"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.