Blow ‘Em Away

“Enough prayers, time for some action.” President Joseph Biden

As the weather warms and the vaccine flows, the country is opening for business, including the mass shooting business. It’s tempting to view the resurgence of shootings as related to a higher level of anger in the nation due to the tribulations of the past year, but that would be wrong. Mass shootings have become a normal fixture in American life and are a normal consequence of the loosening of Covid restrictions.

I could speculate at length about the many causes of mass shootings, but that would be a whole blog in itself. For now, let it suffice to say we have cultural and social conditions that fuel rage and the ready availability guns.

Blowing people away, the new national sport, is so easy, especially with semi-automatic weapons that people are allowed to carry around everywhere they go. No wonder it’s the method of choice for mass killers. Of course those who actually kill are very screwed up individuals who act on their fantasies. We relatively normal folks only fantasize. Oh, come on. Don’t tell me it never crossed your mind how much better off the world would be if someone blew away one or more of your politicians of choice.

Of course we’d never do it. One reason is that we know we’re angry and who we’re angry at. You may be surprised if I suggest many mass shooters are unaware of these two things.

The study of the inner mind reveals many counter-intuitive truths. One of them is that whenever anyone is angry, there’s a part of them, down in the reptilian sub-brain, that wants to kill the annoying party. Consider the common remarks people make in anger, “drop dead,” “go to hell” (to which death is a prerequisite) or “I was so mad I could kill him”.

It may seem counterintuitive, but when we are fully aware of anger and its source, it’s easier to think things through and refrain from physical violence. In addition to this conscious awareness, you and I have sufficient impulse control to abstain from acting out. That’s why we’re not killers.

Unconscious anger is one of the most important areas of attention in therapy, because it’s often a component of depression, suicide, violence and many self-defeating behaviors. I can’t tell you how many times I listened to patients rant about someone they were enraged at, and when I mentioned how angry they were, denied feeling angry at all. Weird? Yes. But true.

Like most (probably all) of my loyal readers, Sandy and I satisfy our own unavoidable blood lust vicariously through books, movies and conscious fantasies. These suffice for emotionally healthy people and they reduce the likelihood of hostile acting out. Some of our Netflix viewing over the past year definitely reflected a heightened level of dysphoria. We got involved in some shows that have tended a bit more toward violent content than had been our usual fare in the past. One such is “Blacklist.” It revolves around Raymond Reddington, a former intelligence officer turned global criminal who becomes an “asset” to the FBI for reasons that are not immediately clear.

One thing the brilliant, dapper, well spoken Reddington is good at is cold hearted murder. He will casually blow a person away the way we might swat a fly. He’s having a witty, pleasant chat with some villain when, bang, out comes the gun and bye-bye villain. Ah, so easy, and you don’t even have to dirty your hands. I’m a little embarrassed at how I root for Reddington, hoping he’s not harmed, and cheering him on when he calmly, coolly and collectedly eliminates another bothersome bastard. Though Reddington is apparently a sociopath, we give him a pass because it appears, at least, that he’s working for the good guys.

Shows such as this, like the TV westerns of the 50s, perpetuate the national myth and glorification of the fundamentally good, ruggedly individualistic, quiet loner who “sets things right” with violence. The “good guys” are permitted to commit mayhem because their cause is just or at least we and they perceive it as such.

The fact is, though, that most people tend to think of themselves as the good guys, especially the bad guys. Convicted criminals almost always insist they are innocent or formulate absurd justifications for their crimes that they, themselves, believe. Even the mass shooters, especially they, are convinced their actions are justified. If not, they wouldn’t do it.

Society’s high anger level, our engrained cultural value system and the ready availability of guns, makes their use an attractive option in the fantasies of us stable types and in the actions of the less stable. The result shouldn’t be surprising.

When the next mass murder happens, and the next and the next, just be grateful that you have enough mental stability to refrain from murder, and that you, at least so far, have not been in the right place at the wrong time when someone lacking those qualities decides to shoot.

Meanwhile, President Joe just rode into town wearing a white hat and vowing to take action on the gun problem. Here’s the thing. We could find a way to make everyone happy and not inclined to murder, or we could make murder more difficult by controlling guns. We all know which of those near impossible options is more feasible. I fear he will have limited success, but something would be better than nothing. He has my thoughts and, if prayers were my thing, he’d have them as well. Lord knows he’ll need all the help he can get.

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