Another day, another mass shooting -- and we're back to "business as usual" in America
This isn't the first time I've resurrected this piece, but it may be the last. Not because the reason for it has ended, but because it's become far too common, too much a part of a repeating pattern in the fabric in American life. I don't know how much longer I have ... or how much more will I can summon to continue saying things I've said before. Over and over.
There was another -- yes, another -- mass shooting in El Paso on Saturday. Another -- yes, another -- in Dayton on Sunday. More entries in an incredibly long list of sorrow and madness. And these two won't be the last. Not by a long shot. No pun intended. Really. We've become numb to it. We as a society will wring our hands for a few days. The NRA will say something stupid. In a little while Trump will tweet something hateful from his golden commode -- and we'll be back to "business as usual in America" ... because that's who we are now.
Our society has become so sick that huge numbers of us don't even recognize the extent -- or note the symptoms any more. But this is one of them. A society ... where people can go to the movies, go to church, go to the mall, go to a concert, go to a dance club, children can go to school ... and wind up dead in large numbers, killed by a stranger. And nothing meaningful happens in the aftermath. That stupor, that inertia, needs to change.
Gun control isn't the answer. We need a fundamental change in the collective consciousness of our culture. We need a fundamental change in the way all of us think about life, human dignity, the way we treat and view one another, our various positions as citizens of the world, and our responsibility to conduct ourselves in ways that protect the planet, respect life and promote the well-being of us all.
What follows is a blog post I wrote the day after the Sandy Hook massacre -- in 2012. It's long. You may not get through it. For now, I honestly don't care. You may have heard it all before ... many times. But if you do, notice this sad, undeniable fact. Nothing has changed. Nothing. Including my opinions.
The most recent two shooters bought their guns legally. Gun laws won't change this. Only a fundamental shift in consciousness will. And I'm determined to keep working to build that. Every day, in every way possible. Mostly by being an example of the change I want to see in the world. That is our one hope, and our only real option.
Saturday, December 15th, 2012
I slept about four hours last night. Stress does that to me.
I don't know how anyone connected with the mass shooting of children in Connecticut made it through the night at all. Not the police, the teachers, the witnesses. Not the journalists. Certainly not the parents. I've had moments in my life -- more than one -- when I didn't know how I was going to make it through the night either.
That place, when you stand in it, is simultaneously searing and numbing. The dark hours stretch to infinity -- and physical dawn won't make any difference, but somehow, you make it through. I did. I'm sure you have, too. No one gets through this world without meeting moments like these. More than one -- and one is way too many.
There is no explaining an event like yesterday. In no permutation of sanity can that event make any sense.
Understandably, I've been asked: What in the sky might explain all this? The answer, of course, is: Nothing we aren't all dealing with, and virtually all of us -- hundreds of millions in this country and billions worldwide -- manage to make it through without turning our problems into other people's grief. Whatever triggered this reaction, in Connecticut, in Oregon, in China ... is clearly a personal thing, a choice made by individual minds, unhinged, self-absorbed or simply angry.
It's not just a convenient cop-out when astrologers say Free Will always holds the upper hand in determining behavior ... and choices. The energies loose in the land may signal the presence of additional stress and aggravations. Life itself is comprised of these. But, as I said, virtually all of us make more peaceful choices than the self-expression of James Holmes and Adam Lanza, distressed young men with way too easy access to military-grade weapons. No ordinary, law-abiding citizen can defend against that. And certainly no five-year old child.
Even then, not every person born on the same days as James Holmes and Adam Lanza -- and logic tells us there were many -- looked at the array of options for handling what offended them and chose the ones they did. Each life is an individual canvas ... and choices count. A lot. But I understand the question about "what might explain this." Seeking answers to the unanswerable is one reason I began studying astrology -- more than 40 years ago.
In all these years, I have learned there are, indeed, answers -- of a sort -- to that question. But almost always the event itself will contain answers about what inspired it, what brought it into being, more than about why it happened at all ... let alone what to do about such moments in the future. As long as the world turns, there will always be "other moments like this" in the sky. But they don't all have to end with 20 babies dead on a schoolroom floor.
When I consider what we might do ... as a culture, as a species ... to tip the odds more to favor a happier ending to tense times, the lines of logic become a lot more blurred. Knee-jerk responses cry out that we need to ban guns. And certainly no ordinary household needs multiple pieces of semi-automatic artillery sitting quietly in the closet, close at hand and waiting for the moment when somebody with a beef decides to go berserk. But that's only a partial answer.
Norway has stricter gun control laws than we do, and those didn't stop a gunman-gone-mad in 2011 from taking out his frustrations on nearly 80 people, none of whom knew him from a hot rock. We can make guns somewhat more inconvenient to own and carry, but laws won't eliminate them any more than the drug laws have erased that blight from the fabric of our everyday world.
We are a culture in love with violence. It saturates our entertainment, from movies to television to sports to video games. Violence is a dominant fiber in our national mentality, including our language. Our answer to every problem is a "war" on something ... whether with real soldiers in the oil fields of the Middle East, to our city streets and international borders to the body-scanners permanently installed in every airport worth mentioning. These features make crime less easy. They do not make it go away.
The notion that we stop force-feeding ourselves -- and our children -- countless scenes of violence as entertainment has absolutely no chance to gain traction in the social conversation, I know. But another part of the answer we seek lies there, I promise you. The NRA may bleat its same tired mantra that "guns don't kill people." And on its face that's true, but guns make killing people a whole lot easier.
And the moviemakers / game designers may insist their products aren't to blame. But there's a constant subliminal programming underway every time the CD boots up that relentlessly instructs ... "Got a gripe? Get a gun." The less rational, more damaged and bigger sensation- seekers among us are that much more enabled to take the bait and run with it. Is there no way in the world for us to stop acting like this crap is "normal" and "fun" ... and stop supporting it with huge box-office rewards?
I've seen positive, instructive, inspiring movies where not one bullet was fired, and no, I'm not talking about the treacle that blooms seasonally on The Hallmark Hall of Fame. I know the minds that created those dramas could produce more of the same with just a slight bit of funding and encouragement. Why not produce more movies that make a difference rather than ones that make a lot of noise and rest almost wholly on special effects? Why not movies that show us all how to be kinder to one another ... and ones that teach us to deal with pain without blood? How's that for an artistic and cultural mission?
Again, that's not the complete answer, but it's part of one. And from the start we need to realize than the ultimate solution President Obama alluded to very briefly in his emotion-charged remarks yesterday, is less about passing legislation through a constipated Congress ... and more about examining the crucible in which character is formed. It's less about pundits and more about psychologists. The conversation needs to go deep and aim to bring about profound, permanent change in the way we see ourselves and the way we treat each other. It will not be quick and it will not be easy.
I wrote a minute ago that we need to learn to relate to one another differently. Look at the "comments" sections on virtually any political blog on the internet and you'll see examples of why I say that. We don't hold civilized discussions. We conduct name-calling contests and screaming matches. (I said to Peter the other day, "I don't know how much constructive talk is going to follow from a conversation that begins, 'You're a f***ing idiot.'" No genius there. Not in the remark, nor my observation. But I know it's harder for me to play nice when that sentence is the ice-breaker.)
We've begun some late-in-the-game and half-hearted attempts to address bullying ... in the schools, in the workplace and elsewhere. But only after Columbine. Only after some high-profile victim suicides. Only when the squalls of "Free Speech" stopped drowning out the voices of reason that continued to insist that "Words Hurt!!" You don't have to physically hit someone to assault and wound him. Bullies know this. So do we all.
Let's stop pretending that calling a woman The C Word is less offensive than punching her in the mouth ... whether it's done to her face or from the cowardly sanctuary of an anonymous Internet user-name. We didn't used to permit this kind of "free speech" in polite company. I'm not sure it's to our credit that we do now.
We need to concentrate on becoming and raising responsible Citizens of the World, defining what that is and making the difficult choices and changes it takes to implement that. We need to concentrate less on passing laws, pointing fingers and supporting an us-against-them mentality. We need to stop supporting choices that make this world less safe, less healthy and less kind -- especially for the sake of such absurdities as "free speech" and "profit." But the only behavior I can really control in this cause is my own.
To the extent that politics, religion, capitalism, the NRA, Walmart / Wall Street greed, corporate interests, the profit motive ... and whatever else is out there ... impede our progress on this front, we need to be clever enough to reach through (or around) them and find a saner, more sensible, more noble way to live. Conduct really is character, and we each play a part. "The bottom line" needs to stop being the bottom line, because the best choices for everyone are not always the cheapest ... or the most lucrative.
Most of all, we need to stop glorifying the toys of violence ... and the mentality that supports this. It is nothing short of unconscionable that "military spending" is not so much as mentioned in serious talks between government leaders about how to avoid the "fiscal cliff" now looming before us in a matter of days.
Instead, we hear talk about how billionaires can't afford to pay more taxes ... and how to find "savings" by cutting the support out from under education, the restoration and maintenance of our infrastructure, health care, the social safety net and other services good government is supposed to provide in addition to domestic security. We need to feed, care for, educate and provide for our children, our sick, our elderly, our own citizens. The military does not need a new generation of shiny new killing machines. Neither do private citizens who might be moved to use them in ways we have seen go wrong far, far too often.
Let me close this down with one final thought. Please take a moment to absorb this fact. Estimates are that it would take $30 Billion dollars a year to eradicate world hunger. This, admittedly, is a huge amount of money. Military interests here and around the world spend that amount every eight days. And the United States spends 11 times more than our nearest competitor.
We are not going broke. We are making really crappy spending choices. Manufacturing more guns ... and teaching people they are the solution to anything ... is not rational behavior.
If you don't like what some business or business person is doing with his money or the way he treats his people (Think Walmart, the Koch Brothers, Papa John's pizza, British Petroleum, AIG, Warner Bros) ... stop giving him your money to turn to his purposes.
I realize my small gesture in this matter isn't a contribution that by itself will make a difference, but while I work to find allies and like-minded thinkers, it keeps my Karma clean. And dear Lord, let's stop believing that we can ever kill our way out of problems on any level. That thought needs to leave every corner of our race-consciousness forever.
Like me, you may long ago have learned these simple lyrics to a completely non-denominational hymn: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
These are still words to live by.
Days like yesterday truly demand a pause in "business as usual." Meanwhile, thank you for reading, for listening. If, in fact, you got this far. My love and kindest wishes to you all.