Al Turtle Feb 2010
The current US news media is full of stories of bursting violence. “Lone wolves” these people are called. Is that what we called those kids who shot up the school at Columbine Colorado or the guy at Virginia Tech? “Homegrown terrorists” they are also being called. As I listen to the various news analysts, I am struck by how simple the problem is to understand. And yet the analysts seem lost. Here’s my thinking, to add to the mix.
1: ANGER – This is just an emotion. We all have it. It is the chemistry that kicks in when we are frustrated, when we want something and can’t get it. This chemical soup urges us to higher levels of physical activity: pushing, talking louder, yelling, running, hitting, etc. If un-discharged, this energy builds up in the individual and makes them a kind of ticking time bomb, ready to go off whenever triggered or released. This is pretty simple stuff.
At various times in history the levels of frustration in our population get higher or go lower. In the 1930s, before the burst of fascism and nazism, the desparate levels of frustration in Europe, I gather, were enormous, particularly in Germany. Similarly in the USA the depression was a time of exploding frustration. And so one of the indicators of trouble in a culture (or heck in a family) are the levels of frustration – economic indicators, job loss, etc.
To me the current national situation (recession, job layoffs, financial chaos, etc.) is ideal for lots and lots of frustration, leaking anger, overt hostility and violence.
2: BLAME – One of our cultural rules (which I think we need to change) is the principle that “it is ok to express anger if it is justified.” This is taught throughout our culture. Movies glorify “justified violence” and downgrade “unjustified violence.” People talk about the problem of violence in terms of its justification or “legality.”
This is so simple. When a person walks up to me and starts promoting the idea that someone is “bad,” I just know the person in front of me has a load of anger and is seeking to “justify” it – to make their already existing emotion, legal. Angry people seem to always be speaking as if life were a court case and they are trying to convict “the other.”
If they believe their own “arguments,” then they believe it is ok to express their anger. And so you hear these people saying, over and over, “they deserve it.”
For me the current issue about “torture” really breaks down to the split between angry people who believe “terrrorists” deserve torture, and the professional people (FBI, etc) who pragmatically say that “torture” isn’t very effective at getting information. I think we have lots and lots of people saying, “He deserves it,” “she deserves it,” “my kid asked for it,” “abortion workers are asking for it,” etc. Tis all so silly.
3: MANIPULATION – Given the above, it is easy to understand the Holocaust, the anger mongers of talk radio, and the current interest in the media activities. I worked on a project years ago (egad, 1971 I think)where we focused on what was called a Guilt-Free-Hostility-Object. This was the difference in how people act if you give them something to be angry at, that “deserves it,” or that you can act badly toward without feeling remorse.
Example: If late at night you wait for a bus. The bus drives by and splashes you with rain water. a) In one case you could see that the driver didn’t notice you. b) In another case you see the driver wave at you and laugh. In the first case you may be frustrated but confused about what to do. In case b you whip out a bazooka and blow the bus away! This is a GFHO – “he asked for it.” Look at the different behavior, wow.
Now, let some media type tell frustrated people “who the bad guys are.” Let the Nazi media tell everyone that it is the Jews who are causing all the financial trouble. Let Rush Limbaugh tell everyone that it is the liberal media or the feminazis or ….. Let Bill O’Reilly tell everyone that Dr. Tiller is a baby killer, etc. (The liberals can do and do do the same thing. I just find Rush and Fox news a fascinating study in manipulation of anger.)
Seems all about mobilizing people’s anger. They want something to be angry at and we’ll give them something to be angry at. I think the marketing people for industries, or pharmaceuticals, etc. have been doing this for years. I fear it has been a common component in many religious groups.
4: PUT IT TOGETHER – assemble these three components and I think you have the current situation of violence. I find useful the idea that the greatest number of terrorists in the world live in the angriest most frustrated areas. What does it say that in the USA we have more homegrown terrorists that in many other countries? What does it say that we have more terrorists in the USA than we have outside of our borders?
And so let’s look at each situation.
- Who is the actor? Have they been personally frustrated? How long? Do they have a record of “holding and blowing.” i.e. they know how to hold in their emotions and then under certain circumstances they explode? If you can get to their writings, are those writings full of the language of anger? This person, full of frustration and pent up anger, is looking for relief. They are normally not crazy. Mostly they are just not well trained for dealing with life’s frustrations and for expressing their emotions effectively and safely.
- What is the target of the actor’s violence? What is the logic that the actor uses to “justify” striking this particular target? Does the actor have a long-built logic for this kind of target? Since they believe they are “justified,” are they surprised when their violence is stopped? This has a lot to do with the actor’s disconnection from the culture he/she lives in and their adoption of a particular sub-culture. I have often watched a perpetrator of domestic violence display shock at being arrested. Till their arrest, they have lived in a frustrating world where holding their emotions and blowing up at “justified target’s” has been the norm.
- Who are the “providers” or the “encouragers” of the logic that the actor uses? Who contributes to the sub-culture, to its rationale, that is adopted by the actor as reasoning for the justification of their outburst? Remember if the actor had learned better ways of dealing with their frustration, they would do it. I have found that the “providers” can be politicians, demagogues, friends, family, media people. I think the providers are just acting out their own poor training in dealing with life’s frustrations and are simply using the verbal form of physical violence – all about blaming, and justifying anger.
5: BYSTANDERS – I enjoy what I think is the fallacy of the “lone wolf.” My experience is that the vast majority of these violent people are raised, trained, developed, and supported over a long period of time by people who live around them. These “supporters” don’t know what to do in response to the “actor’s” anger, are fearful of what to do, and thus do nothing. As the media and media analysts ruminate on these violent outbursts, I am used to their cooperating with giving these Bystanders what I think is a pathological break. If I were to start to fix this whole problem, I would start by focusing on retraining these Bystanders, these “supporters.” I wrote a whole paper on these people. I don’t think we are quite willing to do this, and so, this problem will probably grow.
Tis just my beliefs. Enjoy.