pulling at the threads of our culture of violence
by Liz Moore, PJALS Director
I hope you will join us on Thursday February 7, in the Community Building Lobby, 35 W. Main from 5:30-8pm for our panel discussion of the culture of violence
Like you, my thoughts, heart, and sorrow have been with the families, children, teachers, and entire community of Newtown, CT, in the wake of the devastating tragedy of 28 people, including 20 children, shot and killed in Sandy Hook Elementary School. I have felt the need not to engage with much media coverage of this heartbreaking event, but I do feel the need to share some reflection and thoughts with you here.
This horrible atrocity is part of a pattern of violence in our country. A timeline of most deadly mass shootings from 1989 to the present is a shocking and saddening set of information, showing increasing frequency in more recent years. And at the same time, our federal budget puts 47% of our national budget into past and current Pentagon spending, comprising 40% of the entire world’s military spending. Our drones and weapons kill children and adults in Pakistan, Gaza, Afghanistan, Yemen. Our bases surround Iran.
I want to pull at the threads that make this tapestry and identify them as carefully as possible. This is just a start and I hope you’ll join the conversation in the comments below.
One thread is our cultural and political fetishization of weapons and of our 2nd Amendment. Arms now are hardly the same thing at all as those around at the time the 2nd Amendment was written, which took a minute to manually load for every shot. Now, semi-automatic guns pump out rounds. No, the problem isn’t JUST access to guns, but certainly easy access to these massively destructive weapons is a tragic thread. Another element of this thread is how we show weaponry to children, and they clearly understand it as a pathway to power. Fig Tree editor Mary Stamp shared seeing toy assault weapons offered for Christmas gifts in local stores and suggests one action is to ask stores to choose not to sell them.
Fictional media glorifies tough guys and their weapons. This thread reinforces the myth of redemptive violence, telling us that we can create justice or access power through violence and aggression, which is ok if it’s used for the right purposes. The creative human mind can justify horrible deeds with the “right” reasons.
And these threads are tightly twisted with our patriarchal cultural understanding of manhood and masculinity. The “be tough, like a man” script has very specific expectations for participating in violence and aggression, including dominating others. These expectations of masculinity erase the reality of men as nurturing, full human beings, just as much as patriarchal expectations of femininity erase women’s full humanity.
Concepts of whiteness and who is entitled to power are thoroughly interwoven as well and show in the pattern of who commits mass shootings and which nation feels entitled to trumpet being “the greatest nation on earth,” more worthy than others of supernatural blessings and material control.
The horrible irony is that our fetishization of violence makes us more vulnerable, not more secure. We provide so many motives for retaliation when we bomb wedding parties or attack responders to a drone strike.
Our fetish of individualism affects how we care for people with developmental disorders, mental illness, or disabilities of any kind–or anyone who needs mental health assistance. It makes us all more isolated and scared to reveal a need for help.
Violence is best defined as “any physical, emotional, verbal, institutional, structural, or spiritual behavior, attitude, policy, or condition that diminishes, dominates, or destroys ourselves or others.” The “spiral of retaliatory violence is often propelled by social or personal scripts that are enacted in situations of conflict.”
Our discussion, nationally and in our own communities, must name and examine all the threads that make this tapestry of violence in our culture, in our politics, in our world domination, and in economic exploitation.