"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."                                                                                                                                                   Mother Theresa

 

Turning the Page

Certainly all sentient, reasonably sane beings were incredibly saddened by the events of December 14th. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool pro-gun advocates must surely have been sickened by that slaughter (though most of their responses were, shall we say, a bit on the insensitive / insensible side). Many felt that this was the horrific watershed event that would finally cause some congressional movement in the direction of passing reasonable measures to diminish the bloodshed.  A month after the massacre in Connecticut, the president declared that he was willing to go all out in order to pass broad gun control legislation. At a high-level these steps would involve closing background check loopholes, banning military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, ending the congressionally-mandated freeze on gun violence research, and increasing access to mental health services. The devil is of course always in the details, but the changes proposed are substantive.

It took no time for the NRA and their supporters to come up with a much simpler answer to the gun violence problem: more guns. This ‘solution’ befits their simple world view: there are good guys and there are bad guys and only the gun can make the difference. The mythology of the gun as equalizer was established generations ago, but still lives on in the minds of these advocates.  As I wrote in my last two posts, there is little evidence that this will do more than pump more guns into an already volatile stew. With the vast sea of guns already floating about, I would never deny the basic right of an individual to protect their home and loved ones. But nor do I want to live in a society that insists upon armed guards and citizenry everywhere. The imagery of flak-jacketed storm troopers at every intersection of daily life is too frightening on too many levels.   

The vast majority of Americans want some change in our gun policies, but we wait and wait, and the carnage continues. President Obama declared “the only way we can change is if the American people demand it,” and he is right. If we grieve and remain merely sad for the lost ones, nothing will change. We cannot just be sad about slaughters, we must get mad. Channeling Howard Beale, we must get “mad as hell and not take it anymore!”

It won’t be easy but nothing of real worth is. We can either turn the page and keep reading from the same script or write another one. We can settle back into complacency only to be jolted at the next massacre or can get mad and stay mad and do SOMETHING.

Gabby Giffords, the former congresswoman shot point blank two years ago, and her husband, Mark Kelly, finally got fed up and started their own anti-gun violence super PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions. These are not two leftist bomb-throwing radicals trying to ban guns and ruin the American Way. They are both gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters. But they are also mad as hell that nothing has been done to curb the epidemic of gun violence and they are trying to do SOMETHING about it.

My previous posts asked you to look outward and educate yourself, then look inward and ask yourself tough questions. This leads to individual actions based on well-reasoned ethics. These may include writing a letter to your congressperson or crafting  an op-ed to your local paper. But consider the voice of one multiplied by the many. Consider getting involved both nationally and on a local level with an anti-gun violence organization. Lend your weight to theirs. Answer the president’s call to demand change. 

Don’t just turn that page, write a new book.

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As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He also does portrait and event photography as a partner in Perfect Light Studios. Finally, with a background in information technology and project management, and as sole proprietor of Clayhaus Consulting, he works with non-profits and small businesses to help implement Internet and social media campaigns. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie and their three wild and crazy retrievers.

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shelly lee williams's picture

Jeff, as always your blogs bring me to pause and look more deeply into what it is I want for the future of the world I participate in. Thank You. 

 

State of Fear

The “I’ll-give-up-my-gun-when-they-pull-it-from-my-cold-dead-fingers” crowd knows why we all must be armed. Threats are everywhere. Enemies abound. From inside and out. There are the Islamo-fascists, poised to invade our fair shores with bulging vests of dynamite and cries of “Allahu Akbar” on their cracked lips. Hovering somewhere over the horizon, just a phone call away, are Big Government’s black ops helicopters, filled with freedom-squashing socialists, ready to parachute drop into small town America and herald the New World Order via compulsory healthcare and gun confiscation. Our borders are a sieve, allowing criminal elements and immigrants (often conflated to be the same) to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting, over-indulgent, decadent, and clearly unprepared America. Bad Men roam our schools and malls and movie theaters armed to the teeth, weighted down with purpose and ammunition, seeking that final blaze of glory, long denied, but no longer, and the only thing between them and the Citizens is the Good Guy, armed and ready to save the day. Fear, dreams, and desire, but mostly fear is the driver.

Fear is very human in manifestation, very animal in origin. It can motivate us to overcome or swallow us in the Unknown. The world did not change with the attacks of 9/11. It changed with our response to the attacks. We had choices; we made decisions. They were ours and only ours to make. What is this fear that drives some to arm? What is the reality? 

Factcheck.org has a very timely piece on gun rhetoric versus gun facts. The 2010 gun-related murder rate was 3.59 per 100,000. That is the lowest it has been since 1981, but still translates into 11,000 gun murders per year. Looking at United Nations worldwide data on homicides and gun-related murders can provide some context.

This chart shows our murder rate as compared to much of the rest of the developed world. Excepting Greenland (what is going on in that sub-60,000 population country is for someone else to contemplate), our numbers are only trailing a number of ex-Soviet Union republics.

 

When we turn to gun-related murders it gets more interesting.

 

These are gun-related murder rates (x/100) and clearly some data is missing, Where is Russia (or Greenland, for that matter) in this mix? No data currently available, apparently. Regardless of that, look at our standing compared to many of our friends: the UK, France, Japan, Australia, etc. It does seem clear that there is a bit of the old Wild West going on in America.

To provide a more complete picture, look at gun-related homicides worldwide:

Clearly we doing much better that Jamaica, El Salvador and South Africa, sandwiched right there between Barbados and Uruguay. Comforting, and, as they say, everything is relative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So why is our gun-related murder rate so high (as compared to other developed nations)? Could this chart help explain:

At a rate of almost 90 firearms per 100 people, our gun ownership is far higher than any other country’s.

While this rate is climbing, the average number of households owning guns is decreasing. It seems that the weapons are becoming concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer mainly adult males. Fear drives much of this as sales spike post any mass shooting or with the possibility of a Democratic president (or legislative majority) considering the passage of gun legislation. The weapons industry – whether the lobbyists, pundits, gun magazines, or armaments manufacturers – play on these fears. Sales are booming and firearms manufacturing has doubled in 10 years with the targeting of a new generation and new markets. It is true that while we are buying more and more guns, our murder rate has declined. But our gun-related non-fatal injuries from assault are on the rise as is our suicide rate by firearms. Study after study shows that easy availability of guns contributes to high suicide rates. An average of 22 veterans a day are taking their lives.

As has been reported, the same day of the Newtown shooting where 26 people (including 20 children) were killed, 22 children were slashed by a knife-wielding assailant in China. None died. There is a story, just in that.

The ugly reality is that we are the kings of lethality. The old saw about bringing a knife to a gun fight is certainly true, but why pack a six-shooter when you can easily bring a Remington 12-gauge tactical shotgun, a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic .223cal rifle with a 100-round drum magazine, and a 15 round Glock .40cal handgun (Aurora Colorado theater shooter) or a Bushmaster .223cal model XM15-E2S rifle with 30 round clips, a 15 round Glock 10 mm handgun and a Sig-Sauer P226 9mm handgun (Sandy Hook Elementary School killer)? Why indeed.

The fear-mongers are easy to find: on television, in print, on the Internet, especially on the Internet. But they are minority, in reality a very small minority. After all, even if all of the NRA members — the numbers of which vary greatly depending upon whom you believe, but is reliably estimated to be around 3.1 million — shared Wayne LaPierre’s reactionary, fearful views, that is still far less than the 314 million citizens of this country. How is it that this shrill, irrational 1% have been allowed to control the conversation and in so doing manipulate us, the other 99%?

Fear.

Next: Turn The Page


As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He also does portrait and event photography as a partner in Perfect Light Studios. Finally, with a background in information technology and project management, and as sole proprietor of Clayhaus Consulting, he works with non-profits and small businesses to help implement Internet and social media campaigns. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie and their three wild and crazy retrievers.

 

Culture of Violence

According to the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry, it is estimated that by the time a child reaches the age of eighteen he or she will have seen 200,000 acts of violence, including more than 16,000 murders on television alone. Movies, video games and/or surfing the Net can only add to these numbers. As adults most of us easily differentiate between what we see on a screen and what is real. But children, especially the very young, cannot.

Of course many will grow up relatively unaffected, neither turning into mass murderers nor torturers of animals. But equally clear is that some will be affected. How can they not? Just looking at movies, the message often seems pretty obvious. Violence IS conflict resolution (Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Green Lantern, Judge Dredd, etc.). Violence is cool (see Tarentino, Quentin). Violence is heroic (or, at least heroes sometimes just happen to also be violent: 300, Act of Valor). Violence is needed (from Dirty Harry through the Death Wish franchise to Taken). Violence is sexy (A Good Day to Die Hard opened on Valentines Day…what message does that send?).

I am not railing against violence in movies in general (of TV, games, and film, the latter medium is the one I am most familiar with). Nor am I asking for regulating Hollywood, the TV networks, and computer game manufacturers. Violence in the media can have its place. It can inform, instruct, deter, and even be a creative and artistic vehicle. However, it is very hard to see anything sexy or cool about the opening (or closing) 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Visceral, impactful, and anti-war in a clinical, ground-zero way, yes. Something to enjoy…no. As well, it is a huge artistic and philosophical leap to include the intelligent, subliminal commentary and ballet-like choreographed violence of The Wild Bunch and Platoon with the artless, pointless, tasteless, and ultimately nihilistic torture-porn of the Saw and Hostel series.

Causation is the key word. We know violent movies, TV, games, websites, apps (insert your favorite media here) don’t directly cause adults to commit violent acts, though the deleterious effects on young children have been well documented. Outside of the realm of the young, studies measuring the effects of violent entertainment on behavior in the adult population are mixed. If violent depictions weren’t so prevalent, perhaps we would be less concerned. But even in a post-Newtown Massacre world, violence sells in a big way. We have to ask why.

Is this a case of fulfilling demand or creating it? The answer is, as it is with many such questions: yes, both. We (and I write in the universal ‘we’) are drawn to violence as a moth to flames, a rubbernecker to the pile-up, a junkie to the next fix. However, unlike the moth, we are not entirely driven by instinct: we can make a choice. Not the false choice of either burying one’s head in the sand and watching Happy Day’s reruns or wallowing full-on in the latest revenge-via-abattoir, but instead the choice of being informed and making decisions based on that.

We really don’t need a study to tell us that a steady dose of violence is unhealthy, desensitizing and dehumanizing. The culture of violence begins and ends with those who consume it. Informed citizens consume based on knowledge. Shoppers merely look for the “best deal.” Do you eat a burger and a large order of fries everyday? Do you partake in entertainment violence every evening? In both cases I would suggest a change in diet: your arteries and our culture would greatly benefit.

Next: State of Fear


As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He also does portrait and event photography as a partner in Perfect Light Studios. Finally, with a background in information technology and project management, and as sole proprietor of Clayhaus Consulting, he works with non-profits and small businesses to help implement Internet and social media campaigns. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie and their three wild and crazy retrievers.

 

 

 

Hyper Smash

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Jeff, 

This post, and the series you're working on, made me think of two posts from the PLOS/neuroanthropology blog:

"Inside the Minds of Mass Killers" where Daniel Lende investigates the cultural concept of 'amok' and how it appears to be playing out in our society.

And, "Jared Loughner has a Violence Problem not a Mental Health Problem" where he discusses what we know about the connection between mental health issues and violence.

 

Jeff Clay's picture

For far too long we have ignored the mentally ill (lock 'em up! Oh wait: we don't want to pay for that...let them out!) as well as the role(s) they play in society. But as those posts you cite point out in length (and depth), waving our hands in the air whilst claiming yet another mass shooter is mentally disturbed does nothing but create a safe and comfortable distance between Us and Them. It's as if That Monster is another species, as distant from Me as a rabid wolf is from Us. Not so. The poisoned well of violence is within each and it is our unique journey that determines whether we dip from it (and how often) or pass by to seek fresher, cleaner waters.

Bad Seed or Negligent Farmer?

capitol reef fruita orchardThe notion of a Bad Seed – a child who has inherited evil – was both chilling and terrifying in the 1950s. Fast forward 45 years and it is pretty well established that psychopathic 9-years do exist. But the case is far from closed as to whether our environment or our genes are creating these children. It’s the ago-old psychological / biological question of nature versus nurture and the answer is “yes.” The research seems to be pointing in the direction of genetic make-up is important but how children are raised may mitigate or exacerbate hidden latencies and potential behaviors. In the end, there is little we can do about our genetics, but our environment we can greatly affect.

Unless you are a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychotherapist, you are less concerned about the (fortunately) small population of sociopaths amongst us and more focused on living and leading a healthy life and creating the same for our children. The truism ‘we are what we eat’ similarly applies to our environment: to a large extent, we are what we see, hear, and experience.

As humans we live in the world of possibilities, not perfection. We have seemingly infinite capacity for kindness and cruelty, love and hate, higher strivings and base degradations. Genetics may bequeath us rudimentary tools, but with those we can literally build rockets to the moon and beyond. So, we have to ask the questions of ourselves before questioning others. What do we want for the world? What do we want for ourselves? What do we want for the future of our world: our children?

A stream of questions flows through my head … What are the roles of competition and cooperation? Why is seeing sex in a film more ‘offensive’ than a dismembered body? Why does violence sell so well? Where is the empathy for all living things? How should an individual live within a community? Why do we tolerate cruelty? Should we care for others who cannot care for themselves? How and why have we become so militarized? Why do gun sales spike after mass shootings? Who are the fear mongers and why do we listen to them? Should everything have a monetary cost associated with it? Should children be marketed to? Is the reason “because we can” really a reason? Why is societal amnesia so prevalent? How can we truly learn from our and others’ mistakes? Why endless wars? Why profit? What is motive and motivation? … How we answer those and many more questions on a personal level will create the environment for our children, of our future. Schools and governments, churches and NGOs, can and do grapple with these on societal levels, to a greater or lesser degree of success. But, in your home, you are ground zero.

Think about the questions. Thoughtful answers lead to informed decisions. Decisions have lasting consequences. Do this when you are loving your partner, caring for children, tending animals, working with colleagues, buying products, ordering dinner, deciding what movie to see, what book to read. Think and build a new world; react and perpetuate the same.

It is safe to say that few want to live in a culture of violence, a state of fear. Yet, it seems we are frightfully good at creating both. How can we move from negligent farmer to good shepherd?

Next: Culture of Violence

 


As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He also does portrait and event photography as a partner in Perfect Light Studios. Finally, with a background in information technology and project management, and as sole proprietor of Clayhaus Consulting, he works with non-profits and small businesses to help implement Internet and social media campaigns. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie and their three wild and crazy retrievers.

The Will to Change

I stare at the photo and wonder about that child. Is he healthy? Is he happy? Is he still innocent? Is he still alive?

Photographed one chilly October afternoon in Krakow almost 10 years ago, it is a slice of time and life that still speaks to me. The child is doing what children should do: explore, have fun, discover, chase pigeons, fall asleep, wake up to another adventure. These are the sane things children should embrace. These are the things we relish in them, why not in ourselves?

When does the insanity begin to creep in? When do we begin thinking in terms of my profit, your loss? When do we begin thinking in terms of us and them, us against them, black and white, red and blue, my way or the highway? When do we begin turning the child into the adult?

For some, we force it upon them unconscionably early. Whether in Newtown, Connecticut or countless Afghan and Pakistani villages, whether in time of endless war or supposed peace, whether from a “sporting rifle” or a drone, children just separated from their mother’s teats are twisted into adults, if they survive. What has happened? What is happening?

We cannot protect our children, our future, with more of the same. There are times when less is more and the same thinking that got us here, will only keep us digging deeper. Solutions cannot be found in the shiny steel of rhetoric or machinery. We are needed and the need is the will to change. Forget the Will to Power...it is so 20th century (wrapped in the bombastic detritus of the 19th). We must muster the will to change.

At some point enough is indeed enough. Watch the children. We can learn from them, the sane ones.

Next: ”Bad Seed or Negligent Farmer?” 

 


As the principal of Clayhaus Photography, Jeff Clay specializes in fine-art landscape, architecture, and travel images. He also does portrait and event photography as a partner in Perfect Light Studios. Finally, with a background in information technology and project management, and as sole proprietor of Clayhaus Consulting, he works with non-profits and small businesses to help implement Internet and social media campaigns. He lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife, Bonnie and their three wild and crazy retrievers.

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