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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 5/31/22

Save the Children -- of America Now!

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Save the Children -- of America Now!

by John Kendall Hawkins

Almost everybody agrees that the toughest thing about all these endless acts of violence -- school shootings, fascist white knees in Black "I can't breathe" necks, and gun violence across America in general, is that nobody seems to know what to do about it. Such violence is an epidemic for which there appears to be no solution, no vaccine. It's frustrating, and when mixed in with the general malaise and Covid controversies and more wasteful war overseas sucking the treasury dry again for little discernible gain than to violently resist an inevitable collapse of our 'exceptional' democracy -- a collapse brought on by the Bastards we elect refusing to listen to the demos. Recently, Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen, a Ralph Nader-inspired initiative that seeks to redress some of the many failing of our current systemic flaws observed the following "deadly trends":

-The United States is the only country on the entire planet with more guns (at least 400 million and counting) than people (335 million). No other country has even half as many guns per capita as we do.

-The number of guns manufactured in America has nearly tripled over the past two decades, from 3.9 million in 2000 to 11.3 million in 2020. (And it's not as if guns wear out like light bulbs, refrigerators, or cars.)

-We endure more mass shootings than all other developed countries combined. It's not even close.

-The frequency - and body count - of mass shootings has increased as well.

-13 of the 20 deadliest mass shootings since 1982 happened in just the past decade.

-There were 118 school shootings in 2018, doubling the previous record of 59. Then 119 in 2019. Then 114 in 2020. Then 249 (not a typo) in 2021. And already 137 so far in 2022 (with more than half the year still to go).

-The 3 deadliest years for school shootings in the past half-century are 2018, 2021, and 2022 (which, again, isn't quite halfway over yet).

-Guns have become the leading cause of death among children in our country. Not disease. Not malnutrition. Not accidents. (Auto accidents had been the leading cause of death among children for decades until overtaken by guns in 2020.)

Weissman's observations are reinforced by a study by Johns Hopkins University, 2020 Gun Deaths in the US. Here is a graphic from their study that drives the grim picture home:

Death by Gun Stats 2020
Death by Gun Stats 2020
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See the accompanying Johns Hopkins Report.

This is terrifying information to see looking back at us from the broken mirror of innocence, as the Bard from Duluth has it. Especially awful is the suicide rate (24,000 people in 2020) and the last stat about young people under 30. We aren't listening to the inheritors of the Earth.

If we are anxious about having on hand a profile of would-be school shooters, we may be doing so at the risk of not tending to the survivors essential needs following the tragic events. The routines and expectations and established general safety of a school environment are ruptured with such shootings. A Penn Sate University study, citing the American Psychological Association, sums up the common effects of surviving youngsters:

Witnessing a school shooting can have emotional, psychological, and physical effects. These effects include nightmares, resisting the return to school, headaches, stomach problems, and sleeping problems (Sweet, nd). The American Psychological Association reports other symptoms such as a change in a child's school performance, changes in relationships with friends and teachers, anxiety, and loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed (APA, 2014). Beland & Kim (2014) found that schools that experience shootings have a decline in grade nine enrollment, and that math and English test rates dropped. Students who have witnessed violent crimes also show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Beland & Kim, 2014).

This is truly devastating for a community.

Kids have had enough of the violence
Kids have had enough of the violence
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We adults have failed our children miserably, leaving them a world of horror ahead. We could begin with our partly knee-jerk reaction to the false but stabilizing Canon mentality that once (in my childhood) saw heroes and universal virtues and roots in the grand thoughts of our ancient heritage derived from the Greeks and Romans. Relativism is more honest, but harder to hang a hat on. If kids rarely call adults hypocrites anymore, because they don't see any real belief or conviction in anything. Lots of meaningless talk and tweets and tiktoks and YouTube viral truths. We talk sh*t all day, online and off. And all of this constant noise is reinforced by the mainstream media's endless stream of banality and inanity.

This ritualized lobotomy that we willingly undergo everyday has even disturbed some of the founding engineers of social media. A number of them have dropped out. Their disaffection and worry for our collective future is well-articulated in the recent film, The Social Dilemma. Here is Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google, struggling to describe the malaise:

We are falling apart at the seems, losing a grip on "reality," just as we "merge" with theAI experience -- itself controlled by techie wonks with too much money and too little interest in humanity. The AI agents bear a striking resemblance to psychopaths. Think the melting T2 cop.

Lately, article after article is suggesting that we are losing our children to depression and suicidal ideation. It's not always clear why. We know that long Covid has claimed some children. (See MIT Review's "A battle is raging over long covid in children") Another government report points to a rise in Covid-related depression. But there are other indicators out there that psychological states are being quietly affected by our craziness. In April, New Yorker published a piece that flags a crisis, "The Mystifying Rise of Child Suicide." Not that long ago, NPR told drive time listeners "A Rise In Depression Among Teens And Young Adults Could Be Linked To Social Media Use." It goes on and on. Depression is on the rise. And it's a truism that depression is often a form of suppressed anger.

That's the general picture. As for the continuing incidents of school shootings in America, we wonder collectively how we can make it less likely to happen again. We want to profile people we've already designated as being different. We want to look at socio-economic inequities. How authority figures -- school personnel, cops, politicians -- fail us. Years ago, in an article that appeared in Honolulu's Civil Beat paper (the germinal publication, financed by Pierre Omidyar, that inspired The Intercept), Dr. Mark Stitham, a board-certified psychiatrist in child, adult and forensic psychiatry on Oahu, is cited to describe a "type":

No one really knows for sure but there are common themes of extreme alienation, poor social skills and severe low esteem. After all, killing is the ultimate control over others, albeit in a horrific way.

But more recently, this common sentiment -- alienation combined with sociological factors -- has been walked back some. The National Association of School Psychologists, for instance, stresses in their list of determining the Threat Assessment at School,

There is NO profile of a student who will cause harm. There is no easy formula or profile of risk factors that accurately determines whether a student is going to commit a violent act. The use of profiling increases the likelihood of misidentifying students who are thought to pose a threat.

This latter conclusion raises the possibility that our American "norm" -- i.e. what constitutes normal behavior and thinking (see Rorschach tests, where it's common to see coronavirus-like bats) -- is fucked in the head. Having 400 million guns on hand in the country is kind of a red flag, don't you think?

In the 1970s, as America began its relativistic de-cocooning 'butterflies are free' climb into enlightenment, called deinstitutionalization, that emptied the mental institutions (and rightly so) Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, an important figure in the 'release them' movement, manhandled our "common" notion of reality. In a famous quote from The Politics of Experience, he wrote:

The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one's mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years.

That was some 20th century, huh? Now, what were you saying about evolution?

Doesn't stop there with Laing. Several years ago I read a piece in the Guardian in which his son, Adrian, lashes out at him in "My father, RD Laing: 'he solved other people's problems - but not his own'." This, in turn, reminded me of something Timothy Leary once observed about Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs on the road to becoming,

Maslow was a very influential transitional person between medical psychiatry and humanist inner-potential, do-it-yourself psychology. The paradox was, as everybody knows, that Abe himself was a deeply depressed person. Abe told me once he never had a peak experience.

Do as I say. Drop the acid.

And Laing's tropes were borrowed in part from the God-killer, Nietzsche, who once quipped, de-contextualized here for effect, "Madness is rare in individuals - but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule." Nietzsche, of course, ended his days in a loony bin, after a bout of horse whispering in Turin, and, he wrote in a letter to a friend, "I go everywhere in my student's coat, and here and there slap somebody on the shoulder and say, Siamo contenti? Son dio ho fatto questa caricatura. (Are we not content? I am the god who created this caricature.). It was before deinstitutionalization. Then Eizabeth, his sister, gave Hitler her brother's unfinished work, The Will to Power and people died in great numbers, like Laing said. Sieg heilig Jesus!

But getting back to Public Citizen, there is a plan and energy to fight back. People who want to do something, within the rule of law, and exercising the full right and obligation of citizenry to express outrage and to demand change in legislation and in representation, would be wise to sign on to their newsletter and get a signature on their petitions.

What else can we do? Take long breaks from social media and the MSM on TV. The white noise. Get off the grid on vacations and take more vacations.

What other things can we do to tweak and support and shore up our failing democracy?

- Term limits (retroactive if possible)

- More political parties

- Gun legislation that outlaws semi-automatic weapons

- Free university tuition (all student debt forgiven, the money released for spending in the economy)

- Free universal medical care

- Refusing to let Big Insurance call exposure to Covid-19 a pre-existing condition

- the rise of new curricula featuring science and technology, as well as delivery systems such as through mixed learning environments -- part classroom, part Zoom

- luxury taxes on corporations (money grabbed from them to pay for public needs)

- cap on military spending, perhaps implemented at first by way of executive order

- reverse Glass-Steagall; defenestrate the Weasel

- new legislation to prevent Congresspeople from taking positions in corporations where they were lobbied

- Reparations paid to the American public for 20 years of wasted fund overseas wars that produced nothing but an excuse more wars and the spending of more tax dollars. It makes you crazy to think about it. Now they're on to a new war with our tax money.

- minimum wage to $25 an hour

No doubt, reader, you have your own thoughts on these matters, and I welcome your feedback. I believe the trick is to be rational and distanced and legislative-minded -- like Ralph Nader, our hero.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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