9"x 12" mixed media
on canvas panel
It also isn't about the 2nd Amendment, the use of violence in entertainment or the growing numbers of extremists factions making themselves known to you through your social media.
No, this is all about our American culture of Fear that produces a climate where gun violence is an accepted part of our lifestyle and extremist ideologies are given airtime as legitimate viewpoints.
I graduated high school in 1998. During my senior year, my school in rural Georgia was evacuated no less than three times for threats of pipe bombs, one of which was valid. I am also old enough to remember the phrase "going postal" is a reference to the barrage of workplace shootings at postal facilities going back to 1983.
I also watched live coverage of Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Empire State Building shooting, and reports on people like Eric Robert Rudolph, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, Buford O. Furrow, Jr. and the Unabomber. (For additional research, other information can be found here and here.)
That said, the methodology behind orchestrating mass death had been with us for a quite a while before two armed teenagers stepped into Columbine High School. So I'm repeating now what I said back then standing on the school lawn: For some reason, no one ever asks what it is about our society that makes people explode violently in the first place.
That reason is fear.
Fear is the silent partner riding in the elevator with Americans while the world watches our culture decline. And that partner has gained a lot of control in the last twenty years. So much that this recent year saw more dishevel in parts of our Democratic Republic than any other. But illness is like that. It starts slow, then it spreads to other organs to wreck havoc. There's not an aspect of our way of life that hasn't been affected by it. The increase in violence we're seeing reflects this trend.
Think about it for a moment.
The American Dream may have been built on the ideas of determined effort, sustainable livelihood, and the individual pursuit of happiness. But more often than not, we've ended up in the American Nightmare of capitalistic material acquisition and status attained by any means necessary. We've generously rewarded people for being white-collar criminals, business moguls of ruthless ambition and cultural icons of moral bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, our citizens have been broadsided by a global economy where our employers no longer respect or require workers with high-minded ideas of comfortable retirement, fair healthcare, and proper pay. The Recession never left the ghost towns of Smalltown America and the poor neighborhoods in our Inner Cities. The dust in them is barely a decade old. Yet the survivors of these minute tragedies are only offered center stage when their suffering can help elect undeserving politicians who care more for lobbyist money than our populace.
The result is a pressure cooker society of elite morphing into superficial mannequins with plastic beauty and unlimited assets. Meanwhile, the rest of us are routinely terrified by coverage of domestic and foreign threats, both real and imagined, to keep us in line. The levels of psychosis and neurosis stemming from this diseased climate are unprecedented. This is why the majority of the world's black market drug trade ends up being used inside our borders and alcohol remains largely unregulated: Escapism is a necessity as an American.
And our youth have been absorbing this shocking level of dysfunction since birth.
They've seen myriad instances where technology matters more than human life. They understand status currently dictates your right to a valid existence in every sector of society. They can be humiliated by an international online club of anonymous people at any time. They have a miniature Library of Alexandria in the palm of their hands educating them with fun facts about the lies they've been told regarding our sanitized American history. And they learn these lessons while witnessing the adults around them succumbing to vice, vitriol, and violence.
Seeing all of this, hearing all this - it makes you so numb, you can't feel. So people are out here causing themselves and others pain through reckless behavior to feel alive. For that matter, so are a lot of our adults. But most of us don't bother to do anything about our societal neuropathy. Why? Because fear makes money. So does conflict. And war.
The pressure in our culture convinces people the only way out of this elaborate glittering American facade is to go with a bang of violence, the lure of drug overdose, or the whisper of suicide. We tend to glorify all of these deaths, using them as stones we throw in an endless battle over our choice of the same political party dressed up in blue or red.
And even though all humans share a common ancestry, Americans are stuck on notions of crayola shades, gender hues, and which is superior. It's easier to point to this group or that movement as the source of our national malaise. It's harder to admit that many of us contributed to this with our apathetic attitudes that it's all someone else's problem to fix.
But we are all crayons now, beautiful colors easily snapped by too much pressure. We keep sending the broken ones to trash heaps of mourning. The sound of our thoughts and prayers merely covers up a glaring fact: We've been sleepwalking in this country for two decades now, just to avoid Change.
But the change we need is not a movement. It's a reality, a state of altering one's self to align with the common good for All. There's no hashtag that can explain it. No media outlet can cover it. There's not a single group talking about it. The true revolution occurs within, where product placement and social media do not exist. It starts with ys.
The path of violence exists before someone picks up a gun or creates a bomb. The first footstep occurs when fearful individuals allow anger to take the reigns of thought, speech, and mannerisms. The journey progresses when we choose to be entertained by opinionated people spouting hatred and ignore the bigoted speeches in our own communities. And this road will always result in death if we keep turning blind eyes towards obvious injustice and alienation directed at people who are different from us.
Also, keep in mind that your screens are not reality. Much of what you watch and read is chosen by an algorithm based on your previous searches. You liking guns and your neighbor being a vegan have two things in common: you both spend money and are examples of caricatures used to create a very profitable form of division in this country. So when you walk outside your door, you've got a head full of fears based on incidents that may have never even happened in your immediate environment. And the big conspiracy here is that all of this is done simply to make you a better consumer who votes predicatively.
The state of the American populace is this:
Consciously Awake vs. Consciously Placated.