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Sandy Hook: violence and externalization in culture

The shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school is a tragic reminder that societies of human beings still face a huge problem: Violence.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard everything blamed for this event: guns, video games, mental illness, unarmed teachers, even the devil. And with each of these, we have heard talk in the media of efforts to try to remove, re-implement, or ban the elements of these things. But I do not think the removal of any one of those things will solve our problem. I believe the problem is much deeper.

The shooter at Sandy Hook was not the first person to kill people in a tragically safe environment. Such ideas have played out before. Too much. But when we look back just a few decades, we don’t see such incidence of this. In fact, the rise of the workplace or school shooting is something that grew late in the 20th century.

So why not before then? One could say it was the availability of powerful guns that is higher now, but you would be mistaken. Semi-automatic pistols and even machine guns were easier to obtain for the first half of the century than the later.

One could say it is the availability of violent games played by kids. But American kids have been playing violent games for a long time, playing war, playing ‘cowboys and Indians’.

One could say its a high volume of people with mental illness. But we actually treat those with mentally issues far more now, giving supportive services and much more humane, long term therapy aimed at specifically preventing violence, with networks of people insuring their safety.

We could go on and on with the possible causes, but where each of these points have been made, and shown to not be the specific cause, I think they are all branches of a specific tree. That of a violent culture.

We have had a violent culture for centuries. This country, like many before it and alongside it, was founded on violence, expanded by violence, and tests its resolve by violence. Yet something different has occurred, that leads one from choosing the accepted forms of violence in our society, to becoming anti-socially violent. And I believe this shift is nothing more than a new cultural meme.

A meme, defined by Wikipedia, is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. And as a meme spreads through society, it becomes socially accepted. The idea of giving gifts on holidays is a meme. The idea of eating eggs and bacon for breakfast is a meme. The idea of owning a pistol versus a bow and arrow for home defense is a meme.  After a while of a meme’s existence, it may become something of an expected occurrence, perhaps even a tradition. If it falls short in longevity, we call it a fad.

The meme of the school shooting is dangerously embedded in our culture. But how did we shift to a culture that tends to be so anti-socially violent? In other cultures, the circumstances that lead to the school shooting might end with the would-be attacker channeling the violence towards them self, perhaps in torment, perhaps in suicide. But what we see in America is an idea that one should externalize their problems, anger, and frustration, that one should attack others, that others should be made to suffer for our personal condition.

I believe externalization is the most destructive phenomenon in the history of human existence, and it’s prevalent in the American culture that has given rise to the school shooting. This is a culture ready to file legal suit against anyone or anything that impedes our ability. A culture that demands vengeance, a culture that externalizes constantly. We even see it in the western interpretation of Christianity, putting blame for personal actions on acts of temptation by Devil. Externalize, blame the other. Hell, we even see it in this debate: Blame the guns, blame the video games, blame the mentally ill.

In a hope to end this destructive cycle, I believe we must reconsider our ourselves and rebuild our world view from that of isolated individuals to a view of humanity as an extension of each one of us. We must learn to be empathetic towards others. We must learn to have faith, rather than fear, in the human condition. We must understand that each of us has a capacity of suffering that we may feel to be too much to bear, and that each of us is born needing empathy and compassion in this regard. And in knowing this, we must learn to look at others as not so different from ourselves. Else, we may find our perception of the world becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: a world where “they” will always be to blame, where our tendency to externalization reigns supreme. We must digress from this. We must accept our own responsibility in ending this culture of externalization, and replace this tendency with a tendency conducive to a world we want to live in. One where we see the suffering of others as connected to our own condition, that of the Human Being.

Very few of us wake up in the morning and wish to feel more emotionally disconnected from the people around us. Yet that is precisely what externalization leads to. And behind every man-made tragedy in this world, there is a tragic lack of connection between those committing the tragedy, and those around them. When we fail to recognize this and reach to externalization to lay blame, we ensure that environments which fester such tragedy as a conclusion to our condition, will remain unchanged, as it simply reinforces the dynamic which makes these tragedies an acceptable option in the minds of some, and so they play out the alienation they have felt in an act that replicates the environment they existed in: lay the blame in the “Other”. I see no irony that the root of the cause of such alienation is the same methodology in the action that leads to tragedies such as Sandy Hook, as each is not a separate thing in itself, but merely the workings of a larger process of externalization.

I believe sewing the seeds of compassion and empathy will drive us away from the behaviors that make tragedies like Sandy Hook possible, and I encourage everyone to do what they can do to break the cycle of externalization. I believe breaking down the boundaries of the ‘other’ is a crucial step. Let everyone you know, know they are not alone in their suffering. This is why MLP came to exist, as Peer Support, the idea of sharing with others our own suffering, leads to an empathetic view of the world. Everywhere you go you will find some kind of suffering, bringing that suffering out of the dark corner we keep it in, will lead to a more realistic, empathetic, and compassionate view of the world, letting every person know, they are not alone.

Gary Llama
Mindful Liberation Project

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