Sunday, July 22, 2012

On Aggression: About Those Shootings

While a tragedy, of course, statistically we're still doing really well compared to others compared by geography or time.  It's frightening when violence strikes so close, but we're still living in a relatively very safe time and place.  BUT, if we want to ensure it stays that way, we feel we have to do something even if it's only to be productive in the face of adversity.  But can we actually create a society where people aren't violent with one another?

Last Wednesday, Margaret Wente suggested that all this gun violence is largely because of single-parent homes: "The evidence is plain that children born to unmarried women – of whatever race – do much worse than children with two married parents."  As a single mom, I'm dubious.

That many kids are raised without enough supports might be an issue, but I'm not convinced absentee fathers are the root cause of violence.  And the comments on that article often sway into lesbian parent bashing which is a total fail because kids with two moms actually do better than kids with one of each gender.

The thing is, and I intimated this earlier, dads aren't typically the crux of the family system.  Even when they're there, they're presence doesn't hold down the fort like a typical mom does.  And it doesn't seem to be a new phenomenon although it's certainly trying to change for the better.  In Les Mots, Sartre said, "The rule is that there are no good fathers; it is not the men who are at fault but the paternal bond which is rotten.  There is nothing better than to produce children, but what a sin to have some!"  Is there something with that bond to begin with?  If so, it's certainly evolving into something better.  But what makes it so shaky that many fathers walk away from their kids?

Yes of course there are some amazing dads out there.  But I just don't think their existence is what makes or breaks society.  Stats point to problems in a very generalized way.  There are an awful lot of kids from single-family homes that are doing beautifully.  Now that the stigma of divorce is slipping behind us, children raised like this don't seem to be significantly adversely affected by missing the authority of a father.  Poverty, however, is a different kettle of fish.  And that's all about time.  If a single parent is working two jobs to make ends meet, then nobody's much raising the kids.

Freud clarified specifically that when it comes to developing a conscience, the sternness or leniency of a father is not at all correlated to a child's development of a strong conscience (C&D, 85) What does effect the child's strength of conscience is social mores and the steady reinforcement of social norms.  The stronger that a society generally feels about the legitimacy of a certain act, the more likely a child is to internalize that norm.  It starts with everyone's basic desire to be loved by others.  We follow the rules in order to make friends.

So, it would appear, the problem might be with a laissez-faire society that has been slacking off in the morals department.  It feels like we've stopped caring a bit, but that might be a generational thing.  As a kid I didn't notice bullying as much; I was insulated in my little circle of friends.  But as a mom, I see every little thing.  So I think it might always seem worse as we age.  But it's clearly the case that we're becoming more independent and isolated.  We don't take care of each other the way we once did.  As a kid, if someone was out of line, any parent would step in to "give them what for." Actually any random adult would do the same.  Now, if kids are fighting or bullying or teasing, many wait paralyzed until that kid's parent comes to take charge.  We're lawsuit-phobic.  And we don't feel we have a right to comment on any child raised by any parent.  We're tolerant to a fault.

So violence may socially reinforced by peers as always, but is no longer chastised by adults everywhere like it once was.  Yesterday's G&M editorial fits the social reinforcement theory and says, "carrying and using a pistol are connected to their sense of masculinity and give them status among their peers."  So, if I can be loved by shooting up the place, because some people in my sub-culture think that’s cool, and nobody's getting in my face to stop my line of reasoning, then that’s a viable option for me.

We're never going to make it universally uncool to kill.  There will always be some that find acts of violence reinforced internally or externally to an extent that no punishment for the act will prevent it especially if you believe you won’t get caught, or you don’t care because this will be your final act and a grasp at immortality through notoriety.  So what do we do?

According to studies discussed in Freakenomics and elsewhere one thing that has a strong correlation with lower crime is more police presence to create a greater fear in people that they'll get caught for those that care about getting away with it, and hopefully prevent people from getting too far in their plans for the day for those that don’t.  That’s a start.  So instead of funding prisons and filling it with stoners and first offenders, put that money towards more police walking the beat. 

And, if it's the case that we're all born with an aggressive drive, and that our passions will often overrule our reason, and I do think these are both true, then maybe we need to also ensure we have other outlets for aggression (sports, art, work, play).  This is along the lines of Dan Hill's beautiful discussion of the topic in the G&M:
"If we don't invest now, in so-call priority neighoubourhoods, with music classes, athletic facilities, and skills training and mentoring, we will all pay more in the long run."
I tend towards Hill's remark.  Harper needs to see the link between increased funding for arts and decreased violence.  According to Freud, art is like an indicator species for civilization.  When it’s decimated, then we falter.  And even Margaret Wente suggested that kids with fewer options go for guns or babies.  We need to keep those options open.  We need something else for kids to do than satisfy those primary drives for sex and violence.

And if this is a problem with society, then, as a teacher, I see it as a problem with schools.  We have literacy across the curriculum, maybe we need non-violence education across the curriculum too. 

We need to teach impulse control for the masses for acts that aren’t pre-meditated, and conflict resolution for acts that are.  It helps if teachers have the courage to catch and deal with each menacing act, however subtle and make over what kids can and can’t do or say when they’re angry.  What that is, and where we draw the line is the tricky part.  But because it will be difficult to figure out with any consensus, is not to say we shouldn’t begin to address those acts we encounter in our homes or classrooms.  Someone needs to be the bad guy to ruin all the fun by making some rules around behaviour!

But beyond all these measures, and I believe they can help, is the reality that some people go a little haywire now and again, and there's little we can do to prevent that.  It is what it is.  We just need time to cope with the aftermath.  

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