It seems that every time someone decides to shoot up a bunch of random people society acts in a fairly predictable manner. The media tries to steer the conversation towards gun control (or lack of control) and blames violent movies, television, and video games. Common folk lambast the shooter as a deranged loser, who simply couldn’t cope with society. The entire incident is sensationalized and politicized as every person who has a theory to share is only doing so to put money in their pocket, affect unrelated legislation, and/or pad their ego.
In reality, every time a tragedy like the one that took place at UCSB happens society misses the point completely. It is a troubling truth in a culture of extremes, where the middle ground is less a meeting point for thought and instead covered in ideological barbed wire and land mines. If you’re looking for someone or something to blame, it can be found in the majority of Americans.
We have become a society of petty egotists, whose sole intention is to put ourselves above everyone else. When we see someone drowning we would rather throw them a weight than a life preserver, all while failing to realize that most of us are also treading water. I’m not quite sure how this happened or why it happened, but it’s truly a sickening social phenomenon.
In a culture that is as selfish as ours, where everyone tries to put themselves above others, it’s easy to understand why the people who snap feel abandoned and detached. All they are really seeking is some kind of meaningful connection with people, but for reasons they can’t understand that connection eludes them. Eventually they find society at fault and the twisted fantasies of them becoming a hero through ill-conceived acts of violence begin to turn in their head until they finally act.
These people tend to suffer from some kind of mental illness, but Americans often treat the functional kinds of mental illness, such as depression, in a cold and inhumane manner. We tell people to suck it up, and if they can’t we tell them to seek help, which often means a prescription to pills that over time work to erode their ability to think rationally—especially if they try to get off the pills. But if we’re learning anything about prescription pills it’s that they don’t fix the core issues these people are suffering from. Instead, they merely suppress the feelings by way of manipulating the chemicals released throughout their brain.
When you look at the profile of most mass shooters, the thing they tend to have in common is a sense that they have been rejected by the majority of their peers. They begin to withdraw and grow bitter, eventually developing a deep resentment of society.
Soldiers returning from war have been experiencing a similar occurrence, but one with a tendency towards self-destructive behaviors instead of violence towards innocent civilians. They come home from serving their country, bringing severe mental baggage as a result, and they are given pills to sedate them.
In a recent episode of VICE on HBO, they illustrate this equally disturbing trend of decorated soldiers being given medication over counseling. When the meds don’t work—which they typically don’t—these soldiers turn towards harder drugs like heroin and crack. At one point in the episode, one of the veterans, who just finished shooting up a syringe full of dope, mentions that all he wants is someone to talk to as therapy has worked for him before. Yet for whatever reason, the VA continues to up his dosage.
It’s that dismissive attitude of our society as a whole that is to blame for mass shootings. We see someone who is desperate for an interpersonal connection with others as weird or strange. We see them as losers and we push them away. Any person who is struggling with something mentally isn’t given compassion or an open ear. They’re mocked and ignored, eventually given a pocket full of pills to mask the issue or they’re told to be strong when they don’t even know why they feel weak.
Any act of empathy or compassion is beneath most Americans because when it comes down to it we’re all a bunch of people who think we’re better than everyone else and that our time is too valuable to be wasted on the troubles of another. It’s been driven into us from an early age. We’ve inherited a sense of self-worth that hasn’t been earned by us but instead comes from past generations, who were the reason we could say things like the United States is the best country on Earth. Those days are long gone, and we’re now a society that talks a big game but continuously fails to back it up.
It’s hard to pin down why this has happened, but it’s a big reason I’m a major proponent of Kantian philosophy, which emphasizes the importance and value of intention. When we diminish or reject others (whether overtly or passively) we must examine the intention behind that action. Why are we putting that person down? Why are we pushing them away? Why are we cheering and mocking mug shots of people, who might be innocent? Why are we excited when a celebrity enters rehab or is caught with a prostitute? Why do we do those incredibly petty things? Is it because there is value in it or is it to serve selfish means such as making ourselves feel stronger as a result of the weaknesses and failures of others?
This is why intention is the most important moral indicator because all actions begin with intent. If the intention is corrupt or ill-inspired then the actions will be of a corrupt and ill-inspired nature, which creates a ripple effect of negative output. Yet if we set out every morning with the intention of becoming a better person who affects those around them in a manner that enables others to become better people we will see many of the problems plaguing our society become less frequent and less severe. Instead, it seems, we would rather believe we are the better person without backing up that belief with actions.
The solution to mass shootings is not less guns or less violent movies, but instead a reexamination of a society that runs on selfish intentions and a depraved desire to put ourselves above everyone else. It is the air of superiority that many people have in regards to others that is causing the extreme social isolation of people looking to connect with others but who are impeded by both internal and external reasons. When it comes down to it we have the ability to affect and change those external stressors by simply examining our intentions in our everyday interactions. If we choose more thoughtful and compassionate intentions then our actions will follow suit. Yet if we continue to cling to intentions that serve our own egos we will watch our society fall apart all while we point the finger in the wrong direction just for the sake of thinking we’re in the right when we’re all in the wrong.
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