Letter to the Editor:
What cultural forces influence mentally deranged individuals to become mass murderers? The Newtown, Conn., massacre of children and adults again raises questions we have asked ourselves before. Of course the answers are complex. Here are a few basic things to consider.
Our concept of good and evil today is partly shaped by a prevailing attitude of moral relativism, where humankind is the measure of all things, there are no absolutes. By the time one becomes a young adult, this way of thinking has been drilled into him by academia, the entertainment industry and the media.
For example, we deny that the unborn child is a person, and thus abortion becomes an acceptable choice in dealing with an inconvenient pregnancy. In our quest for sexual freedom we trash traditional morality that Americans have valued for centuries.
Having used medical hypnosis in the past to help patients with various needs, I have great respect for the power of suggestion. The same dynamic is at work in the area of advertising. Experts in the field have told me that firms like Coca Cola sometimes will advertise with just a picture of a Coke, known by almost everyone, because it is vitally important to keep one’s product in the public eye constantly. Images sell, and they influence behavior, for good or for bad.
What images and philosophies collectively distort a deranged mind to the point where he turns to unspeakable violence? Take your pick. A half-century ago we had plenty of action movies with guns blazing. But there were clearly good guys and bad guys, and good always triumphed over evil.
Today we have violent video games that glorify indiscriminate killing. And gangster rap trivializes murder and the abuse of women. Again, the mind is shaped by images and ideas that we take in. Prisoners incarcerated for violent sex crimes almost always admit that their criminal behaviors had their origins in repeated viewing of pornography. I fear that strict gun control measures will only make things worse.
These laws do nothing to remove the desire that some people have to kill. Murderers will only become more creative. Bombs, biological and chemical weapons may be the next methods for mass murder. Prevention of all these atrocities is not likely.
But we can start on a path toward fewer horrific incidents by addressing how we think as a society. Adler said that how we think determines how we behave and how we feel. Our country was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles, but increasingly we are turning from them.
We need better role models in professional athletes, in the entertainment industry, and in our leaders. Schools can get back to teaching moral absolutes. And we obviously need strong families that stress traditional values. We cannot change a culture overnight, but we can do better.
In the meantime, there are immediate steps we can take. One example is the suggestion that school principals and other officials could have guns hidden in their offices to use in the event of an emergency. This measure might have saved some lives in previous shootings, and might act as a deterrent in the future.
The most difficult question is how to diagnose when a mental patient is a risk to society. Science has not solved that challenge yet.
Warren Anderson, MD
Lake Forest, Ill.