Another mass shooting brought a dark cloud over the nation this week, setting the political and punditry class about offering soundbite solutions to a disturbingly common problem in the United States. What the talking heads won’t admit, however, is that they are a big part of the problem.
As Americans have lived through the horror of mass shootings over the past several years, the nation’s reaction to the events has varied little. There’s the initial shock and round-the-clock news coverage. Then, Americans are pummeled by weeks of appearances by politicians, activists and pundits who have carefully crafted messages to fit television time as they discuss how to best prevent the tragedies.
But the problem remains that the next tragedy is always just around the corner.
We can debate for the next 100 years about whether eliminating the 2nd Amendment would prevent mass killings. I’m of the opinion that it wouldn’t. Only because an individual sick enough to violate the most basic rule of humanity is going to find a way, whether by using a vehicle or an improvised explosive, to bring about senseless carnage.
What’s really not up for debate, however, is that these events indicate there is a very real underlying sickness within out society which appears to be catching on with an increasing number of disgruntled individuals willing to carry out acts of heinous violence.
Why don’t we talk about that?
Part of the reason is that we really don’t understand it. In fact, despite all of our claims of medical dominance here in the U.S., this nation probably has one of the weakest understandings of how to encourage mental well-being than any place on the planet. That’s because we Americans treat mental health in the same way we treat everything else, as a consumer product.
You want to have good mental health in America? Well, just head down to your doctor’s office and he’ll write you a prescription for a little bottle of pills designed to alleviate your depression by eliminating much of your natural capacity for emotion.
In case after case, we find that our nation’s mass shooting monsters are also patients of well-meaning doctors who handed them prescriptions for mind altering drugs designed to help these individuals better cope with the ravages and disappointments of modern life. It is true, of course, that it’s purely correlation to point this out. After all, something like one in five Americans is hooked on some type of psychotropic drug designed to help them feel life a little less.
And perhaps that’s the problem. We talk a lot about the need to identify these horrible individuals, to weed them out, to prevent them from acquiring firearms before they are able to carry out a terrible act. Guess what? We do catch them in the vast surveillance dragnet in some cases. The most recent shooter, according to reports, was on the FBI’s radar. Unfortunately, the feds are so busy watching so many people, they miss the clues.
Maybe instead of focusing on weeding out individuals, society ought to put a higher value on improving the nation’s collective mental health. Rates of depression in the United States are skyrocketing, especially among young people, due in large part to the fact that so many modern people no longer see one another as human beings, flesh and bone, but as faces on screens. People are more connected, yet more isolated than ever before. And our collective capacity for empathy is being diminished. Combine that with a public education system designed to kill originality, creativity and self reliance– and one which is becoming increasingly efficient at doing so– and where monsters are created becomes much easier to see.
If we don’t figure out how to transcend the compartmentalization of modern society, we’ll breed more monsters. And when their doctors ask how they feel, they’ll be given drugs which remove any last bit of caring which may have kept them from lashing out.
Americans throughout the country need to begin realizing that this kind of atrocity could happen in their neighborhoods tomorrow. But the answer isn’t throwing out all the guns and sharp objects– its coming up with ways to identify people at risk of committing horror acts and getting them the help they need. The answers may be prayer, or meditation, or serious psychiatric intervention. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter, is that it isn’t national politicians or television suits who have them. It’s members of local communities, clergy, educators and others who care.
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