s time to choose to build a better world — a safer world.
Sound impossible? We’ve done it before, many times:
- The classical Greeks refused to implement the bow and arrow for four centuries citing it as an “unmanly” weapon.
- The Japanese banned firearms in the 1500s and sustained this ban for three centuries.
- The Chinese invented gunpowder but elected not to use it in warfare.
- The world has rejected the use of poison gas since WWI.
- We’ve banned the deployment of antisatellite weapons.
- We’ve banned atmospheric nuclear tests.
- The U.S. and Russia have been reducing their stockpiles of nuclear weapons for decades.
If we can turn away from the terrible technologies of mass destruction, then we can also turn away from the weapons of mass distraction and mass desensitization: the violent television show, the violent movie, the violent video game.
We can turn away from the violence done by lack of male role models.
We can turn away from the violence done by systemic economic disenfranchisement.
To fail to do this leaves us with only two possible results: to go the route of the Mongols and the Third Reich, or the route of Lebanon and Yugoslavia. No other result is possible if successive generations continue to grow up with the greater and greater desensitization to the suffering of their fellow human beings. We must put the safety catch back on our society.Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, On Killing
I am not calling for a government solution or government censorship. Politicians are fundamentally obsolete as problem-solvers.
I am calling for individual responsibility and self-censorship.
- If you make media of any type or work in media, it falls on you to ask yourself: “Am I creating a climate of violence or non-violence with this media? Am I creating a climate of hatred or love? Tolerance or bigotry? Acceptance or judgment?”
- If you are a single man, it falls on you to graduate to brotherhood or fatherhood. If not biological fatherhood then Big Brother-style fatherhood where you mentor a younger man and do what you can to raise him up in the way he should go. You are never too young to start this work. If you are 16 you can mentor a young man who is 12. Help him to steer away from violence and towards compassion. Your job is to teach them that might does not make right. Your job is to teach him the curriculum of peace. It is the responsibility of all adult men to show the young men of tomorrow a better way they can live, today. (My proposed curriculum is listed below).
- If you are a biological father your responsibility could not be more clear. It is to raise your kids in the spirit of the Fierce Gentleman or the Fierce Lady, guided by the precepts of morality, service, compassion for others, and competence in non-violence.
Here is the basic curriculum for young men & women:
- It’s not okay to hit others.
- Solve problems with words, not violence.
- Retaliation is never justified. Breaking the cycle of violence is your responsibility.
- It’s not acceptable to use violence to protect, defend or establish a reputation.
- It’s not okay to abuse or objectify or subjugate anyone.
- It’s not okay to practice shooting people in the head, over and over, a thousand times a week, or to take in the same as passive “entertainment.”
- It’s the responsibility of every young man & women to be competent in the use of their bodies (athletics).
- It’s the responsibility of every young man & woman to be acquainted with the use of force and to understand it, but this is to be done within the structure of a system of martial arts, with real (not digital) people so the consequences of pain and mistakes can be learned, and the proper place of anger, self-discipline, and self-control can also be learned.
- We must teach every youngster competence in non-violence, starting with non-violent speech, non-violent action and moving to peaceful nonviolent resistance to any entity (corporate or government) that would take away his or her humans rights.
‘WE WILL BREAK THE SWORD’
In the 20th century, we almost ended ourselves with atomic bombs.
Now we stand on the brink again, but this time our existential threat is from within: it is the cancer of hatred, ignorance and violence.
If we’re not careful, we’ll unravel ourselves entirely. Not because of enemies at our gates, but because of the mass murder in our city squares, repeated over and over again until the society jails itself behind bars of fear and government “protection.”
Do we have the courage to do what is necessary to cure the cancer?
Our leaders in the 20th century did. They found their way through that most unlikely path to peace.
Do we have the moral courage, and the self-control, to do the same?
And perhaps the great day will come when a people, distinguished by wars and victories of the highest development of a military order and intelligence, and accustomed to make the heaviest sacrifice for these things, will explain of its own free will, ‘We will break the sword,’ and will smash its military establishment down to its lowest foundations. Rendering oneself unarmed when one has been best armed, out of a height of feeling–that is the means to real peace, which must always rest upon a peace of mind; whereas the so-called ‘armed peace’ as it now exists upon all countries, is the absence of peace of mind. . . Rather perish than hate and fear, and twice rather perish than make oneself hated and feared — this must someday become the highest maxim for every single commonwealth too.Nietzsche
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.Isaiah 2:4
THIS POST IS DEDICATED TO THE VICTIMS AND THEIR COMMUNITIES
- Virginia Tech
- Sandy Hook
- Fort Hood
- Santa Barbara
- And too many more
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Also published on Medium.