This morning I woke up to the news detailing yet another horrific mass shooting- this one the largest in U.S. history…so far. I say “so far” because these things seem to be happening more and more frequently and getting larger in the process. My thoughts are with the victims and their families of the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub, in Orlando, Florida.
If you haven’t heard about it yet, I will give you the basics as it is understood right now, although you could look at any news website and get more up to date information. As it stands right now, these are the details that are known:
- The shooter was Omar Mateen, a 29 year old born in New York, who resided in Port Lucie, FL (120 miles away from Orlando) at the time of the shooting
- The attack began around 2 am, EST
- Mateen used an AR-15 type assault rifle, a handgun and had many rounds of ammunition with him
- There was an armed off-duty police officer working security for the club at the time who engaged Mateen in a gun battle towards the beginning of the attack
- Around 5 am, SWAT entered the building to try to free hostages
- 50 people were killed in the attack and 53 were wounded, many of them seriously
- Mateen was killed
This AR-15 assault rifle is the same gun that was used in the Aurora, Colorado shooting. It was also used in the Newtown, Connecticut attack and in San Bernardino, California. This weapon is capable of inflicting a ton of damage in a very short amount of time.
After an event like this tons of questions arise, the largest being this-why? Why would anyone choose to do something like this? We may never know, really, but according to all the news commentators this was a guy who had a history of violent outbursts, sympathized with ISIS and had reacted strongly against a gay couple kissing in public. I’m not going to guess at motive because I believe this will be discussed thoroughly over the coming week or two.
The Popularity of Demonizing “Others”
No, what I would like to talk about is the increasing popularity of discussing various groups as “other” in the media and on the internet. There are so many “others” in society right now that it is hard to keep track of them all, depending on which camp you view yourselves a part of. Just off of the top of my head I will label the groups that have been talked about this way (no doubt there are more):
- The Police
- Lesbians and Gays
You get the idea. Just about any name you can think about to label somebody has been used to verbally assault that group and create a sentiment within their audience that these people are not really people, they are the enemy. We need to stop doing this.
If I understand normal human psychology properly, in order to perpetrate crimes against another person you need to see them as something less than human. This is the entire point behind a lot of military training. You won’t shoot the enemy if you see him/her as a person with a family and a life. You have to see them as something else, something “other.”
We live in a society where you only have to watch/read/listen to what you want to. We live in the age of the internet and the 24-hour news networks. You can look at the websites/watch the channel that reinforces your own personal beliefs/world view without ever having to hear that there might be another reasonable side to the argument. For the most part, these sights/channels put down those who disagree as something dangerous, something to be feared instead of just the other side of the coin. It is my belief that this practice has helped to sharply divide our country.
America’s Congress is more polarized than it has ever been, save perhaps before and during the Civil War. Is it any wonder when all the populace hears about is how dangerous the other side is? The populace votes these people in, after all. Their side in the polarization of Congress must be important to them.
This polarization is starting to show itself in more than just our political system. More and more public demonstrations are being held- some of them turning into riots. These are very real feelings held by a good number of people and we can’t just disregard that. How does this connect to these shootings that keep happening, though?
Following this most recent mass shooting, the Washington Post did a timeline of the deadliest shootings in American history. What is the pattern? They are happening more and more frequently. In fact, there is a huge jump between most of them until recently- 1949, 1966, 1982, 1984,1986, 1990, 1991, two in 1999, 2005, 2007, three in 2009, two in 2012, 2013, three in 2015 and now this most recent mass shooting, the worst in American history, in 2016.
Based off of this, it seems like these shootings started happening more and more frequently in the 1980’s, then really took off in the 2000’s. CNN began in 1980. By 1996 they had to compete with Fox News and MSNBC. There are a few more around now, but you get the idea. 24-hour news networks have become more popular. Fox has gained a foothold as a conservative operation and MSNBC seems to be its liberal counterpart.
So, I have to ask, is there a connection between being able to watch a channel that almost one hundred percent agrees with your own viewpoint about the way the world works, or how it should, and the polarization of America? It feels like it to me. This combined with the internet is a huge reason as to why people seem to be so unwilling to listen to each other to my mind, because they don’t have to at any other point. Why should they have to endure another’s opinion/theory as to how America will/should work in any given situation? They don’t have to at any other point in life- they choose their friends and they choose which opinion to watch on TV and read online. If you add a sense of demonization of those who disagree, what does that do?
I want to make clear that I am in no way trying to say that 24 hour news networks and the internet are the sole cause of mass shootings and their increase in America. That would be ridiculous. I don’t have enough time to go into the many things that help create this more volatile environment we are living in and am in no way an expert on any of this.
Are these 24 hour news networks contributing to the sense of “otherness” in American society? I believe so. I also think that the news networks are going to focus on the potential terror aspect of this story and maybe some gun-control things. Those are just symptoms of the larger problem though- this sense of “other” that seems to have invaded society. It is everywhere right now- mass shootings, this presidential election and the issues they choose to rev up their political bases, the behavior of our Congress over the last decade or so, etc.
This is merely my opinion based off of a pattern that I have seen over the recent years. My goal isn’t to make anyone upset, but an incident like this deserves to be examined for what it is. Whatever his beliefs, Omar Mateen had reached a point in his life where he believed shooting the people in that nightclub was worth risking his own life to do. He had turned complete strangers into “others.” America will, in turn, vilify him as an “other” because of the terrible things that he did. This is an ugly cycle and I do not see it getting better any time soon.
If America really wants to stop horrible incidents like this from happening in the future, we need to turn the discussion from demonizing those who are different from us to figuring out how to work with them. Otherwise, these things will keep on happening and, in all likelihood, just get bloodier and bloodier.
Next week I will try to keep it less opinionated and political. Despite these terrible things that happen, try to have a good week and happy reading!