columbine

April 26, 1999

This is Terry-on-a-tirade day. Don’t be offended by me today. If I have a goal, it’s to see if we can all wake up together and try on some new thinking.

Do you know the definition of insanity?
It’s doing the same thing that doesn’t work over and over again. So are we just going to keep doing what it is we are doing as a country?

Even when, at least to some of us, it ain’t working?

There is a cause and there is a symptom.

The shootings at Columbine High School are just the symptom.

If messed-up kids are the symptom, will anybody have the guts to diagnose the disease? The second-biggest killer of teens in this country is suicide.

Last year, in the United States, there were twelve times the number of handgun deaths than the total combined violent deaths in all of the western world. Just thought that would be useful to throw in.

The truth is, guns are not really the whole problem, though our gun-happy culture sure contributes. Guns by themselves aren’t the cause. I grew up watching cowboy movies and programs on television. And cowboy movies were not about cowboys, they were about guns. All these movies have one thing in common: problems are solved with guns.

Kids are killing kids and I have to watch Al Gore being interviewed. And this stupid son of a gun says “Well, the problem is kids have access to guns. Kids have always been alienated but years ago, an alienated kid would throw a brick through a window or engage in fisticuffs.” He actually said “engage in fisticuffs.” Engage in fisticuffs? What kind of language is that? Al Gore just lost my vote not because his analysis is so stupid, but because nobody who uses a phrase like “engage in fisticuffs” is going to get my vote.

Al, give me a break. When I was a kid, we all carried knives all the time, and we were definitely alienated. But we never used the knives; they were just for show. Kids today aren’t alienated, Al; they are crazed. Shooting down thirty other kids and attempting to kill a whole high school of them is not the ‘90s equivalent of fisticuffs. For Christ’s sake!
So kids with access to guns isn’t the problem, either. But in America we don’t like to look at causes or at underlying problems. Instead, we like to mess with just the symptoms.

This is one sick culture — and you know what is sickest about it? Most everybody keeps pretending it isn’t sick. Of course, there is the Christian right wing. The one thing they have going for them is that they at least think part of the culture is sick. The weakness of their analysis is that they think they, themselves, aren’t sick.

Everything is interconnected, interrelated. I don’t care how clear the lake looks at your end, if somebody poured toxins in at the other end, the whole thing is polluted.

In other words: it’s no one single thing that’s causing this gun violence by teens, it’s the whole mix of society right now, the whole deal.

You know, if you are a farmer and your plants come up kind of weird, like your tomatoes are purple and your zucchini is black, you, as the farmer, would try to analyze the whole situation. The farmer asks, “Is this the right temperate zone for this plant? Did it get enough water? Too much water? Did the plant get fertilized? Did it get the right fertilizer? Was it planted at the right time of year? Did insects get to it? Is there something toxic in the soil?” The farmer thinks about the entire environment of the plant.

The one thing the farmer doesn’t do is blame the plant.

Children are the plants grown by our culture. So, why are we taking a microscope to the plant when we should be looking at the soil out of which it grew?

Only crazy people would just examine the damn plant.

There is this congressman, Representative Bob Barr. He’s your average, run-of-the-mill loony-tunes cracker. He’s running for president on a “family values” platform. (By the way, I’m still waiting for one of you to tell me what family values are and who exactly has them.)

So Bob Barr claims that the killings in Columbine occurred because these kids don’t know that God loves them.
No kidding, Shakespeare! Hey man, look at the world they are living in. They don’t know God loves them; hell, they look around and it would never occur to them that God loves anybody or anything.

On 60 Minutes Sunday night, they had a retired Army psychologist who specializes in the psychology of violence. Do you know that the military uses video games, including Doom, in all of its training? This guy calls them “murder simulators.” He says that the Army uses them to condition their people to kill, as well as to improve their tactical and motor skills.

Last year, a kid in, I believe, Kentucky, walked into school and fired eight times, making eight hits on eight people, with two perfect head shots. Now, it has been proven that this kid played thousands of hours of games like Doom. The Army average for hits per game is fifty percent. And in most of these games, you get extra points for the head shots.
“Murder simulators.” So not only do these things condition kids to violence, they give them the instruction, training and practice. And people give these things to their kids for Christmas.

“They don’t know God loves them.” That’s a good one.

You may not believe this, but children are born with an innate capacity for empathy; they are born as loving creatures. But their relationship to their own heart gets disconnected somewhere along the line. Adding to this, much of what they experience on a daily basis is not real, be it on television, in movies or video games. And when they don’t believe that they are real or anything is actually real, then nothing can really be killed, because they and everybody else are really nothing.

Talk to a kid. Ask them what is real. Reality changes so quickly that it’s hard to say. We teach them that money is real, that a new car is real and that compassion is some kind of bleeding-heart disease.

But kids do need to learn to maintain their empathy. So let me ask: where are they learning empathy, where do they learn compassion, where are they taught about the nature of the heart? Just where are they taught about their own vast humanity? I’m asking because I don’t know.

Kids (like everyone else in this modern age) are pounded by information. They are bombarded by the media — not just violence, but by images of who they ought to be, images that none of us can really ever live up to. Most kids are constantly sent the message that they are just not quite good enough. Their parents either ignore them or try to make them into their image. For many kids, love comes in the form of a credit card.

Nobody listens to them, really listens. Even after this event in Colorado, not once did I see a news story that asked the kids themselves what they thought about what happened.

I think we don’t want to know the answer to that question. I am blessed in that I know a number of young people who trust me enough to tell me what they really see. Because we adults live in the same world as the kids — but man, what we see and what they see are really different.

I doubt that many of you want to hear about what kids today see. And if you did, you would find a way of discounting it. And remember, when somebody tells you what they see and feel and you discount it, if you do that often enough, you can make someone crazy.

When was the last time you asked your kid or any kid to honestly tell you what the nature of their world is?
You can be sure that advertisers ask. You may not hold a focus group with your kids, but the advertisers sure do. Madison Avenue asks. A while back, marketers figured out that kids today think that everything is B.S. They learned that kids distrust everything. So there’s a certain cynicism in much of our advertising and media.

But you know what the media is about: it’s about distracting us from ourselves. That’s entertainment! God forbid we should sit quietly for some portion of a day and actually feel whatever we may really be feeling. We’re afraid to explore ourselves, so we turn to TV, to movies, to video games for distraction and for adrenaline rushes.

But, over time, these distractions function like heroin. You have to constantly raise the dosage to get the same effect.
So, very quickly, media violence doesn’t give us the same rush anymore. It doesn’t distract us enough, so we raise the dosage, and part of raising the dosage is to make the video games, the TV shows, the movies all more realistic.

Here’s the deal: kids killing kids in the United States is now a pattern. A pattern means that it is not an anomaly, not an isolated incident, unconnected to anything else. To be a pattern means it arises out of something — and that something is our violent culture.

We should start by looking at the causes within our culture. Then, just maybe, we’ll get some real insights into what’s going on.

Everytime I talk about how sick this country is to people around me, they immediately try to convince me that America is normal, as normal as anywhere else. “We’re normal, Terry; this is normal.” If this country isn’t nuts, then I am. I can live with that, and wish the rest of you good luck.

Meanwhile the whole thing has made me depressed, so I’m leaving here now and going to watch all three Die Hard movies. Me? I liked Die Hard 2 the best.

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