Las Vegas Shooting – Thoughts on Why These Tragedies Are Becoming More Common

The Las Vegas shooting – just the latest episode of Murder and Mayhem, American Style – has left 59 dead, and some 500 wounded. The details are still being unwound, and it’s unlikely we’ll get any conclusive answers given that the shooter killed himself. Like everyone else, I have no idea what specifically motivated 64-year old Stephen Paddock to go on a shooting rampage. But I do have some thoughts on why these tragedies are becoming more common.

It’s Time to Stop Blaming Foreigners

Many Americans like to believe that we live in some sort of pristine nirvana. They prefer to blame foreigners for whatever goes wrong. Just look at how the Democrats are blaming Russian hacking for their candidate’s presidential loss in 2016.

Las Vegas Shooting – Thoughts on Why These Tragedies Are Becoming More Common
Las Vegas Shooting – Thoughts on Why These Tragedies Are Becoming More Common

But blaming foreigners is a highly simplistic belief. It might be comforting to believe that the many mass violence episodes we’re seeing have roots in radical Islam. That’s certainly true in some cases. But here in the US, most of it seems to come from domestic sources. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for it, and certainly no organizational forces driving it.

But I think that there are big picture problems in America that are being ignored. For a variety of reasons, American culture seems to have become a breeding ground for violence.

But why?

Two Sources of Violent Behavior Unique to America

I think these two conditions can’t be ignored:

The highest rate of incarceration in the world. There are currently 2.3 million people being held in prisons and jails in the US. Most people believe this is the answer to our violence problem. I disagree.

Most of the people who are in prison right now will eventually get out. When they do, they won’t be model citizens. When people go to prison, they become immersed in that culture. As well, when they get out, they’re released into a society that will never forgive them, and will never make room for them.

That means that each of them are a ticking time bomb.

War veterans. Nearly every country in the world has some sort of military establishment. But what differentiates the US military from those of other countries is that we actually go to war. We have a very high percentage of enlisted people who see combat. If you’ve been immersed in an environment of kill-or-be-killed, it can be difficult to transition into peaceful civilian life.

Many of the people who engage in mass acts of violence do have military backgrounds. Examples include Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh and Olympic bomber, Eric Rudolph.

This is not an attempt on my part to implicate veterans, but rather to highlight that military service can mess with people’s heads. McVeigh was involved in Operation Desert Storm, though Rudolph had no actual combat experience.

The point is, we have two large groups of people for whom violence was considered a viable option, at least at some point in their lives. It might not be so easy to turn that switch to a permanent “off” position.

What We’ve Lost in the Past 50 Years

It’s become fashionable among those who consider themselves part of the avant-garde to trash the human institutions that have helped to keep humanity stable for thousands of years. The four most prominent institutions include faith, marriage, family and community.

You may not participate in any of those institutions, but there’s no doubting that each exerts a calming influence on the culture. In some form, each is an indication that we belong to a group, and that the group actually has a vested interest in us.

But many seek to disparage these institutions. Some even assert they are the very nexus of evil in the world.

For example, there’s a widely repeated chant that more wars are caused by religion than anything else. This is of course, a complete fallacy. But if you’re looking to create a rule-less world, facts don’t matter. And if you hear a slogan chanted enough, you’ll begin to believe it to be true.

The same is true with marriage, family and community. Many today feel that these institutions are no longer necessary, or are even obstacles to personal and social progress.

But what most of the opponents of these institutions miss is that the world is NOT a better place by their absence. I grew up in a world where all four of those institutions were still solid. It was a more secure world than what we have now.

Yes there were more rules and expectations, but there was also a definite sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.

Tearing down those institutions has left us with a 50% divorce rate, broken families, rampant drug addiction, and communities that are communities in name only. People don’t know their neighbors, and don’t trust them.

The Las Vegas Shooting and the Lost Among Us

So, we tear down proven human institutions, and what are they replaced with?

How about addictions to TV, sports, and shopping? How about a culture that engages in celebrity worship, while being slaves to convenience?

Institutions with deeper human significance have been replaced by the pursuit of wants. It’s as if everything will work out as long as we get what we want.

This is not a harmless development, as we’re seeing the results all around us.

I have a theory. At any given time in history, somewhere between 1% and 10% of the human race is struggling with sanity. Stable societies keep this group in line. Rules and expectations are clear, as are the necessity of right and wrong, and people have a sense of belonging.

But when basic social structures break down, and like now, everyone is left to their own devices, loneliness becomes the order of the day. In a culture that lacks cohesiveness, and where nothing means anything (no rules or concrete beliefs), those walking on the edge of society resort to following their impulses.

The end result is that we get people becoming antisocial and narcissistic, and yes, even violent. There’s always been people who engage in these behaviors. The difference now is that the numbers have grown wildly.

When I was a kid, the Manson killings were a big deal. But they were a big deal precisely because it was a one-off event. Today, similar violent tragedies seem to be happening on an almost weekly basis. I believe it’s because the culture is no longer capable of holding the borderline unstable in line.

“The Nothing”

I’m borrowing that term from the 1984 movie The Neverending Story. It’s a fantasy movie in which a mythical world, Fantasia, is gradually being consumed by an invisible force called The Nothing. I think this has a parallel in modern America.

At every turn in our culture we see some degree of rot. It’s gone beyond marriages, families and communities. It’s infecting everything in the culture. Social leaders try to minimize it, perhaps because they have no logical explanation. But there’s no question that there is some invisible force eating away at the fabric of our culture.

I believe that The Nothing in America is the absence of faith, marriage, family and community. Practically speaking, there has been nothing to replace them. It’s as if we’re descending into a shadowy, bottomless abyss.

The very discussion causes dissension. Talk about “values” to a lot of people today, and they’ll claim that you’re being divisive or engaging in hate speech. In today’s America, it’s perfectly OK to have no values.

Are the inmates running the asylum? I think so. We’ve descended into a society that calls evil good, and good evil. The fact that this practice has become so normal, is a testament to how far we’ve fallen.

There’s even a word to describe it:

Nihilism“Total rejection of established laws and institutions…anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity…total and absolute destructiveness, especially toward the world at large and including oneself…nothingness or nonexistence.”

In short, to tear down and replace with…Nothing.

The State is Not the Solution to Every Problem (But we think it is)

Do you ever hear people say something like:

  • “They (or someone) should do something about that,” or
  • “There oughta be a law”?

When people say such things, it’s a backhanded reference to government. When you’re referencing “they” or the law, you’re calling for public action. Calls for public action are commonplace. Deep-seated problems are assigned simplistic causes, with a solution believed to lie in government action, such as gun control or tougher drug laws.

But have you ever noticed that no amount of laws passed, additional people imprisoned, or cops on the street, ever results in an improved condition?

There’s a good reason for that.

It’s because government cannot do what people will not. Government cannot make a rogue population behave. It cannot keep married couples or families together. It cannot keep people off drugs. And it cannot create cohesive communities.

In fact, most government actions do the exact opposite. The problem is that greater reliance on government results in less reliance on ourselves, on people and on communities. That will never change, and it never has a good outcome.

A former head of the Department of Human Services for the State of Georgia said it best a few years ago: “Government doesn’t make good family.” I don’t recall her name, but I applaud her observation of a fact that should be obvious to us all.

Government action cannot fix what’s broken in a culture. But the more we rely on it to do just that, the more dysfunctional we become. That’s because reliance on government is a form of passing off the problem, and even a belief in a false god.

There is no substitute for faith, marriage, family and community. We move forward without those institutions at our own peril.

The Culture of Distraction that Surrounds Us

The Mainstream Media and the politicians have unofficially joined forces to create an undeclared Culture of Distraction. It’s to keep us from seeing or questioning what’s really going on.

A good metaphor is a magic act. “Magic” is largely about keeping the crowd distracted. The magician gets the audience to pay attention to what’s going on in his right hand, so they will not see the sleight-of-hand going on with his left.

That tactic has become entrenched in our culture. The media keeps us distracted because they can’t explain what’s really going on, while the politicians do the same because they can’t fix anything.

I believe this also helps to explain the war on Donald Trump. The mainstream media and a large slice of the politicians would have us believe that 20 – 50 years of systemic rot can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the man whose been sitting in the Oval Office only since January.

To the reasonable mind, this is utterly preposterous. But it’s a theme that will be played as long as it retains some credibility – or until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Distraction also plays out in ways that we think are positive. Two glaring examples of this are the perpetually rising stock market and rising house prices.

Both signal to the populace that all is well in the Republic, despite a few pesky problems. As long as the markets are rising, and people’s 401(k) plans and houses are increasing in value steadily, the distraction works. That’s why I believe that the perpetually rising stock market has become a matter of official government policy.

What are they trying to keep us distracted from?

This is a short list of real problems that we should be dealing with but aren’t:

Those are all serious problems that will require nothing short of structural change and personal sacrifice. Both the media and the politicians want to skate along and pretend that all is well, and that we just need to trust them.

Where Will this End?

I believe that all of these problems and dysfunctions – that the distractions are intended to keep us from seeing – are contributing to the episodes of mass violence.

As more people become disenfranchised, whether economically, socially or emotionally, they move farther away from what we would call “normal”. Inevitably, some will become violent. We even have a term for it, going postal.

Life comes with a lot of pressures. But with all of the problems descending upon us in recent decades, conditions are only getting worse, and those pressures are building.

Superficially, life seems to be better than ever, at least if you watch TV or go to restaurants and vacation resorts. Yet most of us know something’s wrong, even if we can’t describe what it is. People may be getting tired of just coping, or of pretending that everything is wonderful.

I think that’s in part because of the distractions, but also because it isn’t just one problem, but many. Our culture is breaking down, and no one wants to admit it. And if we don’t admit it, we can’t and won’t take the painful steps that will be necessary to fix it.

And if we can’t, we should only expect that we’ll get more of the same. More dysfunction, more disenfranchisement – and more violence.

There is no “we” in America anymore. We’re increasingly handling the difficulties of life alone. Not everyone can do that peacefully. When people sense hopelessness, it’s inevitable that some will become violent. I think that’s where we’re at.

Do you have any theories that help to explain the increasing episodes of mass violence, like the Las Vegas shooting?

( Photo by Kaloozer )

18 Responses to Las Vegas Shooting – Thoughts on Why These Tragedies Are Becoming More Common

  1. Wow! Simply, wow! What a thoughtful and articulate commentary on our society today. Each time I thought of a point I’d include in my comments, you covered it. One thing I would say here, is that a big part of the divisiveness and violence is that many people, including some out of office, or defeated politicians push the divisiveness to such and extreme state that people not only think it is ok to kill those who disagree with them, but actually advocate it. I’m not saying these politicians actually call for violence, however, their rhetoric implicitly infers that it is ok to rid the country of those who hold more traditional beliefs. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to push a weak minded or sick person over the edge.

    Well written and profound, Kevin.

  2. Thanks Kathy, though I must confess I’d prefer to have done a “wow” job on a happier topic. But these events have become all too common, and it should be clear to us all that there are definite reasons why it’s happening. Nothing just happens, the whole concept of “coincidence” is terribly overworked. A lot of people are suffering in silence as the vice gets tighter, and some of them snap. In gentler, more balanced times, there were natural social supports that kept this from happening. Now, the social circuit breakers have been torn down in favor of the mistaken belief that we’ll all be happier without traditional support structures and their “silly, outdated” restrictions. I’ve got kids and I don’t like what I’m seeing up ahead for them.

    I agree with you about the political forces, but I think the media is the bigger culprit. They dole out this fantasy of this breezy lifestyle, with no responsibility and no bad consequences in the naive belief that that’s the way life’s supposed to be. It’s snake oil, but since they believe their own BS, they peddle it like a legitimate lifestyle. Anyone who challenges them is immediately labeled a dangerous right wing extremist, with one or more of their colorful handles (hater, racist, homophobe – I even saw one “expert” advance the notion that people who oppose Hollywood are anti-semites).

    Look at how Hugh Heffner has been lionized in his very long, very debauched life. What has his contribution to humanity been? Pornography and an anything-goes lifestyle? The message was “you too can live life in the fast lane, surround yourself with beautiful young women, and still live into your 90s.” The media eats that sh#t up, and he’s even being called a social pioneer, and other accolades normally reserved for the true innovators. But that’s how far we’ve fallen.

  3. Love this. I’m also sickened by how much attention media is giving to the shooter. I’ve always been intrigued by other nations that refuse to release the names of mass shooters, who often do this crap for notoriety.

  4. The media have a sick fascination with dark figures. I think there’s two reasons for this. The first is the “if it bleeds, it leads” doctrine embedded in the media, and the second is self-rightiousnous. I think they believe that by lining up against the perpetrator, it demonstrates how “good” they are. In truth, the guy was sick, and it’s probably no more complicated than that. But we have to exam what forces and factors might contribute to that sickness. Ie, why wasn’t this sort of thing as common in say, 1965? Guns were legal then, so why all this stuff now? But gun control will be advanced as the answer, because most in the media favor it, even when no ones being killed. Disclaimer: I don’t own any guns and have no plans or desire to.

  5. Kevin,
    Outstanding article. I don’t think they’re is much to add. I agree with everything said.

    You have government that uses violence all over the world. There example plays off on 80 percent of the population who don’t want to think for themselves or are to lazy or as you put it too distracted by nonsense to actually think for themselves.

    I don’t want to hichjack the blog. Some of the things I would say would cause a lot of arguing.
    I’m not up for that anymore. I did a lot of arguing on facebook in the past. I am not on there anymore. I got off two year’s ago.

    It was a great read and I applaud you for it.

  6. Thanks Tim. Your comments did make me think of two other causes. As you said, our government uses force all over the world. If we imagine a “force for good” (as some Navy ads have claimed), the connection is made that violence is a perfectly good option when used for the right cause. But who decides what’s a good cause, and what’s a senseless slaughter? It’s likely that mass killers think they’re on a holy mission of some sort, and that does seem to be a theme among those that live.

    The other is Hollywood. Same message, mass violence to rub out the bad guys. So our hero arms himself (or herself, increasingly) to the teeth, then sets out to mow down hundreds of bad guys. The message: violence/killing has a noble purpose. It’s all subliminal, but psychology is a big part of why this stuff happens. It’s hard not to see rampant violence in our popular culture. In fact, it’s a very common theme.

    It points to a dilemma for Hollywood, though they’re immune to such considerations. But if guns are made illegal, how do Hollywood heros arm themselves to mow down the bad guys? Won’t that make them de facto outlaws before they even blow away the first “bogie”?

    I over-think things…

  7. All good points Kevin. I believe it runs much deeper than that though.
    Some questions to ask

    1- How did America become hated in 70 percent of the world.?
    2- How many childeren, Families, countries etc etc have been destroyed by the war machine. When I say war machine I mean our war machine.
    3- How did Nixon taking us off the gold standard contribute to the downfall of the family.

    I agree with everything you said. However I think there our many more factors also.

    Thanks though
    Great write

  8. Agreed, Tim, we’re a complete mess. And we can’t fix what’s wrong because on a national level, we’re obsessed with being “Number 1”, as if that’s some sort of virtue. It’s like we’re drunk on ourselves.

  9. Great insights Kevin. Interesting in my late 50s these are my four pillar goals – family, spirituality, marriage and community. Wish I’d been focused on these areas earlier as there would’ve been fewer painful collisions with others and could’ve become wiser and developed more compassion earlier. Too focused on workaholism and money. Frankly, though, that mindset works very well in our culture. The alternative is being broke, scorned or abandoned as some of our mentally ill have been. Maybe our elders can help lead the way to greater cultural awareness as you’re doing with your blog.

  10. The irony is that any of this should even need to be pointed out. Virtues should be self-evident. But when you have a generation (or two) raised on the notion that “what’s really important” is that you get your education, there are too many unfilled voids. The blind belief is that education will fix what’s wrong with our world, along with limitless government assistance (from printed money), and we’ll create a better world. We no longer need any of that “old stuff” to keep us centered. What planet are we on any more???

  11. I do know this. That unless we are willing as a people to stand up and start being honest with ourselves and start asking the real questions about how we have conducted oursleves on the world’s stage and start holding leadership accountable then we’re done as a country.
    Leaders lead by example. There example is killing and war. You can’t expect your citzens to be all that different.
    We’re suppose to be a beakon of hope. We’re anything but.

  12. This is my thinking Tim…There’s not much we can do on a national level, but there’s plenty we can do on an individual and local level. For starters, we need to drop mindless support for war, and for more laws/prisons/police. It’s all feeding the problem. Next we need to tune out the media, and divorce ourselves from the popular culture, as much as we’re able, and that includes the mainstream news media. That will help us to reclaim our minds and move toward independent thinking.

    Then we need to go back to the basics – faith, marriage, family and community. I’d also add that we need to go back to work/save/invest, and minimize dependence on the state/politicians. And I know I harp on this a lot, but we need to move toward self-employment, so we can reduce dependence on the corporate system. Even having a side business is a step in the right direction. And of course, we have to get away from mindless consumerism, including TV.

    (Wow, all of this is making me realize how much we’re indoctrinated, and from how many directions!!!)

    Once we deprogram ourselves, we can start trusting people more, including ourselves. That’ll mean mean being less suspicious of everyone around us. We also have to drop this ridiculous notion that we can control everything and completely protect ourselves. Control and protection inevitably lead to isolation, which brings us back to the causes of mass violence.

    But I’m worried that we’re past the point of being able to deprogram ourselves and get the junk out of our heads.

  13. I believe your right about being past the point of deprograming ourselves.

    After 25 years of law enforcement and the endless nonsense that went with it. When I finally left it took me a good year to get that out of my system and be able to be somewhat normal.

    So on a small level I can relate to a returning veteran. There is a complete disconnect that exsists between the two worlds. Often times when you have spent so many years protecting yourself from getting emotionally attached that you forgot how to function any other way.

    You made some good suggestions. I grew up in that type of world. I remember my father sitting on the front porch at night having a beer with our next door neighborhood. Our street was all the same. Everybody’s father worked. Everybody’s mother was home. They all knew each other. They all thought the same. Nobody was divorced. It all made sense.

    I never remember anybody moving. Some who are still alive still live there.

    The isolation thing is real. There are many thousands of people all over the country who are that way.

    You made many many good suggestions. All would work. All used to work. I never saw the change coming. It just did. One day I woke up and the world didn’t make sense anymore.

    I’m afraid but the Las Vegas thing is going to happen again and again. Just a different place next time. I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t happen more often.

    It’s sad.

  14. I remember the same world Tim. And along the way I’ve stopped to consider its passing. I don’t think that’s been a positive development. I think it was Robert Ringer who ascribed the cause to “gradualism”. The changes happened so slowly, and over such a long period of time, that we barely noticed it happened. We’ve also been conditioned to believe that change is good, and sometimes it is. But not all change is good. That’s the problem. Too much of what was good has just disappeared and left us in this void that can’t be filled with the usual tonics. I agree, we’ll have more Las Vegas events, for all of those reasons. Too many troubled souls navigating a troubled world alone. A few of them will be dangerous.

  15. Kevin, What has not really been brought out about this shooter is how different he seemly was from others: No political or religious agenda, he was not hurting financially, no criminal record or known history of mental illness, he was successful in a worldly sense, he was not alone – he had family and a girlfriend. I haven’t heard that he served in the military in a war zone but maybe he did. He was not a kid immersed in gaming. He was middle-aged.
    I am wondering if they will find out this guy had some sort of brain tumor or such that unleashed all this fury out of seemingly nowhere. Also – his family described him as “narcissistic and quirky” What do they mean by that? Our president is “narcissistic and quirky” but I doubt he would do something like that. Or maybe he just has the ability to unleash it on North Korea and Iran rather than innocent concert goers.
    The guy’s father was a violent sociopath. I wonder if this man inherited his father’s bad seed gene.
    On the other hand, there is the specter, for those of us who believe in such things, of demonic possession. Certainly the atmosphere of the Las Vegas area, with its emphasis on gambling, drinking, prostitution and hedonism, might draw people prone to that sort of possession. Years ago there was a TV mini-series that had the apocalypse take place in Las Vegas and Las Vegas was the seat of the anti-Christ. That was a good series but I can’t remember the name of it. It was on regular broadcast TV.

  16. I’ve heard the same about him Mary. Agreed, he doesn’t fit the “profile”. That was my thought when I heard he was 64. Usually at that point, you’re past all of the rage stuff that drives people to do such things.

    But I’m with you, I’m one of the “loonies” who doesn’t dismiss demon possession. What disturbs me is that much of what we’re seeing today fits with the Biblical description of the end times (Revelation and the Olivet Discourse). Like in Matthew 24, where Jesus warns (of the end times):

    “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…”

    I see at least three prophecies in that passage that are categorically coming to pass today. It speaks volumes of what we’re seeing. But of course, we’re supposed to ignore such prophecies since we’re “educated” and “sophisticated”.

    (Count me among the ignorant who believe such prophecies actually mean something.)

  17. Hi Kevin: Agree completely. Very well written article. One thing I will add to your comment about expecting the government or relying on the government is the same expectation about schools. While I have no children in school right now, I used to. People now expect schools to teach their children manners, to provide them with healthy breakfasts and food, to teach them how to take care of themselves, provide after-school daycare, etc. These are things that should be learned in the home. Children should come to school with clean bodies and clothes, be fed a good breakfast, taught manners, and ready to learn. Not sit there crying because they’re hungry or upset about their parents fighting. This is the breakdown of the family and home and that you mentioned and then passing the responsibility off to someone else, i.e, schools/government. We have to learn to be more self-reliant and take care of ourselves. I preach that a lot in my comments, too. Also, I watched a movie at home the other day that disgusted me. Won’t mention the name, but I had no idea it was like it was. The violence and awful killing was nonstop. We turned it off, and even my husband said he was sick of watching this stuff. He wants to go back to the old movies from the 40’s and 50’s. Fine by me. This is the media pushing this stuff, and it works on your psyche. If you’re one of the 1 to 10% of people who are somewhat mentally unstable, this has an affect on you. I see so many people who are just too damn lazy to work, take care of themselves or their own family, and then cry the blues or go off the deep end when their life falls apart. You hit the nail on the head talking about the breakdown of those values. Good for you, Kevin. Well done. It all starts with ourselves.

  18. Thanks Bev. Good catch on what’s happening with schools. I have a few teachers in my extended family who have confirmed my suspicion that teachers are now called upon to do everything but teach. It’s more like publicly funded day care. My thought is that we have at least a generation and a half of parents who categorically refuse to grow up, and dump responsibility for their kids on the schools and on society. No values are taught in the home, and they may even take the schools to task if they disagree with the values being taught by the schools. Probably the best way to sum up our collective problems is that we’ve become a nation of spoiled, whiny brats. (I love the bumper sticker that says “Stop Global Whining” – perfect!)

    I’m with your husband on the old movies. There are a lot of good movies made today, but it’s hard not to see that nearly every one of them has some unspoken agenda behind it, as if its purpose is ultimately to get us to change our thinking about something. That’s indoctrination, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to purge from my life.

    How can we know that a value isn’t also a form of indoctrination? When it’s survived hundreds or thousands of years with generally good results, despite the rise and fall of empires, corruption, collective insanity and lunatic elevation. Surviving the test of time is how a belief set or practice becomes a “value”. That describes self-reliance, discipline, faith, family, community, marriage, etc. Today’s self-styled intellectuals try to convince us that it’s being stuck in the past. But they exaggerate themselves, by telling us that they’ve found the better way, the way that will save us from ourselves. They’re full of themselves, and we’re unfortunately awash in these kinds of “experts” today. The evidence of their errors are all around us, despite the fact that many of them have government funding and/or media support. Government funding and media support don’t make some wack jobs theory into a value. Only time can do that. In the meantime, too much corrupt theory is making its way into our culture, and producing very toxic results.

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