American Violence; A Two-Pronged Remedial Approach

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  • Author Robert Depaolo
  • Published July 8, 2022
  • Word count 1,483

American Violence:

A Two-Pronged Approach to Remediation

In the aftermath of recent shootings in Texas, Buffalo and Oklahoma - which incidentally comprise a heinous, but the mere proportion of murders in the USA, the usual commentary consisted of offering prayers for the families, statements about hearts reaching out to the victims' families and citizens of the locales where the violence occurred. Other comments addressed the need for new gun legislation, while some opted for a self-protective solution by arming teachers in classrooms. None of these gestures was necessarily wrong or foolish, and all seemed to reflect the best of intentions, but in reviewing the various reactions it seemed to me - as a mental health clinician - that this was a bit like a therapist telling a woman in an abusive relationship to stop dating abusive partners without determining the reason she chose that kind of partner in the first place. Absent some understanding of that, the woman would likely continue down the same path.

In other words, little insight was gained from proposed legislation or commiserations and as a result acts of violence might well continue. Even most anti-gun advocates would admit most of the mass shootings would not have been prevented with new laws devoted to background checks, age limits on gun purchases or the number of magazines that can be fired in one exchange. A person obsessed with killing will find a way. He might steal a gun, use his parent's weapon, build a bomb - as in the Boston Marathon incident or simply go into an unprotected setting with a pistol, shoot, reload and continue shooting. He might even adopt a serial approach to vent his anger like Ted Bundy or the Green River Killer. The point is, finding a solution to this problem requires asking why so much anger exists in our nation. That is the soil giving rise to mass violence.

It is possible that question can be answered with two somewhat contradictory (though not exclusive terms: - freedom and contract. It is often stated that America has more violence, including mass shootings than other nations. That might well be accurate, though it does not take into account the wide variety of languages, ethnicities, races, divergence faiths and beliefs that exist in our society - the mixture of which will tend to foment conflict and alienation, Since displaced people feel out of the loop and consequently are often unbound by the mores of the culture in which they live, it stands to reason some might engage in antisocial behavior. The have-nots will resent the haves and in some instances seek to erase their existence as a means of undoing their perceived marginalization. Rather than being simply an American problem with violence, or one resulting from our second amendment rights the problem might lie in a mindset instilled in Americans that sets the stage for outrage, jealousy, and retaliation. It is the notion that we are free.

Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence is the term "free society" mentioned - and for good reason. The framers and the Enlightenment philosophers who influenced them knew that as long as any given society includes more than one person true and absolute freedom would be untenable. Sooner or later there would be conflict because one person would want A and the other would want B. To survive and get along they would have to compromise: to relinquish some of their desires for the sake of overall social equanimity.

That is why the original proponents of republican/democratic governance used the phrase "social contract" to frame the argument. Neither Rousseau, Locke, Gladstone, Jefferson or Madison believed in freedom per se. Jefferson's writings on the gradations of governmental purity are particularly revealing in that context. All of these thinkers believed in reciprocity. They did not believe the government served the people (simply because people could disagree among themselves, which would always preclude the possibility of a single collective opinion). In effect, the formula for democratic government was conceived in simple terms...the government agrees to do X, the people agree to do Y. This extended to all aspects of social existence. For example, the employer agrees to hire a worker who performs a function and is in turn paid by the employer. We are not free to marry or start a business but rather agree to abide by license and business laws and requirements and register with the local government in order to enact our preferences and achieve our goals. In other words, the core moral, philosophical code in this nation should be based on cooperation - not freedom, which espouses an uncomfortably destructive level of individuation - and in extreme cases leads to alienation.

That does not mean individuation is unimportant - it is, in terms of creativity and thought. But the moment ultra- singularism becomes a philosophical fixture to the exclusion of reciprocity it can sever the connections among people, making alienation, violence and sociopathy more likely. All mass murderers, including psychotic shooters, serial killers and mad bombers have been pathologically alienated, narcissistic, hyper-individualistic to the point of detaching from others' pain and suffering, and all have somehow felt they did not get their piece of the pie. That does not excuse their actions (there might well be genetic, clinical familial and temperament factors involved as well) but it is most assuredly the most common set of characteristics. The question is whether anything can be done to prevent their brutal retaliations.

We do not teach reciprocity in our schools as part of the history curriculum, i.e the way our society is supposed to work but we should. We do not teach students that we live in a contractual society, but we should. doctrine of reciprocity is not a religious concept- though it lines up with the tenets of the golden rule, so it should not lead to a church vs state argument. It could be taught, even emphasized as the sine qua non of American democracy.

Yet social cooperation is not just about education. It must also be reinforced through actual behavior patterns. As a means of further instilling this code having a social service draft might be helpful - (with the as-needed exemptions). Some might argue that this would impinge on individual freedoms, but we have had a military draft when it was deemed necessary and one look at the gross level of alienation in this country would seem to define this as a time of necessity.

To borrow from both Freud and Einstein - both of whom felt the channeling of energy was the single most critical determinant of stability in nature - most crimes are committed by young people. They have a vast reservoir of energy, the potential impact of which can be either constructive or destructive. Simply leaving them to their own devices seems a risky thing to do. While most youth do not engage in antisocial behavior, as a group they are more likely to do so and even if they are not violent, their energies can be manifest through depression, substance abuse and other negative actions. They need to be channeled, not to control them, but to provide them with meaning and a connection fo the culture in which they live. This pertains to immigrant populations in particular whose alienation can persist for generations.

Beyond that, is a discomforting trend toward narcissism. We seem to be far too concerned with ourselves. It is a vacuous existence which is one reason for the obsession with identity permeating the areas of politics, activism, education and gender. Clearly, many young Americans are desperate for affiliation of some sort. They seem detached and inclined toward divisiveness, racial paranoia, gender confusion and clinical depression. Suicide rates and drug abuse are at extreme levels. Having some sort of collective mechanism by which to instill a sense of reciprocity, teaching students that our history is not about freedom but about the best and only possible relationship that can exist between not only government and the people but among the people - a violence-modulating thing known as the social contract.

In this opinion imparting that idea in schools, in the home and throughout government will assuage hostilities by precluding alienation - with our without gun legislation. I sometimes think the real differences in manifest violence between the USA and other countries is that while some nations are so over-controlled that it is ironically too hard to commit crimes, some nations simply understand the concept of reciprocity better than we do.


Thomas Jefferson; On Politics and Government.

Tran. J. Magistrelli, P. Ansernet, F. The Epistomological Foundations of Freud's Energetics Model. Frontiers of Psychology Octobee 11, 2018 (9) 1861

Pandya, D. John Locke: The Social Contract and Democracy. Philosophy in Context 6/9/21

Kelly, M. The Social Contract in American Politics. 8/5/2019

Benton, N.F. Einstein; Energy is Everything National Commentary. Falls Church News Press October 7, 2021

Robert DePaolo MS Clinical Psychology Author of 6 books and many articles on education, psychology, science and politics

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