Archive for » December, 2012 «

More commonplace killing

 

I wrote a post on 21 July 2012 (after a shooting at a US cinema during a ‘Batman’ film release) under the title ‘Commonplace killing’. The intent was to highlight how these events serve to bring out the worn and tired responses that ensure nothing will change. News today is of yet another unimaginable mass US killing – of 6 year old kids this time – (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-20744701). It has led to near identical reactions to those that earlier mass murders evoked  – starting from B. Obama and going all the way up to the decent man in the US street. We can be sure nothing will change.

To test out a hypothesis, I phoned or emailed a few friends and other contacts saying this was a reflection mostly of the powers-that-be ensuring that nothing will change, while allowing room for much public hand-wringing and vacuous debate about that killer’s mind. I said to them that gun control would, for example, be ruled out of serious discussion as ‘inappropriate’ at this time of acute grief. I also asked whether they thought that some people would claim that the US government too could be accused of knowingly and deliberately killing innocent children, in other countries.

Responses fell into one of two classes. Those in one (a minority among people I contacted) agreed that gun control will not result from this latest killing – or even from hundreds more such shootings. All those who said this also held that the US was guilty of the deliberate killing of children – and mentioned Pakistan, Iraq, drones and sanctions. The others – the majority – held almost completely the opposite view. They said the US media were not controlled, unlike in Sri Lanka, and that the killing would lead to active debate and action if the majority of people in the US wanted gun control. They also felt it would be in poor taste, if not disgusting, if anyone were to use this tragedy to sling mud at the US, by claiming that it too indulged in senseless killing of children in poorer countries.

My original hypothesis was that their opinions on the US shootings and its causes would correlate well with their view on Sri Lanka’s current political furore regarding a completely different matter. And the results strongly confirmed my hypothesis. Those who I knew were more attuned to the current position of the Sri Lanka government in the the totally unrelated impeachment matter were the same individuals who held the first view on the US shooting. Those who were opposed the Sri Lankan government’s stance in the present political controversy all happened to belong to the second group on their view of the US shooting – namely, that the killing was simply a senseless act by a madman, and no more than a law enforcement matter.

How on earth does this happen? Near perfect correlation between opinions on seemingly unrelated matters deserves closer study, I’d say – unless of course it is simply coincidence resulting from my having asked only five people! If you think it is coincidence alone, given the small number I asked, I invite you to test the hypothesis yourself. Start by examining your own opinion on the two (I think unrelated) matters.

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A post script (22.12.12)

Gun control is being talked about in the US already, it appears. Makes sense. But guns are of course not the only factor.

What about the culture of violence and mass shootings in that country? Or the acceptance by some (few?) US policymakers of the ‘collateral’ killing of children in other nations to ‘secure’ the USA? And of course the normalization of violence through games and media?  A recent report strengthens evidence of violent games as a likely factor leading to violence. (The higher the number of hours playing violent games the greater the aggression, we are told: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/776406?src=wnl_edit_medn_psyc&spon=12)

It may be time for us in Sri Lanka to start discouraging violence in the media and electronic games. We need to reduce acceptance of violence and force within all of society too – from the gross examples to the subtle. This extends from being open about how we see the mindless display of weapons by security escorts (who think them grand) to discouraging the provision of ‘killer’ toys as good fun for (boy) children.

Quite a different (and generally hidden) association has resurfaced after the Newtown (US) shooting: taking certain medications.  A soft source for science information (http://healthland.time.com/2011/01/07/top-ten-legal-drugs-linked-to-violence/#ixzz2FXyIxoks) had indicated associations between taking certain antidepressants (called SSRIs) and aggression. It listed something like an almost eight-fold increase of violence, compared to other drugs, for desvenlafxine, a 10 fold increase with fluoxetine and 18 fold with varenicline.  Another source now lists a collection of some 60 school killings and assaults involving people on SSRI anti-depressants http://ssristories.com/index.php?sort=date&p=school.

Is control of prescription-happy psychiatrists as important as gun-control?

 

(An aside:  I ask those who have been kind enough to post me comments to avoid direct responses through this site. These get drowned in loads of spam and are hard to access. Do please send comments or criticisms, if there are any you wish to convey, in a separate email to samara-singhe@hotmail.com)

 

Religion’s Cardinal Sins – 4

 

Fourth in Diyanath’s list of religion’s cardinal sins is Permanence.

Permanence carries many threats – just as the third in our list of religion’s cardinal sins, simplification, does. The quality of unquestionable and everlasting truth is a sin partly because it flouts one of our major commandments: you shall not insist on the supremacy of the simple explanation, when its inadequacy is obvious to the thinking majority. Many of the damaging consequences of having to put beyond question the eternal legitimacy of any doctrine are obvious. Not least among these is the burden placed on believers to jump interminably through some seriously challenging cognitive hoops, to maintain self-respect.

A different kind of damage, from that of having to sustain the idea of everlasting truth of a doctrine, also results from permanence. This arises from what the notion does to our world view in general. Permanence (of legitimacy and applicability) is not only a feature of religious belief but also a quality that we are unsuspectingly led to attribute to ourselves and the universe. We are made almost to feel that being eternal is the natural state of things. Religion then happily offers the remedy to the discomfort associated with confronting troublesome reminders of our transience. Hidden beneath this all is the view that life is unsatisfactory, because impermanent.

We may want to question this teaching. Seeing impermanence as suffering or as an aberration to be corrected by escape into an everlasting empire, is but one view. It could be considered a view that robs us of life. Religion is a solution for those who cannot see that transience is what makes life a delight. Most of us may be capable of embracing change and the finality of death as a means of experiencing greater joy and living life with unrestrained zest. Directing the faithful away from a major fount of freedom and enhanced pleasure is one of religion’s cardinal sins.