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. the A the A,

    “Statistics don’t lie….” And lawyers don’t make justice. At times neither do judges.

    “Nor is the statute unconstitutionally vague: it does not prohibit any conduct and therefore is not even subject to vagueness analysis.”

    That and the rest is just qualified lying.

    If memory serves: the conduct mentioned was supporting the enemy materially. And if that was not
    enough vagueness as to conduct, the definition of enemy was slso vague to the point that one would be left guessing as to whom one could support as well and in what manner.

    Catch 22 modern style.

    You are guilty, as soon as we feel the need of incarcerating you without trial.

    Is it crazy? It was pioneered two time previously. Patriot act, and the AUMF.

    What next?

    Showing my lack of shame for ignorance: Who is Hedges and who is paying the freight for the plaintiff?
    And in which cinema is it playing?

  2. I can’t imagine anyone here not knowing about Hedges, et al’s challenge but a quick paragraph anyway.


    The NDAA implodes our most cherished constitutional protections. It permits the military to function on U.S. soil as a civilian law enforcement agency. It authorizes the executive branch to order the military to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus for citizens. The law can be used to detain people deemed threats to national security, including dissidents whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, and hold them until what is termed “the end of the hostilities.” Even the name itself—the Homeland Battlefield Bill—suggests the totalitarian concept that endless war has to be waged within “the homeland” against internal enemies as well as foreign enemies.


    The legal case brought by Hedges et al against the NDAA is being fought on these grounds: Defendants Barack Obama,Leon Panetta, and the Department of Defense (collectively, the “government”) respectfully submit this memorandum in opposition to plaintiffs’ request for a permanent injunction against the operation of a portion of section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, Pub. L. 112-81, 125 Stat. 1298 (Dec. 31, 2011) (the “NDAA”), and in support of the government’s request that the Court enter final judgment in its favor.

    Plaintiffs present a truly extraordinary claim in this action. They seek to enjoin the operation of a statute enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President, a statute that codifies a longstanding Executive military-detention authority that has been upheld by the courts, and therefore enjoys the endorsement of all three branches of the government. While that alone would be an ambitious endeavor, plaintiffs reach even further, and claim that they, as journalists and activists, may obtain an injunction to invalidate the statute on its face, to apply worldwide, and, most unusually, to prohibit certain uses of the military detention authority exercised by the United States and the Commander-in-Chief during an ongoing armed conflict. Any one of those facts should cause extreme hesitation by the Court; taken together, they require the most exacting scrutiny to ensure that if the judicial power is to be exercised in such a far-reaching manner it is clearly within the Court’s jurisdiction to do so. Yet plaintiffs cannot come close to establishing that jurisdiction, as they cannot carry their burden of demonstrating even the basic elements of standing. They claim they fear military detention, based on an erroneous interpretation of the statute that would extend its scope in direct contradiction of the statute’s words, and with no regard for the context that gives it meaning. They persist in asserting that interpretation even though it is contravened by over a decade of history; they cannot point to a single example of the military’s detaining anyone for engaging in conduct even remotely similar to the type of expressive activities they allege could lead to detention. And they continue to seek unprecedented injunctive relief despite already obtaining assurance from the government in this case that based on their allegations they are not detainable under this statute. Plaintiffs therefore have fallen far short of meeting their burden to show they have been injured by the statute; their complaints are the types of generalized grievances of allegedly unlawful government conduct that have been repeatedly held insufficient to support standing.

    Even if plaintiffs had some cognizable injuries, those harms would not be redressed by an injunction against section 1021; as plaintiffs themselves acknowledge, such an injunction would have “nil” effect, for the government would continue to possess the identical detention authority under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Plaintiffs thus would achieve no meaningful relief from the injunction they seek, and lack standing for that reason as well. Because plaintiffs lack standing, this Court need not (and must not) unnecessarily decide the constitutional questions plaintiffs present.

    If it were necessary to reach the merits, plaintiffs’ claims would fail. Their facial and overbreadth challenges, if even appropriate in this context, founder on the indisputable fact that section 1021 has a plainly legitimate sweep that dwarfs the purported infringement on free expression; indeed, the statute is not even aimed at speech or expressive conduct. Nor is the statute unconstitutionally vague: it does not prohibit any conduct and therefore is not even subject to vagueness analysis. Even if it were it would still be valid, as its meaning as informed by context is more than clear enough to meet constitutional standards. All of plaintiffs’ claims on the merits fail, but in particular none of their theories can come close to justifying the invalidation of the non-punitive war-time authority that Congress affirmed in section 1021.

    For all those reasons, the Court should enter judgment for the government


    TonyC thanks for thinking outside the taxation box.

    Shano, now you come bearing a bomb. How do we get it to explode?

    Do we petition Russia to bring it up in the Security Council?
    The problem with the UN is two-fold. We are there but we are not there; and it essentially produces laws that others have to enforce. Good luck with both.

    Based on past abuses, our chances domestically seem little.

    Where the hell is ACLU hiding? That should burn up a years budget for them, adversaring those problems.

  5. TonyC,

    I meant the jest not in reflection on you and your ethics. Your retraction, was such a model of humility that I wondered if it would unduly restrain you however.

    Well, I am not a scientist in any way. But I wish more scientists (and others) did follow your code.

    The acid which is often seen in academic circles and journals, conferences etc would seem to erase all our prideful achievements over the years.
    I need give no examples to you.

  6. “• Aggressive, unnecessary and excessive police force against peaceful protesters,
    bystanders, legal observers, and journalists
    • Obstruction of press freedoms and independent legal monitoring
    • Pervasive surveillance of peaceful political activity
    • Violent late-night raids on peaceful encampments
    • Unjustified closure of public space, dispersal of peaceful assemblies, and kettling
    (corralling and trapping) of protesters
    • Arbitrary and selective rule enforcement and baseless arrests
    • Failures to ensure transparency about applicable government policies
    • Failures to ensure accountability for those allegedly responsible for abuses

    These practices violate assembly and expression rights and breach the U.S. government’s
    international legal obligations to respect those rights. In New York City, protest policing
    concerns are extensive and exist against a backdrop of disproportionate and well-documented
    abusive policing practices in poor and minority communities outside of the protest context. “

  7. @Juris: On the point of taxation, however: I really think taxation should be implicit in the passing of any law; to me the agreement to legislate (by representatives or by citizens directly) implies the authority to pay for enforcement, and therefore the authority to collect the money needed.

    I think every law (city, county, state, or federal) should be coupled to the financing of enforcement. This very thing is one of the persistently frustrating and friction causing things even within corporate governance, when I ran departments or a division: Unfunded mandates that cost time, money, and produced delays, with no provision of resources to cover those costs.

    I really do not think there should be budget fights in Congress. I think the budget should be entirely derived from the cost of the legislation passed; and every law passed should include an explicit source of funding, and if a Congressman wants to reduce the budget, repeal a law and that will repeal its tax.

  8. Tony C, I assumed you didn’t mean that and did not mean to “call you out” in a negative sense – merely was trying to point out by example that your conclusion was overly broad in my opinion. Intelligent discussion is all we had. I think of it more of an opinion thing than a right or wrong thing. This is an opinion blog, and if we all agreed on everything it would be boring as hell.

    In hindsight, we had more of a deeper discussion of the philosophy of the law – when should we have one and when not. I do not claim to know the answer, and therefore am not “right” in any way, but I do get a kick out of discussing it.

    Regardless, well said. And I agree that the trimmed brush is applicable to some situations. I enjoyed having the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

  9. @Idealist: I know it is rare to admit one is wrong in a venue such as this; but I am not in mourning, I am just a scientist, we admit when we are wrong. Non-scientists often see that as a sign of weakness, scientists see it as both an honorable act and a sign of strength and integrity. A large reward for admitting what others already know. Juris proved his point.

  10. TonyC,

    It was a good try. Nothing to go in mourning for.
    More like it is welcome. You reason the way we need to hear it, just as BettyKath said previously.

    Just an observtion on mutual consent. We agree to abide by the laws of the land.
    However what we talk about is whether our constitution should be modified to restrict guns—our favorite means of killing. Don’t feel that I gave that my
    consent to, but some things come with the package, but are modifieable.

  11. @Juris (& Gene & Rafflaw): I think your brush is too broad.

    Okay, that is true. But the brush needs to be trimmed, not thrown out. I was hasty, what I really believe is that some things should not be defined as crimes because they are non-violent human nature done by mutual consent, and are not going to be really stopped by anything short of dictatorship; that is what I mean when I say the cost of prohibition is too high. (Just like we decided the cost of Prohibition was too high).

    The examples where my hasty statement is completely wrong are those in which some identifiable group of people are being systematically harmed by others or oppressed by others. Blacks, women, LGBT, Muslims.

    The examples where I think I am right involve mutual consent. Pot, alcohol, and many other drugs are have willing buyers and willing sellers, and enough people think that is a mutual choice that I do not think it should be against the law to buy, sell or use those drugs (something like DUI can certainly be against the law, however, that is endangering people, so can hypnotics and date rape drugs that are designed to basically enslave a person).

    The same goes for prostitution, or homosexuality, or pornography. People may not want to think these are human nature, but they have been practiced for all of recorded human history, both in cultures where these were considered legal and unremarkable and cultures where there were severe penalties.

    (The same could be said of murder and slavery, but those do not have mutual consent).

    I was trying to pull a thread that is hard to define (wide practice throughout history and many cultures, mutual consent, a fairly large percentage of people that doesn’t think it is any of their business, etc) and I overreached.

  12. Shano brings us news from Anaheim where folks are protesting police murders of citizens.

    Now it has reached the front section headlines of the NYTIMES.

    “Protests in Anaheim After Police Shootings

    Demonstrations against two fatal shootings by the police in Anaheim, Calif., turned violent over four nights, leading to two dozen arrests.”

    I did not watch too carefully but the only violence I
    was contiuous provocative actions by the police, described a peppar projectiles, beanbag ditto, etc. And ONE cast bottle from a spectator. (He missed the re-cycle bin?)

    Not meant to summarize but to give us a smell of tear gas, we turn to the NYTIMES for a summary.

    It is the usual, done by any “journalist”. Standard pattern: fill in name of Mayor, fill in name of deceaseds mother, police is sufficient reference for all other facts given; “two-thirds were from outside Anaheim, although arrestees were all from Anaheim”, the latest two men were said by police to be gamg members with police records (hard to get in such a ghetto???).

    Feds ready to consider “civil rights” investigation. A sick police system lies outside their jurisdiction!!!

    The mayor turns to the corrupted state police system for an investigation to paint over his problems.

    Any real news? Only that after many years of abuse and murders, the people got together and protested.

    PS The police murder techniques (I don’t call them killings, executions is better) seem to be aimed at having no LIVING defendant who might be able to give testimony. And a little terror tactics goes a long way, they learned that in Iraq. Even the little brown kids know to avoid all contacts, say the adults.

    Great country. Land of the free. How long?

    Do I defend looters and other criminal who use the occasion? No. Just defenseless serfs and borgfolk who are suppressed by castle knekts.


    “Voters are already turning off their televisions. It’s getting harder and harder to find a message that cuts through.”

    FRANK LUNTZ, a Republican pollster, on the heavy rotation of negative political ads in battleground states ahead of the presidential election.

    Source: NYTimes today

    How many still watch?

  14. Otteray Scribe: That was the best. I want them to administer it to George Zimmerman. My bet on his answers:

    1. I salivate at the sight of mittens. NO SIR.

    2. If I go into the street, I’m apt to be bitten by a horse. A DARK ONE.

    3. Some people never look at me. BECAUSE THEY ARE PUNKS.

    4. Spinach makes me feel alone. AND SHOULD APOLOGIZE.

    5. My sex life is A-okay. RIGHT AFTER A RIGHTEOUS SHOOT.

    6. When I look down from a high spot, I want to spit. OR PEE.

    7. I like to kill mosquitoes. NO SIR BUT AT TIMES I AM FORCED TO.

    8. Cousins are not to be trusted. BUT ARE TO BE MOLESTED.

    9. It makes me embarrassed to fall down. AND PUNCHED MMA-STYLE.

    10. I get nauseous from too much roller skating. [SIC]

    11. I think most people would cry to gain a point. BUT NOT ME.

    12. I cannot read or write. SO IT WASN’T ME WHO SAID THAT.

    13. I am bored by thoughts of death. OF PUNKS OR A55HOLES.

    14. I become homicidal when people try to reason with me. I DON’T KNOW; NOBODY DOES THAT.

    15. I would enjoy the work of a chicken flicker. OR MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE.

    16. I am never startled by a fish. UNLESS IT WEARS A HOODIE.

    17. My mother’s uncle was a good man. AND PREYED A LOT.

    18. I don’t like it when somebody is rotten. SO I HAVE TO KILL THEM.

    19. People who break the law are wise guys. BUT I’LL PUT AN END TO THAT.

    20. I think beavers work too hard. BECAUSE MEXICANS STEAL THEIR MONEY.

    21. I use shoe polish to excess. NO SIR. THESE DARKIES DO.

    22. I like mannish children. EVEN MY OWN, EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE NOT BORN YET.

    23. I have always been disturbed by the size of Lincoln’s ears. BECAUSE THEY WOULD MAKE IT EASY TO SMASH HIS HEAD ON THE CEMENT.

    24. I always let people get ahead of me at swimming pools. JUST TO SHOW HOW HARMLESS I AM.

    25. Most of the time I go to sleep without saying goodbye. BUT I PRAY DAILY.

    26. I am not afraid of picking up doorknobs. YES, SIR. MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME THAT.

    27. I believe I smell as good as most people. I DID UNTIL A THUG BROKE MY NOSE.

    28. Frantic screams make me nervous. UNLESS THEY ARE MY OWN HELP HELP SCREAMS.

    29. It’s hard for me to say the right thing when I find myself in a room full of mice. SO I PRAY.

    30. I would never tell my nickname in a crisis. BUT I WISH IT WAS JORGE.

    31. A wide necktie is a sign of disease. WORN BY THUGS.

    32. As a child I was deprived of licorice. AND TAUGHT TO BE GOOD TO ALL PEOPLE WHO WERE LESS FORTUNATE THAN I.

    33. I would never shake hands with a gardener. BUT I WOULD SHOOT HIM.

    34. My eyes are always cold. BECAUSE IT IS GOD’S PLAN.

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