Thursday, December 20, 2012

Continued withholding of solutions in Clackamas and Newtown

There were two more major shootings last week and as far as I can tell the traditional media continues to do a seriously inadequate job of covering the causes of this and how we can do something to prevent future shooting. This isn’t because we don’t have the information available to understand what causes these shootings and how to prevent them; we do; or at least we have much better research than the traditional media reports about on a regular basis. This is the latest in a series about Inadequate coverage of causes of massacres; in the previous posts about several other shootings I have indicated that there are plenty of research about many of the major contributing causes of these shootings and the belief that they can be prevented or made much less likely if these causes are reviewed and taken into consideration when it comes to making many important decisions.

Many of the pundits in the traditional media often try to give the people the impression that either there is no way to understand what causes these shootings or there is one and only one cause of them and once they debate any given potential cause they argue about it in the same manner over and over again without coming to any conclusions or changing anything; and they decline to even cover many of the most important potential causes at all.

This impression is false and it doesn’t stand up to the most basic scrutiny if scrutiny is applied.

It is far more reasonable to assume that there are multiple causes to these tragedies and to sort them out accordingly and this is what many more informed researchers do; but they have little or no access to the mass media. The information that they do provide is available to the public; but not in a high profile manner; therefore only those who know what to look for and where have access to it or those who obtain it from others who help bring it to their attention without help from the traditional media. These researchers provide an enormous amount of evidence to indicate that there is no one single cause and they provide plenty of peer review with the work behind it so that people can sort through the details and find the most credible explanations.

As far as I can tell four of the most important contributing causes to these massacres are escalating violence that begins with child abuse; inadequate gun control laws that prevent those that are prone to violence or emotionally unstable from getting their hands on guns easily and kill many more people instead of just one or two; media violence that is saturating the airwaves; and inadequate coverage of the solutions that could potentially prevent these problems if we acted on them. There may and almost certainly are additional contributing causes which should be covered but these contributing causes are almost certainly among the most important and they could go a long way to preventing these tragedies from happening again if they were covered better.

The escalation of violence starting at an early age is almost certainly the most important contributing factor and yet it is the one that receives the least amount of attention, of the causes that I cited, from the corporate media, with the possible exception of the fact that they don’t cover many of the most important aspects properly; when you have centralized control of the corporate media in the hands of six corporations they can’t be trusted to police themselves. One of the most reliable sources that is under-covered on this subject and does a great job explaining this is the late Alice Miller who wrote “The Roots of Violence are NOT Unknown,” (additional resources listed below, including some of my own blogs on this subject). There has actually been a great deal of improvement on this since Alice Miller first began writing about the subject and some of her comments may not account of that but this wasn’t due to much if any help from the traditional corporate media or the political establishment; in fact if anything it was in spite of their coverage of the subject.

Since I went into this in my past blogs on the subject and other researchers that have done more work than me have also done so and their work can be found in the links below I’ll limit this to a brief description on this topic even though it is the most important aspect. Violence escalates starting at a very early age, often with the early use of corporal punishment to keep children in line and teach them to behave and often believe what they’re told from their parents. This tends to escalate to bullying later in life, hazing in high school or college, violence as an adult including domestic violence that involves teaching children the same methods of child rearing those parents were brought up with. This leads to a situation where the beliefs of one generation are passed on to the next and it often does little to correct the mistakes and much to prevent them from being corrected, quickly at least.

To put it simply when people are abused they get angry and when it starts at an early age when children are in the process of developing it has a much larger impact that lasts a life time even if these feelings are suppressed for fear of further retaliation from the adults who abuse them. This also has an indirect impact on the other three leading contributing causes since people prone to violence are much more likely to be attracted to guns or violent media and they’re more likely to learn how to accept what they’re told by authority figures, or in this case the traditional media and political system, in stead of doing their own research.

photo source

At least gun control is getting a significant amount of attention now after these disasters but it doesn’t lead to action to address this even though the majority of the public seems to support reasonable gun control. This doesn’t mean that most people support taking guns away from everyone as the NRA routinely tries to imply, of course. However there is good reason to believe that these tragedies would be much less severe if it wasn’t so easy for anyone to get their hands on guns including automatic guns with large clips that can kill an enormous amount of people quickly. The gun show loophole that is discussed widely makes the current gun laws a bad joke. They virtually guarantee that anyone with emotional problems of any kind or the people we refer to as terrorists can get as many guns of any kind as they want. The claim that we don’t need more gun laws but more enforcement of existing gun laws is just as bad of a joke since this loophole ensures that even though there are plenty of gu laws in existence they don’t matter thanks to the loophole.

The more guns they sell to unstable people that go on violent rampages the more panic there is about violence from those that think that buying more guns is the solution to the problem and there is little if any effort to inform them, in a rational manner, that this isn’t the most effective manner of solving their problems. The NRA has plenty of rights to free speech, which I don’t dispute, but the most credible critics have little or no access to the commercial media to refute them; instead we keep getting the same old demagogues that distort the issues and appeal to emotion. They may not do this as bad as the NRA but they still do it and this leads to a situation where they have people arguing and accomplishing little or nothing. Regardless of how the debate is being accomplished the result is the same, an arms race that leads to many more guns and higher profits for the gun manufacturers at everyone else’s expense. When you consider the fact that the gun manufacturers are apparently financing the NRA this is clearly crime profiteering and innocent people routinely pay the price; in this case it was children. (sources: “Blood Money How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA” Violence Policy Center PDF and “Does the NRA Represent Gun Manufacturers or Gun Owners?” by Lee Fang the Nation The fact that the NRA is being financed by the gun corporations doesn’t seem to get much coverage from the traditional media which is collecting the money they spend on advertising.

Then why doesn’t this change?

Clearly it seems to have a lot to do with an incredibly dysfunctional political system and a media establishment that enables it to continue in this manner. This is why I have no doubt that we should have serious Election reform that is controlled by the public and enables them to control the interview process of their candidates and choose their own grass roots candidates instead of the ones chosen for them by the political establishment. It would also do a great deal of help to have greater reliance on ballot questions, possibly including a national ballot which should be made available. I attempted to make this clearer when I asked What is your ballot question?

The discussion about media violence is made even worse because the people that control the information that the vast majority of us hear about the subject are the media which is providing all that violence and they have little or no accountability about the subject and have proven so repeatedly. Recently they have started discussing it once again which is more than they have done regarding the escalation of violence from an early age but it is seriously incompetent and they will almost certainly forget it as quickly as they started covering it as they have in the past. A large amount of that coverage tends to indicate that they feel that calls to cut down on violence in the media re a call for censorship; yet they decline to cover many other things including the research on media violence that is available in the academic world. This means that they’re trying to convince many members of the public to develop their views based on an incomplete set of facts and without the best research available.

The following is a brief quote from one of those research reports; there are many more where that comes from.

Media Effects: A History, and a Response to History

Have you come away from a horror movie feeling ―pumped up‖ after seeing the young heroine outwit the serial killer at the end? Do you have children who like to play ―action‖ video games? Have you noticed how excited they are for the next half hour or so after they’ve finished playing? Perhaps you’re wondering if there’s a science to this that can analyze and predict our reactions to violent media. The answer is yes, and no.

The kind of physiological arousal described in the examples above is one reaction to violent media which many psychological research studies have documented. In addition, forty to fifty years of ―media effects‖ research has revealed a wide range of both short- and long-term effects which violent media content can have on consumers. The Center for Media Literacy’s Beyond Blame violence prevention curriculum asks students to reflect on four common effects of media violence*

Acting aggressively
Being less willing to help someone in trouble
Desiring more and more media violence
Being more afraid of the outside world

Most of the research--as well as public discussion--about media effects tends to focus on consumption of violent entertainment. The research behind the final effect on this list takes into account the likelihood that people watch a significant amount of television programming, including television news coverage, which exposes viewers to live footage and other depictions of violent events. A Report on Media Violence PDF

This report and many others was produced by The Consortium for Media Literacy; if you take a closer look at this and some of their other studies on the subject as well as additional studies from other sources it should be clear that media violence has some impact on violence in real life although it is hard to determine exactly how much and it is difficult to find direct scientific evidence that isn’t subject to debate; therefore it will be necessary to look at this with reasonable discretion.

If these movies were rare occasions or if they were balanced with an adequate review of how media violence could impact real violence I suspect it would be highly unlikely that they would have much any impact on violence at all but that isn’t the way it is. The fact that they don’t provide coverage of many other subjects in the traditional media including education about the potential for media violence to escalate to real violence, or at least not in an effective manner, could make this fit the definition of propaganda as it is presented to many people. This wouldn’t apply to those that do their own research but the vast majority of the public doesn’t do this. Propaganda is most effective when it is repeated over and over again and opposing views aren’t presented. In the case of media violence their isn’t always pressure for people to watch it all the time except for the commercials that promote it to people nonstop, which actually should be considered propaganda since it isn’t balanced by commercials to present other views.

However there are many people that become obsessed with it and seek it out anyway. These people are the ones that are the most receptive to the constant advertising for these violent movies or video games for that matter. Modern video games should be considered as important if not more important than violent movies especially since many people that grew up before they became so advanced aren’t even fully aware of the nature of modern videos. These videos aren’t at all like the space invaders or pin ball machines that many of us grew up with instead they are much more graphic and enable the player to actively participate in the violence. Many of these same video games are also used by the military to desensitize their soldiers and enable them to become more effective killers when it comes to fighting wars. In some cases the mass shooters have also been soldiers that were trained to kill although the two most recent incidents aren’t included in that but apparently Jacob Tyler Roberts who carried out the shooting at Clackamas Town Center was interested in joining the military. People who are prone to violence are often much more likely to be interested in the military although many of the most unstable are often screened out; in fact one of the Columbine shooters was rejected by the military for this reason while Roberts was apparently rejected for other reasons.

If the military use these video games to desensitize and train people to be more effective at killing, at least when they’re told to it is hard to imagine how a good argument for this not being a contributing factor can be made. Furthermore just because they try to train people to kill when and only when they’re supposed to doesn’t mean they actually do limit their killing to those circumstances.

And another issue that should be considered when it comes to media violence is the fact that the coverage of these shootings could potentially add even more to the media violence. This doesn’t mean that they should stoop covering it of course; but it should be kept in mind when they decide how they’re going to cover it. Ideally they should consult with the experts that research the media violence and at least get some suggestions on how to present this news without adding to the media violence more than necessary but they don’t even do that. Instead they use their usual tactics trying to hype this up for the maximum amount of ratings and drama. This should be consider crime profiteering. They’re more concerned with providing more opportunities for their advertisers than they are with informing the public about how they can avoid this more effectively. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing this consciously but when they have two or more conflicting motives, in this case selling ads and informing the public about prevention, then they could lead to preferential treatment to the one that has the higher priority and they could alter their coverage without fully acknowledging it ore realizing their doing it.

The fourth issue that I cited is closely related to the third; while they provide an enormous amount of coverage of violence and much more in their programming the traditional media provides little if any access for people that know much more about how to minimize violence by treating it before it escalates. Instead they provide their own “experts” most of which aren’t nearly as competent as some that are willing and able to provide information but they can be counted on not to address issues that are against the ideological beliefs of those that control the six corporations that own the vast majority of the media outlets. People who get little or no coverage like Barbara Coloroso, Philip Greven, James Garbarino, Murray Straus, Joanne Scaglione and many others know much more about preventing violence than the so called experts that the traditional media present like Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew whop are both incompetent; or at least I think this conclusion will hold up if a closer look is taken and more credible sources are allowed to have their say in the corporate media. This doesn’t mean that they should ban their own experts if they think they deserve some air time then it would be reasonable but when they completely withhold coverage from many others they’re censoring the vast majority of the so called experts.

One of the people that they have presented as an expert on these issues in the past is David Cullen, cited as the leading source of research on the Columbine incident, who has even denied that bullying led to this incident and down played the possibility that violence escalates starting at an early age. He has even continued to do this when presented with an enormous amount of evidence to the contrary but those who try to present this evidence aren’t allowed access to the traditional corporate media to present their case. In all fairness he has acknowledged that bullying is a serious problem which should be addressed but by downplaying or denying the connection to escalating violence and Columbine he makes it seem like a much lower priority.

He wrote, in his book on the subject, "There's no evidence that bullying led to murder, but considerable evidence it was a problem at Columbine High." (p.158) I had an opportunity to ask about it with him in his own blog a couple years ago on Open Salon and I didn’t find that he was willing to acknowledge some facts that I considered incredibly simple including one statement about how one of the victims admitted that they teased him and that he thought it was the justifiable way to handle the situation. This conversation was at Half our kids admit to bullying—the worse part and Enough school shooters; Time to face depression For what it’s worth his claim that the researchers that I cited didn’t personally investigate Columbine turned out not to be true although I didn’t know it at the time; one of the sources, Barbara Coloroso lives in Littleton Colorado and lectures on the subject although she has to compete with James Dobson who is much more popular in that area; or at least he was before Columbine. The depression that Dave Cullen cites as a problem is a legitimate concern but the cause of depression often has many sources including putting up with bullying or child abuse. Also one of the “experts” he cited was Robert Hare who I took a closer look at since this conversation and found that he was also significantly incompetent and that he was involved in several law suits about people either suing him or him suing others in some cases to suppress research that was critical of his work. If this was unjustified he could have responded to it by refuting it with a rational argument instead of suing to prevent the reporting of the criticism. I covered this more in Children Psychopaths? And Mitt Romney’s Bullying History.

Fortunately there is one notable exception that I have found only after searching for it through Google. James Garbarino has apparently written an opinion piece for CNN, How a boy becomes a killer, which provides some good insight on prevention. Unfortunately this has received very little attention and I almost certainly never would have heard of it if I didn’t Google it; the following are a few excerpts from the article.

How a boy becomes a killer

(CNN) -- Twenty children and six adults killed in a town in Connecticut. Why? As someone who listens to killers as an expert psychological witness in murder cases, I have spent much of the last 20 years trying to understand how and why young men kill, maim and attack others.

Killings like those in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; and Virginia Tech are always met with expressions of shock, anger and sadness. These are understandable first reactions, but in the long run they accomplish nothing.

So long as the discussion does not move beyond labeling these events "senseless violence," horrors such as these never move us closer to a place of deeper understanding. Greater understanding is crucial because understanding leads to more peace and less violence through preventive action. All the crime scene investigations in the world will not do this. ......

How do we go about this process of "making sense," not as a way of excusing but as a path to understanding and preventing violence? We start by recognizing that many young Americans (and other young people around the world) develop and carry with them a kind of moral damage, which I have come to call "the war zone mentality." .....

There is no one cause. It is as if they are building a tower of blocks, one by one, that can get so high it falls over, with innocent people dying. These building blocks can be found in a dangerous neighborhood or a school rife with bullying. They can be found through the Internet and mass media: the many, many web sites and videos that promote paranoid views of the world and validate violent action in retaliation.

They can be found in pervasive and intense playing of video games, the hands-on virtual violence that desensitizes young people to proxy killing. These games become a psychological pathway to real killing by dampening impulses of compassion and altruism.

They also come from a culture that supports access to lethal weapons: the crazy availability of guns like the Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle used by Adam Lanza that are, in effect, weapons of mass destruction when turned against children at school, or moviegoers in a theater or shoppers at a mall. These weapons have no place in civilian life.

But moral damage and a misperception of reality usually are not enough to lead to murder. The typical killer is emotionally damaged and has developed mental health problems, perhaps exacerbated by being bullied and rejected by peers, or abused and neglected at home. He might be suffering from profound sadness, depression, despair, self aggrandizement and narcissism. ....... Complete article

Furthermore there is plenty more good material from some of these researchers which isn’t getting much attention whether it is from James Garbarino or other researchers who don’t get nearly as much attention as the less qualified researchers that the traditional media present. On top of that on the rare occasions where they mention some of the more credible researchers they criticize them without giving them an opportunity to respond and often by taking them out of context; this was done on at least one occasion to James Garbarino in a small book, “On the Issues: Media Violence” where a representative of the traditional media had an opportunity to present her case and critics that didn’t include the most qualified critics provided a response that left an enormous amount uncovered.

Another notable exception in the congress might be Carolyn McCarthy who has been pushing for more reasonable gun control laws since she was first elected and on top of that she has also been introducing legislation, H.R. 3027, to reduce or eliminate corporal punishment at least in schools. This is important for more than one reason. First of all it means that she is trying to address multiple contributing causes which is what needs to be done to solve the problem. It will also be necessary to do more to inform the public about other ways that abuse and bullying lead to escalating violence but this is an important start.

Another important issue is whether they rush to pass legislation in the heat of the moment without thinking things through. There has been an enormous amount of talk about how they have to act now, right away while the public is still putting pressure on them to do something. This is at best a second rate way of solving problems. If this is the only way to get solutions passed in the short term then we might have to do it this way; but when people rush things through they often come with unintended consequences.

Naomi Klein author of the “Shock Doctrine” described how ideologues and corporations have been using this tactic for years. The basic idea is that when a disaster happens and people aren’t prepared the person with ideas prepared ahead of time can rush in and offer solutions with long term conditions that benefit them. She has also suggested that this could be done to usher in progressive improvements. This may be true but it should be done with caution. With people like Carolyn McCarthy who have been thinking things through for a while there is a better chance for this to succeed if they watch out for any things that others try to slip into the bills while it is being rushed through.

In the long run we really should have a system that doesn’t need to wait for a disaster to pass legislation. We already have that system when it comes to the agenda that is promoted by campaign contributors. They plan things well in advance in many cases; what we need is a system where the public actually has a chance to control their own government as we’re often told we already do. This would require media reform and election reform where people from different points of views have a much better opportunity to get their ideas across to the majority of the public instead of allowing the political system and the mass media to be controlled by the same relatively small percentage of the public.

If the media is controlled by a small number of people that only present those that adopt their own beliefs then it is no wonder that they don’t do much if anything to inform the public on how to prevent further disasters.

One thing that the media did point out was Barack Obama’s response to the shootings and Rachel Maddow reminded her audience of his past responses to these shootings Friday after it first happened; unfortunately this didn’t receive nearly as much coverage as Barack Obama’s speech where he shed tears and said he wouldn’t allow this to continue. In one of his past speeches on the subject he talked about how this was happening over and over again and that it was faced with the same response and eventually forgotten without action. Then he promised that he would stay right on it this time and he wouldn’t let that happen again.

He didn’t stay on it at all.

Now after it happened again he made another speech where he shed tears and made similar promises. In fact, for the most part, the rhetoric sounds almost the same as it has in the past except that there seems to be a little more willingness of some of the democrats to support stronger gun control. The support of this from Barack Obama seems to be minimal and reluctant even though he no longer has to face reelection which is supposedly what politicians are most motivated by. None of these Democrats or members of the traditional media have done much if anything to give more credible researchers an opportunity to present their views on how to prevent violence before it escalates.

For the most part the people that are presented to us as “leaders” don’t actually do much if any leading at all; instead they come up with an enormous amount of rhetoric and, in many cases, take credit for the improvements that others do despite the lack of leadership from politicians. This should be all the more reason why we need to do more to chose our own leaders instead of allowing the corporate media to select who is “viable” or not based primarily on how much they collect in campaign contributions and their access to power.

Even a relatively quick look at the shooters and the circumstances surrounding them could give some indication as to what led up to these shootings; although it would be appropriate to be cautious about coming to final conclusions about things without further investigation. The fact that Adam Lanza’s mother was so involved with guns should raise some serious questions. Several articles clearly indicate that there were some signs of what was to come including, Nancy Lanza feared son, Adam, was ‘getting worse’; told friend ‘he was burning himself with a lighter’ and that she was 'losing him' and Sandy Hook elementary school gunman Adam Lanza learned to shoot from his gun-collecting mom.

The exact reasons behind this tragedy and many others will not be fully understood until more time is allowed to investigate it but judging by past tragedies it is possible to do much more to learn what the most common causes are and prevent them before the last minute. The assumption that we should be arming teachers and selling bullet proof back packs as viable solutions to these problems is downright insane; or at least they should be considered insane by most rational people. The fact that many people seem to think that this is a rational response is further evidence of how the corporate media and the political system has been misinforming the public for a long time.

As I said, for the most part politicians don’t lead at all, at least not with the current system.

If this problem, and many others, are going to be solved then many more members of the public are going to have to take the initiative; and they’re going to have to plan on doing so on a semi-regular basis, at least until we have major electoral and media reform. Even then it will be necessary for many more members of the public to remain informed and active at least to some degree.

If you think this post has  constructive value feel free to recommend, cite or reply as you see fit; thank you.

The following are some articles, web sites and books about some of the contributing causes for those of you who are interested.

“The Roots of Violence are NOT Unknown” and accompanying articles by Alice Miller
Free on-line copy of “For Your Own Good” by Alice Miller and additional information including at least one other free book on the subject.
Excerpts from “The Truth Will Set You Free” by Alice Miller
Home page for Barbara Coloroso, an internationally recognized speaker and author in the areas of parenting, teaching, school discipline, non-violent conflict resolution and reconciliatory justice.
Home page for Murray Straus, includes articles and several free on-line books on the subject.
Excerpts from “Spare the Child” by Philip Greven
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
“The Impact of Media Violence on Children and Adolescents: Opportunities for Clinical Interventions” at American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry
“Violence in the Media - Psychologists Help Protect Children from Harmful Effects” at American Psychological Association
“The Psychological Effects of Violent Media on Children” at AllPsych Online

The following are some of the Blogs I have written in the past on preventing violence before it escalates:

Does child abuse and bullying lead to more violence?
Child abuse and bullying link in study long overdue,
a Public relation campaign for child abuse prevention;

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