America’s Problem With Violence

Gun violence is a problem.  Is America Really Serious about Solving it?

America’s problem with gun violence is serious and complicated.  It cannot be summarized with simple explanations, nor should it be politicized to prove a point.  Reducing the amount of guns in society is often pitched as a remedy to cure all ills.  Although guns play a major role in violence, there are other contributing factors. Reducing the violence requires all factors to be addressed.  This includes evaluating the ease in which people obtain dangerous weapons.  An objective analysis of all factors that contribute to America’s problem with violence is necessary to find solutions.

There is an adversarial relationship between gun rights advocates and gun control advocates.  It has devolved to the point where any suggestions made by either side are met with resistance, with each side using platitudes and simplified explanations to argue their point. The right prefers to blame violence on mental illness and failure to enforce the gun laws that are out there.  The left blames it on too many available guns in society. Rather than engaging in a nonpartisan dialogue, each side seems unwilling to compromise or give any ground.  The reciprocal resistance prevents the most important step, a serious analysis of the root causes of violence.

Root Causes of Gun Violence

Abraham Maslow’s breakdown of the “Hierarchy of Needs” sheds light on America’s propensity for violence. Most people have a need for stable self-respect and self-esteem. Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs: a “lower” version and a “higher” version. The “lower” version of esteem is the need for respect from others. This may include a need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. When the lower version of the esteem need overwhelms sensibilities, a nihilistic mind-frame emerges.  This mindset often precedes extreme violence.

The lower need for esteem is exacerbated by the glorification of violence in America.  This glorification feeds into the social need of many people to feel important.  When people commit acts of extreme violence, a break from reality often deceives them into believing that they committed an act of heroism. Heroism has been a part of a culture that has been influenced by machismo.  This is exacerbated by a multigenerational depiction of tough guys as heroes.

Violence, too often has been conflated with heroism.  Part of the gun violence problem is due to our culture which glamourizes violence (cowboy movies, gangster rap, heavy metal, action movies, etc.). It is an extension of machismo or machoism. Sometimes people lose touch with reality and see gun violence as a way to glory.

Many young males, driven by machismo, develop a socio-psychological need to express frustration. This frustration is often manifested in violence. Machismo-induced violence is a social disease driven by psychological pressures to conceal feelings of fear, hopelessness, or inadequacy. Being that these sentiments are the antithesis of masculinity, they are often hidden by men who have been socially conditioned to mask weaknesses and vulnerabilities. This causes pathological machismo (a pseudo-toughness that is often demonstrated in an ostentatious pretense of manhood). The paradox is that it is an expression of fear and insecurity rather than the masculinity it is intended to demonstrate.

The perception of being denied legal or socioeconomic justice is a powder keg for pathological machismo. In many people it brings about a feeling of powerlessness. This causes anger and frustration that can boil into rage. Rage is often expressed by those who lack the emotional maturity to resist social pressures. These pressures can be exacerbated by a socioeconomic hierarchal system that uses materialistic gauges to measure esteem, social status, and success. Pressure increases when opportunities for upward economic mobility are scarce.  This often causes frustration, anger, and resentment. When these emotions are not managed and they penetrate a culture, the probability of violence increases. The anger and rage can be alleviated by giving young people opportunities to boost their self-esteem.

Understanding how Breaking Points Play a Role in Gun Violence

Gun rights advocates try to deflect by assigning absolute blame to mental health issues. Mental health issues are frequently caused by emotional instability and/or emotional scarring. Although a reduction of guns in society would help, the discussion of gun violence shouldn’t be limited to a discussion of gun control. People commit acts of mass murder when they reach a breaking point.

In developing a strategy, we should do a thorough analysis of  the relationship of people reaching breaking points and the consequential emergence of pervasive cultures of violence. We must resist the temptation to instinctively blame violence on mental health problems. This allows members of the legal system to label people and deprive them of justice. Instead, we should be alert when we believe people are close to reaching breaking points. Breaking points, although different in each person, they are not usually induced by one event, but by a culmination of various contributing factors.

Breaking points are often reached in seemingly unresolvable situations of financial distress. These points are also reached when people experience emotional trauma, or when people believe that they are being disrespected, disparaged, or condescended. The result is the emergence of a culture of resistance and rebellion where people instinctively lash out. This culture is prevalent among young people, particularly in communities where the sentiment is that they are being denied justice.

A common factor of people who commit acts of violence is that they often are social outcasts.  People who feel isolated, persecuted or excluded from social participation are more susceptible to violent impulses.  Their propensity for  having emotional scars or resentments towards society often precede violence.  When a person is isolated or ostracized, he or she is more likely to harbor the type of resentments that can boil into rage and subsequently violent behavior.  As an outcast becomes further disconnected, social inhibitors that often restrain violent behavior are released. This combination of factors often leads to the reaching of a breaking point and sets a precedent for lone wolf attacks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *