Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Cultures and violence

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  • Sacha,

    Sociologist Douglas Ezzy offers a well-reasoned psychological angle.

    There are two ways of responding to deadly violence such as the school shooting in Connecticut.

    We can respond violently, as a way of protecting ourselves from the fear and anxiety we feel. Or, we can respond by making ourselves more vulnerable, by putting aside the guns and aggressive behaviours that feed the cycle of violence.

    ...

    The person who responds violently to violence finds it difficult to see that they themselves, or a member of their circle of family and friends, may be the person who initiates violence. Rather, the threatening mass murderer is always “other,” a random killer, a mentally ill person, an ethnic other. Uncertainty, fear and vulnerability are repressed or denied, and anger and murderous desires are projected onto the threatening “other”.

    ...

    In contrast, the vulnerable response actively wrestles with fear and the desire to inflict violence. The vulnerable response recognises that we all have the capability, and sometimes the desire, to inflict great suffering on others in response to our fears and anxieties. Rather than being driven by these murderous desires, I search for alternative responses to my fear and murderous desires.

    The person who chooses vulnerability keeps foremost in their mind the suffering that violence inflicts on others. My priority is to prevent or reduce suffering, even at the expense of making myself more vulnerable. From this perspective it makes sense to significantly reduce access to deadly weapons.

    ...

    Emotional self-understandings are culturally produced.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16741 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    I'm not sure I believe the US is inherently more violent. But I just don't know. My experiences living in Texas, California and Arizona showed me that sometimes certain groups in the US can have extreme views. Because of the size of the country it's fairly easy for a whole town to develop extreme views on what is normal and right. Anyone who disagrees can move away.

    What I do know is the data shows that the access to guns and handguns in particular, means that when violence does occur it is likely to be lethal.

    What the data also shows is that, like NZ, in most cases the violence is either self-directed or directed at ones family. The NIH has done comparisons between US and Canadian cities and concluded that owning a gun, particularly a handgun, is an enormous health risk to you and your family.

    Where there is a huge cultural difference between NZ and the US is around the concepts of freedom. For many Americans there is an unquestioning association between freedom and gun ownership. In some of the places I lived it was a concept that could not be questioned. It was like trying to explain that the sky is blue to someone who insists it is green.

    But there are very many Americans who hold what we would think are perfectly normal and reasonable attitudes to violence and guns. It is a big diverse country and it is difficult to generalise.

    Circular rambling comment is circular and rambling.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3414 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Already the usual “none of this would have happened if the victims had guns” arguments have come out, if the response isn't stony silence. It’s classic Social Darwinism: shoot or be shot. And what then if the perps just happen to be professionally trained, fully licensed and wearing body armour, like Anders Breivik and James Holmes?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4351 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward,

    I think it's also pretty clear that America needs to contemplate not only gun control, but the cultural role that gun violence plays in its society.

    Absolutely, to the point that legislative responses are probably a small drop in the ocean compared to the wider cultural change needed (indeed you could argue the state legislative realities are just a reflection of underlying culture). Unfortunately that seems to manifest itself as "too hard so we won't even take the legislative step" thinking.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1721 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth Ward, in reply to DeepRed,

    Already the usual “none of this would have happened if the victims had guns” arguments have come out

    Mindblowing isn't it - when your honest argument is "we should have handguns IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS" you'd expect someone to think they might have something wrong somewhere...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Mar 2007 • 1721 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Where there is a huge cultural difference between NZ and the US is around the concepts of freedom. For many Americans there is an unquestioning association between freedom and gun ownership. In some of the places I lived it was a concept that could not be questioned.

    I was about to engage someone on Twitter who declared (among other things) that "America is a culture that was built on the principle of liberty against tyranny, even if it takes bullets and blood," but decided there was no point.

    He didn't seem likely to grasp that his culture might be in the grip of another form of tyranny.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18957 posts Report Reply

  • David Cormack,

    Without having much knowledge, it seems awfully difficult to pin a reason down for the seemingly frequent recurrence of school shootings. Is it the access to guns? Probably not, because in Israel it's easier to get a gun but their rate of civilian shootings seems low (yeah yeah I know). Are they particularly violent in the States? Possibly. Is it racist tensions? Is it education? Who knows. It could be a combination of all.

    Hell it could even be too MUCH freedom. F*ck I dunno. But the hand-wringing that goes on after every shooting is becoming exhausting. So many solutions talked about, nothing done.

    Suburbia, Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 216 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    America needs to contemplate not only gun control, but the cultural role that gun violence plays in its society.

    But why? If you haven't got access to a gun, then however much you might be inclined to an armed rampage, you're not going to be able to actually do it.

    The UK approach works - get caught with an unlicensed gun, and you're going to jail for five years or more. No arguments about "lawful purpose" or whatever considered. Limits illicit gun ownership to the kind of subcultures that want to shoot each other so much that they regard five years inside with equanimity.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4463 posts Report Reply

  • Sam Sargeant, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    If you haven't got access to a gun, then however much you might be inclined to an armed rampage, you're not going to be able to actually do it

    I do agree, but I don't see how it's possible to get the US to that place. Access to guns is considered a fundamental right by so many. It will take generations to remove them.

    If you can address the reasons why so many are inclined to armed rampage, access to weapons is moot.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to David Cormack,

    Probably not, because in Israel it’s easier to get a gun but their rate of civilian shootings seems low (yeah yeah I know).

    That appears to be a myth.

    First of all, because they don’t have high levels of gun ownership. The gun ownership in Israel and Switzerland has decreased.

    For instance, in Israel, they’re very limited in who is able to own a gun. There are only a few tens of thousands of legal guns in Israel, and the only people allowed to own them legally live in the settlements, do business in the settlements, or are in professions at risk of violence.

    Both countries require you to have a reason to have a gun. There isn’t this idea that you have a right to a gun. You need a reason. And then you need to go back to the permitting authority every six months or so to assure them the reason is still valid.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18957 posts Report Reply

  • wendyf,

    I saw a brief clip om TV3 news of Heston "..from my cold, dead hands." And I'm finding it hard to get it out of my head, since I also hear "..from 20 pairs of little cold dead hands."

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 79 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    The UK approach works – get caught with an unlicensed gun, and you’re going to jail for five years or more.

    But the guns used in the Sandy Hook shooting were legitimately owned. The problem might be more with the kind of guns people are allowed to own.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18957 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    But why? If you haven’t got access to a gun, then however much you might be inclined to an armed rampage, you’re not going to be able to actually do it.

    An acquaintance has been quoting literature on facebook in support of his argument that gun control wouldn’t help America with its violence problem. I haven’t followed the links to know of what quality they are. I will concede that this latest incident is probably as much a failure of mental health systems as gun control systems. Reports that the mother was stockpiling weapons because she was worried about people coming to get her wealth because of the Global Financial Crisis and the impending meltdown of society – I do despair.

    Certainly most American gun crime isn’t these sort of high profile shootings, it’s domestic violence, drug crime, armed robberies, gang warfare etc etc. Only some of that is going to be significantly impacted by gun control laws.

    Completely off topic, I’d encourage everyone to watch Finding Mercy TV1 tonight at 9.30. Story of an old friend and her trip back to Zimbabwe to find her childhood friend who has disappeared under the regime.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6201 posts Report Reply

  • David Cormack, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Man I'm getting Edgelered by you now too? You PA folks are sticklers for facts.

    I approve.

    Suburbia, Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 216 posts Report Reply

  • James Caygill,

    I think the whole "America will never change" argument I hear from within the US and from outside needs careful examination. Never say never.

    There are plenty of minor changes which might help at the margin's and I hope we see them pursued.

    But the fundamental truth is that you can't shoot someone if you don't have a gun. Solution: amend the constitution and delete the second amendment - it simply doesn't make sense in the 21st century.

    Having reached that conclusion you run into the storm of "it'll never happen" responses. Yet it's happened twenty-seven times already - including the decision to grant the right in the first place.

    Societies can and do change - including the US. Look at attitudes to civil rights....Think what Reagan would have thought of Marriage Equality. Hell, think what George W Bush thought of Marriage Equality.

    Bottom line - it takes a concerted campaign within a culture to change a culture. That's the only thing that will solve this problem.

    Christchurch • Since Oct 2007 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg,

    The apocalypse she expected never came.

    No, but an unexpected one did.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Tristan,

    Yes most of the rampages carried out have been with legally owned guns...the person who shot up the theater (how pleasant I have forgotten his name) got his through the bloody mail!

    I think many Americans have forgotten about the first part of the second amendment..."as part of a well regulated militia"

    I have this interesting idea ..if you want to own an assault weapon or hand gun then you need to be a member of the NRA and be approved by them.

    The NRA will also be compelled to operate safe storage facility for members to house their guns outside of the home. (i suspect they already do alot of this)

    If mass murders are committed with these guns then it should be on the head of the licencing authority

    Why the NRA in this? because they need to be part of the solution we need to bring them along or nothing will change

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 197 posts Report Reply

  • Stewart,

    There's a strange 'targetting' mindset at play too - schools represent the early authority figures who thwart the rampagers at a young age, focussing resentment against the schools, but they also represent a large number of easily-accessed targets at which to shoot.
    These people don't tend to rampage against better-protected groups of 'targets' who are fully capable of shooting back.

    Also, I was horrorstruck by the pro-gun lobbyist who stated that the gun-control people had these children's blood on their hands, for preventing the school authorities from having guns that could have been used to kill the perpetrator earlier.

    Te Ika A Maui - Waitakere… • Since Oct 2008 • 572 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    America's Teachers: Heroes or Greedy Moochers at the Public Trough? - Nation of Change:

    Just a couple of weeks ago, the Newtown school board, like school boards all over this country, was considering cutting the school’s elementary music program and library program. It should be noted that both the school librarian and the school music teacher, whose jobs were on the line at the school board, stayed with the kids they were teaching when the attack began.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6201 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Stewart,

    These people don't tend to rampage against better-protected groups of 'targets' who are fully capable of shooting back.

    like most bullies tend to be cowards

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16741 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    I will concede that this latest incident is probably as much a failure of mental health systems as gun control systems.

    There are two parts to that.

    First yes the violence was probably a failure of healthcare, something every country struggles with.

    Second the fact that access to guns was so easy meant he could kill so many so quickly.

    Guns make it incredibly easy to kill, so what might have been an act of violence becomes an act of murder.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3414 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to James Caygill,

    Societies can and do change – including the US.

    Also worth noting each state in the US has different laws. So it's easy to have really different gun laws. That allows some states to "trial" more rigorous gun laws and demonstrate that the end of the world didn't immediately occur.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3414 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Guns make it incredibly easy to kill, so what might have been an act of violence becomes an act of murder.

    Yes. Stricter gun controls probably still would have let his mother have guns, but probably not those guns, and now with that sort of ammunition capacity. The incident might still have happened, but there'd likely be a lot less bodies.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6201 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Kyle Matthews,

    An acquaintance has been quoting literature on facebook in support of his argument that gun control wouldn’t help America with its violence problem. I haven’t followed the links to know of what quality they are.

    The WaPo's Wonkblog cites Richard Florida's finding that states with gun-control laws have lower rates of gun death than those without, and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center's review:

    Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18957 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    , I’d encourage everyone to watch Finding Mercy TV1 tonight at 9.30

    Thanks, Kyle. This was pitched at the SPADA Big Pitch competition two years ago, and I am pleased to see it has got to air.

    Re Martin Bryant: the most heart-wrenching thing I recall about him was how he used to book flights around the world, to arbitary destinations, so he would be sitting next to someone for conversation.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2316 posts Report Reply

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