A Canary in a Mine Shaft: What Boston Tells Us About Our Culture Of Violence

To me, the tragedy in Boston is a reminder that our common sense doesn’t work to cure the cause of our problems. Yes, “our” problem.” You see, I think acts of violence against the public by groups or individuals, whether they be terrorists or marginalized and disenfranchised, are symptomatic of deeper ills in our society. Let me repeat that: a violent act is a symptom and not the cause of a problem.

So as not to be misinterpreted, let me be clear: my attempt to understand is not to approve. I’m heart sick from the tragedies that seem to come with each new news cycle.

And I’ve even more sickened when I hear security officials say, “we need to be 100 percent effective and the perpetrators only need to be successful once.” It sickens me because implicit in this statement is the reality that, statistically, common sense tells us more will suffer from new disasters that will make it through our security.

And the story goes on, repetitions call for tightened security protocols. Our ability to live our lives freely in public and without fear diminishes with each new occurrence.

Who among us doesn’t think of Aurora, Colorado when we go to a movie? Who doesn’t think of 911 when we pass security to board a plane? Who won’t think about Boston while cheering for a loved one or friend at the next marathon?

Other than our fear, there seems to be little attention paid to the causes of the ills in our society that give rise to these horrendous acts of violence.

Our children are desensitized to killing by our entertainment. We’ve stripped mental healthcare almost to non-existence for those who need it most. Some religious factions de-humanize whole segments of our society. The same factions attempt to deteriorate our educational system by replacing science with superstition. Government considers reduction of social programs for the poor to funnel more wealth to the rich.

More and more people fall into the margins of society, working multiple jobs at below living wage scales and no benefits. Defined benefit pension plans are almost non-existent after being replaced by defined contribution retirement plans that have been decimated by corrupt white-collar, financial gangsters who go unpunished. Corporations earn more profit than they have in 60 years and government can’t agree to legislate a living minimum wage. We make addiction illegal and incarcerate violators so they can learn to be criminals.

I can’t prove there is a direct correlation between these conditions and these sporadic violent acts that plague us. But I must insist that as conditions deteriorate more, otherwise normal people, are driven to do abnormal things. And already abnormal people do outrageous acts against the rest of us as representatives of a sick society.

I’m reminded of the American ethologist and behavioral researcher, John B. Calhoun. Although he studied population density and its effects on behavior on rats I think there are parallels in our society today. “He claimed that the bleak effects of overpopulation on rodents were a grim model for the future of the human race. During his studies, Calhoun coined the term “behavioral sink” to describe aberrant behaviors in overcrowded population density situations and “beautiful ones” to describe passive individuals who withdrew from all social interaction.”

If we consider availability of resources in the place of population density, is there a direct parallel today? Are these acts of violence examples of behavioral sink? Are the wealthiest 1 percent, the beautiful ones, peering out from behind the walls of gated communities at the rest of us who scramble for our fair share of the resources?

Are these violent acts the canaries in the mine shafts of our society?

Robert De Filippis


Author: The Blue Route

What say you, the people?