Do we live in a Violent Society?
[This is the fifth essay on violence in entertainment. This is probably the last for a while. They are not sequential, so you can read them in any order. For those left brain linear types, the first essay is Violence in Entertainment.]
Is our society violent? Many people would scream a loud “Yes!” Most perceive our society as being more violent than it was before and getting worse. We are convinced society had to be less violent than now, like some folk's nostalgic memory of the 1950s.
I would argue that there is a big difference between the actual danger and risk factors of living in our time and our perception of violence. Based on crime statistics, our society is less violent than any time or culture in the history of humanity. The problem is that we are sold violence and fear to keep us excited, afraid and frozen.
A violent society must be measured on actual violence rather than perceived risk. What is the true potential that you or your family will be directly impacted by a physically violent act this year? For most people reading this blog, the odds are very low; extremely low. As in, what percentage of people that you personally know have been injured or killed by a violent act?
I appreciate and do not negate that there are actually violent communities, areas of cities and countries; places where the risk of being personally affected by violence is high. Most of us are able to choose to not live in those places.
Our challenge seems to be the perception of violence. I look to the news media. They more than report the violence in our society. They exalt in it, sell it, market it and addict us to it. They play on our need to know while engaging our fear. In the past thirty years, the rise of cable news and the 24 hour news cycle have increased the coverage of violent act; Breaking News! The salacious obsession with violence is driven by the commercial benefits. While I wish that our society prized reports of positive change or even deep investigative reporting of the negative practices of government and corporations, all media outlets know that violence and often petty violence sales.
Unlike entertainment violence which helps to temper our own violent impulses. I don’t see the benefit of the expanded and heightened coverage of violent acts. I believe the coverage of violent acts does far more to encourage others to act violently than all of the entertainment violence combined. What’s funny is that when someone shoots up a school or a movie theatre, the news media begins seventy-two hour hyped-up coverage trying to seek out the cause. They indict the usual suspects of movies, television, video games, music, guns, schools and parents as the source of violence in our society. However, they never admit that their coverage of violence is an accomplice in the violence.
Given a choice we would prefer to live in a society that was free from actual and entertainment violence. It’s a hard ask because we humans still have a deep impulse for being violent. For the most part, our entertainment violence has helped to pacify these impulses. However, the amount of time we spend engaged in entertainment and the amount of portrayed violence we experience has risen exponentially in the past couple of decades. At the same time, the media coverage of actual violence raised our fear levels and the perception of daily risk. The availability of weapons that can damage and kill more quickly and effectively than knives, clubs and spears has made the violence done more lethal. Lastly and more importantly, our brains and world views are in conflict undermining our ability to manage our impulse for violence.
At this turning point, I suspect things will get worse (i.e., more acts of violence, more hyped coverage, an increased arms race and body count in our entertainment) prior to getting better. Until we can live in the opposites created by the two worldviews of our brain, the conflict will act out in real life and internally. Until we find the peace of balance, we will continue to experience the violence in our world.
OK, the Second Amendment to the Constitution states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[i]
What I don’t get is that the Second Amendment doesn’t actually allow individuals to freely own and possess Arms. What it allows for are well regulated Militias to keep and bear Arms. The words I cling to are: regulated, Militia and Arms. The Constitution doesn’t give me the right to have an arsenal of guns that are not regulated. However, I do have the right to participate in a community Militia with the sole purpose of maintaining a free state. This gives the militia the responsibility and authority to own and store arms, which would include guns, rocket launchers, tanks, F-16 fighter planes, and possibly nukes. These are to be used against enemies foreign and domestic, including a tyrannical government if necessary. (The bar for a Tyrannical Government would have to include defying the rule of law. Which no matter how much I hate the outcome of Bush v. Gore in 2000 or the Tea Partiers want to accuse Obama to taking away their government, we aren’t seeing the overrule of the rule of law.) To protect our freedoms, our militias should be as well armed as our army. You might remember that the Revolutionary War began when the British sought to capture the armories at Concord and Lexington. The Civil War was fought by armies made up state militias. I don’t want to have a gun in my house, but I would support and pay monthly dues to arm the well regulated Culver City Progressive militia as a deterrent to an overreaching government that would take away our freedoms.
Even if you want to read that the Second Amendment gives individuals the right arm themselves and have these weapons at home, then there is nothing well regulated about a system that lets anyone buy an assault weapon with a fifty round clip. We have to get a license for practically everything we do that could cause harm to others, why not firearms? A safety class, test, insurance and penalties for misuse would be in order. Those Congressmen and the NRA who ignore the term “well regulated” are the ones denying the Constitution.
One last question:
Is the lack of a vibrant dramatic form of entertainment in the Islamic countries causing a greater impetus for violence?
[i] Let’s try to paraphrase this convoluted sentence. When I teach Shakespeare I teach that a convoluted sentence demonstrates confusion in the thoughts of the speaker. I believe this is what was happening when this amendment was being written. The new country’s existence was due to the armed militias and their having arms. However, the Founding Fathers must have been somewhat wary of everyone having guns. I think this created the confusion and cognitive disconnect. The sentence could read: (Congress and the government) shall not infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms (for the purpose of) maintaining a well regulated militia. This is necessary to secure a free state.