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Do We Really Want to do Something About Violence? We Can.


CNN asks, in regard to the latest school shooting, "How do we stop the violence?" So, the honesty that can emerge from self-reflection won't be coming from those quarters--the 24x7 fawning Technicolor coverage of Shock and Awe couldn't possibly have any bearing on that question.

Viewer comments trot out the standard tired answers--troubled youth, a culture of narcissism, and exposure to violent video games and movies. Only the middle one starts approaching the root of the problem.

A common response from the spiritual left is we are what we think so focus on the thoughts we'd like to share, and teach virtue. And that is true and good advice--as far as it goes, anyway. Teaching virtue would be a welcome addition to the cultural milieu.  

But let's be realistic. CNN asks why so much violence in the US, while they breathlessly cover drones dropping bombs on wedding parties because some foreign country has resources or other economic value to transnational corporations and they won't willingly give these resources up for a meager sliver of the profit, or are ethically opposed to their exploitation.

The right to stupidity crowd keeps pulling out lame arguments like more people are killed by cars than guns, and for anyone who believes fallacious arguments like that, it's no use trying to talk sense with them. They simply can't or won't understand anything counter to their belief system. I mean, this is the crowd that believes outlawing abortion will stop abortion and uses the same reasoning to continue the war on drugs. Do you really think they'll be swayed by pointing out the internal logical inconsistencies in their arguments and beliefs?

Of course, the liberal hand-wringing and their claim the NRA has blood on its hands falls squarely in the middle of this same category. Just like it doesn't work for abortions and drugs, it's not going to work for guns. The gun rights nuts are correct in one way: Banning gun sales won't solve anything.

Some say it's simply that we don't teach morals as part of the standard public education curriculum. While it's true that secular society doesn't teach morals--for a number of reasons, all equally lame--the problem is that Western Industrial culture isn't based on moral values and wouldn't follow them even were they to be taught. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work real well as a guideline for a moral life. Violent video games are not the root cause of violence, they are just one of many methods of desensitization and putting the blame there is a cop-out--it's easier than dealing with deeper social failings. Once you get beyond money, materialism, and all the other distractions for natural fulfillment you find the root cause to be our disconnection from the natural world. From this disconnection emerges hierarchies of domination and a pathological sense of the other. War, violence, aggression, and greed are not possible without this foundation.

Comparing deaths from cars to those from guns is a perfect example of a non sequitur. That both are largely unnecessary is their only commonality. Car deaths are sold as just the price of progress. Without cars, sprawl wouldn't be profitable. Gun deaths, on the other hand, are the result of a culture that is ungrounded and has lost its way. Hmm, I guess sprawl fits that description as well. Anyway...

Our culture worships violence as a way to solve problems, and believes violence to be an integral aspect of the natural order. The dominant religion in American culture has a god that according to their own scripture slaughtered hundreds more people than the three or so his antithesis, Satan, killed. We inculcate hatred of the other as an integral aspect of Empire. We ignore the needs of the less fortunate through selfishness and greed. America condones torture as part of national policy. The list of examples for why aggression, destruction, and violence in general is endemic is rather long here in the End Days of Empire.

Maybe it's time to revisit the question of social obligations if we're serious about reclaiming our moral compass. Let's connect some dots.

It has been widely reported that most of the shooters in the spate of mass killings over the past few decades were mentally unbalanced in some manner or alienated misfits. Whether stronger gun licensing and training would keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't be trusted with a butter knife is an open question, but I have doubts as to its overall long-term effectiveness.

What would have a lower overall social cost and greater benefit is reopening the mental health facilities Reagan closed down, and funding outpatient mental health care. But how do we pay for this? Is this the nanny state seeking to increase its power? Let's add something else to this equation before answering those questions.

Let's openly admit that people who live in despair do desperate things. A number of factors contribute to this, but two in particular have rather wide impacts. But we must be honest about the contexts for each of these two.

Here are two relevant factors to consider for understanding those contexts: 1) It only takes one third of the global population to produce all the consumer goods the entire world consumes. This means we should all be working two-thirds less with full global employment. 2) It has also been found that about 99% of those consumer goods are in the waste stream within six months, and roughly 50% of their cost (and waste) is attributable to packaging, advertising, sales support, and distribution. While it's hard to ignore the obsolescence aspect of the consumer society, let's leave it aside for now.

The two despair factors I was getting at above are unemployment and poverty. We could go a long way toward solving those problems--and as a side benefit address the fact that poverty and environmental justice are deeply intertwined--by admitting we can provide a living wage for a 20 hour work week with at least one three-day weekend per month and a one week vacation every quarter. This has nothing whatsoever to do with being against free enterprise, but an admission of the responsibilities enterprise has to a social system and natural world that provides its core infrastructure and resources. It's time for technology to deliver on its long withheld promise of more leisure time instead of settling for the addictive substitute of more leisure wear.

With everyone employed at a living wage, overall tax revenues greatly increase. Were we to further make the common sense moves of equitably taxing all income, including capital gains, at a progressive rate, dropping subsidies for profitable industries, and closing tax loopholes that allow gambling losses (financial speculation) to be written off we'd have most of the money we need to fund infrastructure, health-care, and education for all.

The rest of the money we would need for this can come from dropping funding for the Department of War and properly funding a true Department of Defense. Let's face it. A war economy doesn't celebrate peace. It cannot abide by non-violence. A war economy dependent on infinite economic growth is even more destructive and less sustainable than just a plain old growth economy, bad as that is for a living world.

A war economy is part and parcel of a paradigm, cosmology, worldview... whatever you want to call it. They all basically mean "story". It's a story that we the people provide the legitimacy for. And there is a rational, viable alternative story that we can write and start building a foundation for. Known as relocalization, I won't go into its details here, just be aware that it exists and can be shown to improve quality of life.

Were we to have a society whose priority was progress and prosperity congruent with the health and well-being of its citizens, whose basic needs were being met and who had adequate time-off and support to actually be human, violence would be vastly reduced in a culture that no longer depended on it as a measure of its well-being.

If there is a real desire to deal with the issue of increasing violence, we have no choice but to address its underlying cause. Slapping band-aids on symptoms--on the wounds of empire--isn't enough. Instead of constantly putting out single-issue fires, it's time to deal with the common arsonist.

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