Monday, January 10, 2011

A Perfect Storm of Violence

I just heard today that the Arizona legislature is considering a bill to allow students and faculty to carry concealed weapons on campus - ironically just two days after the shooting in Arizona of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. While I can emphathize with the desire to have "personal protection," I believe this would be a mistake in today's current Culture of Blame. I believe that we are facing a perfect storm of violence, which faces college campuses as much or more so than other parts of our society. Here are the three intersecting forces which constitute this perfect storm:

1)  People have changed in society over the last 40 years or so. There are more people with high-conflict personalities who are preoccupied with blaming others, have a lot of all-or-nothing thinking and have a lot of unmanaged emotions. In short, there are more people with personality disorders than ever before, according to recent research by the National Institutes of Health. (For more about this, see my books It's All Your Fault! and Don't Alienate the Kids! where I analyze the impact of some of this research.) People are particularly narcissistic, believing that they alone can decide who is "all-good" and who is "all-bad," and in some situations, who should live and who should die. In particular, this research shows that young adults have the highest percentage of personality disorders and narcissism. Of course, the majority of young adults are responsible and caring citizens. But the minority is growing of those who have the emotional problems and impulse control problems associated with personality disorders and other mental illness. We live in a society where people are less able to restrain themselves, so that we need to have more restraining orders today in relationships than ever before. (I know about this increase from my own personal experience of 15 years representing clients in family courts.)

2)  Our news and entertainment media are promoting more images of violence, unmanaged emotions, selfish behavior and arrogance than ever before. Recent brain research shows that we have "mirror neurons" which copy the exact behaviors of those around us, even when we don't realize it. We add all of these behaviors to our mind's repertoire of possible future behaviors, if we are ever in a similar conflict situation. While these dramatic images are designed to be entertaining for adults, then can actually be training for young adults, whose brains are not fully developed until their late 20's. Never before have we had the level of violence in our daily diet - and I'm talking about our 24-hour news and internet images, as much as dramas and movies.

3) We live in a political age where we have a tug of war between the desire for more regulation of others and less for ourselves. The crash of Wall Street appears clearly the result of deregulation over the past 20 years, which allowed many likely narcissistic and antisocial manipulators (as Bernie Madoff has been described) to take advantage of many unwary investors, large and small. Yet efforts to impose more regulation have been resisted by many (including Wall Street). While urban police departments have sought more gun control to protect citizens from violent individuals, the U. S. Supreme Court has moved in the opposite direction by reducing their ability to control guns.

An experiment with the deregulation of guns on campus in an age of lack of impulse control and constant images of violence is very bad timing. Colleges and Universities seem to have done quite well over the last few hundred years. The message of the recent shootings by young people at schools, shopping centers and political gatherings, should be that the problem will not be resolved by an individual student or faculty member who is allowed to carry a concealed gun. It it much more likely to be increased by someone carrying a gun, whether a student, faculty member, or someone from off campus. This is the worst time to try this. We already know that with this perfect storm the trend is there for more shootings this year.

Lets reduce these gathering storms by decreasing media promotion of violence, addressing the unstable people on campus, and reducing the presence of guns in our most vulnerable communities - just like we do at airports. Let's stop these gathering storms, not feed them.

   

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