The Social Temperature of  Mass Shootings

 “Listen to the wind; it talks. Listen to the silence; it speaks; listen to the heart; it knows”

~ Indigenous People’s Proverb

The Social Temperature of  Mass Shootings

By Julian Ezekiel Alejandro

From 1966 to 2019 1,196 people have been murdered in the fashion of mass shootings in the United States. One-hundred and sixty-five separate incidents to date. The El Paso, Texas massacre is presently acutely disturbing as we know details of a young mother who died along with her husband while shielding their infant son. The Dayton, Ohio massacre happened just one day after El Paso. Its shooter’s motives appear an almost random amalgam of  violent ideation, a massacre in want of a motive. The Las Vegas shooting was a chaotic hell on earth with no known motive. The only thing its 58 victims held in common was a love for country music. Sandy Hook’s victims were mainly children 7 and younger. Daniel Barden was one of them. He would have been 14 today. His parents started a foundation in his name to encourage others to small acts of kindness. Deliberate cultivation of peace and light in the face of violence and darkness. 

These random public massacres are as dark, and as horrifying, and as sad as our shared human existence can possibly get. Unless we make substantive efforts on all fronts related to mass shootings, we must bow our heads and accept this as the new norm. Or have we already? Can we still reasonably call ourselves a society if this is the accepted norm?  

Gun control and mental health are part of the equation to be sure, but even these in concert cannot, and will not, make big enough of a difference.  

Daunting as the task may be, if we are to prevail, we must prevent people from ever arriving at the conclusion that the merciless, bloody destruction of human life is the dark path they must take. Whatever the circumstances, motives, reasons given for each event, there is the purely spiritual or raw psychological event that is happening underneath, the outcome of which is mass murder, and death and a blip of posthumous, infamous significance for the murderer. Preventing that mental event from happening in increasing frequency is not beyond our collective abilities. Afterall, we created the physical and psychological environments in which these tragedies are now commonplace. A habitat which we created for our own species inspires a not insignificant number of us to mass murder and suicide. Perhaps what, as a matter of happenstance, we organically engineered into our societies, we may  intentionally engineer out.

Mass shootings are a reality we must resolve to never quietly accept. It is a phenomena I fervently urge us all to examine with our powers of ratiocination as well as our deepest psychological, emotional and spiritual intuitions. 

What exactly are these horrific events? Is each one an entirely different phenomena with different factors? Or are they simply variations and iterations of a single condemnatory declaration made by a human soul before it reaches into oblivion and brings it back to share with others?      

If there is a mass shooting contagion as some scholars have noted; is there any way to prevent its spread? Are all, or even most mass shootings also forms of suicide? 

Is  there a social ecosystem, a fecund psychological substrate of fear, pathos,  animosity behind each of these outbursts of catastrophic fatal rage?

I am well convinced we mainly know the answers to these terrible questions. Moreover, there is a roadmap to the hell of mass shootings, and out of necessity, I have an unction to describe it to anyone willing to look upon its obvious, insidious precision. It may appear differently to you and I, and to each of its followers at the beginning of their journey, but the map eventually brings all who succumb, to the same exact horrible place. Or state of mind. Or spiritual condition. Take your pick.

Is there any describable course of action we can take to decrease the number of mass shootings? If there is, it is a moral imperative that we take that course of action in earnest sincerity, and with all deliberate speed. It starts with asking the right questions.

What horrible chain of events has to happen in a human mind before it assents to the imperative of coldblooded mass murder? At what point does a living, sentient soul decide it will murder loved ones and strangers, slaughter children in front of their parents and parents in front of their children?

What perspective might it be that one comes to believe, and share with all other mass shooters, before they voluntarily and irrevocably plunge into this hell dimension themselves? 

A mass shooting occurs when the Social Temperature—the amount of ambient fear, animosity, hatred—reaches a flashpoint in an individual. It happens when intellect, intuition and emotion refuse to resist anymore, what is asked of them. What is asked of them is what we ask of one another. Will you please hate the people whom I hate? Will you take every opportunity to be offended? Will you please hate yourself as well? 

The ambient animosity, fear, and anger our species collectively puts out daily, finds its home in the minds and hearts of suffering humans. The stronger and more proliferate the general messages of disunity and discord are, the higher the Social Temperature. The hotter the Social Temperature, the greater the number of those who succumb, and follow the map’s course to its lifeless end. The event more likely when the high Social Temperature is also markedly accusatory, insular, and solipsistic. 

A cacophony of accusing, condemning voices starts the droning drum beat. A lifetime of rejection, exclusion, insult, pain. Eventually an acceptance sets in that one must judge and be judged, and that mercy is not an option for anyone. A mass shooting at ground zero, is a public accusation, condemnation, and execution of our very species. 

If you say any one population of humans is intrinsically worse than any other you will always be wrong —as well as a bigot. If you say the tribe that is not yours does bad things, you will always be right. If you say your tribe will never abuse its power, you will always be wrong.   

We are fallible. We fail. It’s what our species does. Every tribe. Every individual. But the high Social Temperature —the proliferation of hatred, cruel, pitiless, doctrinaire tribalism, and its flashpoints, the mass murders which presently occur anywhere, anytime, causing unimaginable suffering? Surely we can do better than all that bloody noise. 

But are we willing? 

Enmity and disdain, expressed as snarky contempt are exquisitely gratifying. As such these are hard to relinquish. Especially when they gain one likes and follows. Hatred of the Other on social media is a bustling economy. There are seminars, symposiums, workshops, websites, each devoted to teaching a school of thought which posits vilification of the Other as a force for positive social change. Many on their surface well-meaning, mostly. How could blaming entire groups of people for the most pronounced of society’s ills possibly go wrong?

It’s unlikely that any tribe has an exclusive on truth or on the most accurate perspective. And that everyone else outside that tribe is not only wrong but evil. Religious cults make such claims; rational people really shouldn’t. Believing we need to vilify the Other in order to make progress is a wrongheaded mistake too many of us are falling for.

Confess that you are a witch, communist, fascist, racist, sexist, and all will be well. If only an omniscient narrator would interject from time to time when we forget: “Hey folks you’re doing it again. It’s the species, you fools, not any group of you.” 

We needn’t look far to see some of what is increasing the Social Temperature today. A recent exchange on twitter went like this: “Black American culture produces blacks who kill blacks in huge numbers;” response: “White culture produces white mass shooters.” It’s an argument nobody wins and humanity loses. And a few more steps are taken toward a destination of annihilation in the mind of someone somewhere.

Everyday rhetoric used across all forms of media are not merely the mean spirited fun we think they are but also iterations of the spiritual dictums: You should hate Them and here’s why. I have suffered; I will cause others to suffer. Your kind are worthless and evil. Their kind are worthless and evil. You and I are better than everyone else.

The laws of Social Thermodynamics say all this negativity has to go somewhere. 

But there are things we can do; And there are things we can refuse to do, to bring down the Social Temperature, and decrease the number of mass shootings. It begins with an understanding of what it means to be human. It continues with a willingness to look at this wonderful and loathsome species for what it truly is, and resolve to love it anyway. Ferociously. As a species. With mercy. Without that we will remain lost in our desolation. Without taking in all that we know, owning it, and acting on it, we are stating in agreement with the mass shooters, that our species indeed is not fit for existence.