What do these stories say about our society?

First up, a guy went on a shooting rampage in Seattle, WA on Wednesday, murdering five innocent people before committing suicide.  Unfortunately, that’s an all-too-familiar sequence of events in our country.  But my larger point here is that the shooter’s family members reportedly aren’t surprised.  Apparently, this shooter has a long history of erratic behavior and, as they tell it, “mental illness,” that prompted one family member to tell the media, “We could see this coming.”  I know, as a psychologist, I’m supposed to care about the mentally-ill, but honestly, I care a lot more about the people who got killed and injured by this guy.  And guess what?  His family members apparently weren’t the only ones who were aware of his volatility.  On more than one occasion, as recently as just days ago, he reportedly had been disruptive enough to be kicked out of the very cafe where Wednesday’s rampage started.  Apparently, police weren’t called because the cafe “wanted to be tolerant,” and even if the police had been called, not much probably would’ve happened (nothing against Seattle cops, it’s true in most jurisdictions).  This is another all-too-familiar sequence of events — people, even some in the justice system, “wanting to be tolerant” of intolerable, dangerous, behavior.  What does it say about our society that we continually seem to just acquiesce to people with known histories of instability and violence remaining in our midst long enough to do something like this guy finally did on Wednesday?  As I keep “crying out” from here in the Kansas “wilderness” virtually every time this kind of apparently-preventable tragedy happens, our persistent societal reluctance to act decisively to neutralize (i.e. separate from the public) clear and present threats to public safety, in my opinion, is usually the most insane aspect of these cases.  I’m not trying to make anyone up in Seattle feel guilty here, but wouldn’t everyone involved in Wednesday’s tragedy, including the shooter, be better off if, a few days back, an “intolerant” cafe had called some “intolerant” cops who had arrested the shooter and brought him before an “intolerant” prosecutor and an “intolerant” judge who locked him up at least long enough for an “intolerant” psychiatrist to maybe calm him down and figure out what was wrong with him?

Next, Congress is poised to vote on proposed legislation to ban abortions for the purpose of gender selection anywhere in the U.S.A.  Apparently, a substantial majority of Americans support this legislation.  Now what does that say about our society?  I mean, if we, as a nation, truly believe that a fetus, at least up until a certain gestational age, has no right to live — which is generally what our various state laws governing elective abortions currently say — then what difference does it make why a pregnant woman wants to end a fetus’ life?  But if, on the other hand, we overwhelming believe that a fetus has a right to live under this particular circumstance — if a pregnant woman would simply prefer a child of the opposite gender — then, logically-speaking, what other reason could the pregnant woman have that would then negate the fetus’ right to live.  To me, what this says about our society is that a majority of us believe that a fetus has a right to live, but up to now, not enough of us have wanted to stand up and say that for fear of being branded “anti-women.”  Well, consider this:  This proposed federal legislation banning abortions for gender-selection purposes was spurred forward this week after the release of a candid videotape depicting a Planned Parenthood employee counseling a young woman about how to determine the gender of her fetus and then abort that fetus if it turned out to be female.  Now, Planned Parenthood claims to be “pro-women.”  Hmmm.  Wonder how all of the women who don’t exist today because they were aborted as fetuses would feel about that assertion?  It’s tough to imagine anything more anti-women than ending their lives before they even have opportunities to become women.  I know, “But I’m a man,” so what do I know, right?  I know what makes logical sense and what doesn’t, as, I think, do a vast majority of Americans who’ve just been reluctant to say so.

Next, Jerry Sandusky, former assistant football coach at Penn State University, is scheduled to go on trial next week for multiple counts of sexually abusing children, sometimes on the Penn State campus.  When these charges were leveled last year, it quickly became apparent that the much-beloved longtime head football coach, Joe Paterno (since deceased), had been made aware of the allegations long ago and had prioritized protecting the Penn State football program over protecting kids.  Paterno was fired as a result, and what happened then?  Penn-State and Paterno fans nationwide cried foul.  Students on the Penn State campus even rioted (which may make one want to think twice about hiring a Penn State grad unless/until fully convinced of that individual’s non-participation therein).  Without question, child sexual abuse is heinous, horrendous, and inexcusable, and I fully expect Sandusky to be held accountable for his behavior.  The big question in this case, to me, is this:  What does it say about our society that so many Americans seem willing to look the other way from child sexual abuse because games were being won?  (Hint:  nothing good!)

Finally, as a forensic psychologist and lawyer, I like to see credit given where credit is due to those responsible for seeing that justice happens, in our society and in our world.  As the presidential election cycle revs up, however, it seems like last year’s killing of Usama Bin Laden has been politicized to a degree that’s really beginning to grate on me.  What does it say about our society that so many Americans seem to be so willing to credit one individual, the President, with that worthy accomplishment, as if it were an individual sprint rather than a team relay event?  Here’s the truth as I see it:  The killing of Bin Laden was the culmination of a manhunt that began ten years prior under the previous president.  Seven years of that manhunt, and much of the investigative groundwork involved in it, occurred during the previous president’s tenure, sometimes using methods like “enhanced interrogation” that yielded critical information but that many of the previous president’s opponents — without naming any names — nevertheless strongly criticized.  Three years of that manhunt then occurred during the current President’s tenure, culminating in the killing of Bin Laden last year.  So, as I see it, at least 50% of the credit for the killing of Bin Laden belongs to the previous president and to all those who conducted groundwork under his leadership, and at most, 50% of the credit belongs to the current President and to all those who continued the groundwork and ultimately conducted the kill operation under his leadership.  I think that the current President deserves plenty of credit for giving the order that brought the ten-year mission to a successful conclusion (and also for his multiple orders, before and since, to “drone” out other terrorists like Anwar al Awlaki — or, as I like to call him, Anwar al Unlucky — whether their host nations like it or not), but I think that it was, in essence, a team relay, not an individual sprint.  So, in the spirit of the upcoming Summer Olympics, I think that we ought to be awarding multiple medals for this particular “event,” not just one.

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