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We must connect the dots

Finding the cause of our violent times

The morning after it happened, my Putney friend emailed me asking me if I was going to write another “rant” for my local newspaper. She was, of course, writing about the horror that had just occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

I hit the reply button and said “no,” I was not going to write anything because what happened, and still is happening, in the aftermath of the murders of 20 young children and six adults, is beyond words. It’s like using the single and not so simple word “Holocaust” to describe the enormity of the genocide practiced by the Nazis in World War II. Words are not up to the task.

The unending assessments in the media about Sandy Hook, like the repeated video of the planes flying into the twin towers, begin to numb my gut feelings. I can get a little closer to what the parents of those children murdered are experiencing by wondering, imagining really, how I would feel if my youngest grandson was killed in a school massacre. How I actually feel when I dare to let myself get close to that imagined nightmare is near intolerable. But it can’t begin to get close to what my grandson’s parents would experience, what they would feel and how it would forever change their lives.

I would like to invite the readers of The Recorder to help me (and all of us) to begin to get a grip on what it is in our country that permits a Sandy Hook to happen.

I’m not looking for single shot “solutions” (because there are none) or incensed opinions about guns, education, religious belief or the lack thereof, spirituality, the economy, the 1 percent or the 99 percent as the root of our “troubles.” I’m looking to connect all the relevant dots about the myriad aspects of our society that may be the cause of the violent times we find ourselves in.

To stimulate (not provoke) some rational discussion I offer some (not all) questions I have about these modern times.

We live in a violent country and world. Maybe humankind has always been violent but I wonder about how modern electronic communications may be playing a role in all of this. TV and the Internet (with its Facebook and Twitter) make us instantly aware of acts of violence at home and abroad from Syria to soccer stadium hooliganism, from NFL football to films of violence and from angry Little League dads to drive-by shootings. What effect is this having on young people in particular?

We have become increasingly disconnected from the planet we inhabit. Might that have something to do with a growing disconnect among peoples living on this earth? It is clear that this disconnect is poisoning our environment. Has the disconnect between people and the planet also led us into a disconnect within ourselves?

There is much to distract us, one from the other, these days. The electronic media takes the average American prisoner for five hours each day. The 127 minutes spent on mobile apps each day is inching its way toward the 168 minutes spent watching TV per day (based on data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2010 and 2011). Time spent using mobile apps now totals 76 percent of time spent watching television.

A significant portion of those 127 minutes belong to mobile gaming, which accounts for 43 percent of time spent on mobile apps worldwide. Mobile and video “gaming” use a preponderance of violence-based games including shoot to kill competitions. Even the addictive “Angry Birds” game thrives on violent actions. What is the effect of this teaching?

A recent study based on data from a sample of over 2,500 college students revealed that they texted 3 hours per day by sending 96 text messages and receiving 104 text messages each day. Does this connect or disconnect us?

There are more than 3 million guns in private hands in America. In 2009 there were 9,146 gun homicides, a rate nearly 20 times higher than that of other supposedly civilized countries. A recent article in The Week magazine reported that “studies show that a gun in a family’s home is 12 times more likely to result in the death of a household member than that of an intruder. It also increases the chance of suicide. These facts are ‘unmentionables,’ because they dispel the illusion that guns make you safer,” the article said.

There are many other causes of civic dysfunction that can lead to future Sandy Hooks but not enough space here to expand upon them. These causes include poverty, economic and cultural division, single-parent households, the decline in church attendance, an endangered education system, and various forms of addiction, racism and other forms of intolerance.

A fundamental question for me is how much does the profit motive serve as a common denominator for all of our societal ills?

John Bos is a Shelburne Falls resident and may be reached at john01370@gmail.com.

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