Sunday, July 22, 2012

Aurora

I understand there was shooting in Colorado last week, some dozen people killed in a theater. That's all I know, and all I intend to know. I am not going to read about it. I'm not going to click links to it. I'm not going to learn the shooter's name. He wanted real estate in my mind, and I'm not going to give it to him, not for this. You want real estate in my mind, write a poem. Of course I have flickers of curiosity about it, but when I do, I deliberately turn my attention to something I feel deserves the reward of my attention. I respond the same way to terrorism. It's just not a game I'm willing to play. I recognize that I am as vulnerable as anyone else. These unhappy people might well kill me or my loved ones, eventually. But they can't make me act as though they merit my attention. I very deliberately pull up Via Negativa and read the latest incredibly beautiful poem Luisa Igloria has written. That's what deserves my attention. That's what's going to get it.

As far as actual personal risk goes, it's miniscule: we're all far more likely to be killed by a flood, or by lightning, than by such a shooter. For me, it goes into the large bin of “risks not worth worrying about.” It's both extremely unlikely and extremely difficult to fend off. Everything of that sort goes in the bin, along with West-Nile-bearing mosquitoes and mad cow and rabid bats and meteorites. Who cares? No one who does level-headed risk analysis. The death with my name on it is cardiovascular disease, cancer, car accident, stroke, or plain old traditional infection, our age-old enemies that cut us down with tuberculosis or pneumonia. If you're going to fuss about something, fuss about those.

I'm unimpressed by both sides of the gun control controversy. I'd like to see guns go away: I have zero interest in them, but I just don't care much either way. On the one hand, the military conditions of the Second Amendment have long since vanished. Credible military power is no longer within reach of civilians, in industrialized nations, whether they can buy submachine guns or not. On the other hand, I'm just as unimpressed by many of the arguments of gun-control advocates: they fail to explain why some very heavily armed civilian populations, such as those of Canada and Switzerland, very rarely experience these psychotic shooting episodes. To me, the obvious question these things bring up is not “why are guns not harder to obtain?” but “why is the mental health of our young men so bad?”

For every young man who breaks this way, there must be hundreds teetering on the brink, in similar misery, who just barely don't break. Now that, that is really disturbing. That is something that needs to be addressed. By all means, pass gun control laws, if you like: I'll vote for them. But don't think you've solved the problem if you do.

21 comments:

Zhoen said...

“why is the mental health of our young men so bad?”

I agree wholeheartedly. I think part of it is the emphasis on manning up, being a man, any slip in manly behaviour renders one a mere woman. Emotion is not manly, being kind or compassionate or artistic is not manly.

Real men, of course, are real, whole, human beings, and are not swayed by this ridiculous posture. But those anywhere near the edge... .

Damn, advertising really does work, especially on the mentally and emotionally vulnerable.

alembic said...

"For every young man who breaks this way, there must be hundreds teetering on the brink, in similar misery, who just barely don't break. Now that, that is really disturbing."

Yes... and it's disturbing because no laws, no policies, no arguments can change the fact that this exists. For those who "patrol" the territories of that brink and try to keep these young men from breaking trying to raise the issues of the state of mental health in this country is a Sisyphean task, the weight of which often breaks their own hearts.

I watched the TV shows this morning, the talking heads debating gun control and online activity tracking, and so forth. Only one person brought up the issues of the state of mental health and mental health care, as well as the nature of a culture that atomizes people, but she was quickly silenced.

Seems to me that for those who haven't seen "young men break" have no idea of the sheer irrationality that wreaks havoc with every cherished assumption one has about the world and how it functions. Then again, debating gun laws is much more comforting to most than facing up to the fact that we are all in this without a safety net.

carolee said...

that's the crux of it for me, too: "why is the mental health of your young men so bad?"... and why don't we care until something like this?

Jean said...

Yes, yes, re where to put our attention. Huge yeses re mental health of young men (and young womean, of course, but of course we women tend much more to destroy ourselves alone). I can't agree re gun control, but then I've lived my whole life in a country that does have strict gun controls and does have far fewer (but far from no) such crimes - my heart is with yours nonetheless; the whole attention, catastrophist, media domination, unrealistic risk perception thing is huge.

Anne said...

I totally agree about not focusing on the individual who did this (except, as you did, to note that he is certainly mentally ill). I boycotted the OJ Simpson trial in the same way. I never saw one minute of it nor did I listen to news reports about it. I never saw the twin towers fall. I know these things happen and I hate them so much I will not treat them as a sensation to become the obsession of the hour.

I think we should do a better job of caring for the mentally ill, but I also think a lot fewer people would get shot if there were a lot fewer guns. Compare gun death in Canada with that in the US

Dale said...

Thanks, all. Zhoen, I want to agree with you, but I don't think the incidence of mass murder tracks closely with man-up culture. I think it tracks more with the "atomized culture" that Maria notes -- more psychosis than neurosis: more billowing off untethered into the void than being too burdened with responsibilities. But that's just an off-the-cuff response, based on my sense of not having missed being one of these shooters by all that much. (It took a long time -- and no help from my society -- to bind myself into a web of human relations that really supported me.)

Dale said...

Jean, Anne: yes, fewer and less potent guns would at least mean fewer casualties. I do mildly favor gun control, but I also am mindful of the hysteria such proposals cause among a certain section of the population: I'm not sure it's worth terrifying and alienating them more than they already are.

Dale said...

Maria, Carolee: yes, yes, yes. If you've really seen this kind of psychosis close up you don't forget it. But most people won't look. It's too scary.

Jayne said...

Dale, I've got to tell you, I very nearly came close to getting struck by lightening the other night. At least I thought so! We've had some wild storms out here lately.

Had the same reaction to Aurora, as well. Could not delve further into it. There'll be more. So many close to the breaking point and we can't consume ourselves with worry over this. (As I do over health issues!)

Unknown said...

(It took a long time -- and no help from my society -- to bind myself into a web of human relations that really supported me.)

Wow, Dale. I have a young son. Connecting with people is not his strong point. Please: I need to understand as much as I can. I want to figure out how I can support him into a life that will have meaning for HIM.

Is there anything in your experience that you think might add more understanding? Perhaps, in your story, I might find a nuance I've been missing.

Dale said...

Unknown, wow, there are so many reasons why a boy can have a hard time connecting, that I doubt I could come up with any generally valid advice without knowing a lot more. And I have no expertise or background in the subject.

For some, learning a physically demanding skill can be really important -- that's one reason why those "wilderness experience" programs are often successful. Some just need an awful lot of room to be alone and think things out. Some are isolated because they're geeks and no one around them is interested in the same things they are: those can be helped a lot if they can find their way to a community of people (in person or online) with the same interests.

I had deep radical political convictions when I was a teenager, and the alienation I felt growing up in Springfield, Oregon -- a pretty redneck town -- was, on that account intense. My mom, in some despair, let me go off to a boarding school we (only semi-jokingly) called "a hippie free school." It saved me. I blossomed there. I am so grateful to that place. But for some kids the lack of structure would have been deadly.

Being responsible for real things, with real consequences to other people (or animals) if they screw up, is often a good thing. It can't feel made up, though. It has to feel real. And of course it can't be something way beyond their capacities.

Peter said...

"My mom, in some despair, let me go off to a boarding school we (only semi-jokingly) called 'a hippie free school.' It saved me."

Junior high was tough on me as it is for many. In high school I found a couple of groups, and that helped get me through. In high school the kids usually find labels for themselves that tide them through adolescence. You can see it in the school cafeterias. One kid I know for a report diagrammed the lunchroom into jocks, freaks, nerds, etc.

I think the labels represent a casting about. Sometimes they stick in one's self-image after teen years, and most some writers in my tradition would call instances of "the false self." But it's usually not the objective label that seems to matter. It's the idea of having a label that you like and that others share. (And the teen years in our culture would be a tough time to go through something like the night of sense.)

We do have so few traditions marking adulthood and all that those traditions imply: continuity, adult support, acceptance, trust, and love. Drivers ed must suffice.

Dale said...

I think of the immense popularity of the Harry Potter books: one of the most striking and satisfying parts of the story are that students are sorted into their home houses at the start of their first year, and are further subdivided into years, and by gender, so that the five boys in Harry's year, in Gryffindor House, sleep in one room and have their classes on the same schedule. It's the sort of thing that human -- you might even say primate -- cultures have always done to ease the transition of subadults from hearth family to clan affiliation, but which we usually utterly fail to do nowadays. It's interesting that Rowlings' characters, despite the severe politicization of the "houses," never propose, or even apparently think of, dis-establishing them. Everyone tacitly agrees: without the houses, Hogwarts wouldn't be Hogwarts.

Brenda Clews said...

I sort of get your position, but not really. But then I'm a news hound - read anywhere between 5 - 10 newspapers a day on-line.

My only issue with your post is that Canada is a "heavily armed civilian population" - it isn't by a long shot (pun intended). Lots of people here don't even lock their front doors. I personally don't know anyone who owns a gun, and can't think of anyone I've known here my whole life who actually owned a gun.

We continue to have much controversy over gun control. Our Conservative government did away with the long gun registry, which I believe is terrible. Those who buy guns, any kind and for any reason whatsoever, need to be documented, noted in the system, because who knows who's going to blow and start firing. Toronto has had a couple of shootings this summer (I missed one by about 15 minutes at the Eaton Centre), gang warfare where innocent people were killed, many injured. Those guns were illegal. I'm not sure where this is going...

Oh, yes. Give everyone a gun, and there will be homicides. We don't have as many of these tragic deaths up here as you down there do because we are emphatically not a heavily armed population. If we were, we'd likely approach the same sorts of tragedies.

On the subject of not reading the news regarding a tragic event, I'm wondering... recently I listened to a CBC Big Ideas podcast on how we are 'hard-wired for optimism.' Essentially, that being optimistic is a good survival strategy.

So it might be that - keeping the spirits up.

Then there's the feeling, and I have it too, that focussing on bad stuff draws it to one. A sort of sympathetic magic, only of dark, terrible, dangerous things.

Not reading or watching or listening doesn't make it go away. But it helps to keep one's sanity intact.

Dale said...

Well, heavily armed compared to Europe. You might be surprised at how many people you know own guns, if you asked around! But I didn't even get into the regular plain ol' shooting someone you get pissed off at, which is of course the main reason not to have guns: mostly they get used on friends and relatives in fits of temper. That's a different topic.

It's been a while since I looked at the numbers, but I remember when I did that the American propensity for mass murders of this sort didn't track well with the number of guns owned by civilians. I'm sure it's a factor, but I doubt it's the main cause.

marly said...

Two cents...

We're not going to solve either of these problems for the world or nation. We're going to think about it or pray about it or whatever is our bent. Some people will be called to do more, will have gifts that help. Others will be called to do other things. We can't do everything, but we have to do the things we are called to do. But we're going to solve some other problems--smaller, more personal. Maybe we're going to help a child or two along the way. Maybe a lot of modest good acts will be a help to the world, if we do them without worrying that they aren't larger--without trying to impose our will in words or actions. Maybe.

Dale said...

& yes, there's the sense that you draw it to yourself, sort of feed it spiritually, by attending to it. But I also think you feed it literally: these young men *know* they're going to be celebrities if they do something of this sort. Every time we pay attention to it, we participate in setting up the conditions for the next one. (If craving celebrity is part of what motivates these things. Which isn't proven either.)

Dale said...

@Marly, thanks! We could do a lot to improve mental health care, that's for sure. Maria could tell you tales to harrow up your soul.

marly said...

Being so close via marriage to a hospital and its neuro dept., I do learn things--one can't help overhearing phone calls sometimes--and it is sad. And complicated.

Dale said...

Yes, it's very complicated and difficult, not straightforward ideologically or politically. Which is why I think discussion of it tends to spin off into gun control, which is easy and party-line.

Beth said...

Why is their mental health so bad? Maybe partly because there is nothing but anger, helplessness and violence filling up many of their heads, and nobody helping them see there are other things to pay attention to, or how not to give away that most precious real estate. I'm with Brenda -- Canada is so different, partly because of fewer guns, but more because it's just a more peaceful, unmilitarized culture which doesn't think it's acceptable to solve problems with violent means. I'm so grateful of the mental calm it has opened up for me - just not to be bombarded with Aurora-type news every single day is a great relief, and helps me turn toward other things.