What about Newtown? What about America?

It is horrendous. We so easily identify with the children – and teachers – and mother – killed in the Newtown massacre – and with those who knew and loved them, who no longer have these loved ones in their lives. We find ourselves deeply moved by who they were and the seeming pointlessness of what happened. And from our collective sense of loss and lostness, we wonder: What does it mean? What is to be done?

Here are some of the more coherent and useful essays I’ve run across so far regarding this traumatic turn of events, which the evolutionary perspective tells us is rich with possibilities for making ourselves and our world better…

In Michael Moore’s intense recent letter (accompanied by a passionate, evocative twitter feed)
http://www.michaelmoore.com/words/mike-friends-blog/note-michael-moore-2 , the director of “Bowling for Columbine” has named three major issues raised by the Newtown massacre:

1. regulation of gun ownership (specifically “banning semi-automatic weapons & mega-clips. Must have license to own gun. Must pass mental exam”);
2. the state of our mental health system; and
3. the place of violence in America’s national culture;
to which I would add:
4. what kind of culture DO we want?

GUNS: For very thought-provoking information about the gun issue see “Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/14/nine-facts-about-g… URL: http://wapo.st/Uukuwe – including the linked clarification about the evolving gun culture of Switzerland and Israel. This issue is not really just about the pros and cons of guns, per se. We need a more nuanced discussion of what particular guns are for; the trade-offs, conditions and consequences of their ownership and use; and the capacity of society to sanely administer whatever gun regulations we collectively create. For that last topic, see “Four ways to stop gun violence”
http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/4-ways-to-stop-gun-violence . For a taste of some of the complexities of gun ownership – remembering that Adam Lanza used to his mother’s gun to kill her and all his other victims – check out “Do guns make us safer?”
http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/30/opinion/frum-guns-safer/index.html and the author’s previous article
http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/23/opinion/frum-guns/index.html as well as the down-to-earth “Pistol Packing Realities”
http://www.eugeneweekly.com/article/pistol-packing-realities .

MENTAL HEALTH: For a review of the connection between mental illness and mass shootings see “Mass Shootings: Maybe What We Need Is a Better Mental-Health Policy”
For a humanly compelling and totally relevant plea for a more effective mental health system, see “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”
The author is not the literal mother of Adam Lanza, but her usually bright and normal-behaving young son can suddenly turn viciously angry and homicidally violent. Her article makes painfully clear our need for better ways to handle this challenge. I am struck also by its implications as we create more sophisticated and accessible technologies capable of killing and destroying in more novel, effective ways (see especially Bill Joy’s famous “Why the future doesn’t need us”
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html ) – especially because, among other things, Adam Lanza was a member of his school’s technology club. What might he have become capable of ten years down the road? You will find another angle on the mental health dilemma – the issue of prejudice and respect – in “Don’t Stigmatize Asperger’s Syndrome in Wake of Newtown Massacre”
short url:

VIOLENCE: For thoughts on violence in America’s culture, here’s a poignant musical call from a gun opponent in a cascading litany of dozens of potential causes of violence in America – Cheryl Wheeler’s “If It Were Up to Me” from 15 years ago:
https://www.commondreams.org/further/2012/12/14-0 . For glimpses of the usual (usually “liberal”) catalogue of causes of America’s “culture of violence”, see, for example, “The Culture of Violence in America” https://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/08/12-8 and “The American Culture of Violence”
http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/08/03/the-american-culture-of-violence/. Michael Moore’s film “Bowling for Columbine” is also a vivid resource.

For a perhaps deeper and more nuanced perspective, see “National Violence”
http://www.common-place.org/vol-12/no-01/author/ about the historic and ongoing challenge of creating a unified American national identity out of wildly diverse peoples and forces – our mythic E Pluribus Unum (“out of many, one”). In this article, historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg explores the dynamic tension at the boundary between self-identity and Other which has characterized America’s evolving historic struggles with “others” – from Europeans to Native Americans to African Americans to women to immigrants – and all the accompanying psychosocial dynamics of “othering” – racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. The American mythos simultaneously upholds the True American ideal of a tough but gentlemanly righteous white male hero, while needing and wanting idealized qualities it sees (through its projections) in all these Others. Historically, these conflicts have been characterized by violence, repression, and cross-boundary transgressions. Perhaps, instead, we will become increasingly ready to deal with our diversity using dialogue and a respectful search for common ground.

A DIFFERENT CULTURE: What would a diverse culture look like that was defined not by violence and oppression – nor by busy consumerism and distraction – but mostly by mutuality and co-creativity? We already have a lot of all of those dynamics – both the “good” ones and the “bad” ones. But what narratives and institutions would support the development of a culture that, above all, uses its diversity creatively?

I see an upwelling of action, conversation, and much-needed inquiry and reflection being stirred up everywhere by this tragedy in Connecticut. One of my favorite organizations, the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD), is exploring among themselves “questions about what the right issue is [for the nation] to discuss in light of this crisis, what resources already exist that people can put to use immediately, what we can do in Newtown [where one of our active members lives]…, what we already know about running national dialogues, and what more needs to be done to ensure our community [of dialogue and deliberation practitioners] can respond quickly and effectively to crises like this one” in the future. I view NCDD’s response as energized expertise responding amidst – and in service to – an abundance of conversations emerging at every level of society in response to this collective trauma. The Sheriff of King County (where Seattle is) spoke about the need for this at the NCDD national conference in mid-October; you can watch an edited video of his talk:

Unfortunately, it usually takes such “trigger events” to awaken broad mass attention and “political will” to deal with major societal dysfunctions (see http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/moyermap.html ). One part of collective wisdom is our ability to channel the energy of societal traumas into creativity, healing, transformative conversations, supportive activities, and lasting social change. Another part of collective wisdom is our ability to create a culture that doesn’t need to “hit bottom” like that before it takes corrective action or before it engages in needed renewal and innovation. Such a collectively wise culture uses its diversity and collective intelligence to see more clearly what is coming and to respond creatively to it, moment to moment.

That is the vision promoted by the work of the Co-Intelligence Institute, which so many of you support.

Blessings on this immense Journey we are all on together…



Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440
site: http://www.co-intelligence.org / blog: http://tom-atlee.posterous.com
Read EMPOWERING PUBLIC WISDOM – http://empoweringpublicwisdom.us
THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY – http://www.taoofdemocracy.com and
REFLECTIONS ON EVOLUTIONARY ACTIVISM – http://evolutionaryactivism.com
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