Friday, April 26, 2019

Is it possible that despair and anxiety occupies the flipside of the same coin as the cause behind most gun violence?

Gun violence and public shootings are so normal now that we have drills for them in our local schools and businesses just like we do fire drills. It's important to be educated on how best to protect yourself, and it's just a sign of the times on how events at Columbine High School are now an everyday thing (unfortunately). Just like you, I've been seeing these events come across my news feed for decades now, played out in all their heart-wrenching drama and usually by a white terrorist shooter with little to no motive other than "they were really angry at society." Sometimes not even anger can be detected, as in the case of the Las Vegas shooter at Mandalay Bay. Sometimes, it ends up baffling all the "experts" who are trying to figure out this modern phenomenon.

You know another thing that appears to be normalizing? Depression and anxiety. I know so many people who are depressed and anxious over their future. The source of their stress is financial and to some extent, extreme pride. They are burdened by student loans, they can't find a really good paying job, many of them desire careers that reflect the image they have in their minds that defines their self-worth (which can be quite high, mind one I know fancies themselves a refrigerator repairman), and some of them would like to only work part-time because they want to spend the rest of their time making themselves healthy with exercise and maintaining relationships that bring them joy and sex. My friend Brad put it very plainly in a Facebook post recently when he wrote that "Most addicts would be cured of their addiction if they were provided 1) sustained shelter, 2) good and consistent food, 3) free medical care, and 4) plenty of opportunities to intermingle with others who give them self-respect."

It all sounds fantastic until I boil down what he's writing and think, "Okay, all this person is asking for is free housing, free food, free medical care, and social interaction with friends who respect them...and then continue all that for the rest of their life." There's part of me that goes...what the Hell?...who wouldn't want that? That's literally a laundry list of all the difficult things any one of us faces in life. If my housing and food was taken care of (as well as medical), I could go to the gym, get into shape, live longer, and just be all around fantastic because I had time to intermingle with friends and could get something to buy little things like movie tickets and concert tickets and just party to the end of my days.

I'd also like to point out that the underlying message buried in Brad's Facebook post is very aspirational and might go something like this: "Most people use drugs because the misery of their reality at having to be a wage slave to get all of these things drives people to use drugs." Hmm. That's an interesting point, and if you pause and think about it, the overwhelming reality for many folks who struggle to meet a Maslow's hierarchy of needs explains depression, anxiety, and addiction very well. I also don't think addiction is necessarily limited to drugs. Rather, it is just one form of "escapism." People use a plethora of ways to escape the miseries of their reality. Gaming (as in roleplaying games and video games) is an example of excellent escapism. "I can't be successful in life so I'll be a success in this game and feel good while playing it." I read recently that the latest version of Dungeons & Dragons is selling better than any edition that the game has ever produced going back to the very beginning. Another related thing is I saw on a KSL newscast in a segment called "Wednesday's Child" (in which the local news highlights a kid in foster care looking to be adopted) that one such child hates his reality so much that he uses Dungeons & Dragons to escape from it and loves playing it. Escapism is in every place where people cannot cope with their day-to-day reality. So the message is this: for a lot of us reality really hurts.

So here is where I segway into a talk about gun violence being on the possible flipside to this metaphorical coin that harbors all of the above. In other words, it seems to me that the depression and anxiety (which is now an epidemic in the USA where I live) stems from a kind of scarcity related to the Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But are there other scarcities? From my experience, I'd have to say yes. Love and emotional connection can be scarcities for any number of reasons. One might have physical or mental barriers that put off social likeableness, making it difficult to connect with people. Emotional reactions to this scarcity could end up being despair (and this is probably true in a number of situations). But I posit that victims of various scarcities could also end up with emotions of rage, hatred, and anger. I guess what I'm saying is that when scarcities become insurmountable, despair sets in, and then one might eventually end up in some kind of escapism (drugs, video games, etc.). However, is it possible that  they might just as easily end up becoming violent because...why the hell not? And I suppose which route one takes is also very dependent on access. Are guns readily accessible? Are drugs readily accessible? When you perceive that you have nothing to live for because one of many needs aren't being met, a lot of things are possible including addiction and gun violence.

So I guess that's what I was thinking about the last couple of days. I'm not a psychologist, but I don't necessarily think that removes me from asking intellectual questions like this. In either event, I apologize if I ask only questions and offer no solutions. I got nothing as far as addressing any of the scarcities (financial, love, health, etc.) that people suffer from every day. That (I think) is for politicians and law makers to puzzle out as we struggle to maintain a functioning society comprised of millions of people. However, I know I'm not the only one who is asking the question: "What is going on?" because the headlines are painting a grimmer and grimmer version of modern day life.


  1. It's true if most people had a decent place to live and no long term debt and so on much of the crime would vanish because despair and desperation drive most of it.

    The emotional support is a lot harder to provide though.

  2. The answer: Eat the rich.

    The 2018 Gallup poll for emotional well-being, which is a global study, shows that people are the unhappiest they've ever been since they started doing this poll. It's not just the US; it's the whole world that feels this way.
    We just have easy access to guns here.

  3. Some harsh lessons we as a people are going through at the moment. I think you might be right.

  4. The lack of community and emotional connection with others is getting worse, and one of culprits is the isolation (ironically) that all our technology sometimes puts us in. Facebook friends are not the same as real life friends. There's a good doc on HBO by Sanjay Gupta about how our society is so harsh and often lacking in support and safety nets that people are literally dying earlier because of stress-caused diseases. The happiest societies are the semi-socialist ones with serious safety nets and emphasis on community over rugged individualism.

    One thing about all the anger out there -- anger is often a symptom of depression in men, and when those men have access to guns, tragedy results. There's a great segment in the doc on how a troop of baboons was radically changed for the better when the most aggressive males in it died from TB and kinder, more easy-going males took their place.

    BTW,a good refrigerator repairman is more valuable to society than a lousy lawyer. And your friend's belief that outside resources are all that's needed to cure addiction doesn't fly. Turning inward for strength and determination to change is essential.

  5. When Columbine happened, the media talked about it for months. So the idea spread to unstable, angry people who like the idea "They'll be talking about what I did for years. I hate my life. I might as well go out in blaze of glory." So I blame the media. The only good thing is that since this is becoming more common, it's becoming less interesting, so the shock factor isn't as strong. That means lower ratings and less hype.