When the shit first really hits the fan, denial is a natural human response. It’s not that people don’t care, it’s that they care so much. The possibility that there’s nothing they can do to help the situation is too terrible to face. This is at least partly why so little has changed since the incomprehensible slaughter of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, even though random violence continues and is probably even increasing.
Widespread random violence should be considered a conclusive sign that a society is suffering from a fatal illness. A society is coming apart at the seams when it contains a growing number of people who are so disconnected, lonely, and desperate they find gratification in seeking out and destroying completely innocent beings. Think about this. Sure, guns make the violence worse and need to be regulated. But for a moment, contemplate the internal hell that makes someone believe their best hope of relief is to see the life of child snuffed out in front of them – for no other reason than to see that life end. This isn’t about incidental killing during war, or being overcome with anger or aggression, or taking lives to make a political point. This is about a carefully contemplated hatred of life.
It’s a tragic mistake to vilify the individuals who commit random violence. Sure, every individual must be held accountable for their actions or placed where they can’t do further harm. But those who have acted out their hatred of life by killing are only the weakest among us and therefore the first to manifest the symptoms of our societal illness. When we simply label the perpetrators of random violence as “mentally ill,” we think we’ve solved the problem by placing it outside of ourselves, outside of our society. Instead, we create prejudice against a diverse group of people who suffer from mental illness, almost all of whom find random violence as unfathomable as everyone else does. We also create more alienation, hatred, and fear just when we need to be asking ourselves what is causing the most emotionally fragile and volatile among us to snap, and what we can do to help them.
What is our societal illness? We are so used to it we can hardly see it, so I’ll project our situation out a few decades.
Imagine this as an entry in history text:
The Industrial Growth Society
In the Industrial Growth Society, the comfort, pleasure, and freedom of individuals was prioritized over the health and long-term existence of the social and ecological systems on which all of life depended. Greater and greater material and technological productivity and ingenuity was encouraged by requiring individuals to compete with one another. People and nations who were successful in this competition ended up with more and more of the resources, and social systems were allowed to disintegrate because they ran counter to the self-interest of individuals. This resulted in a growing number of desperate people in extreme material or social poverty, some of whom committed extreme acts of random violence that demoralized whole nations. Inevitably, the industrial growth society self-destructed.
There are no simple answers because the answer is everything has to change. The whole way our society functions has to change. That said, we have to start somewhere, so lets get to work and help the following scenario come about:
The Life-Sustaining Society
The Industrial Growth Society was survived by the Life-Sustaining Society. It took a few decades to mature into full function, but its development was inevitable when people remembered that they could not function independently of one another, or of the systems in which they participated. People realized that the comfort, pleasure, and freedom of individuals had to be balanced with care for one another and for all living systems. They realized that the need for such care wasn’t an idealistic dream or an outdated spiritual idea, it was a real and practical necessity. Fortunately, much of the energy that individuals had previously spent competing with one another for resources was channeled into ingenious ways to restructure the society into a life-sustaining one.