Running Out of Alternatives

July 23, 2012


It’s always easiest to point to something. To say, ‘there – there’s the problem. Here’s how to fix it.’  It’s easier because it absolves us; it’s easier because it makes something impossible to comprehend make sense; it’s easier because it assigns blame.  And it’s easiest because these thing we point to, they’re not wrong.  But neither are they the answer.

It would be easy to say, “It happened because of violent entertainment.”  But entertainment, of course, has always been violent.  Has it grown more so, in the simulated environment of the PlayStation instead of the Coliseums?  Have we evolved to believe it should be less so?  If so, then it isn’t the entertainment that’s changed, but us.  Once you move past the surface it gets complicated.

It would be easy to decide, “It’s because of guns.”  Yet we’re not the only country with access to personal firearms.  Perhaps it’s because of our early years, when guns were the defense against tyranny, and then – on the frontier – against chaos, that we (as a culture) cling to them so fervently. But this doesn’t explain it all.

It would be convenient to say, “It’s because we’ve lost a moral/religious orthodoxy.” But this often assumes one moral/religious orthodoxy.  This can suggest that horrors like what happened in Aurora are because the attacker simply hadn’t been told what’s moral.  This could even replace chaos for structured oppression or even violence.

It would be profitable to blame the conservatives, or the liberals.  But this is opportunism.

It would be handy to tsk, and point a finger and say, “Oh, you know Americans.  They’re just a violent people.”  And, obviously, there is a real problem in the country, but reductionism isn’t a real solution, it’s just a way to feel superior.  To say something like “You know Americans” means you don’t.  Of course we all talk about cultural identities, usually in good humor.  Canadians are like this.  Japanese are like that.  But as actual cultural dissection this is all but meaningless.  The United States is a staggeringly diverse culture.  There’s no question that something is terribly wrong in the US, in terms of a culture of violence, but suggesting that we’re just innately, geneticaly more violent than other cultures ignores the fact that we’re not from here.  We are the offspring of the entire globe.  We can’t ever forget that this entire country is a great experiment. The great experiment in the notion a people governing themselves – and not just people, but the suggestion that people of different backgrounds, cultures, religions and ethnicities can live the same place, elevated above these divisive elements.  Because, ultimately, what makes someone an American is geography or genealogy, it’s philosophy: belief in these basic principles.

And it always tempting in the midst of fear and in chaos to look to the people in power, the politicians and cry out for them to do something.  This, of course, is not the solution.  They proved this pretty definitively after the massacre at Columbine in 1999, after vowing to take definitive action to address the violence problem in the US.  By the time the lobbyists and campaign strategists and PAC’s were done, the only action Congress took was an announcement that the problem would be solved by posting the 10 Commandments in every public school classroom (knowing full well that this would be stricken down by the Supreme Court as an obvious First Amendment violation).

So how do you process what happened in Aurora?  I don’t know.   I certainly don’t suggest that I have the answers. I also don’t dismiss other people’s theories – I just believe they’re all part of a larger discussion.  Because this is a terrible leviathan of an issue.  This violence lies at the heart of our central national problem.  And it can only be fixed by the strength at the heart of the culture.

Our culture, when it thrives, does so not despite our ideological clashes, but because of them.  The great experiment resides on the idea that when you take people from different backgrounds and put them together, they bring their different ideas together and new ideas are born.  Growth occurs. Problems are solved.  But we have to talk to each other.

These things we propose as the cause – none of them are the answer.  All of them are the answer.

Nothing’s going to make Aurora make sense, nothing’s going to make it okay.  But we have to keep trying to progress.  We have to stop hating each other so much and talk about these things.  Winston Churchill once said,  “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, once they’ve exhausted all the alternatives.”  And maybe we’re not there yet, but I have to believe that we’re close to being out of ways to avoid confronting our problems, our dilemmas.

Addendum: Several commenters have pointed out that I do not touch on the mental illness component in this post.  Rather than go back and shove it in there, I thought I’d just add this at the end.  Clearly there is a mental illness element in what happened in Aurora;  almost by definition, someone who would do what he did, it could be argued, is mentally ill, but as details emerge this clearly seems to be a key point.  But this becomes another element that can focus on the specific situation, while not exploring the larger issues at the heart of it.  Absolutely, the issue of mental illness is very important in this occurrence, but hopefully the discussion of this part will not be instead of tackling the cultural questions, but  a component of it.
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About The Byronic Man

Recently voted "The Best Humor Site in America That I, Personally, Write," The Byronic Man is sometimes fiction, but sometimes autobiography. And sometimes cultural criticism. Oh, and occasionally reviews. Okay, it's all those different things, but always humorous. Except on the occasions that it's not. Ah, geez. Look, it's a lot of things, okay? You might like it, is the point.

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47 Comments on “Running Out of Alternatives”

  1. susielindau Says:

    I think it is human to try to process our world and make sense of it. This tragedy will have a ripple effect for some time, but as a Colorado resident, I think it has brought our community together. I had bloggers from all over the world ask if I was okay when I didn’t blog my flash fiction last Friday. It was an incredibly compassionate response and one I will never forget.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Oh, I think trying to make sense of the world is one of our defining traits, as a species. The danger seems to come in when we stop short of full discussion. And maybe it’s a ramification of our global age, but it seems like with distance (physical and emotional), people can rocket to simplification and callousness so quickly.

      But I the human component, as you mention, will ultimately win out, I think. It’s slower, but relentless.


      • My Ox is a Moron Says:

        I have come to the conclusion that the world will never make sense because what makes sense to me does not make sense to others. The violence that took place in Colorado is so opposite of who I am that I cannot even process it. Now, instead of trying to make sense it, I just pray for all the people affected and hurt. I struggle to make my little corner of the world better.

        Susie, I’m glad you are okay.


        • The Byronic Man Says:

          Taking care of our corners of the world, I believe, is the key to so many of our problems. Just imagine how many of the world’s ills would diminish to almost nothing if we took care of just those people directly around us.


  2. Ryan Clifford Says:

    Well said. I really hope that this tragedy isn’t used in election campaigns and everywhere else, as a vehicle to press agendas. I think you’re right- this tragedy can be so many things, and isn’t necessarily a reflection of the ills of American society. I hope that there’s a takeaway hidden somewhere in all of this.


  3. artzent Says:

    You are right, its not just one thing but getting together and talking is to move in the direction of solving some of the problems. Sadly the climate these says is to divide not to bring together. That’s one reason I like blogging: it helps bring people together. I am going to show this visually in a painting soon. I hope that you will take a look at it when I post . The title will be ” Hands Together “


  4. paulaacton Says:

    I think the answers has to start at home, we in the UK have strict guns laws but these sorts of tragedys still occur, what seems to be lacking is the one thing so many people who commit these crimes claim to want…respect. I see more and more especially younger people (as the parent of a teenager and working in a supermarket I see plenty) who believe respect is something that can be demanded. As a society so much has become about how we want to be treated rather than how we treat others being the benchmark for how we in turn are treated.


    • Elyse Says:

      Really well said, Paula.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Excellent point.

      There’s a massive study done by Harvard that’s followed a group of people through their entire lives (74 years so far, I believe), looking at what makes people happy with life. So far, the key element seems to be pointing our efforts toward others, instead of ourselves. Instead of demanding what’s best for us, looking how we can make others’ lives better.


    • Angie Z. Says:

      Very interesting. Yes, I hear American teenagers come out on top in terms of highest self-esteem among their peers in other countries. Not pointing fingers that this is the violence culprit, but I think American’s pro-self-esteem movements of the 80s and 90s went too far.


  5. Wilma Says:

    I agree with you that the dialogue is important. Thanks for starting the conversation here. When I’m not dating, blogging, and designing outdoor spaces, I work with a group called 6and44, which is trying to raise awareness about mass incarceration and the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans. Race is one of those huge subjects around which we have far too little dialogue and too much hatred and divisiveness. Could our conversation here on your blog change anything in Aurora? Probably not. However, the effort to dialogue with people different from ourselves makes the world a lot more understanding, compassionate, and humane. Thanks for reflecting on this today.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Back in ye olden days, when I was a full time comic, I used to do a whole routine on race in the media and prison system. (sounds hilarious, doesn’t it?) And, I agree, the discussions don’t create tidal waves, but the ripples add up.


  6. Elyse Says:

    B-Man, you’re right that only by talking about how to avert such things from the middle ground can we come together and figure it out. Reasonableness must prevail. Sadly it is absent in the discourse.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Progress is so slow for people, that you actually have to look on a historical timeline to see it most of the time. Times of crisis, you kind of want a benevolent king or queen to say, “Here’s what we’re going to do…”


  7. Go Jules Go Says:

    I’m glad you wrote about this, especially from a bigger picture perspective. I still don’t know what to say, but I agree with you that we must be getting closer to a solution because we’ve exhausted the other possibilities. I’ve been stuck thinking about the horrific details of this particular event. And, I still don’t know what to say.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      I’ve had this weird push-pull of wanting details, but not wanting them. The media gets in such a rush to “break the story” that they report things that aren’t true, or are exploitive, etc.

      There was an interesting book about Columbine, 10 years after, that looked at how the majority of things we ‘know’ about it didn’t really happen, but got reported in the rush to be first with the news.


  8. Sandy Sue Says:

    You missed the most important factor—mental illness. As someone with a mental illness, I know that the majority of us are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrate it. But there are a few who slide into violence under a psychotic break. Under those conditions, it wouldn’t matter if the “influence” was Batman or Hello Kitty.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Excellent point – and from the sounds of things (which I’ve heard very little) it sounds like a full blown psychotic break might be involved. It’s hard to conceive of something like this not involving mental illness.


    • She's a Maineiac Says:

      I was just on The Single Cell’s blog and said the exact same thing. I completely agree. We are missing the biggest piece of the puzzle: mental illness and its stigma in this society. Until we address these issues, we can talk all we want about gun control, but nothing much will change.


  9. 1pointperspective Says:

    Thanks for writing this post. Like everyone else, I was stunned, confused and mortified by the events that night. As people with some degree of intellect, I would expect that we bloggers would encourage discourse on the issues which contributed to this and many other ills in American (and global) society, that we might find a way to better ourselves and the world we all share.

    Like you, I fear that the notion of discourse as an opportunity to exchange ideas may not hold much promise for many people. The story hadn’t even been fully written about Aurora before people with agendas began screaming for their causes. Gun control people were crying that this could not have happened if guns were harder or impossible to get. Gun rights people were shouting that if the people in the theater had been allowed and encouraged to carry guns everywhere, the madman could have been stopped sooner and lives saved. People blamed lack of religion as well as the cornucopia of violent video games and entertainment on this tragedy. Just about anyone you meet will eagerly give you their opinion as to why such a thing happened.

    Sadly, giving ones opinion does not equal discourse. There is no exchange of ideas, only various blowhards on various soapboxes. Without discourse, we may well end up just following the biggest blowhard on the biggest soapbox.


  10. thesinglecell Says:

    It’s interesting – of the blogs I read (which are all written by very smart and thoughtful people, even if they are a bunch of smartasses most of the time), this is only the second to address this issue. I find that I haven’t written about it yet because I’ve been trying to process the whole thing, find a cohesive theme, find a way to write through it. I wonder if that’s true of everyone else. You’ve managed to get there and put together a stirring and thoughtful post. I’ve begun formulating a post that may inherently disagree with some of your points, but in one way I do agree: this is not because of any ONE thing. This is because of many things. And I would like to thank Sally Sue for her comment, because I personally feel that is the greatest cause: mental illness. There is much we don’t know about what happened in Aurora, but I will bet that, even if it’s never diagnosed or made public, this young man either has a personality disorder or a mental illness. It doesn’t absolve him of what he’s done – nothing does, and nothing will – but it is a critical explanation.


    • Michelle Becker Says:

      I agree with thesinglecell and Sally Sue. We’re looking at a mentally ill person responsible for the Aurora massacre. I have no idea how we can address this problem. We do, of course, need more information. Why did he drop out of the PhD neuroscience program? What drew him to that field in the first place? What is his history? I happen to be an advocate for gun control, but I wouldn’t venture out onto that slippery slope in this situation. The perpetrator did not resist arrest. He expected to confront law enforcement (the ballistic gear), he prepared to survive (the ballistic gear), he intended to wreak further havoc after the shootout in the theatre (the booby-trapped apartment) and he is supposedly remaining silent in the face of interrogations. I am not a psychologist and have no idea what mental health professionals are saying about this but I think we need to let the process run it’s course. There is no logic, to my mind, to explain this tragedy, and as much as I think that a discussion of the various elements that could possibly have given rise to this situation could be valuable, I do think it might prove to be futile.


      • The Byronic Man Says:

        The shooting that happened here in the 90’s was from a student who has turned out to be deeply schizophrenic. I only know this because one of my best friends works in the juvenile justice system – this was never a public part of the trial or media coverage. On medication, he is lucid, consumed with regret, and almost in disbelief that he did what he did. He remembers the pain and the voices, promising to stop if he’d kill his parents, and then if he’d shoot students at school. Of course, this is not a factor in his sentencing – in fact, moving in the adult penal system it becomes harder and harder for him to get the medication he needs.

        We don’t want to know about it, though, because it makes it harder to simply make him a monster.


  11. Life With The Top Down Says:

    The problem is also that people are talking less and disconnecting at lightening speed. How can we discuss solutions and make progress when we are losing the ability to converse? Our virtual connections are now deeper than our reality and we are becoming more divided by the minute. Between technology and the misinformed media, we just might be doomed.

    It has always boggled my mind how communities come together after a tragedy, but why does it take such a horrific act to bring out the best in people? Is it guilt, fear or just a big fat reality check of the moment? Whatever it is I wish it would last longer, but I know it won’t because we have been trained to have the attention span of a knat.

    We need to reinstate our awareness of one another. I find it very hard to believe that no one noticed James was acting odd, or was it just that no one took the time to inquire…big difference.

    We all have a responsibility to one another to ensure that democracy remains alive and well in this country, but it takes participation by ALL parties involved. Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has” I think she was onto something..


  12. Renee Schuls-Jacobson Says:

    You forgot straight up mental illness, Byro. Some people just have a break. This is not so uncommon. It has happened forever.


    If we didn’t have such easy access to serious weapons – automatic weapons – which are designed to do one thing, maybe there would be less carnage. So yeah. Let people have their rifles and their pistols. But why anyone needs an automatic or semi-automatic weapon and why anyone with a conscience would sell someone so many rounds of ammunition online is beyond my comprehension. My favorite book is Lord of the Flies. I believe in Golding’s dark view of humanity. But I don’t have to like it.


    • Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson Says:

      I needed to show my face.


    • The Byronic Man Says:

      Well, I definitely should have included mental illness, but the real thing I wanted to touch on was the larger “discussions” that seem to be taking place, not about the incident specifically, but the cultural issues it brings up. So often it becomes a springboard for hot-button issues that ignore the central points – including the mental illness component that so clearly seems at play here.

      But yes, I wish I had touched on it within the post. I may go back and add an addendum.


      • Angie Z. Says:

        I’m fully on board with bringing mental illness into the equation. Yet that to me does not explain the frequency of these incidents over the past two decades. I live in little ol’ Bible-beating Nebraska, and we’ve had two similar shootings in the past two decades –one in Omaha at a department store that killed nine people just five years ago, and one in the early ’90s that thankfully never occurred (I guess I can’t label it a shooting then) when a University of Nebraska student brought a gun into his classroom and tried to open fire on his fellow students and teacher. The gun jammed and he was restrained by students. I know violence has occurred for all of time but these types of random stranger murders just don’t make sense to me, and I would be shocked to know that they were commonplace in my parents’ or grandparents’ era.

        On a related note, I certainly know these horrific murders did happen in my grandparents’ era (though it’s the frequency I’m challenging). I was shocked to learn via NPR that the most deadly school shooting actually happened in the 50s when a janitor bombed an elementary school.


  13. Archon's Den Says:

    If others are like me, they feel this on an intuitive level, but have problems crystallizing the thought and organizing the words to clearly express it. Fortunately you have no such shortcomings. Greater blog, even, than usual.


  14. angeliquejamail Says:

    This is great. Thank you for writing it. I’m sharing it around.


  15. Barb Says:

    I’m from Oklahoma and when the Murrah building was bombed, I was in shock for a couple of weeks, trying to make sense of it. There is no sense to violence. No sense at all.


  16. Valentine Logar Says:

    This was a thoughtful and well done piece. Gun violence is one of my triggers, one of my hot buttons as it were. I have a very difficult time processing my own rage at yet another massacre because as a nation we looked away, we gave in. We are a nation of cowards, a nation that elects cowards and because of this another 12 people who should be alive are dead, another 59 people who should be without bullet wounds and lifelong trauma are not.

    Does that sound harsh? It is not. This nation touts itself as a Nation of Laws, please show me how our much vaunted laws saved lives that day.

    I keep hearing he was crazy. He was mentally ill or had a break, I say BS someone is simply building his defense. He was legally buying his weapons, ammunition and gear for weeks before he walked into that theater. This wasn’t a break, this was a plan. I am not giving this mass murderer a pass and neither should anyone else.

    I am so tired of our refusal to even approach this problem. How many more will have to die in senseless violent acts before we say enough, I just want to know.


  17. Ape No. 1 Says:

    Well said B-Man. The world is a complex place and these horrific things will always find a way to occur. I think the search is less about finding actual sense in these events but finding a way to manage this horrific information and still live as a respectful and positive human being. The best we can do to pay our respects to the deceased is to value our own existence and those around us and to continue living our lives to the fullest.


  18. Angie Z. Says:

    I haven’t had time to read all the comments (but I will…because I’m fascinated/stunned/pained by the subject), so I don’t know if someone brought this up. But I loved a piece I read not all too long ago by the syndicated (Miami Herald) columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. (my idol…if you’re not reading him, you must…I practically use him as my moral compass) on Nazis and Columbine and how we try so hard to explain it all and want so badly to find an “answer” when really sometimes we have to accept that evil exists without cause.

    However, certainly there seems to be a bit more of it in America when considering all these random shootings over the past few years.


  19. rMU Says:

    Hey! Glad you addressed this issue because its pretty crazy tat you could get shot at while eating popcorn at a movie. I wanted to suggest that the ownership of Arms itself is a problem in America. Considering the fact that the common man in America can own weapons with some registration, Aurora does not come as a surprise. I know little of this and of what I know, I think this Act is in place for self-protection. But we wouldn;t feel the paranoia to protect ourselves if we thought that almost all our neighbours kept a gun in their desk drawer.
    I worked in Ivory Coast for a while in the field of conflict management. One of the NGOs I worked with focused on disarming the civilians who had acquired light firearms like pistols during the civil war a few years back. The logic is this – Lets suppose I had a terrible argument with my friend and I am raging. Anger can often make one blind with rage and the immediete reaction can seldom be understood. Maybe if had a gun, I would shoot the person in my momentary anger. (If I had a joint, I would just smoke up and be at peace again, haha!)
    In one incident during my work in Ivory Coast, a man shot his neighbours son in his anger because the 10 year old boy was plucking a mango from his tree. The boy died and since they belonged to different communities, the whole thing blew up to communal violence and a curfew.
    If arms and weapons were not so readily available and owned, the chances of such incidents would be lesser.
    What do you think?


  20. pjsarecomfyn Says:

    As a Coloradoan…Coloradan? I guess having been born here I should figure that one out eventually, it completely sucks to be on the map for two horrific mass shootings. I can’t even begin to tell you what runs through my head. Mostly everyone must think we are still a bunch of cowboys and indians out here fighting over beads and what not.
    I hate the polarization these events cause. I especially hate that everyone turns to the government instead of looking to their community and asking what we can do to prevent something like this.
    I think your post is amazing and makes the most sense of anything I have heard/read in the past week.


    • pjsarecomfyn Says:

      Also, didn’t have time to read all of the comments on this post, but the several I did read just sort of make my heart swell when I realize that some people are brought together for discourse by a situation like this. Just as you suggest we need to do. Apparently we just need you, on a global scale, to get things going in the right direction.


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