Alejandro del Carmen, chair of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at Arlington, said it might seem as if deadly violence has increased because the Internet and social media delivers vivid news from everywhere in almost real time.
“We learn about the nature of how violent these acts are, see pictures of the victims, reporters talk to neighbors that knew the victims, and there’s a tendency of humanizing and personalizing this story in a ways we never have before,” del Carmen said.
As for the recent spate of family killings, he said, “It’s another week of random violence in America.”
Bob Vincent, pastor of Grace Church in Alexandria, La., often encounters pain and suffering in his profession. He knows a man whose wife hanged herself, and a woman whose father killed her mother.
He believes that the steady diet of violence fed to Americans through news and entertainment numbs them to tragedy and influences unstable people. Economic pressures and breakdowns of family and morality also contribute to the problem, in his view.
And when we accept the horrible as inevitable, he said, you stop trying to solve the problem.
“People tune out,” Vincent said. “They just go on about their lives. It’s not affecting them, it’s not their child shot. So I think that we are in a paralysis in terms of dealing with things substantively.”
There is a solution, said Elena Mustakova-Possardt, a social health scholar and psychotherapist.
There is much research indicating that social networks are rapidly disintegrating, she said, from the family to organizations to the credibility of government. But people need to feel connected to others and to communities to develop fulfilling, purposeful lives.
“There is less and less of any meaningful moral authority that holds people together,” Mustakova-Possardt said. “There are fewer internal connections and community models that can be trusted.”
“These extreme forms of random, horrific violence are an act of saying, my life is absurd, nothing means anything, I hate myself, I hate my life, I hate society,” she said. “Until we all make social health our shared project, we cannot honestly say that we have done what we can to keep our children safe.”
Jesse Washington is reachable at http://www.twitter.com/jessewashington.