Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | December 17, 2012

Imagining Violence: A Response to the Connecticut School Shooting

It isn’t hard to put my self in that place of horror and panic. Imagine: there has been a shooting at your child’s school; you do not know if she is alive or dead. This is a violence we can see on the television, presented as such. And it is madness, we tell our selves. It is not like war, which is to be expected. This is the violence of a single, broken individual. Only gun laws, or Jesus, or therapy, or medication could have changed that outcome, say the voices on the television. Perhaps.

The questions I ask, however, have to do with our capacity to empathize more deeply and broadly with the violence of our world today. The Connecticut school shooting, when viewed in isolation, does indeed look like madness. And it is madness. But it is a madness that can only be understood in its context: the most violent civilization the world has ever known.

Imagine: A young man sits alone in his room, day after day. He is not really a man, of course, but a boy. The man-boy stares at his computer screen day after day, night after night. He knows no touch of another human being. Perhaps he can see pornography: bodies violently re-configured through plastic surgery presented on a two-dimensional screen.

But there is another reality beyond this virtual world: The computer he uses, as well as his phone, were made from parts that were dug up from the mines of the Congo. In the months leading up to the massacre, there were massacres and rapes and forced recruitment of child soldiers by militias fighting for those resources so the man-boy could stare at his screen.

Those resources were brought to America, for man-boy and others like him, at the cost of many barrels of oil. This oil was made available oil-company-sponsored-militias in the Niger Delta, by US drone strikes in the Middle East. Imagine: you leave for work and your daughter and nine of her friends died in an explosion. This happened just days after the Connecticut Massacre.

Only an hour from the Sandy Hook massacre is the site of the Mystic Massacre in 1637, where perhaps 500 unarmed Pequot were killed by Europeans. It was believed at the time that this was the cost of progress.

On the day of the massacre, in cities all over America, brown children were gunned down in the streets. No president came to eulogize them.

Everything has a cost. And ours is the most expensive civilization in history. It is a cost that only can be paid for in violence. Consumer culture, based on the primacy of the value of consumption, requires only one thing of us: to buy. And this buying is an illusion. It is really extracting; it is really stealing. We are stealing from our grandchildren when foul the air and pollute our water; we steal from the polar bear when we melt the ice in the arctic; we steal from the Nigerian and the Arab when extract the oil and drop our bombs; we steal from the Congolese when we plug in our smart phone. It is not that we in the Modern West are any meaner than the people of any other civilization; it is that our way of life has grown to expensive. We can barely get out of bed without blood on our hands. Many of us can barely get out of bed at all.

So the consumer culture of our world is made up of the consumers and the consumed.

But what is the cost to the consumer? The cost of such an extravagant lifestyle, such an expensive lifestyle, is that we are impoverished. The cost to the man-boy and to the rest of us is that in order to avoid the real cost of things we must numb our selves. And in doing so we find our selves alone. Imagine the immensity of the man-boy’s loneliness. Imagine a life without touch, a life in which we hate our selves so much that suicide is not enough. It is as if the greed of consumerism has infected even suicide, as if killing only one’s self is as passe as having only one television.

This is indeed a story of madness, and of isolation. But it it not the violence or the madness that it isolated. The violence and the isolation are what happens when we choose to live our lives in denial of the violence that our way of life requires.

The most violent civilizations are not those in which people walk the streets with knives and guns, but those in which people are oblivious to the violence that sustains them.



  1. Very moving, Theodore. The human cost of the way we live…the man-boy at his/our computer, fashioned from the blood, sweat and misery of others, sometimes working in absolutely abysmal circumstances. The mind cannot hold onto the violence that happens each and every day. If we DID hold onto it in our minds, the totality of it, for more than a few moments, we’d go mad from witnessing all that suffering that’s happening in this sacred, vulnerable Moment.

    So, as a defense it seems, we unconsciously cultivate indifference, so as to hide our awareness from the terrible truth — that unspeakable evil, in one broken individual, as you say, can lash out like we’ve seen time and time again.

  2. Well said again, Peter.

  3. Thank you, Ted, for this.

  4. I so agree that we unconsciously cultivate indifference – out of a sense of despair, shame, hopelessness; a general feeling of inability to do something positive to make a difference. Our common response is “I cannot bear to look/think/respond to what has happened, it is so horrific”. And so, we sail on in the sea of indifference, locked in our own protective bubbles, fooling ourselves, inoculating ourselves from inner pain, by shutting out eternal events.

    The opposite end of the spectrum however is also true. There is so much awakening taking place, so many shoots of hope bursting through in every place, in every heart, so many new beginnings, so much interconnectivity…hope, compassion, communication, clarity and sharing, sharing, sharing of ourselves…however, whenever and whatever….hope springs eternal…our greatest antidote and encourager to go beyond our limited, broken, self.

    Together we are strong and together we create harmony. Thank you for this very poignant and timely reminder to unite, to make our voices heard and to do whatever we can to be the change we are so much yearning to see.

  5. […] “This is indeed a story of madness, and of isolation. But it is not the violence or the madness that is isolated. The violence and the isolation are what happens when we choose to live our lives in denial of the violence that our way of life requires.” – Theodore Richards […]

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