In Light of Uvalde: America is Part of this Problem: Part 2

Screenshot of victims, 19 school children and two adults at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, from WKMG News Report, Orlando, YouTube video
Author screenshot of victims, 19 school children and two adults at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, from WKMG News Report, Orlando, YouTube video

A thoughtful comment and a question from a reader, prompts this second installment of “In Light of Uvalde.” Here’s what the reader wrote:

Good article. And here is, perhaps, the odd thing. My brother and I, both children of the ’60s, used to play cowboy all the time in the back yard. We even had toy guns which shot plastic bullets that stung if they hit you (not available anymore today of course). We watched Roy Rogers, Have Gun Will Travel, all those “classic” TV westerns, and neither of us has killed or injured anyone with anything, let alone a gun. I’ve never even owned a gun, nor do I want to. And I’m pro-gun control. So, did something change between ca. 1965 and ca. 1990? I don’t like to mention “social media” as a possible scapegoat, since I’m using “social media” to write this, but, though tendencies toward violence are, I think inherent in American culture, how much of a role has “Social Media” played? I watched “The Wild Bunch” when it came out in 1969 and didn’t feel the need to go shoot somebody when I walked out of the theater. So, what the hell is it?

I couldn’t start to answer this, I’m a writer not a therapist, social worker or anything close. Fortunately, my daughter, who teamed with me to do Part 1 is an LCSW, a social worker and a therapist. Here’s her take:

Great question! This is where mental health steps into the equation. You’ve never felt the compulsion to harm anyone after watching a violent movie because, I assume, you are not living with a pervasive psychiatric disorder.

In most cases involving mass shootings, the reason we see the shooter is a young male is because this is the typical age we see the mental health issue we have long suspected within them really begin to hijack their frontal lobe.

One factor in this is that the frontal lobe is typically not fully developed in males until late teens to early twenties. A male who is in that age bracket may engage in risky or inappropriate behavior, but as their frontal lobe continues to mature, they mature emotionally and behaviorally as well. The frontal lobe controls the types of functions that keep you from walking out of a movie theatre after seeing a violent movie and wanting to act out what you saw.

The frontal lobe impacts problem solving, judgment, insight, and the big key factor here, impulse control. Humans have varied degrees of frontal lobe development. Someone may have frontal lobe deficits from a neurological issue they are born with or from something that develops later, such as a trauma, an injury, or a condition, such as a mental health disorder. Having deficits in frontal lobe functioning is actually quite common and does not at all mean a person with these deficits will be violent, or even be unable to live a healthy and functional life. These deficits vary greatly in terms of acuity and impact to functioning. Sometimes minimal, sometimes very debilitating. However, when a person is living with a disorder that causes faulty thoughts, such as delusions, which we see in all of the mass shooter profiles, and you pair that with serious and acute deficits in impulse control, judgment, problem solving, and insight, and we include in that mix possible symptoms such as psychosis, paranoia, narcissism, and inability or lack of ability to feel empathy for others pain (remorse and guilt) we see clearly there is a very frightening pathway to carry out violent acts in that person.

This is very similar to why some can drink alcohol in moderation and others cannot control their consumption due to faulty messages and compulsions that are neurobiological, which is what we diagnosis as an alcohol use disorder.

This is why I suggested in the original article on Uvalde, that this is a 3-part problem. It is multilayered and cannot be addressed adequately if we only focus on one element of the equation. One being the glorification of violence.

There are those who may wish to continue watching that torture scene, and can do so without issue, but there are others who will be inspired. This is why I do not at all support censorship, but rather, that we as consumers not demand the media sugar, especially for young people, who we know have not fully matured, and are integrating these images as being normal, and often, as being a symbol of coolness, strength, admiration, respect, control, and power.

If you are a disenfranchised person who is bullied, avoided, and feels different inside, and you have a mental health disorder brewing, being viewed as respected, cool, strong, admired, and powerful may be exactly what you’re seeking.

Being in control when you always feel out of control is an incredible lure for someone with faulty thoughts and delusions. Sharing those feelings on social media is all the more empowering, which further drives our seemingly collective acceptance with the notion that violence is mainstream, starting a chain reaction of social media promotion of the latest weapon obtained or teases of grandiose ideas and plans. Social media can be a positive tool for social connection. It can also be a toxic platform for attention seeking.

Let’s send messages to our youth and adults alike that inspire them to be empowered outside of violence. Let’s look inside and see why we find it entertaining to watch others be hurt or killed in unimaginable ways.

It’s time we evaluate our addiction to violence.

We are at the point that we can’t consume it at the levels we do and suggest we aren’t at minimum craving violence. You are able to consume a few and go on your way, but for others, it’s an addiction, an obsession, and sadly for those with a pervasive mental health disorder, all too often these days, a solution.

Thank you for your question and for your thoughtful comments and question.

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Recipient, 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, his chapbook Political is the 2021 American Writing Awards winner in poetry; see https://bit.ly/3MHXYQO

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Howard Richard Debs

Howard Richard Debs

Recipient, 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, his chapbook Political is the 2021 American Writing Awards winner in poetry; see https://bit.ly/3MHXYQO

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