There is a choice we are all faced with throughout the course of our lives. It’s a simple choice, while at the same time endlessly complicated. The choice is one between fear and love. These two polar opposites often go hand in hand sadly enough, with the love we hold for those dearest to us and the fear we have of losing them.
There is no greater personal tragedy, no greater individual injustice than for a parent to have to bury their own children. They are supposed to bury us, yet all too often this is the opposite of what happens. As the nation collectively mourns and remembers the twenty-six lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary which took place just over a year ago, yet another senseless act of violence erupted in another school, this time in Colorado.
While one victim of this recent violence clings to life after being shot in the head, another, the gunman, is dead. And while many may in some senses celebrate or be thankful for the minimal loss of life and the fact that the shooter no longer counts among the living, no amount of such relative mitigation can alleviate the terror and fear involved.
This image, a screen capture of a text message conversation between a student and her parents, is perhaps one of the more palpable examples of just what such fear is.
Just scared. This has become a mainstay of American culture. Fear, terror, the constant wonder when we or those we love may be senselessly and violently taken from us. And while partisans and pundits leap at the opportunities presented to make hay of such tragedies, seeking to advance agendas, condemn the “other side” for this-and-that, and polemically debate the virtues and vices of their respective ideologies, so little is said in regards to the constant fear this nation is drowning in.
The fear and the violence which both causes and is fed by such, is not rooted exclusively in guns or in mental health, but more likely, in a corruption of our national, cultural character as Americans. We lead the advanced, industrialized world in terms of gun violence rates. While touting ourselves as the richest, most prosperous and most advanced nation in the world, we at the same time, also lay claim to being one of the most violent, paranoid and isolated cultures as well.
So why then, are we so violent and so reactionary? Why is it that at every turn, we’re both presented with new stories and acts of violence as well as with calls, suggestions and impulses to stock up on weapons, lock our doors, shutter our windows and view everyone we don’t know (and sometimes everyone we do) as potential threats to everything we love? Why is it that even when we give in to these calls to do so, all under the pretenses that it will make us safer, do we feel less safe and find ourselves inevitably confronted with even more violence and madness?
The answer, as complicated as it is, is also quite simple. Fear.
Our violence problem in America is one which is enhanced and encouraged by our love and sometimes obsession with guns, but not necessarily caused by it. Likewise, mental illness and outright raving madness, while an undeniably relevant factor in such, also is not the root cause of our woes. Rather, our violence problem is a problem rooted with our violence as a people. Our romanticizing of conflict and bloodshed and our growing disconnect from and fear of our fellow citizens.
Following most any violent tragedy, like clockwork, reactionary voices will immediately call for more guns, more “security,” more suspicion, paranoia and fear. They will point to the horrors of blood and tragedy as being emblematic of the world and society as a whole and will leap at the opportunity to spread more in the name of preventing those things.
And throughout it all, for the polarizing, often senseless banter that is bandied back and forth between the sides which entrench themselves against one another, seldom if ever are calm and mindful thoughts ever heard above the noise and static.
In his 2002 documentary “Bowling For Columbine,” filmmaker Michael Moore explored the roots and realities of gun violence as well as those of fear in modern America. His film, which was both hailed for its insights, as well as lambasted endlessly by the ardent, all-or-nothing pro-gun lobby, touched upon concepts which we repeatedly find echoed throughout our popular culture, entertainment and common philosophies.
The self-sustaining cycles of terror, the dangerous of ultra-individualist isolation and the reality that regardless of one’s political disposition or opinions, at the end of the day, we are all one people, united by our common bonds of love and hope.
It is not guns, nor madness, but fear which creates and sustains the horrors we are confronted with. A madman massacres a school. Religious fanatics attack and kill masses of people. Threats, rumors of threats and a feeling of violent inevitability circulate through our culture and for it all, the end result remains the same.
We’re told to buy more guns, carry them everywhere, be ready and prepared at all times for an inescapable reality of further bloodshed and mayhem which supposedly awaits us around every corner. Strangers become potential enemies and those enemies, as they grow in number through our paranoia and observation, soon come to surround us, driving us further away from one another.
Our isolation prevents communication. The absence of communication, prohibits understanding. Without understanding, madness goes untreated. Untreated madness turns to rage, fear and further isolation. The pressure builds, a seal breaks, blood is spilled and the cycle begins all over again. And all of this extends even beyond the individual micro-verse of school shootings, rampages and terrified citizenry.
To Americans, war itself has become an everyday reality, with endless self feeding, self-sustaining conflicts spreading across the globe, causing endless cycles of bloodshed, bombings, retribution and retribution for said retribution, all of which ultimately becoming an ouroboros.
Even before the more recent spates of mass shootings and endless war, these cycles were apparent and often explored through popular culture. In his 1993 stand up special, comedian Bill Hicks eloquently laid out the choices we face as society.
It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.
Perhaps it may be naive to think we as a species or society will ever totally evolve beyond our cycles of violence, fear and hatred, however to merely accept such as the inevitable “way things just are,” is truly tantamount to a surrender to the darker aspects of our human nature.
For without the impulse and drive to strive for more, to move beyond the base, primitive instincts and reactions which feed the very sources of our horror, misery and discontent, all of our progress, our wealth, our art, our philosophy and our collective knowledge and intellect is all nothing more than simple vanity.
An ape, marveling at itself in a mirror, without the slightest thoughts as to what the mirror is, or where it came from.
To hear Hick’s full quote on the choices of Love and Fear, watch this clip: