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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Context, solutions

Dumb question of the weekThe Wisconsin State Journal had a big front-page headline on Tuesday: Why? This seems completely silly to me, because the real story of the Virginia Tech shootings is the tragedy of 32 people being killed. Why a crazy person would kill 32 people is little help to the parents, family, friends and classmates of the students and professors who were murdered. It won't bring their loved ones back, and it won't ease the pain of their loss. Indeed, as it turns out, students are complaining that the news media are making the situation worse. The Virginia Tech campus has been inundated with every manner of media vultures: TV news crews, newspaper and radio reporters, and photographers.

Silly though such a Wisconsin State Journal headline may be, it is a good hologram for what ails us. We live in a fragmented society. Everyone lives in their own little niche, and people are employed in little segments of our social system, where they perform tasks that serve the purposes and goals of their organizations. Thus we have NBC news parading the video and other materials sent them by the killer, completely insensitive to the trauma of the survivors and their families. NBC has its own purposes and goals: ratings, scoop, advertising revenue, ego payoff for news anchors and bread-and-circus show hosts like Matt Lauer.

At Virginia Tech, the campus police had and have their own purposes and goals. Within their own parameters and guidelines, they pronounced the dormitory shootings an isolated domestic dispute, and did not alert the campus to the likelihood of further shootings. They acted, or failed to act, based on limited information, with no knowledge that could have been gleaned from other isolated entities like the school counseling office, or the reported eight professors who formed a task force for dealing with the shooter.

The president of the university acted, or failed to act, based on the same limited information that the police had. Again, he had and has his own purposes and goals, parameters and guidelines.

The owner of the gun shop who sold the shooter his implements of murder also acted and acts in an isolated, fragmented manner, based on his chosen method of making a living. No other consideration was or is available to him. The same goes for the mail order gun dealer who sent the killer his Walther .22 caliber handgun.

In a mass social system, myriads of small entities act in their own self-interest for their own purposes and goals. Interacting, exhanging information with other entities, is a low priority relative to the main function of the organization.

How did we get to this point? From what we know about the development of civilizaiton, humans started out in small groups similar to gorilla and chimpanzee clusters. As we moved through the Stone Age, the Copper and Bronze Age, the Iron Age, "progressing" to the now Industrial Age, human society became more specialized and fragmented.

In a tribal society, everyone would know everyone else, and a psychotic and/or schizophrenic member of the tribe would be known to all, and the tribe would deal with the problem. We can laugh today at the methods used by traditional societies for treating mental illness, but psychiatrist Stanislav Grof has synthesized an analysis and treatment approach that draws on practices from the ancient past, including shamanism, the use of psychedelic drugs, and holotropic breathwork. A modern society would do well to pay more attention to Grof's and other spiritual-transpersonal approaches for treating mental disorders. The 32 students and professors at Virginia Tech might still be alive, as would the person who shot them.

Above all, though, maybe we could address the one element of our fragmented mass system that screams out its impunity from any responsibility whatsoever: the gun industry. I wrote about gun fanaticism and obsessive masculinity in three previous posts, drawing on my own experience with hunting and shooting: Enhancing your virility, A hunting story, and Masculinity, real and imagined. We may be a fragmented, compartmentalized society, but we can come together to control the guns. No other advanced industrial country has an out of control gun culture like we in "America" do. We can cure ourselves of this ill. Maybe the masculinity-challenged among us could get some of Stanislav Grof's therapy. They could get "official" therapies like the corporate pharmaceutical regimen. Something.

Whatever the treatments for gun-nuttery, one very clear, emphatic, simple thing we can do is stop listening to and heeding the noise made by the gun industry and its enabling gun fanatics. Enough! Gun nuts, you have had your day in the sun. It is time you got yourselves real lives. We know the consequences of your "freedom." It is time for "American" civilization to move on. While we're at it, we might want to retire our death-dealing president.

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