A recent shooting in my home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa brought together a group of authors in our local "Writers Circle to publish a series of articles about violence in our community. Here is my submission;
We have a problem with violence in Cedar Rapids. We have a problem with violence in the U.S. Violence is a tragic global problem. What are the biological, social and economic forces that contribute to our evolutionary development as the most violent species on this planet? The intelligence to forge tools also provides a double-edged sword capability to produce lethal weapons.
There is a common thread in most violent human action: territoriality. There is a continuum of violence from a drug turf war that leads to violent attacks in our own community to our political war activity of taking territory and resources held by others by extreme violence. It is difficult to hold a moral high ground to condemn and judge youth killing youth in our own community, when the violent attack of others is built into the very DNA of our collective political existence. We have a moral obligation to defend ourselves, but clear facts demonstrate that much of modern war is by choice. We have major portions of our local and national economy dependent on continual war, so we rush to battle long before all other intelligent diplomatic options are exhausted. We all then have the responsibility to develop a creative, just and healthy society that exists beyond the scourge of violence.
The U.S. was forged on the bloody edge of mass genocide. European settlers arrived in ships to find a fertile land. This exceptional land was captured from its sovereign indigenous inhabitants with the force of musket, bayonet and field cannon. Territoriality expressed through force is the root of our history. Eighty to 90 percent of the indigenous peoples of North America perished from a disastrous combination of outright murder, the introduction of new strains of disease and the immoral and forcible removal from their rightful home territory such as the infamous Trail of Tears.
Indigenous people of the African continent were brought to this land by violent force to plow, to labor and die without human freedom and dignity. The long historic shadow of racism darkens our national experience to this day.
Our present human population is the missing link between a savage and a civilized culture. We cannot yet claim to be a civilized species when violence remains intrinsic to the human condition. We all are shocked when one of our children in this community falls to an early death by gunshot. We are even more shocked to learn that this young victim was murdered by another child. There are no easy solutions to such tragedy. Children are fed countless images of violent acts from an early age by our mass culture of violence. From violent TV to Gangster rap, violence is a packaged consumer product. Our mass media presents a constant barrage of characters that settle their disputes with a gun. Violence is desensitized and normalized as result.
From soul-crushing poverty to the millions sacrificed to endless war, violence marches on. Violence is a deeply ingrained human disease. A disease cannot be cured only by treating the symptoms. Finding the root causes of any disease is the first step to a cure. The roots of human violence are deep. The cure requires a profound cultural shift. Such a shift is a shared work.
In our own community, much of our street violence rises out of systemic poverty and despair. A youth who does not see a clear road forward to a healthy, prosperous and happy adult life feels that they in fact have no future. If you have no future, then your life and the lives of others have no value. Violence is an outlet for such existential despair.
Is this community ready to ask the difficult questions to find a new way into a future free of violence? We can find the solution to a problem only by facing its root cause. That takes courage.