Mass Shootings and Collective Mourning: Searching For Reason and Solutions After Terrifying Violence

Author: A. Hannah Spadafora


1931 - New Roads, La. Photographer - Russell Lee, Source: The New York Public Library

National and community mourning often embodies diverse reactions akin to stages of private mourning: denial, depression, bargaining, anger, acceptance. The notable difference is that acceptance is not necessarily a healthy outcome to the grieving process. Internally, of course, we must reconcile the tragedy—we must cope with despair and fear or be broken to functioning in life. Violence as a normal occurrence is an acceptance that costs us, however. We can’t let acceptance be the goal; to solve the problem, we can’t risk becoming inured to the scope of disaster and heartbreak caused by these events, or minimize them to another news story to feel bad over on our lunch breaks (until, or unless, it hits close to home…) It is in the other states of seeking solace after loss that we find strength and better acuity in evaluating mass-shootings.


In 2018, there were 340 mass shooting events--a small chunk of the 2,250 that have occurred since 2012. Following events of outrageous violence, depression is common—pure grief over the people lost, their unlived lives, and the people who loved them, now left in mourning. This blanket of despair sweeps across communities with the shared news—the phone calls, television programs, and community discussions following each tragedy. It is a thick sadness, accompanied by fear. It shakes us; the already lost destabilizes the universe with the potential of what may yet still be lost. There is a shift in feeling secure, the reminder of a lack of guarantee of safety for ourselves, and for our loved ones. Born from this is the remaining question of what will ensue for the affected communities, for the ever-changed nation, and for the impact that the occurrences impress upon the world, at large.


Startlingly, some people go into denial, steadily insisting extreme events never transpired. Perhaps in the wake of children dying, it’s easier to believe that the other side of the political spectrum is orchestrating a spectacle of actors to pull this off. This is sick—completely disrespectful to the families who suffer loss and not far off those who deny the evidence of the Holocaust. It would not be surprising if there’s a great overlap in these groups with individuals who deny the fossil timelines of dinosaurs or the roundness of our planet, but this denial has greater consequence in terms of added suffering for those grieving. Other denial includes the repudiation of evidence linking these events to intensification of damage caused by attackers using guns. The profit-soaring National Rifle Association (NRA) normally leads this charge, rejecting the premise that easy access to firearms increases the likelihood of violent events from domestic violence to mass shootings—the latter particularly assisted by guns that go far beyond any need for self-protection, short of the need for protection during a zombie apocalypse. There has been some division and re-considered response within the organization regarding regulation following a shooting in 2012 when many kids died at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut; however, we have yet to see changes in policy implemented.

Selective denial isn’t limited to event-deniers or easy-gun-access minimizers. There’s also a denial of the need and capability to bring nuanced review to defining mental health, recognizing excessive and unhealthily expressed anger issues as a problem in a way that does not needlessly stigmatize other sufferers without violent tendencies. There are further voiced negations that extremist rhetoric from leaders influence devoted followers to deranged thoughts and actions. Denials of racist hypocrisy additionally abound in violent event reports—white shooters are described as mentally ill, or good kids that no one saw it coming from, but middle eastern attackers are more quickly labelled as terrorists while black or Hispanic Americans are automatically presumed in reporting to be thugs or gang members.


The most extreme denial is a refusal of the impact of encouragement, approval, and excusing of violence in particular situations by the same state powers that condemn and voice mourning after unsanctioned and uncontrolled violent events. We are a nation founded by the supposed conquering of others often treated as lesser people. The U.S. wages war with a mighty army every few years—or decades, maximum—since our founding. We’re not unique in this, historically, but we do have a pervasive glorification of situational violence, so long as it’s for the home team, in the name of safety within our borders. As for the places we send our bombs, troops, and oil drills, both officially and unofficially, the attitude from a chunk of less kind responders tends to be /sucks to be them./ The deportation officer will see you to the door.


Aside from depression, denial, and acceptance, there is also a bargaining of sorts. Blaming counts as reverse bargaining in this case. Extreme just-world believers like to say people get what they deserve—good and bad. This disturbing apathy in the face of mass shootings—an event that you think would bring nothing but sympathy from all—is in itself a rationalizing response to people who cannot deal with the fact that bad things happen to good people. This response sweeps away thorny issues of inequality, assault, and murder. It is also found frequently in the self-righteous polemicizing their goodness and others badness; that they are meant for heaven, and they know exactly who is going to hell—an attempt to control and police others that also probably has roots in an attempt to control an out of control world, albeit sometimes in very misguided and hateful ways. This is similar to blaming ‘sin’ for hurricanes—frequently defined by accusers as acts from LGBTQAI+ members of cities hit: if we just don’t be sinful, god won’t punish us. It shows up in more mild forms of victim blaming and gun-regulation shaming; if the victims had been armed, they wouldn’t have died (even though, statistically, there are a lot of problems with this seemingly common-sense idea.)


When mourning over people lost in violent attacks, it is particularly easy to get caught in anger. Violence begets violence, an eye for an eye. The statistically high chance that we’re all in national mourning, again, regardless of the day you read this, for someone—or a large group of people--who have recently died during a violent attack, is angering. Lone creeps and violent-networks alike holding no respect for human life—or some human lives, in particular, the targeted—looking to make a statement on the world and feel powerful in terrifying ways, is maddening.


These events show that excessive personal anger can itself be a cause of horrific violence. If channeled in healthy ways, political discontent born from these maddening incidents can be helpful in confronting society's challenges, however. Through the more productive stages of communal grief, answers are sought—we want to know what we can be mad about, and bargain as to what we can do differently to prevent anything like this from ever happening again (as it happens, again and again.) The five potential answers we hear most commonly include: acts of outrageous violence are from mental illness; acts of outrageous violence are the result of increasingly violent media/video games; acts of outrageous violence are due to exposure and internalization of the extremist speeches and manifestos of bigoted ideologues; acts of outrageous violence are due to the easy accessibility to tools that can wreak mass destruction (guns, primarily); and/or acts of outrageous violence are influenced by a society that encourages and applauds situational violence. Sound bites of all of these are great, but each neglect critical reflection. Let’s take it one by one.


Video games, music, and violent media: A few terrorists’ fandom of violent media is harped on frequently following mass shootings. This argument, popularized following the infamous Columbine shooting event, sparked a prominent trend of highlighting the influence of violent music, TV, movies, and video games on violence in schools and in the public sphere. Professional observers seeking to assign relevant motivations to the perpetrators’ actions contest that media displaying violence reinforces pattern reactions of anger as an easier go-to when one is frustrated, as well as normalizing violence and harm to others as a response to conflict, desensitizing the viewer/player/listener to another’s pain, and effectively programming kids and adults alike into rageaholics.


The contrary view to this is that we are not programmable robots who lack discernment between entertainment and reality, or who are so easily influenced to abandon ethics, critical thinking, and care for other people based on fictional depictions of conflict to mimic the behavior. Humans have intelligence surpassing the old adage, monkey see, monkey do. Clearly, if someone is actively harming others, there’s more wrong than videogames, tv, or music. Most people who indulge in media with violent plotlines or lyrics do not go on rampant shooting sprees, or necessarily idolize the perpetrators of violence in media. Media itself featuring violence doesn’t always necessarily idolize it; we are capable of displaying events and interpreting representations in other ways--with a commentary, with a dialogue, as satire, as political protest, as nostalgia connected to media, and/or as tragedy.


Correlation does not necessarily equal causation—but it doesn’t necessarily divorce itself from the association, either. Some may think they’re just finding relief from stress in jumping on the latest Grand Theft Auto and mowing down random virtual street goers—an outlet for negative emotions and frustration healthier than actually jumping in your car and showing the latest bully or asshole who has pissed you off your ire in-person. It’s hard not to take this further though, to taking issue with a collective phenomenon of people who turn to violence (mock or not) rather than healthier coping mechanisms like pauses, solution-oriented thoughts, humor, and skills gained in cognitive-behavioral therapy. It’s frankly a quite worrisome proposition that people would turn to actual violence without mock violence.


Not everyone shares this presumption. ‘Why do we need representations of violence in entertainment, at all?’ is oft-echoed by extreme pacifists. The world wouldn’t be necessarily a bad thing to be filled with extreme pacifists. There is something to be countered with, however, in the suggestion that we have built worlds that protect us from threats that our predecessors have faced, and that perhaps media depicting violence is a mock threat that engages our instincts, evolutionarily used to facing threats in the dark. In this line of thought, many individuals who enjoy media featuring violence without themselves being mass murderers or harming others in real life conceivably participate in gameplay as a way to act out innate reactions to danger rather than with a fantasy or goal of being the danger.


One could reply back to this that living on instincts of the past undercuts the human capacity to cooperation that builds life better than mere survival—that it is precisely by escaping evolutionary tendencies adapted in very different settings than our contemporary world that we can build new communities where safety, peace, and human flourishing can be prized or guaranteed. It’s significant, however, that we still yet endure natural, and more relevantly, manmade threats. Both are selective pressures requiring adaptation, and the latter includes the threat of man as predator to other humans (and animals. And the planet. And the universe, probably, give us time.) Perhaps facing the very terrifying realities in a safe environment allows us, much like dreams (nightmares and otherwise), to practice responses or to process the complex nature of human power, violent events, and living in an unpredictable world with tragic events that spark fears of additional devastating possibilities. Through media representations that sometimes include depictions of violence, or the aftermath, or implication of such, people work through complex emotions, tell stories and practice choice-making, find bravery, process trauma, examine events that occur under multiple lenses of interpretation, posit both dystopian and utopian visions of change, and discuss community events and societal struggles.


There is also a connection to a broader debate here, popularized by the Sapir Whorf hypothesis, as to whether language (and even more broadly, creative expression) affects the way we think. Do the words we use to refer to things affect our vision of them? Do the words we lack or fail to use constrain our ability to express concepts known to communities who have additional or alternate terms? To bring this back to our topic: How impressionable are we, really? Who is susceptible to being led by others’ narratives: children; those with mental illness; those with anger issues?


The reality may be, though, that what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander; individuals clearly react differently to the events and influences they are exposed to. Research shows that motivation and goals matter. It’s absurd to make outrageous claims that we’re all automatons absorbing anything we hear, but there have been some studies pointing to vulnerable groups (children, young adults, adults who clearly haven’t been taught critical thinking or compassion) being more susceptible to messages given to them—by other people or by media. The major question then becomes, how do we distinguish from people who healthily engage in video game play from those who might mentally be training to unleash fury? More importantly, are there ways we can train people to be less susceptible to impressionably taking media as a guideline to violent action rather than an artistic statement that often is more complicated that pure encouragement of destruction?


Mental illness: Most people with mental illness do not go on rampant shooting sprees, and many are more likely to be targeted by violence than be the perpetrator of it. There’s no real reason to look at depression, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder in themselves as an indicator of potential violent behavior, or to target people with these conditions without direct evidence of particular (rare) individuals whose tendencies to such overlap these conditions. Most people with mood disorders or mental illness are more likely to hurt themselves than others, or to be hurt by others. Aside from horrific acts of cowardess by jerks who pick easy targets or commit violence due to prejudice and ignorance, gut reactions sometimes land sufferers of mental illness as targets of state violence due to interactions with law enforcement unsure of what specific type of "crazy" they are dealing with when confronted with someone behaving outside the norm (their word, not necessarily mine). To blame mass shootings on mental illness—as it is currently defined, or as a blanket lumping together everyone who struggles with mood or perception—is incredibly harmful to an already suffering, marginalized, and targeted community.


That being said, there is a common-sense reaction that crimes such as terrorism are the products of sick and hateful minds, and that the people who shoot up public events (and/or commit other violence), that they are clearly fucking nuts—out of their minds, and thus mentally ill. There is evidence that extremists have differences in regions in their brains that affect decision making and aggression. In light of this, it seems strange to lack an identifying diagnosis for people who have anger issues with tendencies to violence, unhealthy relationships, and/or affinity for hate based, extremist ideologies. Behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically, there is something different with these individuals. The positive side to this is that mental illness has a basis in the brain that can be pointed to and even personality disorders have been shown in studies to respond to treatment—cognitive, behavioral, prescription-based, and otherwise. The challenging part is getting the public—and the authorities—to understand the nuanced differences between potentially violent, and otherwise mentally ill but harmless—the latter category populated in higher numbers.


There is a long reputation of less success in identifying brain differences and solutions to those with personality disorders, which may overlap with violent tendency—but more optimistic treatment reports have replaced the presumed hopelessness of these diagnoses. Beyond this, some personality disorders (dependent, histrionic, paranoid, and schizoid conditions) were abandoned and others (narcissistic disorder) brought into question during debates on inclusion for the DSM-5 (the regularly revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) These moves signal a rejection of a superficial assessments of behavior which neglect cognitive inquiry into human motivation, replaced by models of identification and treatment that are more optimistic to the goal of change. It’s not part of most mental illnesses to be a calculated, violent, hate-driven monster, and that to state such unnecessarily stigmatizes those with mood and perceptual disorders who need care and understanding, not more gut reactions that they might be dangerous because they’re seen as abnormal. To ignore the need for further mental health research as a means to prevent the next mass shooter is irresponsible, but we don’t need to backtrack or stigmatize those with unrelated mental illness to help address anger and humanity-disconnection issues in individuals with displayed tendencies toward extremist violence, and disturbing apathy. There is room for nuanced response.


The first step is to change our defining categories; something that has been done time and again regarding human groups by scientists and social scientists realizing that the prejudices of their predecessors negatively affected the research questions, methods, and evaluations of evidence used to thus draw faulty and condescending conclusions about people. Scientific racism upheld those holding the guns, pens, and crosses, alike. This didn’t persist with time, however; critical inquiry and re-evaluations within the field of previous studies conducted by researchers—the studied materials (such as skulls, bones), the methods used (the measuring instruments), and the influence of prejudice on conclusions drawn—have yielded a wealth of critical rethinking and recategorizing.


Another significant connection to changing categories involving prejudice involves the gendering of mental illness. It is notable that women were long diagnosed with hysteria for emotional upset, irritability, psychosomatic pain, chronic crying, and a wide array of symptoms, generally related to sex or emotion, explained originally as being caused by a 'wandering womb' that had to be put back into place via smelling salts or genital massages, amongst other treatments. This allowed men in the modern era to stow away women in refusal to perform ‘wife’ duties/remaining abstinent as a woman, or being a pain in the ass to men who were given the power to shelf them in an institution. The definition, symptoms, and treatment have changed over time, though pathologizing of women who refuse to conform to feminine expectations persists in diagnoses that shame women’s anger, shaping interpretations of conditions such as borderline personality disorder and post menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).


Men’s anger, on the other hand—a driving force that leads to war, and violence, the driving mechanism of war—is still often praised more than questioned. Acts of subjugating others to prove superiority in war, community, and in the act of scapegoating social problems is not quite culturally frowned upon. To this end, it’s notable that therapies for anger management exist, but we do not have a commonly discussed labelled diagnosis for excesses of an emotion that has historically been praised in certain settings for men. Women and children aren’t allowed emotional upset that resembles anger; groups descended from African, Native, or Indigenous ancestors likewise have been constrained by both ethnocentric and early pseudoscientific interpretations of anger expressed (the contrast of colonialist categorizing of groups met outside of Europe as ‘savage’, ‘primitive’, and ‘barbarian’, in contrast with European and European-invaded/descended colonies seen as ‘civilized’ and closer to ‘enlightenment.’) The tendency to label groups of people defined by gender, sexuality, and race as deviant, as well as to label things that are reinforced as the status quo ‘normal’, is itself a stigmatizing strategy that marks others. Adding a defining category that moves excessive anger with connections to violence into the public health domain is one step to categorizing deviance in a way that directly correlates to preventing tragedy by providing personal help for those with interpersonal issues that threaten community safety.


The next step is to realize that this is not enough. To be effective, this category condition needs to address in it's formulation extremism, and investigate if that can also contribute to criteria for interventions being necessary. This further doesn’t have as immediate of an effect as curtailing the easy access of tools of destruction. The world is full of video game players and mental illness sufferers, both violent and harmless alike, but these events happen more often in the nation that is full of easy gun access. It is thus also gun control and empathy campaigns we should look to if our goal is to stop hateful people from having easy access to annihilating, en masse, those they’ve labelled as enemies.


Guns: Guns are too easy. They’re not quite at the level of bombs, dropped over people who look like barbie dolls and cities that look like toys from the high vantage point of an airplane—but, despite the safety feature, and the challenge of knowing how to load bullets into the chamber, it is not super difficult to pick up a gun and fire it off. It’s terrifying and it’s empowering, and it too easily adds power to acts of terror. It’s swift defense—or offense.


I get being terrified of gun violence, and I get how easy it is, in the terrifying nightmare reverie we’ve all contemplated by this point, to think, I want a gun for myself—for protection and/or to be the hero that stops the asshole brutally killing people just going about their day. Even outside these acts of outrageous violence, violence from others is scary—and the idea that one may walk away with severe injuries, or not win against someone bringing violence to you is terrifying. The idea of potentially living out a “good guy with a gun” hero/protector fantasy—stopping it before damage occurs, and giving someone who wants to hurt others a taste of what they want to inflict on others, is the more attractive option; no question.


The thing is--I want to live in a way where my expectations of unpredictable situations match reality. And the reality is that statistics on gun violence show complications that can’t be ignored with this fantasy. In situations of outrageous violence involving guns, police can mistake the ‘good guy with the gun’ for the ‘bad guy with the gun’—as can other ‘good guys with guns’—causing additional casualties. Many heroes killed in the act, and events are often halted only after many die. Beyond this, there are other dangers of gun ownership outside of extraordinary situations that lead to tragic incidents.


Though there’s probably something to be said about the ego involved to shoot off a gun because someone disagrees with you, or doesn’t look like you, or doesn’t live like you—the ‘guns don’t kill people/people kill people’ argument that a person’s hatred or quickness to anger is what kills someone more than the tool, there’s a strong argument that more damage is caused in arguments when one of the people has a weapon in easy reach, and that having a gun that can easily harm multiple people in a short amount of time has the potential of damage that often amounts to community tragedy. Then there’s the reality that in 2016, there were 495 accidental gun deaths—and nearly 7,000 total in the ten years preceding, averaging out to more like 700 per year. These too often affect children, and can be caused by improper gun storage that seems shockingly common, despite rhetoric of responsible gun ownership, from the recurrence rates. The more guns around, especially as laws expand allowances into common public areas, the more likely accidental and argument based deaths will occur, even outside of mass shooting events. Cue the western gun duals.


The gun argument is also complicated by selectivity of NRA endorsement—when WASPS from the south and Midwest with cowboy fantasies want guns, it’s an American right; when Black Panthers defending neighborhoods from police and gang violence want guns, it’s time for gun control (as a means of people control). Stand your ground is limited; a woman killing an intruder may need to be prepared to have their defense torn apart in court while ‘accidental’ shootings of community visitors, innocent bystanders, or cases of mistaken identity may be slapped on the wrist—though hopefully this is changing with cases of enforced accountability, like the recent sentencing of of Amber Guyger to a decade in prison for mistakenly entering the wrong apartment and shooting her (black) neighbor. The complexity of the discussion on firearm regulations that can prevent tragedy weighs heavy on the need for additional research and cross-cultural policy comparison. This can't be where our discussion ends, however.


Extremism:

Hatred poisons souls, drives people to destructive disregard for others, elevates one self and one’s in group to some supposedly superior status that is used to justify pure bullying, on all levels, and seemingly recurrent in most human social, political, and economic systems. In the wake of many wrongful shootings and cases of police violence, it often feels like it’s being said that it’s okay for the people in power—often representing the interests of white power—to have their rights to guns protected, but not okay for communities historically targeted by men charging forward in the name of supremacy to have equal rights to protection and care for neighborhoods, churches, and events. It’s terrifying that the system is often used to target, suppress, disenfranchise, discriminate against, and harm communities who still live with legacies of slavery [less than 200 years ago], segregation [less than 100 years ago], and attempted genocide [also within the past 100-400 years, varying by community.] It’s not a surprise that extremists using tools of destruction grow out of places where supremacy is institutionalized in law and practice in ways that we keep shaking—a little bit—but have not quite shaken off—yet.


Personal violence often has it’s roots in these systems, too. Violence committed against women denotes a particular attitude in perpetrators who are men, often rooted in screwed up ideas about relationships, gender, and women. Most people who commit outrageous violent acts have histories of domestic violence. Not all domestic violence follows this pattern (men can be abused too), but mass shooters are by-and-large, generally, men. While some of these men target indiscriminately at an event, or target groups that we never really get an answer about regarding choice, targeting the already vulnerable is a popular cowardry among shooters—extra despicable cowardess in events such as Sandy Hook, but also in notable events involving targeting of women, lgbtqai+, and black/hispanic/muslim/and other non-white communities. Also, notable is the pattern of shooters leaving behind manifestos that show ties to socially and politically influenced hatred.


There is no way to truly talk about the massive violent events collectively leaving hundreds dead—children, parents, people trying to live life, enjoy an outing, go through their daily routine—without talking about the reasons that the perpetrator themselves identified as inspiration for their horrific acts. It’s absurd to talk about violent fictional media as a bad influence but neglect actually terrible reality-tv/government role models. The latest shooter spelled out ‘T-R-U-M-P’ with his guns, pulled a decent bit of inspiration of his manifesto from the soon-to-be-impeached’s twitter feed, and did so directly following an incident where Trump asked the audience what to do about immigrants, to which an audience member suggested loudly, “Shoot them,”—and to which Trump’s first reaction was to laugh—a sign seen by many to condone the proposal. This sign is made more clear by even more recent comments regarding shooting border crossers.


If the shooter is basically advertising that they are a racist, misogynist bigot who hates people who don’t look like him, or are pissed at the girl who rightly dodged a bullet by turning their creepy ass down to the prom (or didn’t dodge a bullet, because the creep was never taught that rejection is a part of life and that lashing out because someone drew boundaries is inappropriate)—well, let’s believe them. If they dedicate their act to the magna opus of their screwed-up hero, Mr. Trump, well… Maybe we should condemn them and their heroes, and the whole hateful ideology they can’t seem to stop spewing.


Society: The act of committing harm against certain groups is reinforced as being okay not just in extremist rhetoric, but also in institutionalized prejudice, discrimination, and, indeed, violence. The reactiveness of our methods of evaluating deviance and punishing others markets outrageous premeditated violence as a means to solve problems. This is especially true in situations where the nature of deviance is contested—such as in support for immigrants, documented or not, by a large segment of the population. We can’t consider causes of manmade events leaving behind a death toll and also ignore that we live in a society that actively condones violence in certain situations. Around 45 years after Michel Foucault’s published work on the topic, we live in a culture that is still thoroughly steeped in discipline and punishment. Lines of privacy are often scrutinized for leeway to be invaded upon by authorities; sometimes reasonable, other times, not worth taxpayer money, but continually pursued out of misdirected policy.


Beyond this, and perhaps more to the point, we have active military and police forces and citizens are expected to applaud or excuse the use of force—ideally to the state, indiscriminate to the context of the situation, with trust in the judgment of authorities who are handed guns, even though authorities are just humans who may have flawed training or pre-existing prejudices that influence on-the-ground actions, leading to innocent deaths. Between the lines of advertising security and celebrating or commemorating returned war heroes, dead or alive, is the implicit lauding of using methods of excessive harm on other human beings—whether these methods of harm involve shooting, bombing, torturing, kidnapping, and caging people. We justify it as okay, because it is rationalized as necessary means to the end of earning our supremacy or maintaining our safety or protecting our borders—even against people who actually pose no threat, as we see with recent upsurge in attention to detention of immigrants who lack the tough-to-gain-in-a-timely-way bureaucratic documentation, and who did nothing more than dare to seek a better life by coming here.


We see these types of violence as different, categorically, from the violence of a supposed ‘lone-wolf’, while neglecting to pursue inquiries into the influence of societal approved violence that often occurs side by side with upticks in bigotry to even innocent members of communities from which terrorists have grown out of. We also selectively decide who is a terrorist; if they’re from a white community, it’s just a lone wolf or a disturbed kid, so says that screwey logic. This is perhaps because it’s easier to point to the background of a stranger as being their influencing factor than it is to examine the backgrounds of our own culture that can and does produce the same outcome in small groups seeking power beyond their size.


Admittedly, it is complicated that a community’s own violence is often touted as a response to another’s violence. Most don’t have a direct hand in these elite power struggles, and are grateful to not be put in danger because others do put themselves in danger for us. Most that do have a direct hand in ground level warfare are bribed into it as tools for the missions of others, leading the never-ending eye-for-an-eye cycle deemed to be necessary for security and protection. This primes communities to idealize protectors as champions; we’re all cheering on our champions, while sliding under the rug of our conscience the dead soldiers, and civilians caught in the crossfires. This bribery is particularly effective in societies that use poverty as a weapon to keep vulnerable groups of people ripe for exploitation in political and economic agendas.


The cycle repeats because we keep awarding political and social authority to those who protect their own interests before considering the best policies for people and the planet. We give tax money to fund public official work and military budgets that largely don’t make it to soldiers most in danger or most needing recovery. These authorities direct the power of armies. We then fail to successfully apply safeguards against innocent life shed in the process of international and domestic relations, and fail to insist that the only leaders who get our respect are those who most successfully tip the scale towards diplomatic efforts over quick-react, hot tempered, button pushing for violent ends.

It is notable that perpetrators of mass shootings seek their power in this world where the government, patriarchy, white supremacists and other former ruling groups fear losing their grip on violently enforced power. The backdrop of these events is a political circus where criminals in power are refusing to just let the fuck go of their ties to white supremacy, misogyny, neoliberalism, and easy access to extreme-damage guns. And, wow, the response we’ve seen—people taking up guns for the cause of protecting guns and hate speech. The attitude towards change remains: Over my dead body—or, more aptly, over a pile of dead bodies. Denial and misplaced anger at it’s finest.


If we’re going to expand our categories of mental illness to include anger problems and violent tendencies as well as investigate ways to prevent vulnerable populations being unduly influenced by violent media, up our active regulation on sales of guns, and research further causes and solutions to extremism, we must also label state sanctioned heroes and vilified terrorists--and to label the state itself—as truly unhinged.


The state and terrorists alike have a vested interest in this not occurring—lest up turn to down, right to left, and the shitty world order they’ve been raised to salute/false idealized better time (past or future) they’ve emblemized as paradise in their bigoted manifestos and terrible actions be thrown into the chaos of a world blazing with love; walls torn down, hierarchies melted.


Tragically, continually, shootings recur—

but not inevitably.


Or so I bargain again,


in anger and depression,


against denial and acceptance.



Hannah Spadafora is the founder and editor of The Conscious World, and a researcher currently focused on economic anthropology, public policy, and social change (see: The Meaningful Work Project.) Trained as an applied/social-cultural anthropologist (M.A.) with a heavy background in social political philosophy (B.A.), comparative religion (B.A.), English (minor), psychology (minor), and journalism/mass media (HS), secondary scholarship and teaching interests include history, bioanthropology, critical theory, cyborg anthropology, cognitive philosophy, and identity studies. Additional work experience includes research, teaching, tutoring, writing, non-profit, office, sales, service industry (retail, restaurant), graduate, and editorial assistant roles. Writing projects in the works involve manuscripts for visual anthropology and public performance, an editorial overview of the benefits of applying Buddhist and Anthropological ethics to public policy and social practice, a fantasy/sci-fi influenced dystopian novel series, and a more informal funny/self-help centered book, How to Fail at Buddhism.  These are written around remote jobs that pay the most basic of bills, but not the soul. An Idealist to the end, clearly. 

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