On Friday, December 14 Adam Lanza, 20, broke into a locked up Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and proceeded to murder 26 people, 20 of which were children under the age of 7. All of the victims were shot multiple times, most at very close range. The investigation continues as to why Adam would commit such an atrocity, although public discourse will mostly focus on obvious, direct causality for the attack. We will question his sanity, access to assault weapons, motive, and the inability of his parents or other adults to recognize the threat Adam posed, among others. We will disparage him as a “monster” and the “personification of evil,” placing all of the blame on his parents or on Adam himself. Obviously, Adam was responsible for his own actions regardless of any mental issues, just as his parents and others may bear some responsibility if there were signs of impending violence and nothing was done to get him help. However, Adam wasn’t a monster, and the fault isn’t entirely his. Some portion of the blame falls on us, the society in which he lived.
The United States is a country whose society is based on a system of competition between individuals that can be profoundly unfair and brutal. We love a winner, and we determine winners in terms of the competition, not in how much value a person adds to the overall wellbeing of society. We are told our society is this way because the world and its natural laws of survival are brutal, and therefore it makes sense that our society is patterned after the same laws of competition and survival. We have somehow forgotten that human beings built inclusive societies such as cities and nations because we have a better chance to survive and prosper together as opposed to on our own. Instead, our system tells us a man is responsible for his own fate, and if he isn’t successful, it is his fault, regardless of thousands of years of evidence to the contrary. Our system repeatedly tears down the individual as he begins to believe there is no hope and no help. This leaves many of us to live lives of quiet despair. Sometimes, the most vulnerable turn their despair into violence against targets that represent their pain and suffering. To the majority of us it is lunacy; to the individual committing the atrocity it makes perfect sense.
For the most part, Americans love violence in its many forms. In myriad ways, violence defines our culture. The games we play, the movies we watch, and the art we create all reflect this love. We judge some acts of violence as acceptable and other acts of violence as “bad” or “evil,” but it is subjective. A man who kills in the name of his country is a hero while a man who kills in the name of despair is a monster. A problem arises when someone who is mentally unstable and in despair comes to believe that the use of violence is rational and acceptable behavior. How does a society as schizophrenic as ours make clear when violence is acceptable and when it is not, especially to those who are not rational?
The media glorifies violence because it sells. Media ratings go up every time there is a national tragedy such as the Sandy Hook shooting. Therefore, the media has a financial incentive to play up the violence and cover it as long as the ratings are sustained. In a soccer match in Spain when someone runs on the field and acts a fool, they don’t show the replay in order to not bring attention to the act. Obviously, if something as tragic as a school shooting results in the death of 20 children, people have the right to know the facts and how to protect themselves from such violence. However, we must ask ourselves exactly how much attention this type of event deserves, and whether or not the media is perpetrating the violence toward their own end. The talking heads on television should do less cheerleading on issues such as gun control and concentrate on the many studies whose findings state most perpetrators of this sort of violence are looking for notoriety. The more the act and the actor are given attention, the closer other potential attackers come to perpetrating violence themselves.
The reaction and coverage of such a horrific event such as the Sandy Hook shooting has become repetitive. We do not focus on what is important: the deeper reasons for such atrocities, why these atrocities really continue to occur, and how we perpetrate the violence with our own behavior. Even on the other end of the spectrum, tactical details are not discussed openly, and so the educational value of the attack is lost. Instead, we focus on body counts and blame. We have emotional reactions that lead to knee jerk policy adjustments that do little to reduce violence and make the country, and our schools, safer. Yes, it is easier to kill someone with a gun, just as it is easier to kill more people with a semi-automatic. However, taking away the tools for violence does nothing to solve the larger issues at hand. Issues such as gun control and mental health should absolutely be debated, but others, including the ones I mentioned above, need as much time in the national spotlight.