A Canary in the Coal Mine

"How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?"......Bob Dylan,  "Blowin' in the Wind"


For a nation obsessed with police prodedurals and reality TV , we seem  peculiarly unable to connect the dots that link the horrific reality of the Aurora, Colorado shooting to all the other  mass shootings we've forgotten, the ones that we're about to forget, and the ones that will continue to haunt us unless we stop turning our heads and pretending that we don't see.   Columbine...Virginia Tech....DeKalb, IL...Fort Hood...... Tucson....   Our collective tendency is  to explain these events by classifying them as the unexplainable,  incomprehensible acts of young men who are mentally disturbed, and whose behavior therefore defies any efforts at comprehension in terms other than "deranged neurochemistry".  Once the usual suspects are apprehended, we close the case and  close our eyes to the ever more obvious conclusion that these repeated explosions of public violence are expressions of something toxic and invisible in our society.  Like canaries in a coal mine.

I can't pretend to know what  social - environmental  pathogens are finding expression in this deadly epidemic.  Perhaps it not as straightforward as recognizing the association between smoking and lung cancer, or hypertension and heart disease, or the HIV virus and AIDS. But I do know that, as with these examples,  very difficult problems can be solved once they are identified.  But no problem can be solved when it is not acknowledged, and that is our biggest problem when it comes to thinking about this kind of violence.

This kind of "failure to see" is not unusual in the psychology of individuals.  As children we often become adept at finding ways to keep ourselves from seeing things in ourselves  that might scare us or make us feel bad.  These techniques  are so automatic we don't even realize we're using them. Sometimes the consequence of hiding things from ourselves is intense psychological suffering that is, in the long run, far worse than the pain we were trying to avoid in the first place.  I know that nations are not individuals, and that analogies are not identities. But perhaps the first step in a public health approach to our epidemic of random violence would be to identify the myriad of ways that we, as a society, have developed to keep ourselves in the dark.

What scares me almost as much as shooting in Aurora is the thought that occurred to me afterwards. I said to myself,  "Enough is enough- somebody's got to take control of this situation, whatever it takes."  My experience has taught me that  If I'm thinking it,  somebody else has made concrete plans and is about to apply for a patent.  In other places and other times,   when things got frightening enough, societies have readily swapped their freedoms for security. Could it happen here? A few more incidents like this one and all bets are off.




Filed under: local, nation


Leave a comment
  • Chris Nolan setting the Batman films in a highly realistic universe actually works two ways, not just the single way Nolan thinks it does. It provides an smooth plane to commentary on society. All three Batman films are commentary on the idea of terrorism in a post 9-11 society. This last film uses itself to compare the modern America that spawns a Occupy movement to the French Revolution, complete with Cillian Murphy playing Scarecrow playing Robespierre.

    But for the paranoid schizophrenic (and that's what James Holmes is, despite the angry mob calling him a faker) the hyper realistic world of Nolan's Batman only makes it easier to trigger the conspiratorial delusions of that mind. In Nolan's Batman films, Heath Ledger's Joker is like the shark in Jaws: no origin story, mere allusions to his genesis, he is a pure force of destruction. As Michael Caine as Alfred says, "some men just want to see the world burn."

    The paranoid schizophrenic may see the world that way, as well. While many of them are non-violent, once in awhile you get one who is. Combined with western Gun culture in the US that makes the accumulation of 18,000 rounds a non-event in the hundreds of databases that profile us every day - and you have the toxic combo needed to create event after event like this.

    America is a brutal, violent, largely social caste driven society that has few safety nets in place as a result of it's ethnic diversity. It's easy to see why a paranoid schizophrenic like Holmes could never encounter anyone who might see what he was becoming and help him, and it's easy to see in that world where a character like Nolan's joker becomes an anti-hero to be emulated rather than repulsed by.

Leave a comment