A clever friend suggested that we should be concerned with how media is framing its messages.
How is the discussion framed? Crisis, Crisis, Crisis, Insanity. Immediately you are blasted with a state of emergency. Its essentially all editorial conversation. And if you look at it objectively, the language is very charged, and frankly antagonistic at every turn. So, you keep pumping that message into the head of a person who already believes that there is a crisis. There is a perceived emergency. Eventually one of them is going to go, “well, shit, its my job to do something about it…” and so, you read what that kid had to say. And it was batshit… it reads like some kinda Gen Z Cliffs Notes Turner Diaries. And if you peep around his social media presence, you will find him posting things like wishing Bill O’Reilly a happy retirement, and thanking him for all the Lib tears… seems to me that there is a relationship.”
To put that in psychological terms, elicitation of limbic response via increasingly disturbing images can lead to aggressive behavior. We also KNOW that the kind of media that these people are consuming will raise a limbic response, and that most of them are huge consumers of that media. And we know that these media systems are intentionally targeting these individuals and ramping up their anger.
There is research that suggests that where the subject can differentiate the imagery from reality that this is not seen (hence the literature suggesting that video games may not lead to juvenile violence in al cases). However, where the subject cannot differentiate (i.e. where they believe for example that Fox News is “fair and balanced”), we can eventually expect to see much what we see in teens, whose amygdala are impacted developmentally already, and much, much, worse (read mass murders) . Of course, the external objectives of this media also exacerbate feelings of impotency, and promote projection of personal anger over perceived circumstances the individual feels were unfair, allowing the individual to map the one onto the other.
Our responses, from “thoughts and prayers” to a scolding over taking advantage of an unfortunate event involving a single mentally ill individual are old dodges; we certainly are not going to provide increased resources to address mental health nor is it likely that any deity is going to intervene. Cases like these will not be ameliorated until we recognize that gas powered autoload, high capacity magazines, and short barrels have one purpose. And though most of the dying from handguns is the result of suicide, the same is true of handguns.
I would suggest that these people are not “mentally ill” because I think for most purposes that phrase is largely meaningless. I would also suggest that we have seen Cambridge Analytica, by their own admission and through the analysis of others handily manipulate whole segments of the population, and that the methods for accomplishing that are very much the same mechanism by which media like Fox News can manipulate persons who would otherwise manage. In fact I have watched the mechanism work on persons reliant on Medicaid, turning them into raging phobics intent on putting an end the very benefits that were keeping them alive. Are these people weak minded? Well, that are certainly not 3σs, but the key, recent fMRI work suggests, is that they have cognitive filters that do not work (hence the jokes about Republicans being mentally defective). Its not that they are less capable (though some of them obviously are) but that they are more credulous.
Unfortunately, as a society we are committed to the concept of free speech, and even the concept of “hate speech” worries me. What can we do when we recognize that enough people in our society can be manipulated via media to change election results based purely on tweaking their emotional responses? How do we outlaw poison that 30% of the population insists on consuming, lol? We can’t manage booze or heroine, let alone Fox News!
I had put my hope in good schools, but in fact we will never reach student teacher rations or effective enough teacher instruction to do more than keep our thumbs in the dikes. We COULD limit political campaigns, shut down funding to campaigns (free speech issues again), etc. but those with the money are not about to let the voters they control agree to that now, will they?
Of course there are those who swallow Pinker’s claim that society is getting less violent, so why sweat a few mass murders. Well, not only is Pinker wrong about the data, he is rather callous in suggesting that my neighbor has no real value. And let’s also put to rest the arguments that if someone can blow up a building with fertilizer, why bother with guns. Even BATF and Congress know that is mere foolishness.
This is not about “those people” where we obliquely reference some inconsequential demographic of unofrtunates. It’s about the fact that all humans screw up on a regular basis. So many people are killed and maimed by automobiles that we implemented regulations as to both safety AND insurance. There is even a distinct area of the law that deals with dangerous instrumentalities; it’s called strict liability.
There is no rational basis to have millions of weapons w auto load, high cap mags, and short barrels. They are designed for only one purpose, and that purpose is not only unlawful, but seen as immoral by most.
We now know how easy it is to push someone over the edge, and that we have lawful enterprises constantly engaged in doing just that. This second issue is much more fraught than the first as it challenges our ideals about speech. It is not a new problem; orators regularly set off mobs in Rome. But it has gotten to be endemic and the foundations of our polity are now threatened.
Logically one should start with the resolution that toddlers should be allowed to tinker with armed tactical nukes. As one rejects progressive removals from that premise, one is forced to recognize a number of themes which argue for what libertarians might call, well, “liberty”, each of which on close examination can be seen to be elements of a factually insupportable credo.
The inner chimp affords us the altruism of the band, along with the ferocious response to the “other”. As the fore brain competes evolutionarily with the inner chimp, it seems to me that those with limited fore brain functioning outbreed those with fully functioning fore brains, and that bespeaks a Wellsian future…
A bit of roasted Morlock?