I’ve decided to delve a little further into the nature of the causes of the massacres that are all too common in today’s world. We now have the truck mass murder that just occurred in New York to add to the list. And the church mass murder in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Different kinds of causes have been discussed for these massacres. In the terms of my model, there has been discussion of defined discrete focused specific causes which have been called figure causes, and the more nebulous causes that come from different configurations of stimuli in one’s living environment and which have been called here environment causes. And environment causes can be broken down into causes coming from environments dominated by flowing blendable continual stimuli – which are more organic ground causes – and causes coming from environments filled with bundles of defined discrete stimuli, bundles of abrasive friction, which are tension-pocket causes and, finally, causes from environments filled with infinite continuous stimuli, filled with nothingness, which are vacuum causes.
People today are living in environments dominated by configurations of vacuum and tension-pocket stimuli, pockets of overstimulation surrounded by understimulation. But underneath everything today is the foundation of an experiential vacuum which we are pushing into deeper and deeper in order to create lives that are more frictionless and mediated. This, in turn, pushes us into greater and greater numbness and into experiencing more and more the feeling of a living death. To fight this sensory distortion, more and more of us find ourselves modeling ourselves after complex machines, computers, robots, and avatars. But many of us are unable to do this effectively, and many of us don’t want to do it effectively. So to pull out of this living situation, many of us use chance encounters with other people as springboards for getting angry and then feeling alive. Real angry, so that we practically feel like exploding. And then we release this built-up anger by going out and killing other people. It doesn’t have to be impulsive. The built-up anger can lead to creating a plan ahead of time that will allow the perpetrator to kill as many people as possible.
In a physical vacuum, collisions are magnified. Something knocks against something else and is sent flying a much greater distance than would occur in an environment where gravitational forces prevail. In the same way, numb people can overreact to chance slights and feel a need to maybe attack the cause of the slight, a particular person, but also to attack lots of innocent people. Sometimes the particular person who generated the slight can be overlooked and only innocent people are attacked. The response to the slight is an explosive event that temporarily pulls a person out of his numbness.
But because we are dealing with chance slights here, there is practically no way that society can control what is a trigger or a tripwire for this horrific behavior. These are random events, just like the kinds of events that occur often among any floating figures in a vacuum. A vacuum environment is going to produce random explosive events among the figures floating within it. There is no way of effectively anticipating and controlling all these explosive events in a vacuum environment.
Perhaps an appropriate analogy is that of some other random events that have been recently happening. I’m talking about the terrible wildfires that have been occurring in the Western United States and particularly in Northern California. These fires occur there, because the climate is so dry and, in particular, the vegetation can become so dry. There is so little rain. And lightning or the slightest little spark from a campfire can set off an enormous reaction of a raging fire. There is no way of preventing all the random events that start fires in these very dry areas. One can tell campers to be careful, but the dry environment still creates a situation that predisposes the transformations of trivial carelessness into relatively serious conflagrations. And a person who wants to start a fire has an easy time in this environment. Which is why such a person would be drawn to such an environment. Finally, no one can control for lightning. So, in short, a random event can definitely trigger a fire, but perhaps the deeper more persistent cause of the fires that occur in the Western part of the United States is the dry climate and dry vegetation.
By the same token, more murderers like Stephen Paddock wouldn’t be predisposed to commit their despicable actions, if they hadn’t been made so numb by the experiential vacuum that surrounds them in their modern technological environment and by all the consumer technology in which they immerse themselves. This consumer technology – movies, television, video games computers, smartphones, tablets, and, increasingly, virtual reality technology – puts them in worlds where their daily life experience tends to be very frictionless and very mediated. This frictionless, mediated experience is considered something that is very desirable, because it seems very comfortable and very safe. It prevents people from having to confront directly the dangers and risks of life in external world reality. But the consequence of this immersion in all of this ongoing frictionless, mediated experience is that people start feeling more and more numbness, and they sink more and more into a living death. Many people in this situation resort to some kind of overstimulating kicks to temporarily pull themselves out of their numbness. Dance clubs with loud music and strobe lights, motorcycles, and drugs. But some people, who are profoundly numb, feel a need to recur to very explosive, destructive experiences in order to pull themselves out of this experiential situation. It is experience that can temporarily put them solidly in the substantive external world.
All of us who immerse ourselves in consumer technology are ultimately immersing ourselves in an experiential vacuum that is making us numb. So many of us become so profoundly numb, that we become like the dried-out lifeless vegetation out West that threatens to catch fire as a result of the slightest little spark from lightning or a camp fire or a pyromaniac. Just like the fire brings the dried-out vegetation into a brief very intense kind of life, so the smallest irritation, slight, or conflict can bring a profoundly numb person into a brief very intense feeling of life by turning him into a mass murderer.
We can’t prevent all the irritations, slights, or conflicts that a profoundly numb person could possibly experience. But what we can do is try to minimize the time that people spend in the screen reality (and increasingly virtual reality) created by consumer technology. We can limit the total amount of time that young people spend in front of a screen or in a virtual world. We can encourage them to engage the real external world as much as possible and to participate in primary experiences – arts, sports, community and social groups and, of course, reading hard copy books – as much as possible. This will help to prevent them from sinking into a dangerous profound numbness in the first place, and help them to develop a more organic coherent sense of self that is capable of carrying on a meaningful life narrative, making, receiving and preserving organic imprints, having rich vibrant life experiences, and preparing for death with a surrogate immortality.
Consumer technology is so much a part of modern life that it would be hard to totally eliminate it. But by significantly limiting its use, we may be able to eliminate the zombie effect that comes from becoming more and more like the machines we use. It is certainly worth trying this idea. We have got to stop making life, particularly for young people, so frictionless and mediated. Otherwise the mass murders will never stop.
(c) 2017 Laurence Mesirow