By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
Dozens of people are dead. Dozens more are wounded. Grief and shock have gripped the citizens of El Paso, Dayton, and the rest of the nation. Politicians, as usual, will blame their opponents and insist more legislation is the answer. They are misguided. The answer begins with understanding the real root of the problem. And the real root of the problem is complex.
We must ask a forbidden question: What is normal? Is normal defined by centuries of acceptable behavior? Is normal that which enables individuals to form a stable, productive society? Over the past 50 years, we have tossed aside our ideas of normal: traditional marriage; nuclear families; the sanctity of life; respect for elders, authority, and other people. We have ridiculed religion and tradition as old-fashioned, useless burdens. We now worship fame and outrageous antics. Young people lead virtual lives online, often devoid of any actual friends. Hyped-up, exaggerated, and downright fictitious lifestyles are posted nonstop in a frantic effort to achieve celebrity status. Many young people are desperate for attention. Their behavior, however, often leads to rejection and isolation. Everyone experiences rejection and isolation, but normal people gradually mature and learn how to cope. They adjust their behavior in an acceptable, productive manner.
Unfortunately, when time-tested values and institutions are stripped away and replaced by whatever is bizarre, nasty, violent, vulgar, or self-indulgent, the results are disastrous. Unstable, angry, young men with fragile psyches cannot spend endless hours playing “first person shooter games” without consequences. Many of us over the age of 40 are completely unaware of how realistic and gruesome many video games have become. We’re not talking about cartoon characters. Virtual people and real people blend into one another. Combine this with mental illness, anger, hatred, drugs, and a complete lack of any moral compass, and the results can be horrific.
Angry, unstable, amoral people should not have access to guns. But sooner or later, we need to address the real root of the problem. There is such a thing as “normal.” Most of us are still sane enough to recognize its absence.