I Wonder What’s Gone Wrong? Newtown Connecticut

I awoke this morning and immediately thought about yesterday’s horrific shooting in Ct. My wife Nancy called her Mother Marjorie on Friday afternoon.  She had been crying all day. Marjorie is 91 years old, and she lives about 20 minutes from the shooting scene. Around 9:40 a.m. she was driving to the store when the state trooper in front turned on his siren and lights and made a 180 turn and headed toward Sandy Hook and New Town.

Newtown is an idyllic New England town. We have driven through it dozens of times, when I was stationed at Griffiss A.F.B. in Rome New York and when going to and from some of our favorite places, Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Stockbridge Ma., and The Red Lion Inn. It is our portal to the Berkshire Mountains. There used to be a historic restaurant, The Yankee Drover. It burned, but it’s flag staff may still be there.

We have had a few scares here in Upshur County in recent months. As a busy family law lawyer, I have received my share of threats, and have been associated with a number of fatalities. I endured a nearly two week murder trial and had a client convicted of second murder. The sentence was twenty two years, but he got out after @ 14 years and has returned to farming. Violence can occur anywhere.

Of course there are myriad legal issues associated with something like yesterday. Criminal law, privacy, security regulations, education, mental hygiene, and gun control, are just a few of them.

People struggle to understand how someone could shoot to death twenty innocent children, and their teachers and counselors. The reaction is predictable:

1. The shooter was “evil”, sent by the “Devil”;

2. It as “God’s will”.

3. It is time for “gun control”.

4. The Scientologists may note the person was taking an anti-psychotic drug or anti-depressant and blame the drug itself. In their world there is not such thing as as a brain illness, cognitive disorder, or “mental illness”. They prescribe a form of religious “voodoo” for people diagnosed with such conditions.

5. Religious people have great difficulty during these times. If they believe in a sentient God who is pulling the strings behind the scene, they fumble all over themselves to explain how God “allowed” the event to happen.

6. Two weeks ago our guest minister, retired and over 70, patiently explained that Hurricane Sandy was sent by God as a sign that Jesus second coming is around the corner. Why God decided to cause billions of dollars in storm damage and kill hundreds of people to make his point is not clear. And what of the great tsunamis that kill thousands?

7. I refuse to give God credit for a child that was saved by a courageous teacher, because to do so would require me to blame “him” for killing the others. And, ascribing Hurricane Sandy to God means he kills people when he gets angry. That’s pretty “Old Testament” and hardly in keeping with Jesus’ teachings.
8. The gun control advocates go on a rant almost immediately, without even pausing to show respect to the very real, flesh and blood, victims.

9. The NRA and gun ownership advocates go into a full court press reminding politicians of the tremendous political clout they yield. Imagine what they are planning at this very moment to protect their turf.

10. The press always asks, “What should parents tell their children?”

11. Everyone asks,  “How could this happen?”

12. Sometimes the killer is a sociopath and “simply” vicious and angry. More often, it seems the person was “deranged”. The news media cannot wrap their heads around “deranged”. They just do not seem to try.

13. The most misunderstood illness seems to be schizophrenia. I have not heard the press, or the experts, explain that a person affected with this emperor of brain diseases may be terrified and hallucinating.

14. I spent considerable time with a young man it the secure psychiatric ward at Chestnut Ridge. The anti-psychotic drugs were not really reaching him. He explained that the F.B.I. had singled him  and his family, for assassination Therefore, he was armed at all times. He knew that they were going to come to his door, knock, and kill him.

15. I asked him if he knew he was mentally ill, and he assured me that he did, and he knew that his brain was not processing information correctly, BUT he still tracked each person that walked by his house, confident when the real assassin showed up, he would know him and kill him. That was pretty scary.

16.  This was a peaceful, intelligent, articulate, but very sick, young man, who did not want to hurt anyone except the assassin. He could shoot several people as they walked to his door and be considered a monster even though, in his mind, he was defending himself from a demon or alien who was trying to kill him.

17. As I write this, I do not know if  the Ct.  shooter believed God had told him these children were evil and had to be killed, were actually aliens from outer space, or that God had decided to call them back home and he was the tool by which God’s instructions were to be carried out. His actions may make perfect sense, if his thoughts were accurate.

So, what do I think?

1. There is no evidence there is anyone “pulling the strings”. I refer you to my article, “Burt’s Views on Religion and Religiosity”. http://tinyurl.com/6lu7dyx

2. I wish my intelligent, but religious, friends, at times like these would remember and acknowledge that their comments about God’s love and intervention are metaphors, and that supernatural events do not take place, and that certain terrible events are going to occur because of our nature as animals walking this earth. And storms and earthquakes are bound to happen because of the nature of our physical universe.

3. Brains will malfunction, people will act out violently, and no super hero, demon, or God, is making these events occur.

4. Regardless of my skepticism, I still pray for the victims and their family. Why? First, I believe that wishing someone well and asking “someone” to look out for them is a good  thing. What harm can it do? I believe that sensing the pain of others, empathizing, and hoping for their recovery,  helps the person who prays. While the subjects of the prayer probably cannot “feel” it, letting them know we are praying for them may help give them strength. It’s a reminder to them they are not alone and that others care.

5. Our society is dealing with accelerating rapid change. It is fragmenting. Here is an example. Nancy and I are news junkies, so after an event like yesterday, we may watch 5-10 hours of coverage per day. We tend to feel others must be doing the same thing, BUT THEY AREN’T!!!!!!!! :

a. My staff of busy young mothers hardly even watch t.v., and when they do, it is probably children’s t.v.

b. In Nov. 1963, we had nothing to watch but the aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s death. As a result, I saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald.

c. In 1956, when I was ten, and while visiting my Great Aunt Jenny Morris in Cambridge Ohio, the only t.v. programming, on any of the three channels, was the Democratic National Convention. Thus, since I could not fish every minute, and my elderly aunt and her husband were not inclined do anything with their young guest, except eat meals with him, I read and watched the convention. (Aunt Jenny’s husband Frank was retired from the Railroad, so I got to ride the train by myself from Wheeling for free.)

d. The terrified, highly religious, “I don’t want the modern world to ruin my life!”, people focus on their family and church. They give up their education and critical thinking and limit their reading and their education to religious based material. They have assigned reading, prayer groups, the Sunday service, religious books, and choir. No time for studying and thinking for themselves.

e. Many children are watching t.v. and the Internet without their parents, and viewing things that their parents never see.

f. As sick as the fellow in Newtown may have been, he still must have tapped into the creepy mass killing, gun culture, the Gothic,and anti-society culture of the Internet, and of high violence video games,  the purchase and use of body armor, and hatred, plenty of hatred.

g. Non-mentally ill “haters” can easily locate neo-Nazi and other racists materials on line. They feed on the hatred and myths of the other haters.

h. Gay Americans can focus on “gay culture”; Blacks on “black culture”; and Hispanics, on Spanish language t.v. Racing fans even have thieir racing channel, such as it is.

i. The porn watchers are in their golden age. They are sophisticated, and there are horrible networks that exchange and circulate child porn. Many of my divorce cases have “online sex” as a main causal factor.

j. There are tens of thousands of people dedicated to using the Internet to cheat and steal by schemes and hacking. Wired Magazine advises that soon password protection will soon be passe’.

k. Billions are being spent on international drug trafficking. It is a cancer upon our society.

l. Terrorists are coordinating their plans to attack America and symbols of “Western Culture” world wide.

m. No one has to worry about being stuck with only a nature documentary, 60 Minutes news program, or “serious” play or movie. With 200 channels, why bother? Just switch to something more “entertaining”. That’s what I would have done in 1956 if I I could have.

n. A very small slice of the mass of viewers can watches public t.v. and listens to public radio, orders college level course from The Learning Company, or accesses hundreds of thousands of free online college courses.

o. There is online higher education, much which is apparently accredited and excellent, but people, being people, have borrowed billions in student loans but are unable to stay motivated long enough to get their degrees. How can we stay focused in such a fragmented world?

p. Our public and private schools are expected to provide much more than a good education. They must make up for parents who do not prepare nutritious foods, love to those who are abused and neglected, and provide child care and discipline to the undisciplined. The family can no longer be trusted to provide the moral and social framework.

q. Whatever they are learning, kids no longer seem to know WHERE things are located, WHAT happened in our past, WHERE a comma or semi-colon goes, or HOW to spell. This lack of fundamental skills is obvious, even in the wonderful intelligent women who work for me. An employer must be ready to train and educate his work staff. That’s not right.

r. Kids get to listen only to the music they and their friends want to listen to. Mom, Dad, Grandma,  and Grandpa may listen to their oldies, to blues, jazz, and even the classics, but with buds in their children’s ears, the parents only know their kids’ music is intolerable, and the children know only what their peers know.

s. “Good parents”, even those who aren’t hiding in their churches, still want to protect their children, so they may shield them from so much that the young adult is overwhelmed with temptation when they move to the freedom of college life.

t. Other parents allow the kids to watch what they watch, hear what they hear, and fail to provide a steady commentary to children on their personal values. Maybe their values are wanting.

u. Institutions like Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, and 4-H were a powerful compliment to school (curricular and extra-curricular)  home, and church in the 50’s and 60’s.

v. Nowadays the children of my divorce clients often have no extra-curricular activity and no organizations. Two working parents may not be able to be an adult leader for volunteer.

The solution? I DO NOT KNOW!

1. If you cannot claim your can’t helps were handed down from God, or that violators will not “burn in hell”, how can you get people conform to reasonable standards?

2. If the Internet is uncensored, and we are committed to freedom of thought and speech, and tolerance, how can we have common values?

3. I say focus on education and child rearing and nutrition/fitness.

4. We know that the American diet is killing us. Let’s do a better job educating people on nutrition and control the child’s diet and activity at school.

5. Let’s transition our religion, before it largely disappears, so that an intelligent, educated, person is not turned off by the focus on the Jesus cult and the supernatural. Somehow, make room for the skeptic. If Jesus’ teachings cannot stand on their own, without the threat of a burning hell or promise of everlasting life, what good is it to the living?

6. Let’s establish a new set of accepted standards, civility, morality, sobriety, diminished violence, tolerance, honor, honesty (no stealing, lying or cheating!), cleanliness, and moderation. But let’s not be too judgmental of those who fall short. Encourage them to try again.

7. Let’s regulate our children’s t.v. and radio programming. Yes Republicans, REGULATE! Let’s make it fun, science based, informative, stimulating, and uplifting.

8. Let’s foster a new sense of discipline, moderation, and culture in our society. (“Old Fashioned Values” without old fashioned superstition and ignorance.)

9. Let’s raise a generation of moral scientists,  engineers, and teachers, to cure cancer, move mankind into outer space, protect our planet, improve our health, and create the infrastructure of a mobile and literate society.

That should be a pretty good start. But first, let’s pay our respects to those dead people, their families, and community.

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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