The Reality of Violence

by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

“Non-violence” by Swedish sculptor Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd
U.N. Visitor’s Plaza, New York, New York
A gift from Luxembourg.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last forty-eight hours, you have no doubt seen the coverage concerning the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. If you possess even a minimal level of empathy for your fellow human beings, twelve dead and fifty-eight wounded when their only crime was wanting to see a movie can only be properly described as tragic. Among the dead accounted for up to this point are a man who had been celebrating his twenty-seventh birthday (Alex Sullivan), a member of our Navy (Petty Officer Third Class John Larimer), a twenty-four year old aspiring sports journalist (Jessica Ghawi), and a six year-old girl. Some less responsible outlets are reporting this little girl’s name (Huffington Post, looking your direction), but other more responsible outlets are not. I will not post her name for the same reason others have declined: the little girl remains unidentified because her mother, also a victim of this horrific crime with gunshot wounds to the neck and abdomen, remains paralyzed in hospital and has not yet been told of her daughter’s death. Even in reporting on events, sometimes a little discretion goes a long way and does not impair the “public’s right to know” in any substantive manner.

Over the next few days, you will see many attempts by people with various political agendas trying to monopolize on this shooting to promote their pet causes. In fact, it has already started and in a most heinous manner. During a radio interview on The Heritage Foundation’s “Istook Live!” show, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) said Friday that the shootings were a result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs” . . . and questioned why nobody else in the theater had a gun to take down the shooter. Gohmert in one fell swoop illustrated that not only is he a base political opportunist, but that he apparently doesn’t understand the 1st or 2nd Amendments very well – a common affliction among Texas pols. Others pols are already using this as a way to promote their anti-gun agendas, their pro-gun agendas and the Twitter-verse is filling with statements from “our leaders” about this tragic event and all of them in some way self-serving.

I urge you to ignore these opportunists for a moment and to think about something else related to the Aurora shooting.

Multiple outlets are reporting that the accused gunman, James Holmes, had dyed his hair red and told the police he “was the Joker”.

There is the fantasy of violence. There is the reality of violence. They could not be more different in outcome. This presents the issue of instances like this where the line between fantasy and reality have clearly been crossed in some meaningful manner. Does this problem exist in the individual or in society itself? I submit the answer might be “a little of both”.

Jon Blunk and Jansen Young

Consider this: one of the elements of drama is that the hero (or something or someone the hero holds dear) must be in peril. It creates tension, it moves the story. You cannot have drama without an element of danger or risk and very often that danger or risk is portrayed in the form of physical violence. As a species, we are wired to find this entertaining.  There is nothing wrong with a bit of wish fulfilment in seeing the hero overcome adversity as entertaining.

The reality is starkly different. Witness real heroes like Jon Blunk who was killed defending his girlfriend Jansen Young during this rampage. Witness Jarell Brooks, a 19-year-old from Aurora, who put himself at risk to help Patricia Legarreta and her two young children escape, but not before he and Legarreta were wounded. Witness Eric Hunter, a 23-year-old from Aurora, who found two wounded girls and dragged them to safety in an adjoining theater before blocking the door to Theater 8 and preventing the alleged gunman from spreading his gunfire in to a new room of innocent theater goers.

All three possible outcomes. Death, wounding, escape from physical harm. All three equally heroic in that other lives were saved, some of them strangers with nothing in common but a love of the same kind of cinema and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a funny thing about heroism though. As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously quipped, “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” In real life, the tragedies and the heroics are real and have real consequences. The hero does not always win the day as they are prone to do in fiction.

Does our propensity for dramatic entertainment, let alone dramas involving violence, feed a propensity for violence? This is a question as old as drama itself. On one side of the argument is the catharsis argument put forth by Aristotle in Poetics; that in viewing tragic events, the audience’s negative feelings like fear and pity are purged. This line of reasoning was later supported by psychologists and psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud and A.A. Brill. On the other side are modern researchers who have found correlations between watching violence and the rate of violence in society, but causal connections between the two in the general population have been difficult to pin down. What is clear is that “exposure to media violence does not produce violent criminals out of all viewers, just as cigarette smoking does not produce lung cancer victims out of all smokers. This lack of perfect correspondence between heavy media violence exposure and violent behavior simply means that media violence exposure is not a necessary and sufficient cause of violence.” (“Media Violence and the American Public” by Brad J. Bushman and Craig A. Anderson, Iowa State University, American Psychologist, June/July issue, p. 482, 2001.) That a small segment of society seems particularly susceptible to being prodded in to violence through the consumption of media violence though seems undeniable. To me, this seems to comport with the rate in society of people with mental problems revolving around empathy like sociopaths and psychopaths. People who lack empathy would naturally not connect the actuality of violence with the fantasy of violence as they don’t care about the impact of their actions on others to begin with. Correlation is not causation and the root causes of violence are more complex than just a person’s entertainment choices. There are also environmental, social, economic, and personal history to consider. Some people in certain situations are simply going to be more prone to violence. While causation in the general population has been found in desensitization toward violence and violent entertainment, causation of real life violence with fictional violence has been more elusive although desensitization in itself has been can “[increase] aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal and aggressive behaviors, and decreases helpful behaviors.”

As a society, do we have a duty to mitigate all factors that can induce violent behavior in individuals? Even if that susceptible segment of society is a very small percentage of society? With complex compound causation, this is a practically impossible task, and even if “perfect mitigation” of contributing factors was had there are a certain percentage of society that are going to be violent psychopaths no matter what their environment is like. Where to do we draw the line a social inputs that can encourage violence and personal responsibility for individual action? Consider this as well: do we have the same duty to mitigate when the violence perpetrated by sociopaths and psychopaths is economic (as in the banking industry shenanigans that birthed the OWS movement), is purely psychological (as seen in pathologically verbally abusive spouses) or is purely political (as in the religious far right attempting to trample history and the Constitution to institute theocratic laws if not outright theocracy)?

Perfection is not possible. Evil cannot be eliminated in the world for without it we have no definition of good. The perfect removal of error from complex systems is a mathematical impossibility. Does that mean we should not try?

What do you think?

Source(s): (1, 2), (1, 2), Huffington Post (1, 2, 3)

~ submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

UPDATE: The names of all the victims have been officially released by the Arapahoe County coroner’s office. These are the names it is important to remember. Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, Jessica Ghawi, 24, Alex Sullivan, 27, Jonathan Blunk, 26, John Larimer, 27, Matt McQuinn, 27, Micayla Medek, 23, Jesse Childress, 29, Alexander Jonathan (AJ) Boik, 18, Alex Teves, 24, Rebecca Ann Wingo, 32, and Gordon W. Cowden, 51.

A Personal Note to the Aurora Victims and Their Families and Friends:

My sincerest condolences. May your loved ones lost live on in your memories and may your memories be long, robust and full of happiness. May the wounded heal and take every advantage of their good fortune at surviving this senseless act of violence. May this harm done to you and yours not keep you in the depths of lament, but transform to a celebration of life – both theirs and yours. Peace, love and long life.

Gene H.

NOTE: For those of you waiting for the next Propaganda installment, I’ll either publish it tomorrow or publish next weekend depending upon time constraints. I thank you for your patience in the face of breaking news.

270 thoughts on “The Reality of Violence”

  1. Here is the test I propose we use for doing the testing on who can buy a gun, get married or have a child:


    Answer true or false.

    1. I salivate at the sight of mittens.
    2. If I go into the street, I’m apt to be bitten by a horse.
    3. Some people never look at me.
    4. Spinach makes me feel alone.
    5. My sex life is A-okay.
    6. When I look down from a high spot, I want to spit.
    7. I like to kill mosquitoes.
    8. Cousins are not to be trusted.
    9. It makes me embarrassed to fall down.
    10. I get nauseous from too much roller skating.
    11. I think most people would cry to gain a point.
    12. I cannot read or write.
    13. I am bored by thoughts of death.
    14. I become homicidal when people try to reason with me.
    15. I would enjoy the work of a chicken flicker.
    16. I am never startled by a fish.
    17. My mother’s uncle was a good man.
    18. I don’t like it when somebody is rotten.
    19. People who break the law are wise guys.
    20. I think beavers work too hard.
    21. I use shoe polish to excess.
    22. I like mannish children.
    23. I have always been disturbed by the size of Lincoln’s ears.
    24. I always let people get ahead of me at swimming pools.
    25. Most of the time I go to sleep without saying goodbye.
    26. I am not afraid of picking up doorknobs.
    27. I believe I smell as good as most people.
    28. Frantic screams make me nervous.
    29. It’s hard for me to say the right thing when I find myself in a room full of mice.
    30. I would never tell my nickname in a crisis.
    31. A wide necktie is a sign of disease.
    32. As a child I was deprived of licorice.
    33. I would never shake hands with a gardener.
    34. My eyes are always cold.

  2. Tony,

    I must agree with Juris vis a vis law and popularity. Justice isn’t about popularity nor should it be. It is about equitable outcomes and mitigating the damage of anarchistic self-help in lieu of a judiciary. This is why an apolitical independent judiciary is critical for democracy (and part and parcel of why the now blatantly politicized SCOTUS is suffering from a record and well-deserved case of public dissatisfaction and distrust that is undermining the function of the judiciary). The reason the drug war and prohibition laws are failures has nothing to do with popularity and everything to do with economics and human psychology making them futile and damaging to society because they are addressing what is essentially a public health issue as a legal matter (wrong tool for the job), but popularity is ancillary to the issue other than as a political driver to force those with a vested economic interest in continuing the drug war to stop.

  3. OS, interesting stuff on the bomber, jet and plane. I am guessing not too many people can say “I almost bought a fighter plane.”

    I will reserve my opinion on the “gun show loophole” until I can learn more about it.

    Shano, thanks for that vid link to Bill O. I haven’t watched him in a while. He does seem to be getting milder in his old age.

    Tony C – I sort of see what you are saying, but must disagree. “[30%] is so much disagreement that the law can become unenforceable.” Marijuana laws are no less enforceable in my neck of the woods.

    “If too many people disagree with a law, it should not BE a law.”

    So a law should not be a law if it is unpopular? Surely you are not saying that the Civil Rights Act should not have been a law just because many southern folks disagreed with it (Jim Crow). Or that laws providing equal rights for women (at one time unpopular) should not have become a law. Or that laws providing equal rights for LGBT (currently unpopular depending on where you live) should not be laws. ObamaCare? Income taxes? I think your brush is too broad.

  4. bettykath,

    I firmly believe it is a valid humanist duty of society to provide health care – including mental health care – to all citizens who need it and want it. The “and” being as key as the provision. The choice to pursue health care of any sort should be left to the individual absent mitigating circumstances where compulsory treatment might make legal sense. This way no one is forced to act against their desires and are also allowed to follow the dictates of their conscience/religion of choice, but they have the option to get said treatment if they should change their minds.

    1. As a former mental health professional I endorse the points Bettykath and Gene were making. Just who gets to decide who is crazy? Many of the mental health practitioners I’ve met, mostly psychiatrists, seemed crazy to me. In fact to some I seem crazy. I don’t trust society to make the judgment as to who is crazy when no criminality is involved.

  5. Gene, I like the option idea. After all, who gets to decide what mental health is?

  6. OS/Malisiha/raff,

    Science fiction writer Greg Bear has a series of effectively police procedural novels set in the future revolving around a character named Mary Choi. What is interesting about Bear’s future is that testing (and therapy) are mandatory which has the net effect of making serious crimes rarer but it does not eliminate them altogether. One of the consequential costs of this more peaceful society, however, is an increased stratification based upon mental health. While I admire the goal, the methodology of removing choice from the equation of treatment is troubling and totalitarian. I think a world like Mary Choi’s may get marginal benefit, but ask yourselves at what cost? For surely a man like Van Gogh would have been prevented from or at least interfered with in converting his personal pain into arguably some of the finest paintings created in all of human history. And who knows what would happen to a Kafka forced into therapy? This again brings up the subject of do we as a society have a duty to mitigate all risks? Or perhaps merely a duty to provide the option of mental health help to those who want it (but have otherwise not broken any laws that would merit compulsory treatment)?

  7. Malisha & raff,
    I only test thieves, murderers, rapists, child molesters, serial and mass killers and purse snatchers.

    The Fox staff is above my pay grade.

  8. TonyC.

    “If too many people disagree with a law, it should not BE a law. Even some cops will look the other way, if they can, and not enforce it. In fact I think having such laws can harm society, because it can become a vehicle for harassment and discriminatory enforcement.”

    I think that is what jury nullification is for. You technically break the law but it’s a case where there is no harm. It is left for the jury to decide if the law is applicable in this particular case. The laws are written (sometimes poorly) to cover the general case and many specific instances just don’t fall within the intent.

    In your specific case, working in a job where you’re underage, the intent of the law is to protect those underage from exploitation. In your case, you were being helped, not exploited. Sometimes wise heads prevail or turn the blind eye.

  9. There is apparently a furore over testing of pre-schoolers. Can this be due to that they are potential college students?
    And do they really need college ed to become terrorists?

    Even kids in Congo’s jungles can do that. Who needs education. The Republicans are right. On with the Ryan budget. On into his r****m.

    PS Thanks Malisha for the grounds I love to poach on.
    Malisha, is that anything connected to Malicious? How many have already asked that? Ma a lish!

    All said in peaceful intent.

  10. HILARIOUS NEWS, GUYS: Keith Ablow, of the Fox News “Medical A-Team,” wants our colleges to start testing students for mental illness — says that all students should be “screened” when they register, because so many students have been mass murderers presumably.

    He does not, however, suggest that psychiatric forensic tests should be administered to those who want to purchase guns!

    Why not?

    He says that if Holmes couldn’t shoot a bunch of people, he could have done plenty of other things:

    He could have blown them up with makeshift bombs;
    he could have sprayed gallons of acid into the faces of children;
    He could have ignited “an inferno in a hotel” —

    WOW, Dr Abelow has a lot of really creepy, dangerous, horrible, disgusting ideas, doesn’t he?

    I wonder if they tested him wherever HE went to college.

  11. @Shano: I disagree with the terror-watch-list, actually. That is open to abuse, people can be put on that list with no review or right to appeal or any way of getting off of it.

    Here is an ACLU Article on the topic; the terrorist watch list is bloated to over one million names.

  12. From Crooks & Liars:

    Mayors Against Illegal Guns today released the findings of a survey by GOP pollster Frank Luntz showing that NRA members and gun owners overwhelmingly support a variety of laws designed to keep firearms out of dangerous hands, even as the Washington gun lobby prepares to spend unprecedented millions supporting candidates who pledge to oppose any changes to U.S. gun laws. The poll also dispels the myth among many Washington pundits that there is a lack of public support for common-sense measures that would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and keep Americans safe. Among the survey’s key findings:

    87 percent of NRA members agree that support for 2nd Amendment rights goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

    There is very strong support for criminal background checks:
    74 percent support requiring criminal background checks of anyone purchasing a gun.

    79 percent support requiring gun retailers to perform background checks on all employees – a measure recently endorsed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry.

    NRA members strongly support allowing states to set basic eligibility requirements for people who want to carry concealed, loaded guns in public places. By contrast, the NRA leadership’s top federal legislative priority – national reciprocity for concealed carry permits – would effectively eliminate these requirements by forcing every state to allow non-residents to carry concealed guns even if they would not qualify for a local permit.

    NRA members support many common state eligibility rules for concealed carrying:
    75 percent believe concealed carry permits should only be granted to applicants who have not committed any violent misdemeanors, including assault.

    74 percent believe permits should only be granted to applicants who have completed gun safety training.

    68 percent believe permits should only be granted to applicants who do not have prior arrests for domestic violence.

    63 percent believe permits should only be granted to applicants 21 years of age or older.

    The NRA rank and file also supports barring people on terror watch lists from buying guns (71 percent) and believe the law should require gun owners to alert police to lost and stolen guns (65 percent).

  13. @Juris: Your hypothetical about whether we should outlaw murder does not fit my description, because for all practical purposes 100% of people believe murder should be outlawed, and anybody that doesn’t is probably mentally unstable.

    My point relates to the government passing laws that perhaps 70% of people agree with, and 30% disagree with (which was the case with pot laws at one time, but it is now about 50/50). This is one area where “majority rule” fails us, when you have something like 30% disagreement with a law. That is so much disagreement that the law can become unenforceable.

    Virtually nobody objects to the police investigating a murder, rape, armed robbery or beating because it is hard to find somebody (unrelated to the perpetrator or case) that wants the perpetrator to go free.

    Yet when people think a law is just wrong, that a crime has been defined that should not even BE a crime, then they do object to the police investigating those crimes, and exercise their right to not cooperate, plead the fifth, and be unsure of what they remember. It is not the same as thieves protecting thieves, it is a moral stance of somebody that is committing no crime to see the police investigating such a crime as the enemy, as the oppressor.

    For example, in my youth I was a dishwasher, and in that job I doubled as a barback, which was technically illegal because I was too young to be in the bar (16 vs 21), much less behind it. Although I would say it was obvious I was too young to be legally doing that job, both bartenders and cops just ignored it. Not because they were also underage workers, and not because they were making a profit off of me (I was paid minimum wage like most workers in the joint). They just did not agree with the law, they knew I was on my own and I needed that job.

    If too many people disagree with a law, it should not BE a law. Even some cops will look the other way, if they can, and not enforce it. In fact I think having such laws can harm society, because it can become a vehicle for harassment and discriminatory enforcement.

  14. Malisha,

    As usual you’re ahead of me. I tried twice over the decades to read Catcher in the Rye. Found the hero boring, distressingly preppy, and not a person who meant anythigg of worth to me. That might have been the author’s intent in making him so. Who knows.

    Catch 22 was better.

    I think buddying with Holm would have been interesting. Just as a source of ideas to examine and
    Not in any other way.

    Re his temporal illusions. Don’t we all re-do the past to suit our wishes afterwards?

  15. BettyKath,

    Re Madsen report. Very interesting. Do we have a Strangelove here in Holme?

    Minor point.
    Chocolate was mentioned as improving soldier performance.
    Chocolate could for heavy users cause blood flow
    complications, particularly in older persons.

    If I recall correctly from my military education, the Army carbine, used in WWII had a firing rate of 600 per minute.
    Strictly short range and a personal defense weapon.

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