Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie.
Jamil Al-Amin/aka/H. Rap Brown
Like most Americans, I am baffled by the recent violent eruptions of young white males who indiscriminately kill and maim innocent people. In fact, I still can’t wrap my head around why these so-called “lone wolves” decide that slaughtering innocent people is their only option. I keep wracking my brain to find some explanation for this evil trend.
And then it dawned on me. I was looking in all the wrong places for causation. I was looking past the obvious clues. I finally realized that it wasn’t so much “nature versus nurture” as it was the impact of cultural and technological dynamics. Specifically, through sophisticated video games that reward players points for killing humanoid-like creatures, along with the emergence of violent one-on-one sporting events, as well movies and TV shows, we have become desensitized to the sanctity of human life.
Young men are not the only ones being desensitized — they are being egged on to commit heinous acts of mass killings. Before they go out and wantonly murder innocent people, they have spent hours upon hours killing “zombies” in their basement or bedroom. In addition to zombies as killing targets, games like Call of Duty (COD) and Grand Theft Auto (GTA) give the player the opportunity to kill drug dealers, cops and civilians and insurgents and civilians. So the thin line between a video game killing and killing real people is blurred in their minds.
However, unlike the video game, the real-life victims cannot be rebooted. Too many parents have turned over parental responsibility to the computer or television. We would never hire a babysitter without a background check. Yet we allow these violent video games to babysit our children. It’s like we say to ourselves, “Well, they’re out of my hair” and seem to be enjoying themselves.
The real question is, “What are they enjoying?” Are they enjoying saving lives or taking lives? Are they simply playing a game or practicing how to transfer their game killing skills into real life? Monitoring what young people are doing when we don’t see them has become a necessary role that today’s parents must assume. Even with this parental diligence, we still have to be aware that there are other societal factors desensitizing all of us.
The fastest growing professional sports like UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) are unbridled examples of primitive violence. Conventional boxing matches now appear dull compared to these exhibitions of raw violence. Watching participants punch, kick and choke each other is not my idea of good entertainment. Still, people spend millions on pay-for-view access to watch this mayhem.
In addition to watching this primitive exhibition of unconstrained violence, many fantasize about pummeling or killing a family member, friend, or stranger. I genuinely believe that these outlets do not minimize violence — instead they celebrate it. Even our traditional sports have allowed and encouraged violent behavior. Hockey has long been a sport that incorporated and allowed violent and dangerous outbursts to be part of the game. Basketball, aka “malice at the palace,” has had its share of violent episodes. Football, violent by nature, has witnessed players beating each other across the head and shoulders with their helmets. In baseball, dugouts are emptied as players rush onto the field to confront each other. Yet people are glued to their televisions and phones, soaking in and titillated by these fights and confrontations.
I would submit to you that watching these violent events has rewired our brains — making us think that this is “normal” behavior.
As usual, I don’t have the answer. What I do have is a plea that we get a grip on what’s going on in our society and culture. We still have time to pivot and guide our society to a place/space that values human life.
Kwame S. Salter is president of The Salter Consulting Group LLC and a former Oak Park resident.