Home » Nooze » Emptiness at the Core

Emptiness at the Core

As we digest the news from the Newtown, Connecticut shooting there is not a parent who is not ravaged deep in their soul at the horror of this event.  The reaction so far tells us that this one is different – that this rampage will be the one that finally changes things.  I have thought of many things that I want to say to add to the discussion, but all of them feel inadequate.

Let me try to find just a little to add.

obamaThe first thought on the minds of many is that we have far too many guns in this nation.  I agree with this sentiment, but the guns themselves seem like only a symptom of a much deeper disease.  Many people in our nation feel genuinely afraid and find comfort in the ability to project power at some distance.  It is also common to believe that violence actually solves problems, that somehow the destruction of another’s body can satisfy the needs of our own minds.  Desire for guns seems much closer to the core problem than the guns themselves.

There may be some appropriate laws that come out of this.  I don’t want to debate those at this time, but I do ask my liberal friends to understand weapons better and if there is needed legislation to be precise, focused, and to keep their eyes firmly on the prize.  Anger lashing out at events is something I want to leave to the Tea Party – Progressives must work to get something done and make real progress.

The need for better mental health resources has also become obvious, given that only someone completely disconnected from reality could possibly do what was done in Newtown.  Like any gun issue, correcting this shortcoming in our world will require a lot of thought and understanding of the problem on a very practical level in order to be effective.  I hope there is something very positive that can be done.

But these still feel like symptoms.  They don’t confront the fear, the anger, and disconnection that defines far too many lives in our world.

When confronting his own reaction to the horrible violence he witnessed in WWII, the great Kurt Vonnegut set out to write a memoir.  He soon found that the events that propelled his personality demanded at the very least a deeper understanding.  The memories fictionalized into “Slaughterhouse 5”, the tale of being “unstuck in time” as the horrors bubbled up to defined an entire life in uncontrollable ways.  At the same time, another work “Separated like oil and water” as he tried to understand how people could come to believe that violence was somehow acceptable.  The result was “Breakfast of Champions”, a greatly profound work sometimes buried under its own clowning and ruthless disconnect.

In this novel, Dwayne Hoover is a man successful by any definition of the word – leader in the community, famous, and wealthy.  But he is slowly driven insane by the disconnect of his life.  What finally puts him over the edge is a piece of pulp SciFi which explains that he is the only actual being in the universe, and that everyone else is an unfeeling robot put here entirely for his amusement.

This ultimate expression of selfishness is nothing more than a reaching Existentialism, the belief that all reality is perceived by the individual from their own perspective.  It doesn’t sound like mind poison but it can be in the hands of a culture dedicated to self, gradually sunk in to the point where empathy and compassion are not described as anything other than a weakness or abnormality.  Such an empty and narcissistic philosophy now defines who we are as a people, to the extent that there is any way to define us beyond our selves.

It’s worth noting that “Breakfast of Champions” was written 40 years ago.  We have seen this coming.

In a world defined this way, violence can solve problems and vulnerable strangers who are struggling are simply not our personal concern.  Disconnection is the natural order of things, and those who fall into the spaces inbetween have to find the strength within themselves to pick up and be as selfish as anyone else.  Those who cannot, for whatever reason, are left to their own devices.

Some of them “snap”.  Their anger and selfishness become even more acute.  The power that fits into a fist is the final poison of this world, culminating in an event of pure horror.

Why is there so much fear and anger?  Why is there so little compassion and empathy?  These questions seem far more compelling than the guns themselves.  They are what propel the desire for guns and, on a few horrible days, the slaughter they can cause.

I’d like to know what you think.

20 thoughts on “Emptiness at the Core

  1. I agree that guns are only a symptom of a sick society. The problem runs very deep. This man needed help and didn’t get it. Why? Intervention at the right time would have save so many children. This should never happen.

    • Yes, I agree. Understanding how and when intervention is necessary would be a great help. At the very least, mental health services should be much easier to obtain. We can only imagine how many would be saved by a small amount of compassion.

  2. Don’t disagree but gun control is long overdue. I would love to know what you mean by “I do ask my liberal friends to understand weapons better”? What is there to understand? You don’t need an assault rifle to hunt, those are designed only to kill people. They have no purpose and should be banned.

    • Dale, what is an “assault rifle”? The definition is a short barrel rifle that uses small caliber (.30 or less) that fires in multiple round bursts (and/or fully automatic). The rifle used here was not fully automatic, and does not meet that definition. Should we ban all small barrel rifles, then? A somewhat persistent nut could saw it down, but that might deter some. Small calibre ammo a problem? I’d hate to ban .22s or other varmint rifles.
      Writing effective legislation means a legal definition needs to be crafted – Sen. Feinstein has said she will do so, and I await her effort. Beyond that, we need a movement that supports any effort that can lobby effectively and make reasonable demands, too – and that takes being informed on the issue.
      I am afraid that any effective gun control legislation has always foundered on the simple fact that those who push it have been very sloppy and imprecise, not focusing on a specific, definable topic. I am in favor of licensing gun ownership much like a car, for example, and think that is only reasonable – but that probably would not have stopped this tragedy based on what I’ve heard so far.
      Short of getting rid of all guns, this will continue until we address the root of the problem – our lust for violence. We might be able to save some people with good legislation, but only if it is well written and enforceable. Universal mental health support would also save some lives, so we can work on that. But please, let’s also do what we can about the fear, anger, selfishness, and disconnect at the source of all this.

    • A little more research has found that the Violence Policy Center, which was highly critical of the original “assault weapons” ban of 1994, has proposed legislation that does seem to address the kind of weapon used in Newtown: http://www.vpc.org/studies/USofAW.htm
      This will save lives, I am sure. However, I cannot see that it will eliminate violence as long as the sickness remains. Without making too fine of a point of it, shotguns are also very effective killing devices – they have simply not been favored by the mentally ill who want to go on a killing spree. There are other fundamental issues that I do believe must be addressed to end the killing.

  3. This was so far beyond horrible and sick. It reminds me of 9/11 how something I couldn’t imagine is right there on the news. Personally I think it is best to not watch the coverage and let Newtown alone to grieve on their own. Its also best to not publicize the killer & encourage copycats.
    I read “Slaughterhouse Five” and did not like it – too random the way it flips back and forth. Maybe I should try “Breakfast of Champions” then if it makes more sense. I do agree that people are way too selfish and that the more I think about all the problems we have could be solved by just a bit more compassion.

    • My kids compared it to 9/11, too, though none of them are quite old enough to remember that. I do agree that the less we say about the killer the better.
      “Breakfast” is a difficult work – it’s about perspective and standing a bit outside of yourself. It’s much like my call for exstasism this year – being beyond self. It is a topic I have been writing on more and more, and I think I will continue to refer back to.

  4. There is almost no way this weapon could have been kept away from the shooter. It was his mom’s gun and he took it from her. Ban “assault weapons” if you want but there will be another way around it. I agree that identifying crazy people is the only way we can prevent this but if we give the government the power to lock people up for mental illness we are just one step away from Stalinism. Maybe we can find a way to do it without surrendering rights but I am skeptical.

    • Good points. I have always thought that when we feel like government has to do something that the world is too bizzy or selfish to take care of on its own, there has been a failure. Sometimes we have to acknowledge our failures and get on with things, making sure the vulnerable are protected and our world is not unecessarily nasty. But it is still a failure.
      I am seeking a solution where we, as a people, are less angry and suspicious, more hopeful and compassionate. A “system” would be a terrible way to handle this problem, which I think is much more at the core of who we are as a people.
      Let’s just be kind to each other and leave the government out as much as we can, please?

  5. I don’t agree that guns are *only* a symptom, since it is so much *easier* to kill with guns. But for sure they are a symptom.
    How much if it it failure to diagnose and treat mental illness? We need to evaluate this seriously.

    • OK, I accept that. A well-written gun control law could save a number of lives, for sure. Making clips no bigger than 10 rounds seems to be an idea that is catching on rapidly, and there would have been fewer deaths.
      But yes, the mental health picture is very important – and as it stands now I can’t even imagine how we could handle that effectively given a starting point of the hopeless ineffective “system” we have now.

  6. Good post, Erik. I have further thoughts on this topic, but not enough time right now to go into them. Let’s talk some time about all this

  7. We need to learn more about the Lanza family, so that we can connect that to research about mass murderers. Various disciplines study this.

    We should be into place recommendations of those who study mass murderers. Adam Lanza had a life and an inner life, so we need to reflect along the lines suggested in today’s blog and comments and take action, after more information comes in.

    Everyone is against this type of killing, so that is a sign our society has not lost its moorings.

    • You are right, we are not totally lost. It will take time to learn the lessons of this horrible event, so it’s best to ignore the nooze cycle and wait until there is something beyond the senselessness. But I think we might very well learn something here, and perhaps do something. Yes, we’re not totally lost. Sure, let’s build on that.

  8. I’m not a hunter, but it has long seemed to me that legitimate hunting needs could be met with bolt action rifles, perhaps single-shot or holding small clips, and similar shotguns. After all, if you take a shot at a deer or a duck or whatever and miss, is spraying the landscape with projectiles going to change the result? How many times do the targets get brought down by subsequent shots? ( I understand that handguns are a different story and am not commenting on them right now….)

    • I have long thought that bolt action rifles might well be a good standard for hunting, yes. That’s a very hard sell, but it does seem to favor better shots than the casual hunter that doesn’t really know what they are doing. It may even cut down on hunting accidents, which are very common.
      But this is a big, long tangent. It’ll take time to explore.

  9. Here in Las Vegas there was just a few days ago a muder suicide. Very sad. A man killed from Chicago killed a woman he formerly dated. He shot her while she was working at her job as a concierege. Then he killed himself.
    Tragic and shocking.

    Unfortunately violence is part of thought out goals.

    The thing with multiple or mass murders is that we view it as crazy, by defintion. Some have sort of political or hate motivation.

    Off the top of my head, I don’t think in the US we have a lot of political violence. People have also studied how the US has fared compared to other nations.

    …on the issue of social reform, prohibiton was supposed to have a lot of benefits. Being drunk means your relationships and your work suffers.

    …Barataria has also talked about drugs. These are all areas of fruitful discussion and perhaps action.

    • We can be thankful that political violence is pretty rare, yes. Many nations have gone through at least spasms of this – including western nations we think of as peaceful, like Ireland.
      But yes, I don’t profess a lot of answers. I am offering a new perspective that focuses on the very foundations of our culture. Perhaps it’s too much, perhaps it’s not useful, perhaps it is simply not right. I offer what I can to get us to talk about this and form something more cohesive as a people, because we are a people. We are Americans, and that is a very noble calling of very high ideals when we live up to it.

      I want to see that again. I want my kids to live in that nation, not the one we have now. Continuous improvement has marked our history, and I hope we know what we have to do to make this better now. If not – can we at least talk?

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