The tragedies that occurred in Ohio and Texas over the weekend are, of course, entirely American tragedies, in a country where this make of tragedy is both enabled, and a kind of long-term, gross national product. I took a quick peak on social media this morning, before beginning work, because I don't think more than a quick peek on social media is ever good for anyone, and it's certainly not good for me.
What one instantly notes, in abundance, is what I call American Absolutism, which doesn't function as the expression of actual absolutes because the rhetoric is hasty and built for dramatic effect--and max finger-wagging--rather than pinpointing the locus of truth. The "If, then" mode of thinking. Sweeping from polarity to polarity, without any nuance, a kind of thinking, if it's even that, largely informed by anger and emotion. Put it this way: it's like Moses coming down from the mount with his tablets, shaking them all about, raving on and on about the miracle of having received them, saying that the heavens flashed open, etc., but not really getting into the texts as texts containing ideas and nuance, specificity.
People I know and like do this. I think they do it not because they think it's wise or correct, but as a kind of defense mechanism, a reaction to their frustration and their feelings of hopelessness and lack of control. The set-up goes something like, "If you think this, then that means that unconditionally you are this (insert very bad thing)."
You probably have a reaction, at times, similar to mine, at times, with this. You think, "I do think that, I am not what this person is saying I necessarily must be, I'm not going to talk about this with them, because I don't want to fight, I don't want to risk our relationship, be it personal, familial, or business-based, but damn, that is very insulting to my intelligence, my character."
The second half of the "If, then" set-up will usually involve saying one is a racist, or doesn't care about children, or is stupid, or some other kind of "ultimate bad."
When we do "If, then," we usually deal in a concept of oneness. A problem comes down to one single issue. Life is not like this, and problems are not usually like this. Problems are multi-textured and multi-hued. Problems are comprised of other problems. Pain and problems are nesting dolls, my friends; not single-layer shells.
It's always been hard, as humans, to think with our minds. And you might say, whoa, Colin, what else could a human think with? Humans think with their emotions. They think with their anger. They are not vessels of pure cognition. They think with their hearts. What one must try to do is think with one's head, and feel with those other aspects, but not let emotional ardor compromise reason.
It's one of the hardest challenges of being human. It's why when something is really close to us, it's helpful to solicit opinions from level-headed people who are a bit more removed. We all have that person we think of as our go-to for these matters. For me, it was my late father. My mom was the emotional one, who saw the world through that emotion, especially if something wasn't going great for her kids. Caring like that is a great quality. But it's often not a problem-solving quality; it doesn't move you towards a pipeline of answers, either, in your own thought process, because emotion muddles reason. It's not an answer-provider. It's not impartial. The issue can get clouded.
When my dad died, I became more reliant on myself this way, for this lack of bias, and that was hard, something I have had to work to train myself at diligently. That training involved walking thousands of miles a year, on my own, no music or podcasts in my head, just me with my thoughts, trying to separate those thoughts from feelings. As I did so, I thought ever more expansively. I could be more useful in my own life as an observer and commentator--to me--on that life, what I was doing, how I could bring about certain ends. This required so much strength of mental discipline, so much breaking down of what I had been, to build up again, and tens of thousands of hours of pure focus on getting closer to the next evolved level, then the level past that, and so on.
We are in instant-attention culture now. With instant-attention, we get this false idea of instant-gratification. Our words have been said--Tweeted, for example--and they've been responded to--liked, shared, commented upon--therefore we have been acknowledged, gratified in some way.
That's the fool's gold of instant-attention culture. It's not actual acknowledgment or gratification. It's simulacrum. But simulacrum, and the quantity of it, begins to replace reality. It becomes the reality, though it itself is not real. This makes almost all of us, over time, mentally ill.
Mental illness is the norm now. We fragment. We disconnect. We stare at devices for a sense of self and purpose. This is not a true self, it's not real purpose. We pretend to be things, rather than actually be them. We don't even know what it means to be anything anymore.
The smarter a person is, the more of an individual they are geared towards being, to needing to be, but this is a post-individual society; and that person, who is smarter than other people, is going to have less people with whom to connect. The laws of the pack--do everything in groups--will hold that person back in meeting more people with whom to build good groups. They will still need an outlet, because they have thoughts, thought remnants, words, word remnants. Social media and various forms of the not-real--hollow sexual encounters, going through relationship motions, quoting internet factoids sans any real vetting, reading, learning, time put in--is going to fill that void, while actually deepening the void of that person's life. It is the rare person, in America, in 2019, who does not suffer some form of mental illness.
But "only" a very small amount of those people get automatic weapons and shoot other people. It's a per capita thing, given the horror, the sanity-scrubbing, soul-destroying tragedy, that one shooting spree might as well be hundreds of shooting sprees. You can't quantify tragedy like this. Once might as well be a million. Anything more than zero is infinitely too much. A problem, though, with "If, then" culture is that people pick a side. One side. One dot to stand on. They don't come off their dot. Their devotion to their dot negates their ability to see the problems that comprise the problem. They might be really good at seeing one very real aspect of it, but they stop there, and they also tend to shout at others on different dots, seeing just one part of the problem themselves.
Mental illness is part of the reason people get automatic weapons and murder innocent people. Automatic weapons and the ease with which they can be procured, is part of the reason people murder innocent people. Both things can exist. Both things do exist. Both things are factors. People will say that this doesn't happen, in say, England or France. No, it does not. This has been a gun-infused culture and country since this nation came into being. It came into being via guns. This country never did not know guns. Other countries fought wars, found their freedoms, long before guns were a thing. They had arrows, catapults. They weren't built by the gun. This still young country was. It is something that America has always known. It's how America expanded West. The gun, as a result, always featured in her movies, her literature, her music. The gun was a hero, of sorts, it was a problem-fixer, it was necessary, as we settled west of the Mississippi, and before that, when Colonists overthrew the British. The country has always been steeped in guns. That accretes. That drips down into people who know nothing about American history, who couldn't tell you the difference between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War and who have never heard of the War of 1812.
That's part of why this happens here, and not somewhere else. America got in bed with the gun early and often. It never stopped hooking up with the gun. And we are sicker than ever. We are not a well people. That is a universal thing, to varying degrees, and not an endemically American one. If you divorce from reality and stare into a device, you are, news flash, not going to be well over time. That is not good for any part of you. It's not even good for your body, as we become more and more inert. You know why doctors tell us to take exercise? Sure, it's good for our blood pressure, keeping those pounds down, when we're not enabling the belief that a surplus of pounds is now good, too, in an era where the bad must be made good, if that saves people from having to actually be proactive and face issues and take responsibility for their lives, but it's good for our minds.
It's good for our moods. It makes us make our minds more active, in following from our bodies and our good habits. It puts us in the mode of being flowing, rather than stagnant, water. When one thing is made to circulate, a lot of other things around it tend to circulate as well. We stagnate and we ossify now. When something is bad, we don't fix it, we find a new PC-sanctioned movement to glorify and countenance it, and, better yet, provide us with our latest opportunity to tear into others--thus finding a way to liquidate our personal surpluses of anger--who still maintain common sense, a modicum of scientific understanding, a belief that you can confront what you need to confront and be the agent of your own growth, your own fixing, your own self-acceptance of doing what you need to do, even if that is not easiest thing to do.
Harder is better. In the long run, harder is easier.
I don't know if there are 100 people in the world who know that.
No civilian, anywhere, should own, or have access to, an automatic weapon. There is not a reason of any good for you to come within several hundred yards of one. It's not for sport, for a hobby, for a healthy interest; such things exist only to kill, to kill quickly, to kill a lot of people. I find it hard to think of many things more obvious, more of what ought to be a given, than this. Just as I can't think of many things more undeniable than the reality that mental illness is our new societal norm right now. That will take a lot of forms. Sometimes, people will spend their lives on social media shouting at you, when what they are really shout for is help, out of fear, and out of self-loathing, often, and insecurity, and aloneness, because we have fewer friends than ever.
It's hard not to have friends, man. Sometimes, a person can be so strong, so smart, that they seem beyond everyone else, and the people who know them won't worry that that person doesn't have friends. They'll envy them for how smart and strong they are. They'll make the assumption that they're okay. My favorite book is by William Sloane. It's called To Walk the Night. Essentially, this woman in the story is not human. We're not sure what she is, exactly. Maybe some form of alien life. But she looks human. And the narrator, at one point, remarks that she seemed like the kind of person who didn't need friends. He's saying this, catching himself in this epiphany--he's surprised, he's doing a verbal double take along the lines of, "why would I have thought anyone would be okay like that?"--about someone vastly beyond him. He's a speck compared to her, in terms of brain power. And it is to his credit that, eventually, he realizes that she's probably totally alone, and that doesn't work for anyone. Good people have never had tons of true friends. They have different standards, different requirements in terms of character. They might be friendly with lots of people. They can navigate well socially. They can not say the thing that they're thinking, even if it's true, which might cause needless offense, they can bottle that off, ingratiate, help, have other forms of connections with people who are not true, blue, deep friends, and those connections can be important, too.
But you were always lucky to have one or two true friends. Now, we think we have 87K because of Twitter. I think people who read this blog do so passionately. I don't think it's something you'd read every now and again. Once you read it, I think you read it probably daily, and it's a part of your life, a friend, even, in journal form, where things are kept real, as things, simultaneously, are kept real in you, in all of us, because it's always real, isn't it, on the inside, brothers and sisters? This journal is an external manifestation of that, which we can all see with our two eyeballs. Part of that is because you see someone living completely openly, in regarding how they have revealed their mind, their heart, their soul, their fears, their strengths, the issues they face, their terrors, their loneliness, what they try to do to keep heading towards things they believe they deserve and can get, hard as the journey is. And I'll wager that everyone who has ever read this blog has gotten more out of a single paragraph of it, than they ever have, in their lives, in all the time they've spent on Twitter. I saw that someone on Twitter unfollowed me today, so there are like forty people there now. What's that tell you? What does that tell you about the worth of social media?
Social media and all of the various forms of surface existence and faux-gratification don't make us kill. But they make us unwell, they make us more unwell, and being unwell, to a marked degree, is something that every shooter is going to have in common. People crack in different ways. Lots of people crack by treating people like shit for no reason, because they can. People crack and desperately reach for more power, no matter how petty the reach, how meaningless the power, how counterproductive that reach for power can be to their own happiness, advancement, their family's financial gain. People crack by blaming everything in life, even in easy lives, on racism and gender, even in easy lives that make their undeserved profits off of racism and gender and trying to create issues where there are none, for one goal and one goal only: the big fat payout. The payout provides no meaning, no answers; only more nullity, more questions, more emptiness, and, of course, more anger, and more of their very real brands of actual racism and sexism. People crack by sabotaging relationships over their anger issues. People crack and take their own lives. They take a part of the their kids' lives, too, when they leave them behind.
And some people crack and get a gun and go into a mall or a club and commit acts that are even above the devil's pay grade. Automatic weapons are instruments of evil for anyone not in the military. No one should have them, or access to them. Personally, I would never have a gun in my house, if I ever get it back, for so many reasons--and by this, I'm talking about the kind of gun that could have existed 200 years ago--but for peace of mind, with a home invasion, though that seems, still, like a bad idea to me, I get that some people might want that, that it's a Constitutional carryover that makes some degree of sense. You could argue.
You can't make the automatic weapons argument, because there is none. But you also cannot argue that there are not several forms of tragedy here playing out at once. One form kills sensationally, it lights up the news. It kills in staccato blasts. Thirty-seven more dead, next time, seventeen, a few months later, twenty-two, and so forth. The other form of tragedy kills daily, but it's a kind of death-in-life. In the long run, for millions and millions of people--most people, almost all people--and it might be that which wipes us out, quietly. But all of these things that we grumble about daily, and how we grumble about them--by putting the world on blast with our anger--and our lack of friendships, our lies to the world about who we are, what we believe in, and our lies to ourselves, on those same scores, as we kick each other in the balls to get a leg up to shout that we are the better person, is ending us, is ending humanity as a viable going concern of worthy and honorable purpose.
A lot of things are multiple things at once. No one should have an automatic weapon. And we are mentally ill. Today, as in past days, many people are likely praying for these poor families, or if they don't believe in prayer, sending out what good thoughts of concern and empathy they can into the world. Hold those you love tight, be that with an embrace, or in your thoughts, where the people who most need us most need to be held warm and close to us, so that we can help them, which, to me, seems more and more the single most important duty and point of life.
But that also means holding yourself tight in there, too, the person you've been, the person you can become, the person you need to be. If you're not asking a lot of yourself, if you are not braving to do what is hard, you're contributing to something that I would wager you lambast elsewhere in your life. We cannot be good to ourselves, if we are not true to, and truthful with, ourselves.
Let us all start there. Then let us see what happens. Be safe.