Mass Shootings: Dealing with Hate

If you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. — Photo by Valentin Lacoste on Unsplash

In my last article, I pointed out a simple fact: you can’t solve a problem when you don’t understand it.

Then I argued, America doesn’t have a good understanding of what that problem is. Obviously we want to “do something”, but what is that thing?

Finally, I posited that maybe we weren’t concerned “gun violence” in general as much as we want to prevent spree shootings — young (mostly white) men who try to take out as many people as they can before they’re stopped.

I don’t think Im too far off in my assessment. How then, do we address this?

What are Our Current Solutions?

When treating a health concern, any doctor you visit will first identify the problem by narrowing it down to a specific cause. However, GOOD doctors will ask an often overlooked question before they begin treatment: “What have you done already?” A medication the patient is taking may interfere with the solution — or paradoxically, may be causing the problem!

Often I hear, “We’re sitting back and doing nothing about this!” Quite the opposite. Solutions to mass shootings are already in play, they’re just so subtle we forget we’re doing them. Let’s take a look at what we’re doing to suppress “white nationalism” and “shooting sprees”.

One current solution I’ll refer to as “call out culture”. Before I explain what “call out culture” is, I need to explain what it’s not. If you’re sitting on a bus, and you see a white man harassing a single mother and telling her to “learn English” and “go back to her country” — it is NOT “call out culture” to stand up for the woman. (In fact, standing up for the oppressed is very American!)

Call out culture is a perversion of this. It starts out with a simple assertion: “Racism and hatred happens everywhere, every day. We must confront it.” Well, that seems pretty reasonable! We’re not a perfect country, and to say otherwise would be putting our head in the sand.

Where is this hatred happening? Can you show me? “What!? You don’t see it? Hate is happening all the time! If you aren’t seeing it, it must be because of your skin color. Or your gender.”

I’m shocked! I don’t want to be prejudiced! Why haven’t I seen this every day racism? “You see, racism and white nationalism is like a dog whistle. You can only hear it if you’re one of us, and I assure you it’s happening every day. Or, maybe you can’t hear it because you’re one of them. Are you?

No, of course not! What do we do about these people? “Get angry! Stay angry! Name and shame them. Ridicule their ideologies! Harass them at restaurants! Make them lose their jobs! Isolate them from society! To the guillotine!

The Emperor, parading about in his new clothes, in the midst of the French Revolution. — Heath Robinson (1913)

I will submit that racism and sexism are not dead. (Evil never will be!) I will also submit that certain things may appear ok to some cultures, but deeply offensive to others. Listening to each other and having empathy is good! But call out culture does not want a conversation, it wants a monologue.

I will not accept that your race or your gender makes you incapable of discerning right and wrong. To make that assertion means that some race or gender is lesser, smaller, stupider. There’s only one word to describe this solution: toxic.

Call out culture doesn’t stop at the 21st century version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” —brow beating others into thinking they’re fools for being unable to see the “new and better” garments. From there, it pursues a French Revolution inspired “reign of terror”. Anyone who opposes the new clothes is dragged into the street and summarily executed by a self-righteous Twitter mob.

Nothing about this is helpful.

It’s telling that “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” was originally used as a high pressure sales tactic. The idea was simple: sew seeds of fear and doubt in the customer’s mind. Wait, you’re doing THAT? Honestly, no one does it that way any more. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Let the customer stew in anxiety for a moment. When they start to despair, promise them you have the solution.

Whenever there’s a shooting spree, I’ll hear this repeated ad-nauseum: “What are we doing to stop this? Thoughts and prayers alone won’t help! America is the only civilized country where this happens!”

This claim is vague, filled to the brim with emotions, and needs further investigation. America is the only country where what happens?

“Where some crazy white guy gets a gun and shoots up a school! We have to have the courage to act, now!”

This is a high pressure sales tactic to sell legislation. Exaggerate the problem, make it seem bigger than it is. Lie, and tell them nothing is being done. Make them worry that it will get worse. Promise a solution: this new law. This new president.

It’s simply not true that America is the only place where shooting sprees happen. A brief survey across the past decade, in Europe.

  • Tuusula and Kauhajoki, Finland (2007–08): Seventeen dead across two school shootings
  • Winnenden, Germany (2008)— Fifteen dead in a school shooting
  • Oslo, Norway (2011) — 77 dead at a youth camp
  • Toulose, France (2012) —Four dead at a Jewish school
  • And New Zealand (this year) —Fifty one dead at a mosque

I do not mention these shootings to divert from the problem we have in America — a tactic known as whataboutism. America may have originated the school shooting (Texas A&M, 1968 —thirty years before Columbine, actually). In fact, America may be the epicenter of them. There’s no question that in America, young white men have expressed their hatred for women, Muslims, Jews, and foreigners by trying to kill as many as they can. There is definitely a problem, and it needs to be addressed.

However, a high pressure sales pitch usually means you don’t need what they’re selling you. When you strip away the fear and uncertainty that lies behind them, the sales tactic falls apart. “Shooting sprees mostly happen in America, and many races and religions participate” just won’t sell bad legislation as effectively.

The crowning jewel of America’s solution to mass shootings was described succinctly in George Orwell’s 1984. In the dystopian novel, members of society would take part in a daily ritual called “Two Minutes Hate”, where they would be subjected to a short multimedia presentation about The Party’s enemy — Emmanuel Goldstein.

The section is far too long to copy into the article, but I will leave some excerpts for you to read here. It doesn’t matter who you hate politically. Obama? Trump? Antifa? White Nationalists? Socialists? Big business? Substitute their name in for Goldstein, and re-read the paragraph.

Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room. The self-satisfied sheep-like face on the screen, and the terrifying power of the Eurasian army behind it, were too much to be borne: besides, the sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically.

But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were — in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him.

[…]

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one’s will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.

Turn on CNN. FOX News. Twitter. Facebook. Especially right after a shooting spree, or during an election cycle. See how long you can go before you find yourself in the same position as Winston — teeth grinding, fists white, face red. A normally peaceful person turned against their will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.

Wanting to smash in a face with a sledge hammer.

…and yet, is this really the media’s fault?

Take all of society’s “solutions”, and put them together.

  • A Social Media “Reign of Terror”, pronouncing summary execution and exile for anyone accused of “hatred”
  • Lies and uncertainty that deepen our mistrust of our neighbors, isolate us from others out of fear, and cause us to despair for a solution
  • A media that pipelines anger into our homes, day and night

This is a recipe for a circular cycle of hatred. Who will save us from this state of affairs? Maybe the government can solve these things. Solutions I’ve seen proposed this week include:

  • Regulating Facebook and Twitter to stop the spread of hatred
  • Regulating the “mainstream media” to stop the spread of misinformation
  • Banning violent video games
  • Banning guns

It should be self evident that giving the government reigns of the media is doomed to failure. Hatred will leak through their filters like a sieve — except now it’s government sanctioned hatred. With regard to “misinformation” — would you trust Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump to arbitrate truth for you? As Winston Churchill said, the truth is so vital to protect, that sometimes it is surrounded with a bodyguard of lies.

You can keep pointing fingers and assigning blame. It’s the left, it’s the right, it’s the media, it’s violent video games, it’s guns, it’s Facebook!

It’s not me, it’s THEM!

Fix it for me, Mr. President!

Pointing the Finger Inwards

Photo by Victoriano Izquierdo on Unsplash

Why is our media so filled with anger and hatred? Stop and think for a minute. America is a capitalist nation that operates under the law of supply and demand. There are four scenarios to consider.

(Low/High) supply, low demand: I own a collection of gum that I’ve personally chewed. It’s the only copy in existence, but no one wants to pay me for it. In either case, if there’s no demand, good luck selling something.

Low supply, high demand: If you have a scarce resource that everyone wants (like fuel), life is easy. You can almost demand whatever price you want, and people will pay for it.

High supply, high demand: This is where things get interesting. Let’s say you design and sell business cards. What would make customers come to you, instead of your competitor? In order to survive, you have to compete to have the best of that resource — in price, or quality.

Hatred and anger are plentiful resources. If you want the free stuff, you can get it on Twitter, Reddit, and broadcast TV. But you know, that stuff is for amateurs. If you want the good stuff, you gotta get cable TV. Our media is saturated with refined, laboratory grade hatred because the market demands it.

We are the market. We are demanding it. The machinery of capitalism is simply churning out what we want. This hatred pours out over the thirsty mouths of society. We lie to ourselves, and justify it by calling it righteous anger, or “staying informed”. We bathe in it. We stew in it. We meditate on it, day and night.

I know this, because I was a political junky back when I lived in Maryland. I drank in the news and fought in Facebook skirmishes. I justified my hatred as righteous anger. I bathed in it. I stewed in it. I meditated on it day and night. I am the angry market. I am the problem.

Though I still struggle with bitterness, there was something that changed my outlook on things. But before I explain what’s changing me, I want to show where this hatred leads.

At the bottom of a well lies a man, isolated from his peers. For years, he has been floating adrift in an emotionless void, lacking reason and purpose. He’s gazed long into the abyss, and it has gazed back into him. He sees no reason to live, and no reason to reach out to a society that doesn’t want him in the first place. He spends his days fixated to a glowing screen — whether it be the TV, video games, or the internet.

The hatred from our society has flowed out across the planes of our country, and has seeped into the groundwater. There in the dark solitude of his well, the hatred reaches him. Like a parasite, it sustains him and gives him purpose for a while, until it takes control and wills his hollow soul out the well. What emerges is unrecognizable as a human. A vacant stare from sunken eyes. Can you not see what happens next?

Jesus taught that murder begins in the heart.

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. — Matthew 5:21–22

Sure, I bathed in that anger. I hated people in my heart — but I didn’t murder anyone! That’s what I told myself as I lashed out on Facebook, and deepened my frustration and bitterness toward the people I thought were destroying my country.

That same hatred is the reason two young boys murdered fifteen of their peers in Columbine.

That same hatred is the reason a young man murdered six women outside a sorority in Isla Vista.

And if you ask me, that same hatred is the reason a man murdered 58 people from his hotel room in Las Vegas.

I have the feeling that one day, Jesus will tell me, “Each comment you wrote was a bullet, Tim. You were no different than the guy from El Paso.”

We are deluding ourselves if we think that this is just a problem on the right, or a problem on a left. Just a problem with white people, or just a problem with Muslims. We are deluding ourselves if we think we can offload the solution to politicians, and let them do the work. We are deluding ourselves if we think that pointing fingers and punishing our enemies by driving them into social exile will solve our problems.

This is not a problem with other people. This is not a problem the government can solve.

We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. — Matthew 7:3–5

A Change of Heart

Some time back, angered by a recent political turn of events, I asked a friend: “When will Jesus come back to wipe these people off the face of the earth? I can’t wait for that day to happen.” My friend rebuked me. This was not a Christian attitude — but his rebuke fell on deaf ears.

Five years ago — almost to the day, I received an answer to my question. Disillusioned with my failed efforts to fix things, I knelt by my bed and prayed for an answer. That night, I came across this verse. When I read it, it was the closest experience I’ve had to God audibly speaking to me.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. — 2 Peter 3:9

In that moment, what I heard was the gentle voice of Jesus telling me, “Tim, you think you’re so great. You aren’t. I didn’t need to wait for you to change, but I did. Why will you not wait for others?”

In one moment, so many of Jesus’ teachings clicked.

  • The parable of the man who was forgiven a lifetime of debt, but tried to collect small debts owed to him.
  • The greatest commandments: first, to love God, then to love others. The order was important. We love others because Christ first loved us.
  • Let us love others, because love comes from God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

My sin was not chiefly against man, but against God. Until I rectified that, I wouldn’t have a chance of fixing my relations with the world. However, this was a problem too large for me to fix by myself. I couldn’t bring myself to love others. My problem required divine intervention.

We love others because God first loved us. — 1 John 4:19

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8

For a year and a half, I’ve been unwrapping the cause of mass shootings — but I’ve not made any suggestions on how to solve them. I had a list of things that I once thought would solve them, but next to Jesus’ love they pale in comparison. You can teach children to tie a tourniquet on a wounded person, but only Jesus can tie a tourniquet on our wounded nation.

I will conclude my series with this: if you find yourself harboring bitterness, anger, or hatred in your own heart; I only know of one cure. First, put it at the foot of the cross. Accept the gift of love from the Savior of the world, and then, offer it to others.

Almost at the moment He died, I heard Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Even then. I felt his voice take the sword out of my hand.

— Ben-Hur

Tim builds circuit boards in Virginia Beach, and enjoys writing about current events, history, theology, and philosophy.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store