05 April 2009

Johnny Got His Gun And Used It

Originally posted this on my Facebook profile at 2:50 AM this morning, and am republishing it here to share with those of you out there who aren't on FB. Whatever conclusions you draw from this, if any, I leave to you.

Sitting here at home, bored out of my mind, feeling lonely, horny, and all the rest of that good hoo-ha, and frustrated at not being able to connect with Embarq to pay my phone bill.

Had thought about going out to the Beauty Bar where a friend of mine was dee-jaying, just to say Hello to him and to get out of the house for a bit. But, realised that had got up too late, and, by the time I got through doing my ablutions prior to going out, waiting for and getting on the bus and all that, not to mention the all-important question of money, which, for someone on a pension like me, can mean the difference between being reasonably comfortable later on in the month, or barely, and I mean barely, scraping by, and decided not to do it after all.

This leading to further frustration and anger, at myself and others, combined with perserverating on a variety of topics that pop up when am feeling this way, and could see that was working myself up into a fine snit.

So, how to deal with this??? Well, there are a variety of ways of doing it, some more or less successful than others. For me, I chose trying to reconnect again with Embarq, which I successfully did a few minutes ago, and what am doing now, which is to write about my feelings in the context of this essay, which is also about the recent shootings in Binghamton, New York and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the kinds of frustrations and inability to deal with them constructively that these shooters, and many others like them, had.

So, now the focus shifts from my little microcosm to the larger picture of those shootings.

From what have absorbed from the various AP, CBS, and BBC news videos have down-loaded from YouTube on those shootings, as well as the few AP news articles via Yahoo News that have read thus far, Jivverly Wong and the Pittsburgh shooter, whose name eludes me at the moment, couldn't have been more different in age, national origin, or motives for their deeds.

Wong was a 41 year-old Vietnamese American of Chinese extraction, who had immigrated to the US in 1990, had worked at a small number of firms in New York and California, but whose command of English remained limited. This was a constant source of frustration to him, and an extremely sore point with him as well, if the sources cited above are correct. He was described as a loner, who had a strong work ethic, but few close friends, and who felt that he never got the respect he deserved.

He'd been taking English courses at the immigrant centre in Binghamton where he waged his one-sided shoot-out on Friday, but was also out of work and frustrated by living on the $200 a week unemployment insurance payments he was getting, and being unable to find work.

The Pittsburgh shooter I know far less about about, save that he was 23 years old, of Polish-American origin, and was extremely fearful that the Obama Administration was coming to take away his rifle and pistols. He was also known around his neighbourhood as an often quarrelsome, contentious young man who had engaged in fist-fights with some of his neighbours on one occasion, and was generally avoided by them.

Either way, both of them, as well as so many of the perpertrators of mass shootings and other forms of mass murder, not only in this country, but in Germany, Finland, the UK, Canada, Australia and Japan, among others, over the past 60 years, and there are cases, albeit much fewer and far between, that go back to around 1890 or so, in this country, seem to have been men(there have been a few, but far fewer in number, female mass murderers, like the young woman who became notorious as the perpetrator of the 1980 San Diego schoolyard shootings), who were either only partially- or poorly socialised into their respective societies and cultures, had a hard time finding work and other social activities into which they fit, and who had an extremely difficult time coping with the various failures and frustrations in their own lives.

According to one article, a LiveScience one, whose author's name I can't recall, that I read after the Alabama shootings two or three weeks back, alcohol abuse may also play a role in at least some mass shooters decisions to engage in one-sided urban combat, and certainly the current economic situation and its anxieties and frustrations may as well. Also, a strong interest in war, things military, and weaponry may also be another factor.

But, these are all parts of what, why and how some people make the decision to go out and kill or wound as many people as they possibly can, before, as in many cases, they commit suicide.

From my perspective, which is derived from my own personal experiences as well as the readings that have done, on-line and off-line, about these, it seems to me that such killings are a combination of extreme frustration and rage, both at oneself and the world and the world around him or herself, strong feelings of entitlement, self-pity and personal failure, weak or non-existent social support networks, and a tremendous feeling to total, or least partial, alienation from the society and culture around oneself.

Even then, these factors, like the others have mentioned above, don't always guarantee that one will pick up a gun, knife or other weapon(In the case of one German mass murderer I read about in the Wikipedia entry on mass murders, a home-made flame thrower was the weapon of choice for him), and go out to kill or wound one's neighbours, work-mates, acquaintances or complete strangers.

Many find some other outlets,whether it's posting comments to news articles on-line, drinking, what have you, for their rage and frustration.

For me, it is writing essays like these, as well as taking action figure photographs, or, when feeling particularly anxious or hard-pressed, writing or calling close family members or friends and talking with them about the anxieties, frustrations and other feelings that am having.

But, in my life, have also had many such times when have had no such outlets nor could I contact those family members nor friends and speak with them about my feelings of loneliness, etc. So, I had to get through it by simply gutting it out, letting the feelings I had happen, but not, and you can feel free to ascribe whatever possible motivations and circumstances you like to this, taking any actions that would have a severe and permanent impact on myself and others.

Mind you, too, while have often felt myself pushed to the point of despair where I felt like killing myself or doing of the same to others, I haven't, for a variety of reasons. Even then, I can also say that perhaps have never had my back pressed so tightly up against the wall that those were the only viable options I felt I had on hand. I hope to God that I never do feel that desperate, and also hope that I can find some other way, however stumbling, confused and uncertain, of resolving those problems and dealing with my feelings in a beneficial, constructive, for both others and myself, manner.

I do not know, and won't actually know, until am in that situation. In the meantime, all I can do is work with what I have, avoid feeling entitled and self-pitying(Stephen Fry's description of self-pity as being the most dangerous emotion strikes me as being the soundest, because it can, as he also said, consume everything, and lead to self-fulfiling prophecies coming true), and work as best I can on improving both my own life and the lives of others as best I can. It means my making more of an effort to get out of the house a bit more, and interacting with people in ways that I find fulfilling, and that I hope they will as well. It means, as E. M. Forster wrote in his introduction to Howard's End, "only connect", both on-line and off-line with others.

There is an element of gambling in this, as in most human endeavours, as much of the time, as have learnt from personal experience, many of these won't necessarily work out, for a variety of reasons, some of which I shall perhaps never know, nor know entirely. Nonetheless, the risk's still worth taking, even if only for its own sake, though would love to have greater rewards than that if possible. However, counting on getting those rewards, in my view, would be foolish. If they come, they come. If not, will be disappointed, surely, but will also find other venues and outlets to try.

Of course, could just sit home and do nothing, or next to nothing, and have guaranteed results, but those aren't necessarily the sort of results I want to have for the rest of my life.

Either way, anything beats stewing in my own mental juices, which I have done for much of my life, and many of these shooters, and many others beside, have done and do.

As for any suggestions or prescriptions I might have on the greater problems of mass shootings and other forms of mass murder, gun and other types of violence in its various forms and resolving the problems within the social orders of which they're a part, I've only the following highly inexpert suggestions and opinions to make at hand.

One's that some legal restrictions do need to be placed and enforced on the possession of military-grade weapons, ammunition and magazine clips available to the general public. This doesn't mean that criminals and those who are inclined, for one reason or another, won't be able to get their hands on some of these. Let's not make that mistake in assuming they entirely would be prevented from doing so. There are ways, especially through off-the record or illegal gun and other weapons sales or thefts, of getting weapons if one wants them badly enough, knows where to get them, and is willling to pay the requisite price for them, of obtaining them, and some will do it, as surely as the sun rises in the morning.

The idea is to make getting them a lot harder than is currently the case in the US. Even then, it's only one part of any overall solution to this problem.

Another suggestion is that institutions, public, private, religious and secular, need to do a better job of outreach than many of them have to people, especially in working-class and poor communities, who may be at risk of engaging in such behaviours well beforehand. There are, by now, at least some identifiable patterns and commonalities, so much so that the FBI, among other law enforcement agencies, have worked out profiles of mass murderers and their behavioural patterns. It means providing psychiatric, psychological and other social integration services, and getting the best available people and resources to do the job of, whenever and wherever possible, finding these individuals and stopping them from going on rampages, not through repressive means like imprisonment or confinement in mental institutions and the like, but through various forms of therapy and social integration that, I believe, would ultimately be much more effective in the long run than mere repression and confinement would be.

Again, that is only another part of any overall solution to the problem of mass murder.

Another suggestion still is for a real cultural change in the way that the mass media, off-line and on-line, depicts and describes such shootings and violence in general. Whether journalists, film-makers and other dramatists, what have you, there is too often the tendency to report mass shootings and other forms of violence as out-of-the-ordinary, freakish occurences, which, by now, they are most certainly not, with relatively little and superficially-explained explanations of the perpetrator's background and current circumstances, as well as the social, economic and political circumstances around them and their deeds, given.
Some of this is, I believe, because of the limitations of space and time in media presentations, whether journalistic or dramatic, and getting information on the perpetrator and his or her background, especially during the active police investigation phase of the aftermath of such incidents. Still, I believe the effort to get as much information about the perpetrator and the social context in which such incidents occur can and must be made as much as possible.
Some of this, however, may also be due to a reluctance, however understandable, to question many of the cultural, social and other general assumptions found within the culture in which these crimes occur, are reported or dramatised later on, about just how well and fulfiling that social order actually is for many of its members.

I also believe that the depiction of violence in dramas, whether film, television, or stage, needs to be made much more realistic, not just in the actual physical details, but, more importantly, in the psychological and social details of it, and its impacts on those who perpetrate it, its victims, those close to both, and the wider community around them. It means showing the psychological and social costs of the use of violence, whether by the duly constituted authorities, criminals, or other individuals, and the very real pain and loss that its use has.

There are some film and television dramas, like "Unforgiven", "Homicide: Life On The Street", and "The Wire" that have done that in the recent past, but, compared to the numbers of shoot-'em-up, martial arts and other violent(usually described with the euphemisms "action" or "action-adventure"), they are small in number, and I can't think of anything currently on right now, which says something about my relative ignorance of the current goings-on in films and television as much as anything else, that comes close.

There are very real costs, often hideously high, to the use of violence, and I think that it's important to show those as realistically as possible in order to get the point about those costs across to as many people as possible.

The last two suggestions that I've to make here are directed at those who are close, or relatively so, to people around someone who may be at risk of engaging in something like mass murder, and to those who may be at risk, or at least feeling desperate enough to give it a go.

To the first, I would say please, if you can, try to engage with your loved one well before something like this can even potentially occur. Yes, it's hard to try and communicate with someone who, for various reasons, is difficult, if not impossible, to communicate and reason with, and the effort may be self-defeating in the end, someone who is difficult, if not impossible, to communicate with, but making the effort, and, if you can't succeed, getting whatever help you can for your loved one wherever you are, is far better time and effort spent than coping with the aftermath and disgrace of being associated with the perpetrator of yet another mass shooting, or similar crime.

To the latter, if you can, and, more importantly, want to, find something, anything, that will help you to better cope with the many anxieties and frustrations of living, especially in difficult economic and social times like these. If it's a hobby, volunteering, walking around one's neighbourhood or a local park, getting out and socialising with the few friends you have and feel close to, doing something on-line, making some sort of artwork, etc, it's still far better than deciding to pick up a weapon and do damage to others and oneself. You may feel pressed up against the wall with no other options but to make like a hero out of any type of drama or "action" film you could care to name, but, unlike most of the protagonists of such dramas and films, your efforts will lead only to your doom, in one way or another, and the deaths or injury of others around you. Then, there will come, as they always do after incidents of this kind, the inevitable questions about why and how you did it directed at your friends and family, as well as the recriminations, blame and desire for revenge upon them by some of the victims' family, friends and members of the general public, and they will be left to cope with those, as well as the guilt, shame, anger and loss at you and your deeds by your own family to deal with.

You may think that you are taking a heroic stand against a world that neither understands nor cares about you, and you may well be right on those latter two points. But, ultimately, the stand is neither heroic, nor does it accomplish much of anything, besides more needless death and misery, including your own, nor, given the fast-moving nature of current news cycles, will it be remembered for long by most members of the general public, except as only one in a very long list of similar crimes. For your family and whatever friends you have, as well as your victims, their family and friends, and the law enforcement personnel and medcal personnel called upon to deal with the results of your deeds, those memories will be long and bitter ones indeed.

You'll have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind, and gained nothing, except anger, hatred, brief infamy, and either death or worse suffering than you'd before in prison or a mental facility, and for far longer.

You may say that am pissing in the wind by addressing these suggestions to you. Maybe so, but so's picking up a weapon and going at one's neighbours, because, in the end, you are merely one person with a relatively tiny amount of weaponry and ammunition going against forces that have more people, weapons and ammunition, and, generally speaking, more training and experience in using them than you. If you are that desperate and foolish enough to try, you will find out just how highly the odds against you succeeding are stacked, and I doubt you'll enjoy paying the price that comes with that.

That, too, is pissing in the wind, only with much, much worse results than my doing so here.

There are no easy, ready-made answers to the problems that you're facing, any more than there are to many of the problems that we are collectively facing, whether as members of one human group or another, or as a species right now. Many of these problems are of long-standing, duration and complexity, and will require a lot of time, resources and trouble to fix, and, even then, some mayn't be fixed, at least entirely, to everyone's satisfaction.

No problem ever is, really.

There are solutions that please the majority of people, but never everyone. How could they???

There are nearly seven billion people on this planet right now, as far as I understand it, each of them with their own wants, needs, desires, backgrounds and opinions.
Humans are often contradictory and contrary beasts that can be as stubborn as a Missouri mule when they want to be, and set in their respective ways.

Add on to that the fact that we humans have been playing the civilisation game for only around nearly 10,000 years of our approximately 1 million year existence on this planet, which is a relatively small amount of time to be doing that, and one can see that, while we've come a long, long ways, especially organisationally and technologically, we've a long ways to go, especially in reconciling the instinctive, animal parts of who and what we are with the needs and demands of living together in large groups.

There is no, in my opinion, one-size-fits-all approach to the many problems of living together in socially, economically, politically and ethnically complex societies like the ones we've at present. There are many of those out there, whether on the Left, Right and Centre, who make such claims, but, as has been seen over and over again throughout human history, while some of the various systems advocated have been better at solving some of these problems, others haven't, and some have only made them far worse.

Of course, there's always the option of doing nothing, or trying to push one's society and culture back into a nostalgic, "better", social order. but the prices of doing those are, in my opinion, far higher than actually trying to address the problems at hand, like this one, and making the effort to solve them. The prices and results of doing that mayn't always be worth the costs, but they are still worth more than the former two options.

It has been nearly four hours since I began this essay, and, while am cynical about the number of people who will actually read this essay now, or at any time in the future, and find it to be of any real valute, the time and effort expended here is still worth it, even if only in the respect of my finding some way of constructively dealing with many of the feelings I've about my own life and the world around me, and possibly, in turn, being of some benefit and value to others, even if just by letting them know that they aren't alone out there in how, what and why they're feeling the way they do.

As for my own life, well, that is something that will have to take on, one day and one bit of effort, at a time. It mayn't work out at all the way I'd like it to be, but that's part of the chance that I have to take, and it's a far better go than simply shrugging my shoulders and letting my frustrations and anxieties eat me alive, or ending up doing something entirely foolish and harmful to myself and others. Am no saint, not by a long shot. Am just another human being, like the rest of you out there, with my own wants, needs and aspirations. Some of these may be fulfilled, and others not. Only time and effort will tell.

In the meantime, Here Endeth The Lesson and Be Seeing You.

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