A gun problem, a shooter problem, a racism problem, a mental health problem, a human problem.
A violence problem.
It’s not just a bullet or a knife.
It’s an infection
That permeates through people, relationships and society.
You’re bullied by a boss, it leaves you with a charge, that leads you to lose your temper at dinner, and then your baby cries. That makes your partner tired and irritated, so they say something rude to a friend, who brings it home to dinner with their own family. Passing along the pain because we don’t know how to process it. We’ve all done something we regret, because we were struggling with a feeling we could not manage, given to us by a world we did not choose. It’s a simple and familiar process we all experience nearly every day.
The boss is an enormous institution funded by trillions of dollars bombarding you with the message that you are not good enough. The boss is constellation of military manufacturers that profits from from every bomb they convince us to drop. They train us to think murder is a solution and safety requires warfare. Now the boss is a police system that guns down citizens in the street and calls it protection; puts lost souls in cages and calls it justice. Now the boss is an economy that leaves folks without jobs and provides a thin veil of meritocracy that shames them for not being able to take care of themselves. Now the boss leaves people in desperate need of help, and convinces them to hate anyone who receives government assistance, including themselves. What is the charge we are left with? What tools and support do we have to cope? How constantly are we passing this along?
This is all violence. Physical, economic, structural, systemic violence. It traumatizes its way into our psyche and burrows into our selves. Once infected, we barely imagine any way to cope with our existence and struggles but to lash out on some other. Violence is a contagious disease that permeates the culture we breath. We are being wounded by each other, and told that it is normal. It’s the great capitalist gaslighting and we can’t feel the pain if we are all on OxyContin.
Violence. Denial. Shame. Repression. Powerlessness. Hatred. Fear. Repeat. It’s the American way of life.
We are lost souls trying to build our lives but America the colonizer has given us only wrecking balls and fire. It convinced us that we can make a dream real with a bullet and told the same lie from Columbus to Jackson to Trump.
Violence is a plague that has spread through the populace. A hate-filled man with a gun is not the cause, its a symptom.
Now at this point you may be thinking that I’m letting him off the hook; that I’m a naive bleeding heart liberal whose excusing his actions. That I’m letting gun manufactures and the NRA off the hook; that I’m not seeing how gun control can help. Or that I’m letting white men off the hook; not naming the specific dimensions of his violent outburst.
No. I’m just choosing to focus on something else for a moment. And it’s a bit uncomfortable because I’m not letting anyone else off the hook either, including you and me.
It’s way easier to say that he’s evil, or sick, or a white guy gone off the chain, or a terrorist. It’s way easier to say anything to distance him from us than to confront the fact he is one of us. He’s just another human, trapped in a world they did not choose, provided no tools to navigate it, subject to the barrage of trauma that rains down from systems of rule that profit from abuse. Being white or a man does not free him from it, it just changes the flavor of the trauma so only some folks can witness that it’s real. His identity doesn’t protect him from the violence, alienation, and degradation that put the populace to sleep so elites can have their American dream.
We can just “other” him and talk about new policies. That’s way easier than confronting the fact that confusion, powerlessness, desperation, fear, rage, and violent outbursts are exactly the kind of responses we should expect from people subject to the systems we have built our society upon.
It’s not naivete. It’s realism. Moral condemnations of a killer don’t do much to solve the problem. Policy sutures can slow the bleeding but not heal the wound at its source. We need deep causal explanations that can lead toward cures for a systemic disease. The shootings are a symptom. The irresponsibly permissive gun laws are a symptom. The disease is violence itself, and most of us worship it.
This is America. Where we build shopping malls on indigenous burial grounds; where we wear clothes still moist with the sweat and blood of the children that stitched them. This is America, where we poison people’s water supplies and label civil rights leaders as terrorists; where we drive cars fueled by oil pirated at gunpoint. This is America, where our idea of success is to climb to the top of a hierarchy so that we can subject others to our will, where human worth has a price tag, where we build smartphones from conflict minerals mined by children. Where we criminalize or pathologize any warning sign, including peaceful protest, and push opioids on the populace so that we can avoid confronting the shadow of our nation.
This is America. The world’s leader in violence and self delusion. We are sick here, and we need to heal. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.
Nothing is isolated. Every act of violence is a reminder of the complete transformation required. Along with these winds that carry violence through the atmosphere there are waters of healing flowing through rivers, raining down from above, and flowing forth from the deep wells that reside in all of our hearts. There are trees of truth, justice, and righteousness that stand undaunted, no matter how hard the wind blows. There is Earth that constantly fruits all the medicine we could ever need, fire that burns the infections of our psyche, and an infinitely dimensioned universe in which we can create any society we can imagine.
The courageous calls for gun reform are needed. The analysis of the shooters identity and source of hate is needed. The discussion of how the media portrayal of him is mediated by race is needed. The care for mental health is needed. And we also need to understand how these things are particular manifestations of a deep current within ourselves and society that needs healing.
Luckily, everything we need is right here. We just need to figure out how to notice it, connect with it, organize around it, and manifest the abundance of love, healing, and compassion that infuses every moment with the potential to be more sanctified than the last. We can create institutions, policies, and economies that reflect and cultivate the most generous, healing, united, and humble natures of our beings to replace the systems that inflict violence in the name of profit. The first step is to notice the depth of the problem. The second is to recognize that transformation is not only possible, but already in progress. The third is to cultivate that lovely mixture of hope, vision, stubbornness, and a dash of arrogance that lets us believe we actually can remake the world.
Gun reform. Heal from toxic masculinity. Care for our minds, emotions, and spirits. Create an equitable distribution of resources. Enter into a regenerative relationship with the Earth. Foster a society in which we all have the support we need to be our highest selves. Love and support each other when we miss the mark. Build institutions and civilizations from the depth of our hearts, as opposed to the fears, neurosis, and patterns of our minds. That is what many of us are doing as we weave together the connections between issues and potentials to create a new societal fabric. That is the call so many of us have been following for so long. Let’s help each other listen more carefully, hear more nuances, and recognize that we are all here just trying to figure out how to live and love amidst this chaotic world we inherited.
Simon Mont is managing editor at Tikkun and an organizational development consultant.