The Unbearable Numbness of Being

    In a war-torn country, PTSD and the fight or flight reaction to combat situations are the unfortunate norm to civilians. Bombed-out buildings, gunfire in the street, smoke, and the constant presence of armed authorities or the military are a sight to which civilians have become accustomed to. This is a country like Syria, Rwanda, Yemen, Hong Kong (China)…this is the United States of America: 

Boulder, Colorado Las Vegas, Nevada Orlando, Florida

American cities turned war zones from a civil war that we are losing to our own citizens. Before there was “the Pandemic” we faced the other pandemic, one caused by unstable and irresponsible citizens resorting to violence as their outlet. That pandemic claims dozens of lives annually and has no end or cure that has yet been applied. On the other hand, the pandemic caused by the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) does have an end in sight: vaccines are in production and distribution. A “vaccine” for the epidemic of violence is much more complicated due to the nature of the affliction it must address. There is no shot or inoculation for this pandemic. Thus far the U.S. has resisted most measures to stop deadly shootings that have proven effective in other examples and countries. 

    In the past year social distancing measures of the Covid-19 lockdown forced citizens into their homes; isolation became the norm and social interaction came to a screeching halt. Concerts, movies, BBQ’s, and holiday gatherings all ceased to exist. To kill time we used social media, game consoles, Zoom meetings, hobbies, phone apps and anything else we could get our hands on to pass the time and fill the void left by isolation. Mass shootings, however, practically came to a halt. It’s difficult to kill innocent civilians when there are none to be found. But as the country begins to return to normal and social life gradually begins to resemble the world we knew before the year 2020, opportunity returns for the disturbed and unstable. Those Hellbent on punishing the world.

    You could say that the temporary cease-fire brought about by isolation has ended. Between March 10-22, 2021 the U.S. recorded a mass shooting on nearly every day. Business as usual. For a country that is obsessed with ending a viral pandemic, little concern has been paid to the ongoing pandemic of gun violence. When each of these incidents has occurred the country has reacted with what now appears to be a scripted procedure of shock, outrage, mourning, activism, resolution and eventual inaction. Dating back to the Columbine School shootings in the late 1990’s, America has piled up the death count. Various influences have proved to be obstacles to the measures and laws proposed to curb gun violence. Most notably, the NRA has effectively lobbied and won their cases to do little to restrict American’s access to firearms. It cannot be understated that the collapse of the mental health industry and continuing social separation are also factors that need to be investigated to gain a deeper understanding of how they may affect incidents of gun violence. Once again, despite staggering statistics, an insufficient effort has been committed to studying and addressing the roots of an ongoing social problem. And once the news cycle has moved on and something else takes the place of the latest homicides, the event and ugly results are swiftly swept under the rug and our ADHD citizens clear their memory banks of it as expected and hoped for.

American Dystopia

    The United States of America prides itself as a progressive and wealthy nation. One where the “American Dream” can be achieved by hard work and dedication by any individual. In recent years, individualism has been stressed increasingly as a principle trait of our citizens. It almost seems as if the traditional values of community, family and social involvement somehow restrain us from our true potential in this new century. This may actually be part of the fraying of the social fabric that has led to the outbursts in domestic violence in the past 20 years. Before Columbine, you could count on one hand the number of mass shootings that had taken place in the country. Since that incident the victims and occurrences have steadily increased by the year. As the years have peeled by, the reaction to what used to be an anomaly have changed. We, as a society, have become indifferent to the killing of our own fellow neighbors, friends and relatives. This isn’t a normal reaction from a supposedly developed country with a stable government and established wealth and essential resources. The statistics of the dead due to mass homicide rivals that of even third world countries in a state of war or civil unrest. Because of the alarming high incidents of mass shootings, the U.S. is a contradiction of sociological conditions and public safety.

Perhaps elements of the same psyche are evident in the way that the Covid-19 pandemic was handled by both citizens and government officials the past year. While many countries approached containment with caution and discipline, the United States took a rogue approach. First by denying the lethal reality of the pandemic and then defying practical measures to reduce mass exposure. The result was that the death count quickly surpassed that of any other country in the world. It was as if by ignoring the facts, the facts themselves would change or go away. For a country that has had only one war on its own soil, the United States handles death rather casually. It reflects on the fact that our economy and attitudes have supported a “disposable lifestyle” for decades. The relentless machinery of capitalism assures that life must go on regardless of the conditions under which it must take place. This approach takes its toll and this is nowhere more evident in the attitude that American citizens tend to their physical and emotional scars: fill the suffering with things. The way to cope with anguish in American society consists of anger, excess and expense (as in spending). Most of our citizens have learned or forced themselves to mask their sorrow in other emotions, this includes gluttony, sloth, lust, wrath…the seven deadly sins. Obviously this does not ultimately resolve the emotions we feel and does not solve the problem. 

Poor practices lead to more poor practices. The epidemic of gun violence that has gripped our country for decades is now compounded with a viral pandemic. Predictably, we have handled both poorly, paralyzed by the need to address the immediate and moral implications of both. The efforts of self-medication, retail therapy and oiling the gears of the great American capitalist machine will not make them go away and it will not make us better humans. Because of the constant and unnecessary violence occurring everyday in our communities America is a nation caught in perpetual mourning. We are supposed to be a beacon for the world and have instead become an example of civilization’s failures and excesses. Religion tells us that we must forgive and love one another to attain enlightenment, history has demonstrated that those who cannot are destined for ruin. Even if you are not religious the appeal to compassion is a human one and almost every single being feels the compulsion to heed this instinct. Inaction on our part has demonstrated an alarming ability to deactivate these instincts, overriding them for that which is not going to make us happy, address our spiritual and emotional pain and heal our societies. As I have written before, violence is the unmaking of civilization. Responding by doing nothing is an unacceptable option if we still care about our own health and the well being of our communities and country. Things have never been perfect but there is no reason to allow them to get worse. American citizens have convinced themselves that the best strategy to deal with our constant suffering is to put our collective heads down and bear through the pain. “Business as usual”, except that this is not “usual” it is indifference, numbness. And that hardly accounts for humanity by any definition.

3 Comments

  1. Maybe blind trust in government and the media is the problem. Covid was never that serious. And I’m all for a world without weapons but if the corrupt government has weapons it’s only fair that we do too. Mass shootings are a symptom of a broken society and of course we should feel compassion for the victims.

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    1. I don’t go into detail in the post but I’m not an advocate for disarmament or even restriction of firearms, I just think that we should treat firearms with at least the same responsibilities as we do any other specialized tool. Drive a vehicle? Need a license. Want to be a welder? Get certification. A firearm is a tool that has one job, it should not be wielded without standards of proficiency and qualification like many of the other requirements applied to trades and equipment. The approach our country has taken so far is not working.

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      1. That’s reasonable in an ideal world but unfortunately we don’t even live in a reasonable world. America probably has the balance wrong because of politics and fear of Socialism. Yet global and historical precedent has shown that once seemingly reasonable gun control laws are put in place at federal or Nation State level, disarmament soon follows. Switzerland seems to have a more balanced approach but then financially they’re at the mercy of the EU, something that’s already impacted their usually liberal gun control laws. I agree with your general sentiments about proficiency and so on but there are no easy answers to the political situation.

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