2013-08-23

Random Violence

There were at least two random acts of murder this week. The first was the widely reported shooting of a college baseball player who was out for a jog. The second is the series of reports coming in describing how an 88-year-old man was beaten to death - again, seemingly at random - by a couple of teenagers in Spokane, Washington.

Predictably, the pundits are trotting this out as a "racial" issue (I won't bother with links because it's just too depressing). And, yes, the "other side" has already begun responding. (Again, no links, but there is a piece over at Ebony.com that I'm sure you can find if you visit the website.)

Now, regarding race, we have a fairly serious question to ask ourselves: Is it racism any time Person Of Race A shoots Person Of Race B, or is there more to it than that? Obviously, there are many people out there who apparently have a vested interest in keeping white people afraid of inner city non-whites. Equally as obvious is the fact that there are a lot of apologists out there, people who want to suggest that inner city desperation is behind the criminal activity of inner city youth. But, if desperation were sufficient to inspire kids to go on random, murderous rampages, then murder would be far more common than it actually is. We are not merely talking about desperation; we're talking about desperation + [ ______ ].

What goes inside that box is a matter of pure conjecture. Everyone will have their own perspectives on that, but I would like to supply one possibility: Anger.

Anger clouds human judgement and moves us to actions that would otherwise not occur to us. Anger causes us to lash out at people, even those who are completely unrelated to the anger we're feeling. Anger reduces our productivity at home in the workplace. It impedes our ability to solve problems creatively. It makes our physical health suffer, and destroys our relationships. Suffering enough anger over a long enough period of time is sure to drive us to unspeakable acts of violence.

Sometimes, anger will get the better of you; it's inevitable. The reason you haven't yet gone on a murderous rampage, though, is because you have at least some self control.

Anger isn't an intoxicant to which we are powerless. It's a mental weakness to allow anger to get the better of you. The only cure for anger is ethics, rationality, clear-headedness. In the heat of the moment, you have to have the good sense to recognize that anger will get the better of you, and then step out of the situation until you've had a chance to settle down.

If you make it a personal practice to insist on gaining self control, you will gain it. It won't happen the first time you try, but if you work at it, it will happen eventually. Controlling the severity of one's vulgar passions isn't easy the first time you try it, but it is part of growing up - or at least it used to be.

As human society gains more freedom and becomes more internally focused, the role of moral integrity seems to be shrinking, and I think this is the heart of the matter in the case of all this random violence. That's not because freedom or internal focus is inherently bad. It's just that there's a trade-off involved. If everything you do is designed to serve the tribe, then social mores and ethics play a larger role in your life than if you are a young teenager with few responsibilities and few people counting on you to make all the right decisions.

Human life is changing all the time. My belief is that we are by-and-large gaining more freedom as time goes by, and that this freedom needs to be balanced with a strong personal creed. The alternative is random violence.