Victor Bloom MD
I just saw the movie, "The Matrix" and then came home to agonizing views of the carnage at Columbine High, a school which seemed upscale, not too different from Grosse Pointe South or North. There's a touch of irony in the fact that the school is named after a flower, a common North American wildflower. Columbine is also a dove and the sweetheart of Harlequin, from an old Italian pantomime. They are peaceful images which in effect have been destroyed by multiple bombs and automatic gunfire.
The top-grossing movie, "The Matrix" glories in mayhem and torture, in ongoing death, destruction and suffering. It is a sci-fi blockbuster of a movie. The people like it, want it, pay for it. The media executives comply with what they think the people want, with what pays.
There must be more to the world than the bottom line. We hope the powerful media moguls will exercise some discretion, even at some loss to their pocket books. We get to see only an occasional wholesome and worthwhile movie, such as "October Sky," in which a group of teenagers learn science and technology in order to perfect rockets for a science research scholarship. Death, destruction and suffering should not be entertainment, and yet the media have made them so. Consider the content of daytime talk shows and actual police footage in the evening.
We seem to have come to a stage in our development when neither the movers and shakers nor the general public have exercised their powers of discernment for what is good or bad for our children and society. Some blame our moral shortcomings on the philosophy of 'moral relativism' and the concept of 'secular humanism.' Putting these philosophical debates aside for the time being, some of the most significant factors leading to the most recent and severe school massacre, are:
1. Lack of effective parenting.
2. Erosion of respect for authority.
3. Lack of community.
4. Unparalleled freedom.
5. Lack of state supported mental health facilities.
It is as if we have reached a critical mass, in which by sheer probability outrageous behavior will out. There is little that parents, police, educators, social scientists and mental health workers can do short-term after decades of neglect.
LACK OF EFFECTIVE PARENTING
Many households now have two working parents, but this reality should not necessarily lead to abdication of the parental role. It is necessary for parents to see to it that there is quality time for their children, and this means guidance, controls and discipline, as well as love and affection. Some people call this 'tough love,' while some people think 'unconditional love' is endless indulgence with no responsibility. If there is no supervision or imposition of standards and values by parents, children become wildly out of control and dangerous to themselves and others.
EROSION OF RESPECT FOR AUTHORITY
The latter part of this century led to a great disillusionment by the people with authority-figures. Hitler was the ultimate authority in Germany, and following him led to disaster and genocide. Our leaders from Truman on escalated the war in Vietnam, which eventually led to questioning the authority of our own presidents as never before. The truth came out that there was evidence of lying and deception in prolonging the war, and biographical data emerged, such as LBJ saying he didn't want to be the first president to lose a war. As a result of this debacle we lost 58,000 young men and women, and killed 3.5 million Vietnamese. Now we are embarked in another military morass while our commander-in-chief has been impeached and held in contempt of court for lying.
LACK OF COMMUNITY
It used to be that a whole neighborhood looked after its young people. In a way, everybody knew everybody else's business, and troubled youth were promptly guided or referred to specialists for help. No teenager could be extensively involved with guns and bombs without everybody knowing it and doing something about it.
The word, FREEDOM is special and precious, but nowadays 'freedom' has run amok. Freedom has its limits and responsibilities. From our useful economic freedom comes freedom (of media moguls, for example), to be ruthless and reckless in what they foist on the public. Many kids sense a freedom to act out on the real world the fantasy-plots of deadly and destructive video games.
LACK OF STATE SUPPORTED MENTAL HEALTH FACILITIES
Last, but not least, we must admit that our wholesale discharge of the mentally ill from custodial care in what were humane state mental hospitals has not worked. Liberal civil rights lawyers fought to get committed patients out, neuroleptic drugs were controlling behavior better, and some conservative legislators thought they could spend the money better elsewhere, or better yet, lower taxes. The wishful-thinking goal of the 'revolving door' was that the community and family would absorb these 'warehoused' patients, thinking they would get better care on the outside. Now a great number of these mentally ill are either on the street or in jail.
Unless we address these five items, at least for a start, we can expect ever more eruptions of juvenile rage, most of which comes from abuse and neglect, both from society and their own families. Looking the other way is neglect.