Recently, we were confronted again with another mass murder in the United States. It occurred at a high school in Parkland, Florida near Miami, and this time, the students have reacted by organizing protests and marches. They are angry as well they should be. Apart from their loss of friends and teachers, they have lost their capacity to assume that their scholastic lives can be conducted in physical safety. They have experienced something that will leave a permanent mark on their lives. And they are calling for much stiffer gun laws, so that it will become much more difficult to obtain them. The Florida legislature has just passed a new bill that provides greater control over the purchase of guns, but it has refused to ban assault weapons like the AR-15.
Would stiffer gun laws give young people the relief that they want and need? Certainly, a better control by the government over opportunities to obtain an automatic weapon could limit the casualties in some rampages. And better background checks and compulsory gun training could limit who would get a gun in the first place. But there are already so many guns out there in America. How is it going to be possible to regulate the use of all of these?
America is a very violent society. And I would submit that guns play a very important role in the lives of many American males, and this role would help to explain why and how these massacres occur. The problem for these males relates to a particular aspect of their lives that is very ambiguous, almost nebulous, and yet it is still very palpably present. I am referring to the transformation of their fields of experience as a result of the phenomenal growth of modern technological living environments. Although modern technology does create a lot of negative static stimulation as a result of the overcrowding in modern cities - this abrasive stimuli from so many people, speeding cars, noise pollution, air pollution, and light pollution in the form of flashing lights - there are still many areas of experience where people are understimulated as a result of so much frictionlessness, mediation and speed stemming from modern technology. These are aspects of experience that make things supposedly so much easier for people. Mediation, as in doing things on a computer screen or watching a drama on television, means that one doesn’t have to get one’s hands dirty getting too involved in all the friction and imperfections that are involved in traditional everyday primary experience. And then there is increasing frictionlessness, as a result of all the processes that are occurring in life that are being done automatically or practically automatically as a result of modern technology. Modern public washrooms are a typical example. Put your hands under a faucet and the sensors pick them up and the water goes on automatically. Put your hands under the towel dispenser and towels are dispensed without touching anything. Go relieve yourself and pull away and the toilet flushes by itself. These may seem like small examples, but more and more processes of our daily lives are being done either automatically or with a minimal amount of effort. Experientially, it leaves a person without much traction in life. And spending so much time watching other people live their lives in movies or on television doesn’t help either.
It may be hard to grasp the notion of experiential traction. It means that people need to feel textured surfaces, even rough surfaces, in order to feel alive, to have rich vibrant experiences, to have meaningful life narratives, to make and preserve organic imprints, and to be able to prepare for death with a surrogate immortality. Textured experiential surfaces act as a template that allow people to bond with one another and create relationships. It is no wonder that so many honeymoons occur in tropical resorts surrounded by nature. But with fewer and fewer of these textured experiential surfaces, we increasingly experience ourselves as living in an experiential vacuum.
Of course, one of the things that increasingly makes it difficult for us to attach ourselves to such textured surfaces is the speed at which everything moves around us in a modern technological living environment. Trains, cars and planes move so much faster than animals like horses, camels, and elephants as well as vehicles that are carried along by animals. And we can perform so many work processes so much more quickly as a result of modern technological devices. And we like this, because we like things done more efficiently. But when we have things done more efficiently, we have less opportunity to attach ourselves to the experience of the process, in order to feel alive from the process, to be able to participate more fully ourselves in the process and thus to make and preserve more imprints.
Without these textured surfaces, we literally slide off the surfaces of our worlds into an experiential vacuum. And this particularly is a problem for males in America. In spite of the loss of textured organic surfaces in the external world, women still have a very importance source of organic stimulation that gives them a sense of internal grounding: their menstrual cycle and their ability to have babies. It might sound strange to talk about periods – a situation that women don’t like – as something that in some contexts has its advantages. And childbirth can be a very difficult painful experience. But both periods and childbirth provide rough textured internal organic experiences that give women a kind of traction that men don’t have, a grounding through processes that are part of organic cycles of nature. Furthermore, in becoming pregnant and giving birth, women have a more immediate direct connection to a preserved organic imprint, in which both men and women initially participate together. To this extent, women are going to be less affected by the experiential vacuum created in modern technological living environments. Men are going to experience more of the numbness created as a result of all the frictionlessness, mediation and speed they encounter. Many of these men will try to control this numbness through drugs or through experiences like yoga or shiatsu, all of which create strong internal stimulation to compensate for the lack of organic stimulation in the external world. Now, of course, women do drugs, yoga and shiatsu too, but I would submit that they are particularly important for men. Yoga infuses men with the type of female energy that women have naturally. In addition, with meditation, people can focus on an internal experiential vacuum that they can control as opposed to the vacuum in the outside world.
But some men choose to create abrasive tension-pocket friction to feel alive. Another human body represents one of the few easily accessible naturally occurring organic surfaces left in our modern technological living environments. So to overcome their numbness, men use different forms of sexual abuse, both physical and psychological, as a form of abrasive friction in order to feel alive. Many sexual connections with a variety of women with whom there is little or no emotional commitment. And, of course, in many cases, these connections are simply predatory.
But the behavior that is most problematic is the use of physical violence in what I called in the past, crimes of numbness. And, in particular, the use of guns. In the U.S., guns are so available and so valued. The increase goes back to the notion of individuals having guns to protect themselves and their families, not only against foreign invaders but also against tyrannical governments. Having guns acted as a counterbalance to governments like England before the War of Independence.
But now guns are used by some men as a means to create big explosive destructive experiences, and, in so doing, to simply feel alive. It is a means for these men to pull themselves out of the numbness they feel as a result of the lack of traction from textured organic surfaces within their field of experience, both external and internal. Now, on some levels, an explanation like this is not satisfying, because it pins as a cause of gun violence something that is environmental and enveloping rather than easily defined, delineated and focused. Eliminating such a cause will have to involve a change of attitude in society towards modern technology and towards one of the foundational beliefs of modern society – that the best life is one that is frictionless, safely mediated, and efficiently fast. It would also involve a shift away from many of the entertainments that modern young Americans now use: video games, violent movies and television programs and violent websites. These are but stepping stones for certain young men towards tension-pocket violence in the external world in order to break out of the grip of the experiential vacuum. It would take time to create such a shift in attitude, assuming it could be done. Unfortunately, until such a shift is carried out, tragedies like Parkland will continue in the United States.