The Deeper Causes of Violence: the Matrix, Motives and Means
As horrified Americans watch the latest scene of recurring mass shootings – the latest one in Oregon – the polarized debate over the causes is focused on whether people, guns, or the media are the primary cause of the violence. Proposed remedies focus on locking up or treating dangerous people, limiting the availability of guns, or disciplining the media.
It can be useful to look at the interconnection of all three remedies: the matrix, the motives, and the means — our social matrix and values, the motives of violent individuals, and the availability of the means to kill. In truth, a lasting solution must include all three of these dimensions.
There are dark forces in our society that have created a culture where violence is pervasive, potent and premeditated. The goal has been to cultivate fear within people for the safety of themselves, their families, and their possessions. The flood of violent images of murder and destruction flowing through television, movies, video games and the news has been an attempt by dark forces to condition people to assume that excessive violence is part of the normal human condition.
It has also tried to make us afraid of one another, and therefore less likely to join together and organize ourselves to resist the controlling powers who seek to exploit and use people for their own benefit. This effort is steadily being undermined and transformed by the inflowing spiritual light which is encouraging all of us to work together to create a more beautiful and harmonious world.
Violence can also be an effect of valuing individuals only by their physical appearance and their bank account, overlooking nearly everything essential about human beings — the love and depth in our relationships, our contributions to others and our communities, and the nobility of our life purpose. When these essential, inner values are replaced by the quantifying values of money and the marketplace, violence is inevitable, for there are few inner restraints on violent economic competition, which encourages violent personal behavior.
Yet on a deeper level, we know that what really gives us a sense of “social security” is being part of a community fabric of widely shared positive values and beliefs. When this is not present we all begin to feel uneasy, often seeking out smaller sub-communities where we can feel this reassurance.
We need to change the social/cultural matrix to eliminate depictions of violence as a solution to human problems and issues, inner or outer, and instead build a culture of peace and mutual support. We can help prevent violent actions by working to remove such patterns of behavior from our media and instead present models of conflict resolution, people finding ways to live together with love and mutual support, and creating a safe world for all of us to grow and flourish. This is now occurring with many groups and communities around the world, and is part of building the new culture and civilization.
The individual motives of violent individuals include anger, loneliness, resentment about a perceived injustice by a particular individual or group, or the need to be recognized by society, even in death.
CNN has reported that a study found that mass killings and school shootings spread “contagiously.” One killing or shooting increases the chances that others will occur within about two weeks.
The study, published in July, 2015 in the journal PLOS ONE, found evidence that school shootings and mass killings — defined as four or more deaths — spread “contagiously.” 20% to 30% of such killings appear to be the result of “infection.”
“It’s the excessive media attention that creates the copycat phenomenon. We make celebrities out of monsters,” says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University. He notes that there are trading cards, action figures and magazine covers featuring murderers.
We can see that premeditated mass shootings are deeply distorted expressions of the fundamental human needs for self-expression, control over one’s life, love and affiliation, and being known and recognized. Many of the violent attackers have studied the reports of previous mass murderers to learn how they were carried out, and were fully aware of the publicity and recognition given to them. This illustrates how dramatic media reporting contributes to this cycle of violence.
The answer is not only making the means of killing less available, but also helping mentally troubled individuals release their pent-up anger, hostility and hatred which motivates such violence. This requires psychological help with real support to help these individuals understand their own inner process and heal it. And of course they should not be allowed to own weapons of violence.
Researchers behind the new study also found that states with higher gun ownership were more likely to have mass killings and school shootings. On the contrary, states with tighter firearm laws had fewer mass shootings.
Why, despite all of this mayhem, are guns still so prevalent in American society? Perhaps a bit of “mindsweeping” is in order to locate the hidden explosives in human consciousness that make guns such a fascination for the American people and the need they seem to fulfill in the human psyche.
In addition to the supposedly rational reasons of self-defense, sport uses, or as collector’s items, there are deeper needs in the human psyche that guns connect to. One is the need for power—owning and using guns attempts to meet the need for an often absent sense of personal power.
Even the word “firearm” evokes images of the power wielding wizard able to spew forth death and destruction from his mighty, potentized arm. Even though it only confers the power to destroy, for many disturbed people this is better than having no power at all. Violence is, on a very personal, existential level an ersatz triumph over the sense of powerlessness to change their lives that many people, especially the disadvantaged and forgotten, feel in modern society.
In a culture where violence is constantly projected as an acceptable response to solving problems, dealing with personal issues or fulfilling the drive for power over others, it becomes an apparently easy solution for unstable individuals. Those with weak psychological and moral strength, who are lonely and isolated, or who feel unsafe and threatened by forces they think are out to destroy them, see guns as an equalizer in these imbalances of power.
They are not aware that the dark forces that have most exploited and manipulated them are also the very ones who work to convince them they must have guns to be safe. In a fear saturated and heavily armed society, this will inevitably result in demented or programmed individuals carrying out horrific acts of mass killings, expressing their rage at society or specific groups that they blame for their own psychological issues or as a twisted way to gain fame.
What We Can Do
In ancient times there was more of an understanding that the entire community of life was an interwoven whole, expressed by John Donne as, “No man is an island,” and by Francis Thompson, “Thou canst not stir a flower without troubling a star.” In some earlier cultures, there was a greater feeling for the unity and connectedness of all life, that we are part of a great Unity, and that all things flow together towards ultimate good. Many people seem to have lost this deep inner sense of knowing our place in the world and the cosmos in the bustle and pressures of modern times.
So what can each of us do? Here are some suggestions:
- Refuse yourself, (or allow your children) to watch violent television, movies, or videogames, and instead spend the extra time reading, meditating, being with family, or engaging in activities that are healthy and uplifting.
- Write to companies that sponsor violent shows telling them you will not watch their programs or buy their products if they continue to sponsor such violence. (Research has found that it only takes 15-20 letters to have a major impact on companies).
- Learn conflict resolution techniques through seminars, books or websites to help diffuse conflict before it escalates to violence.
- Support national and/or community based groups that offer mediation and violence prevention services.
- Help children develop their imagination, creativity and self-directed play, free from media generated violent images or “action heroes.”
- Help children discover the healing and restorative powers of nature by spending time with them in natural environments.
- Hold the victims and perpetrators of violence and their families in our prayers and meditations.