How are we to understand the psychology of the gun violence that afflicts American society?
Peter Michaelson goes to great lengths to describe the aberrant psychology of an individual who would slaughter innocent strangers, in an article recently published by Buzzflash on the "The Psychology Behind Mass Shootings" [click here
What mainstream psychology ignores about mass murderers:
While such an analysis can provide important insights and is a necessary contribution to reducing such violence, it is at the same time extremely one-sided and unfortunately displays a bias that is typical of mainstream psychology. This is particularly evident when Michaelson writes, "our suffering is produced through inner conflict --we have nowhere to turn for relief but inward."
Imagine telling a child who is being sexually abused by his caregiver that his suffering is simply a result of inner conflict. Or explaining to victims of superstorm Sandy who are being denied aid by squabbling Republicans that they will just have to seek inner relief. Then try to convince African-Americans that the bigotry they have experienced the last 200 years is strictly a result of and must be addressed on the level of their individual psychology.
While it is true that, as Michaelson wrote, "We have to learn that our negative impressions, impulses, and emotions are not caused exclusively by external factors, even when life is difficult and seems unfair" so that we will learn to "stop projecting on to others," it also is true that external factors have a profound influence on our inner psychology. Michelson's bias leads him to pathologize rampage shooters at length, but apart from a few remarks about gun control he says next to nothing about our society that glorifies, propagates and turns a blind eye to violence.
In an interview, psychologist James Hillman remarked:
I am attacking the theories of psychotherapy. . . . It makes every problem a subjective, inner problem. And that's not where the problems come from. They come from the environment, the cities, the economy, the racism. They come from architecture, school systems, capitalism, exploitation. They come from many places that psychotherapy does not address. Psychotherapy theory turns it all on you: you are the one who is wrong. What I'm trying to say is that, if a kid is having trouble or is discouraged, the problem is not just inside the kid; it's also in the system, the society.
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