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Copyright 2013 Walter Harris Gavin

Wild Wild West

In light of the mass shooting which occurred at the Washington Navy Yard on September 16th everyone wants to know Why? What makes someone decide that they are so aggrieved that they must kill as many people as possible. Is it the culture that is somehow to blame, the media, which glorifies gun violence, easy access to assault weapons and hand guns, a failed mental health system? We will probably never answer the question satisfactorily. And all of the possible reasons above may be a contributing factor.

But when you look at most of these mass shootings there is a certain "symbology" at play. The shooter didn't just walk down a busy DC street during rush hour and randomly start shooting. Rarely do any of these mass shootings happen that way. From Newtown, to Aurora, to Columbine, to Virginia Tech some "institution" some "symbol" plays a role (it seems from the outside looking in), in the calculus or rationale in the perpetrators' deadly actions.

911 wasn't just about killing people it was an attack on The World Trade Center, a symbol of American commercial power. Oklahoma City, The Murrah Building was a symbol of the federal government at which McVey vented, in his mind, his "righteous" anger. Terrorists (mass shooting perpetrators can be labeled as such) want to instill fear among the targeted populace, to cause such chaos and uncertainty that people will do whatever they can to feel safe, even if it means trampling on their own civil liberties. Their mantra: "Be afraid, be very afraid," may also be their rationale.

But to have an open society, a society where the rights of all are protected requires facing "the fear," acknowledging that such horrors are possible, but not allowing that "possibility" to rule our day to day existence. 

The media play a huge role in how we view the world around us, how we "manage" the fear. Local news is replete with violent imagery, homicides, fires, all manner of human tragedies of various descriptions. The national cable media interrupt regular political programming, which is their main stock 'n trade, to blanket the media space with wall to wall coverage of an event like The Navy Yard shooting providing little or no actual "news," but large doses of speculation before any actual facts are known. As far as the entertainment divisions of these media conglomerates go a staple from the very beginning from Gunsmoke to Law & Order has been "the shoot'em up." "Fear is a powerful emotion. When people are afraid, they react. Impact of danger on emotions and the distortive effect of fear on subjective beliefs and individual choices can have a lasting effect on a person. Not surprisingly, sociologists have come to identify our mediated knowledge of high-consequence risks as a major source of contemporary anxiety."

Fear like sex is a primal urge, hard wired into the human being, necessary to our evolution as a species. Becoming addicted to either behavior, however, ceases to be beneficial. Like gorging oneself on a sumptuous meal that in the end causes nothing but heartburn. Wisdom requires, demands a certain degree of emotional intelligence. In my view that is in very short supply in the Wild Wild West that is our media space today.