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Tragedy, Guns, Games and the Deadly Art of Illusion

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Death of an Innovator and Activist

There's been much debate on who holds the responsibility over the recent suicide of Reddit founder and Internet freedom advocate Aaron Swartz, a young and talented man who committed suicide. A number of facts point toward the 26-year-old taking his own life in large part due to pressures around an impeding federal trial for hacking charges. His supporters are saying the charges and possible punishment of Internet theft were highly excessive, given the circumstances, and, upon digging a little deeper, one could form the opinion that the U.S. government was aiming to silence an individual who found against SOPA and for a range of Internet rights and freedoms.

Although Aaron is ultimately responsible for killing himself, he had a documented history of depression. Since so much has been written recently about mental illness and access to guns, it's not a stretch to flip this argument around to include unrestrained force by a governmental body against someone who is dealing with depression. If someone's close to the edge, nudging them by force isn't exactly playing fair. On the other hand, these speculations bring us into the realm of paranoia and conspiracy theories. One simply hopes more facts will emerge, and a true accounting for this tragedy unfolds in the coming months. Since our digital lives are becoming more transparent by the day, the question of real responsibility in a complex world where everyone tosses dice in the blame game suggests we need a complete reevaluation on how our society handles justice, mental health issues, and the eventual judgment of our fellow citizens.

Guns Don't Kill People -- But They Make It So Much Easier

A perfect example of the blame game growing exponentially is the current debate on gun control (and the lack thereof) in America. Who is to blame for the Sandy Hook shootings besides the shooter himself? Does the NRA have a hand in this, for their lobbying force and stranglehold over every politician's reelection bid? What about the slow and steady decline in national mental health services? Does some of the blame rest with Hollywood and the Video Game industry, since nothing looks more exciting and fun that blowing away your enemies, whether they are mobsters, assassins, zombies, or enemy soldiers.

Maybe it's time to deal out guilt and blame in percentages. Assign certain percentage points of blame to all concerned, and then assess who must alter what behavior. By removing the all-or-nothing finger pointing, we can begin to make truly effective decisions and act like we're living in a more rational country. As a culture we have to stop getting mired in false arguments. One thing that can't be disputed is this: far too many innocent lives have been taken by senseless gun violence.

When Digital Warfare Meets the Battlefield

Battle lines have been blurred, and ultimate responsibility has become murkier as we've fast-forwarded into the digital future. The virtual body count in just a few gaming sessions of Call of Duty is staggering, but no matter how realistic the blood spatter may be, it's still just a pile of code and pixels. In battle zones, towns, and villages in Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan warfare is as real as it gets. When drones are sent off on missions, real blood gets spilled and lives are taken, even if the pilot/operator only sees the pixels on the screen.

Video game killing and torture is a mental and physical experience, affecting only the players. Imagine a future where our memories and life essence can be downloaded into a humanoid robot, meant to react as we would to a variety of life experiences. If our cyborg selves were captured and tortured, would the legal system have to rethink what human beings are and whether virtual memories/experiences are just as valid as those living inside a flesh and blood person? Games create a world of illusion and provide a much needed escape from the pressures of life in our constantly reinvented culture. As long as people don't devolve into users who can no longer distinguish reality from illusion, violence in the gaming world remains where violence should be.

How We're Individually Emotionally Wired

As much as those on both sides of the political spectrum feel they are being logical and data driven, emotionality wins out in most external and interior arguments. It's simply the way we're wired as human beings. The hot button topics are hot button for a reason. On both sides of issues we react strongly to different beliefs and difficult situations.

While people are all wired to be social creatures, we're all wired in wildly different ways when it comes to emotional stability and sensitivity. This is what laws and customs aren't always calibrated to understand. Whether we're talking about the tragic death of a young man with a genius level intellect or the absurd imprisonment of a strong vocal opponent like Pussy Riot, the silencing of these voices practically insures a world where their followers will find even more extreme methods to alter the course of society, hopefully in ways that include more freedom and free thought and not less.

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