G. K. Chesterton said, “Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity.” I’m pretty sure I understand what he was getting at, yet I find little amusing about what is happening these days.
I no longer watch any TV news, and have dropped cable TV entirely. I do read local newspapers online, but I shy away from getting bogged down in the overwhelming morass of daily death and destruction being dished out.
I cannot get my head around the sheer enormity of man’s inhumanity to man currently on display, and which only seems to get worse each year. While not wanting to get caught up in all this negativity, and let it become the focus of my every waking moment, I do still often find myself pondering what exactly is going on.
Now, I’m no stranger to violence and mayhem, having had a few run-ins with such in my younger days, but I wouldn’t mind it at all if my grandsons and their children – all the children – never had to experience it ever again.
Why have we humans not evolved beyond the need to express our anger, wants, needs, fears and insecurities with violence, and often, deadly force aimed at otherwise innocent people? Despite all the progress we’ve made in understanding the workings of the human brain and psyche, the level of violence in our society today continues to grow exponentially. Why? What drives people to engage in such madness?
I don’t mean just the obviously damaged and deranged people running amok among us, but the daily demonstrations by so many supposedly “normal” folks of a seething anger which bubbles up, like lava from a caldera, at the least provocation.
You’ve read the stories in the paper, and I’m sure you’ve watched the viral videos of some knucklehead’s meltdown over some relatively innocuous occurrence. Apparently our tolerance and ability to deal with things when they don’t go our way is pretty much non-existent. From the counter at the burger joint to the parking lot at the grocery, it’s all around us — and it’s getting worse.
While these offenses are traditionally the domain of men, a growing number of women and young adults of both sexes are now guilty of such behavior as well. These fine folks run the generational spread from Gen-X to Millennial, with a few of us grizzled old Boomers thrown in the mix for good measure. And that’s just your run-of-the-mill domestic violence and simple assaults.
But there’s another level or two of magnitude above that which is inhabited by individuals who choose to announce their displeasure with reality, and act out in the most dramatic and grandiose manner their minds can imagine. Unfortunately, in our world, those imaginings involve weapons; typically guns of various types and caliber, copious amounts of ammunition, and targets — we can’t forget the targets: school children, worshippers, families enjoying a day out at a music festival.
Now, I’m not going to insult you by going after low-hanging fruit and suggesting that somehow a complete ban on all guns is the answer. While I am a proponent of better background checks, gun licensing and increased oversight of gun-show sales, I am not anti-gun. Just the opposite: I was raised around guns, and was taught proper handling and how to shoot by my father. I later received firearms training from the Florida Department of Corrections.
I have owned guns my entire adult life, and I have never hurt myself or another person. Nor have I ever thought to settle problems at work or a general unhappiness with life, by demonstrating my shooting skills.
I mentioned evolving: If we’re honest with ourselves, we all know how little has truly changed over the past century or more in this great country of ours regarding our acceptance of folks different from ourselves. There has always been one group or another for us to exploit and be the focus of our rancor.
At various times it’s been Native Americans, blacks, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Germans, Mexicans and Japanese; it’s been Catholics, Baptists, Mormons, Jews and Muslims – and for the most part, somewhere, it still is one or all of the above! As if there wasn’t enough already floating in the Gumbo, we’ve gone and thrown in various and sundry sexual orientations, and a potpourri of political persuasions, to add just a smidge more heat. Mm-mm-mm, that’ll spice things up, I gar-on-tee!
It is these ongoing and strongly held biases we so tenaciously cling to, as well as new ones spontaneously generated on a daily basis, which create the myriad schisms roiling our country today and which provide the rationale behind one heinous act after another by individuals and groups whose actions – whether ideologically or racially motivated – are borne of a deep disconnect with healthy values and social mores; an inability to function in the world as it is, all the while lamenting some unobtainable fantasy construct of some perfect life that never was.
Perhaps it is madness of a sort at the root of all this, because I believe it extremely foolish behavior that we continue to chase an ever more elusive dream, while pursuing essentially unhappy, unfulfilling, consumer-driven lives. We medicate ourselves with food and a variety of substances – both legal and otherwise – to cope with the daily stress of living, and point the finger and place blame on all sorts of other folks for our inability to grab the brass ring as the merry-go-round keeps turning faster.
What does it suggest to you that in 2017, 73,000 of our fellow citizens chose a drug overdose to continued life, or that 60 percent of the 40,000 gun deaths in 2017 were suicides? The other 37 percent were homicides. I think we can all agree that’s pretty aberrant behavior. And when a large segment of the population seemingly thinks violence against others is perfectly normal because those others are in some way different, I would submit what we have here is not simply a failure to communicate, but a serious national mental health problem.
Could this be the real cause of the tumult and violence we see today?
Van Elburg has been a resident of Williamsburg, James City County for more than 30 years. He is semi-retired from a multi-faceted business career and currently teaches classes on blues music for the Christoper Wren Association. He is a musician, writer and on-air personality and programming director for the mobile radio station, TheBluesAlley.com.