Externalities Kill

I can almost stretch my memory back to the day of Dec. 14, back through the fog of politicized media spin, the miasma of special interests spreading to capitalize on crisis and grief in one way or another. I can almost remember the overwhelming flood of empathy, the consolation, the unconditional love, and the deep soul searching. It played through every news and Twitter feed.

Before debate was pigeonholed into gun control and divided into topics like assault weapon bans, magazine clips, background checks, and good guys with guns on every corner, there were calls for deeper reflection. There was a question that was on everybody's lips: "What is wrong with us, how do we stop our violent madness?" Where did that conversation go?

Because let's be really honest with ourselves: Gun control is not going to stop the mass killings, nor the individual ones that tick across the news wire in the background of the television screen. They'll not be stopped by a lot more good guys with guns either. It's not about mental illness, bloody video games, violent movies, or poverty, although how we handle all of these may fuel killing.

Can we get back to that original conversation and talk about the black heart of our violence? Can we explore it with that original feeling of empathy guiding us?

We can begin by accepting that we live in a culture of violence. There is a pervasive acceptance that violence can solve a problem, not merely that it can but that it is in fact often preferable to trying to work things out peacefully. From here, we might reasonably conclude that a better way to stop the killing would be to effectively educate people that violence exacerbates more problems than it will ever solve. Let us question the glory of war and encourage the practice of placing ourselves in the shoes of our opposites. We could teach conflict resolution and give people the skills to de-escalate situations that have turned violent or are in danger of doing so. We can build and nurture healthy communities to raise healthy, happy, loving children in. On a large enough scale, I believe we would prevent more killing by these methods. (This is the essence of the proposed Department of Peace.)

I want to have an even deeper discussion than that though. I want to get to a point where the impulse to violence against one another is thwarted altogether. We can begin by accepting that such violence is unnatural. The most terrifying thing to experience whether as aggressor or defender is human violence. As proof, I offer the amount of training it takes to convince a person to go to war and the number of people it mentally breaks in the process. Like nearly every animal on the planet, we humans avoid killing our own kind by nature.

From here, we might reasonably conclude that there is something unnatural about our culture that nullifies our peaceful nature, and that it is more prevalent in the United States. Military theory and history teach us that in order to inspire men (and women) to kill other men and women who are no different in reality from their own brothers, sisters, parents, and children is to dehumanize them until they are truly inhuman, nullifying the natural revulsion to killing people. So, what makes it so easy for us to dehumanize each other in the U.S.?

Oversimplified as it may be, my theory is that it's basically our overdeveloped sense of separateness. The environment we callously and infamously regard as an external repository of resources for our insatiable consumption. The universe is other, and we have the scientific and religious research to prove it. This belief in the superiority of humanity above nature is not uniquely American, but we do seem to have taken it to a new level, a level where the individual is superior to society.

Our individuality is legendary and prideful. We operate as though we are in competition from birth until death to see who can end up at the right hand of Jesus, Yahweh, or Allah, and the only way we can measure our place in the competition is through the acquisition of wealth. We suffer from a bad case of materialism, deeming one another to be human resources, objects to be manipulated for our personal benefit.

My theory says however there is no competition. It's all illusion. We are not separate; not from each other, not even from the environment. We have better measures than accumulated wealth or earning power to value ourselves, if that's truly our concern. One of those measures could be awareness of how interconnected this universe and our shared experience of it really is.

I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone. We are human, and we are all one. Let's stop the killing.

What's your theory?