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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Simple Solutions to Tragedy

The tragic terrorist attack by white supremacist Dylann Roof in Charleston, South Carolina has brought out of the woodwork many "experts" who seem more interested in advancing their own agenda than in finding a solution to the problems that caused this terrorist action.

To begin, we need to be clear that this was nothing more or less than a terrorist action. Had the same act been carried out by a foreign national, there would be no hesitation to classify this tragedy as a terrorist attack. We have a reluctance to describe attacks by our own citizens as terrorist attacks, yet I believe a simple enough yardstick for determining whether or not an action is a terrorist attack is to examine how it would be classified if the perpetrator was a foreign national. Clearly, if a citizen of the Middle East had killed nine people in an American church the media would be reporting a terrorist attack. We need to be just as honest when the perpetrator is an American citizen.

I have noticed that experts in various areas, learned and intelligent people all, tend to believe that there particular area of expertise was the cause of the perpetrators actions. In other words, those who work with drug abuse and recovery see the reason for Dylann Roof's attack to be his use of drugs. Experts on racism see the reason for the attacks to be his racism and white supremacist views. Mental health experts believe it was mental illness that caused his terrorist action. Other experts see their area of expertise is the critical factor. While this is all very good in that it gets the expert a chance to appear on CNN or Faux News, the truth is that human behavior is never that simple. The truth is that unless we are talking about very simple, survival based actions like getting something to eat or drink, we are most often motivated by a number of factors including our beliefs, our psychological condition, substances we may ingest, our socioeconomic situation, whether or not our basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter are being met, and a host of other factors. To say that removing one of these many factors would "solve" the problem is nothing more than simplistic nonsense.

Similar faulty thinking occurs in the national debate around gun control. Those who believe that they have an unlimited, unrestricted right to whatever weapons they choose to own and use often cite the fact that there are other ways to kill people. They argue that more people are killed by other methods then are killed by guns each year. Whether or not their one "facts" are accurate is almost irrelevant. The real issue is whether or not life is precious, and if life is precious then we will want to save every life we can, not just those that are lost to the majority method of execution. It is long past time for handgun control in this country, and it matters little whether or not putting laws in place will mean that "only criminals will have guns." What matters is that having handgun control will prevent legally obtained weapons from being used in tragedies like the one at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. While it is true that other weapons could have been used in these attacks, such arguments missed the point. The point is that we need to make it as difficult as we can for unbalanced individuals to kill other people. There is no single solution which will eliminate all terrorist attacks. What we need to do is enact as many measures as we can in an interdisciplinary manner to reduce the likelihood of these tragedies.

To be sure, we also need to improve public health including mental health services for those who cannot afford them. We need to offer jobs in all parts of our country and to do so we will need to vote out of office the vast majority of our politicians who cater not to the needs of the people but rather to the needs of the corporation into their own greed so that our economy will improve. We need to improve education in all areas of our country so that our young people will be equipped to see through the simplistic arguments of hate organizations. We need to expose all of our citizens to people of other races and cultures and to provide education to increase understanding between our extremely diverse population. This is not an exhaustive list, these measures are just the start, but if we are to begin effectively we have to begin in a multidisciplinary manner. We have to move beyond the simplistic assertion that by changing just one of the many factors that are behind terrorist actions we can achieve meaningful reduction in those actions.

For that matter, our violence reduction initiatives in our cities suffer from the same simpleminded thought process. We believe that by changing just one factor we can reduce violence. In urban areas that suffer from poverty, hunger, almost no employment opportunities, substandard housing, substandard medical care, substandard education, and where the only thing that is plentiful is violence, no single measure is going to have significant impact. That doesn't mean that we should wait to initiate change until we can address all the issues, however. In our suburban areas where every Jim Bob and Bubba who is aware of his own impotence seems compelled to walk into a Walmart with a rifle strapped across his back, it isn't enough to make open carry illegal (although it is a good start), we need to address the reasons for his impotence including many of the same issues that are responsible for urban violence.

To someone mired in profound lack, a scapegoat becomes necessary. If I lack decent housing, adequate education, a living wage, a few dollars in my pocket, I will find somebody to blame and it won't matter the color of my skin or where I live. The Dylann Roofs of the world are susceptible to the appeal of hate organizations because they see no hope in the world around them. This is not to say, even for a moment, that they are not absolutely responsible for their actions. It is to say, however, that they represent a failure of our society on a colossal scale to meet the needs of its people. They are products of our greed, of our fear, of an un-realistic sense of lack among those who have more than enough, and of a failed and immoral political system. No single, simple solution is going to change that, but we need to start somewhere. Where we need to start is by asking ourselves a simple question. Do we want to live, and do we want our children and grandchildren to live, in this kind of world or do we want to make it better? And if we want to make it better then we simply cannot settle for the status quo.

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