Jared Loughner’s deadly attack on innocent civilians in Tucson, Arizona, was morally reprehensible. Maybe he is mentally ill, but he is also the product of a society with an enormous tolerance for violence.
He may be considered a “lone” gunman, but the social macrosystem in which he grew up undoubtedly contributed to his actions. To give just a few examples, the U.S. is a country in which:
- An estimated 1,740 children died in 2008 as a result of abuse and/or neglect. Yet the financing of social programs to address such problems has been constantly under attack;
- The annual murder rate was 29th among the 31 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The frequency of homicide in the U.S. is more similar to rates in Haiti and Albania than to other Western countries such as Canada, France, and Spain.
Also in 21st century U.S.,
- Pressure on lawmakers from pro-gun interests far outweighs advocacy for the right of some individuals to vote; and
- Incitement to violence on the airwaves and Internet routinely trounces civility and dialogue.
Don’t believe the rhetoric that “words don’t kill, only weapons do.” Words are weapons that can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. Ask women in battered women’s shelters what was more destructive to them—vicious words or fists. Ask anyone who has gone through military training about the use of words to make them ready to murder and maim. Propaganda is very popular among unscrupulous leaders because it works.
Finally, remember that the U.S. is also home to millions who grew up to live the ethic of reciprocity, to choose a life of service, to love rather than hate, and to err, apologize, and forgive.
To read the words of a true war hero, see this essay by Ron Kovic, then ask yourself what do we need to do to encourage the likes of Ron Kovic rather than the likes of Jared Loughner.
And if you have never read Ron Kovic’s memoir, Born on the Fourth of July, or seen the movie based on it, please do. Ron may have lost the use of his legs in war, but he is freer than all the people who are bound up in hatred.
Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology