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Post of the Day
April 23, 1999

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Subject: Re: Sick of all the "violence" blaming
Author: wcampbel

I had written this for another purpose, but since you asked....

My premise is that the shooters in Littleton, CO were not insane, nor were shooters in prior incidents.

This is more likely a case of limited horizons, an inadequate introduction to the reality of living in this world. As in the classical syllogism, bad premises + good logic = bad conclusions. Juveniles, by their very natures, are not capable of interpreting their experience accurately. What are ultimately small events will be seen as significant, defining moments simply because there are not enough experiences to weigh them against nor is there enough rigor in their consideration of them.

A major function of the body is to acquire data: eyes, ears, nose and such are the obvious organs of sense. However, feelings in the gut, endocrine secretions, also deliver samplings of the world to the brain. The function of mind is to catalog, correlate, and consider these various inputs. Sadly, in the very young, the ability to synthesize data and analyze it is rudimentary at best.

A lifelong goal, but critical for the young, is the exercise of wrapping first order data, the result of direct experience such as fear, anger, desire, or shame, within second order data (also called information), such as reading belle lettres, academic criticism, commentary, directed conversations, parental relationships, and such. This is why we put them in school so early and keep them there so long. We attempt to give them the baseline information and the tools required to correlate and evaluate their experiences in a world that is necessarily both the same as and quite different from that in which their forbears lived. In short, there should be an attempt to connect and modify the local and temporal with the universal and fundamental. We no longer do this successfully.

"What we see is ill-considered reaction rather than judgement."

What we see is ill-considered reaction rather than judgement. Clearly, the power of thought, true rationality, is evident in the planning and conduct of these events. But the rationality is restricted to a narrowed venue, subordinate to emotions. In large measure the mentality of the young collects data and bypasses the processing which renders that data explicable in a context larger than the feelings of an individual. Just as the body will gather data and generate a reaction to it, the brain is a processing capability that will process what it gets. If it gets emotion rather than data, it will process it. And it will produce the inevitable result of its operations: judgements and actions.

The process of socialization, which is incorrectly taken to mean adjusting the individual to meet the expectations of society, is a gift that enables the individual to understand conventions and expectations. This is information necessary to be in control of oneself, to be self-directed, to be conscious. The integration and interpretation of perception, reaction, memory, self-awareness, and thought is requisite to both survival and growth.

Both education and parents should be in the business of buffering emotions with exposure to ideas. This has, in the past, been automatic, built in to the conduct of schooling and the social values reflected through the parents. It is not an issue of removing "bad influence"; rather, it is one of competing with it. School, and all of adolescence, should be about vigorous activity, physical and mental. Sadly, it no longer is. Parents will not add to their own perceived responsibilities to support it. The second and third rate academic and social environments fostered in our schools by federal paternalism and public apathy, under pressure from special interest subversion, removes it from consideration. The true context within which facts and acts exist is never explored.

Bad influences (dire entertainments) have been around throughout time. Some have been exceedingly popular; re: Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, the Book of Samuel, most fairy tales, France's Grand Guignol theater, Punch and Judy, the Roadrunner. Denying the negative weakens people: they become unable to oppose what they do not recognize. It is necessary to buffer exposure to any ideas with discussion to refine the ability to process information. Otherwise, the brain only has perception, the personal, and the emotional to work with. Unfortunately, those who suffer this limitation often find one another and reinforce their limitations instead of mitigating them by associations with others who have better skills.

This explains the apparent coldness of what is inherently taken to be an act of emotion. Given that the actors have no context, no tools, no training, and no discipline to bring to bear on their experiences, given that the primary input to the brainpower that they inherently have and cannot help but use is emotional, these acts are inherently rational in process, but entirely based upon an acute sense of the personal without any recourse to what we would ordinarily consider components of logical thought. The results, of course, seem entirely insane.

This is the significance of reading. Teachers should impart basic facts, expose students to resources, and cultivate the ability to think. But reading is the key to the growth of a rational mind. Reading requires time and solitude: two things which encourage reflection and develop conviction. Those most likely to indulge in recreational reading are those who have been read to. Sadly, I doubt that happens much these days. There is no more concentrated way to acquire information which explains this world. Words are precise and focus the reader's thought in ways that films and video cannot. Read a well-constructed passage of pure description and then view a scene attempting to render it. The images are unfocused compared to the narrative. Written details supporting mood or theme are placed directly before the reader. In film, they often blend into the overall images and lose power and meaning however strongly the director attempts to emphasize them. Film has other strengths, but reading is inherently more intellectual and stimulating.

"When they lower us into the ground, do we really want our children to wonder who we were rather than carry us forward, to be able and eager to share us with their children and grandchildren?"

Reading, more than any other skill, is critical to mental growth and understanding this world. And we do not teach it properly. It is not just the recognition of words or what they in themselves mean. Rather, it is how they dance, how sense adheres to the way in which words are used beyond what they individually denote and connote. Reading is the fundamental process of education. It focuses attention, channels thought, introduces emotions, experiences, and concepts. And, in a tightly controlled relationship between author and reader, presents a context for information which can carry a developing mind through a full, serious consideration of things not directly experienced, not taught, not understood, or not believed. Probably the single most beneficial change that could be made in public school would be to establish some sort of "Reading Hall" wherein reading itself and how to pursue it is the subject.

Surely it would be disheartening to understand that the failures which lead young people down this road are not in themselves large ones. They are not hours spent in dissipative pursuits such as violent video games, Hollywood movies, or the like. They are small, persistent omissions: the repeated loss of the bedtime story and associated conversation, the easy, dismissive answer to significant questions, the inherently corrupt practice of making it plain, through attitude, that adults do not have the time, will, or integrity to make this world sensible, to share what they have learned, to pass experiences, values, essentially themselves to their children. When they lower us into the ground, do we really want our children to wonder who we were rather than carry us forward, to be able and eager to share us with their children and grandchildren? Would we not hope for what other, more focused generations could expect?

As a side question: Do you know of one of these events occurring in a private school?

Bill