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The Milton Measure

[Editorial] A Culture of Violence

by The Milton Measure on Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

December’s school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut has fundamentally changed the way 21st century United States looks at violence, just as the Columbine massacre over a decade ago made the country look at high school hierarchies, bullying, and harassment-prevention in a whole new light. Current proposals in Washington seek to implement new controls on gun purchase and ownership as well as to reform America’s broken mental health system. That the United States has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the developed world as well as one of the highest rates of gun violence is no coincidence. The de-institutionalization of America’s mentally ill throughout the 1970s was a hugely important step needed to end the inhumane system of “madhouses” and “asylums” that confined hundreds of thousands of people under inhumane conditions. However, no equally comprehensive system has arisen over the past three decades to replace what came before–it’s a case of “out with the bad, in with neglect.” Now un-monitored and often untreated, America’s mentally ill are often cared for as best as family members can, or else join the ranks of the homeless and destitute.

We cannot stress strongly enough that mental health is a contributing factor to violence, but that it is not the sole cause, nor should we allow mental health issues to become a tool of the NRA and gun manufacturers to obfuscate the need for the universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines whose purpose is military and not recreational. Gun control and other measures are not mutually exclusive, and a better grip on the flow of weapons in this country is an essential element of an effort to prevent tragedies like the loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The fractured, ineffectual system of mental health care and the relative ease with which anyone can acquire high-powered weaponry are the immediate causes of the recent epidemic of mass violence. However, a culture that both glorifies violence and desensitizes us to death is also partially responsible, from universally popular shooter games like Call of Duty to gorey Quentin Tarantino movies like this year’s Django Unchained. However, this is not a call for censorship and cultural repression: the cat is out of the bag on “inappropriate” content in today’s world. We can’t go back to the days of blacklists for controversial writers, punitive fines for actors who say “damn”, and whitewashed depictions of war.

Just as the First Amendment protects even the most hideous forms of speech, such as the Westboro Baptist Church’s homophobic presence at military funerals or Neo-Nazi pride marches, so too must America’s freedoms be upheld in the cultural sphere. As Justice Louis Brandeis of the Supreme Court advised in the landmark 1927 Whitney v. California free speech case, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

The cultural counterpoint to shoot-’em-up video games and bloodthirsty blockbusters must not be a black bar, but rather books, comics, games, and movies that celebrate and promote nonviolence. We cannot forbid violence in our culture with legislation, but we can fight it with culture that presents nonviolent means as superior and rejects the glorification of atrocity. Call of Duty will still sell millions of copies and Tarantino films will still earn towering profits, but we can start to stem the bloody tide.

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Posted by The Milton Measure on Feb 12 2013. Filed under Editorial, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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