We’ve lost our ability to think

I’ve been debating with someone on Facebook now since the Newtown shootings. I’ve been going back and forth with him not so much about gun control but about logic. Applying logical in its fullest form to a situation, and reasoning through the questions posed by any problem. It’s the way that they taught us back in Canaan Elementary, Saxton Middle School, and Patchogue-Medford High School when I was growing up. Mr. Bresler required we use logic in Regents Math Class. So did Mr. Yngstrom in physics, and Mrs. Braverman even asked us to apply it when she asked why one four letter word was “dirtier” than any other word in the English language. “Think!“, they implored.

As a Mechanical Design Engineer, I was trained to look at a problem and try to do that very thing – think. Someone – some customer – would say, “I have this situation, this assembly process, this whatever” that I need solved. And we would study the requirements. We’d ask, “where is the lowest hanging fruit?“, also. Usually, we could solve 80% of the design problem with 20% of the budget. The lowest hanging fruit was almost always easiest to see and address. It was that last 20% of the design that took time. The subtle things. The less obvious things.

And so, in the days after the Newtown shootings, I was optimistic. I went so far as to watch President Obama at the Memorial Service one evening. I – dare I say it – was even hopefully optimistic that something productive would come out of it. It had a 9-11 feel to it. We as a nation, had some resolve to solve a problem. Yee haw.

It was a short lived moment. I’m almost embarrassed that I got sucked into a hopeful state again. I swore I’d stop falling for it, and yet there I was again….face…..egg.

When the President said, “This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.“, I thought back to 9/11. Because I had to fly all over the place, at the time. I’d flown out of the same airports the hijackers had flown out of. I’d lived in New York, driven to Newark, and flown over DC more times than I could count.

Our response to 9/11 security was unilaterally “defensive”. In order to care for the customers (superimpose the word “children”, here) we said, “no one is allowed in the plane (in the “school”) without being screened first. The solution wasn’t better mental health programs for the passengers. The solution wasn’t “smaller single engine airplanes shall only be legal from this day forward”. We saw the lowest hanging fruit…protect the defenseless at the border…and the entrances. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a single terrorist attack using an airplane since 2001. No one has died, mid-air or on ground, because we put defenses at the perimeter. Nobody moaned and groaned and said, “Oh, I don’t want my airport looking like a police state!”. We showed up a 1/2 hour early, and took off our shoes and whispered, “God Bless America” under our breath.

So my logical – engineering based mind thinks, “How is this any different?”  If a metal detector costs $5,000 USD (the walk through type), and our our “first task” is “caring for our children”, and we’ve already done this before, successfully – than what’s the issue?  It would cost approximately $500,000,000 to install one of these units in every school in America. If we limited to urban schools, or schools with a certain population density (where these shootings occur) than cut that number down to about 1/2, or 1/3rd. No armed guards, just a detector. Something that beeps as obnoxiously as the scanner at Charlotte does when my luggage with all it’s unidentifiable electronic gadgets passes through.

If we used the President’s own words, “with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community”, I am certain that we could find someone to sit at that desk and watch for the red light to go off. I’m not alone in that “low hanging fruit” thought, either. So much so, that there’s even a story of one former U.S. Marine, Jordan Pritchard who felt so compelled to help, that he showed up in his uniform outside his children’s elementary school in Nashville. “What choice did I have? My kids were afraid,” he explained, saying that he wore his old Marine uniform because to his kids it “represents protection“.  People want to help. People are helping.

Here’s where my illogical friends lose their minds. And I’m sorry for shining a spotlight on your inability to connect some fat dots, but this one is important. This second term, I’m going to hold this President to the promises he made, unlike the first term where he either compromised what he said he’d do, or flat out broke a promise nearly 50% of the time.

I’m going to use the examples of Newtown, and Columbine for the purposes of my logic. Both involved people walking into a school, and shooting children, with guns. What if any common threads are there between these two horrific and life altering events in our nation’s history? Are there any?

Yes. And if it were any larger of a thread, we could hang ourselves with it.  None of my progressive or liberal friends have mentioned it once on their multi-week rants. None of my conservative friends have posted one link to one article about it, either. It mystifies me, when you talk to people who say, “this is a complex issue, and we can’t really understand what’s going through their minds“. I think to myself, “really?….what planet do you live on?”

Listen to these two quotes. The first is from Jerald Block, a researcher and psychiatrist in Portland who studied the Columbine shooters and concluded,

“….that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their shooting rampage at Columbine High School after their parents took away their video game privileges. They “relied on the virtual world of computer games to express their rage and to spend time, and cutting them off in 1998 sent them into crisis“.

Did you know that in May of 2007, the American Medical Association flirted with adding video game addition to their list of mental illnesses? You probably didn’t know – because no  one reported it.

Here’s something else you didn’t know. Most of the soldiers that were being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan were arriving completely unprepared for combat service. Not because there was anything wrong with their basic training programs. But because the urban warfare in these regions were different. Soldiers didn’t wear uniforms on the Baghdad streets. And so our soldiers were confronted with a crisis – how to shoot a civilian and not hesitate, or pause before pulling the trigger? The Department of Defense’s answer?

Video games.

The newest “game release” this year will include “female suicide bombers“. A multi-million dollar upgrade to the software will make it easier for our soldiers to shoot women, when they land on the front lines.

Our government, knows something most of us don’t know. When you immerse someone in a  virtual environment hour after hour, the physical chemistry of your brain changes. You begin to dull your “conscience center”. Nerves that used to “fire”, measured with an MRI, stop firing.  Kids don’t see faces or names or men or women or children anymore. They see scores and rewards and advancements. First person games are especially effective in that players are able to make decisions affecting the actions of the character they are imitating. After a limited amount of time playing a violent video game, a player can “automatically prime aggressive thoughts” according to one study (Anderson & Dill, 2000, p. 788).

In english – you become your character. When you’re not playing the game, even. In a split second – you’re right back in the game.

What happens to people that play these games? Is there any evidence that any of this is true? Well, in another study peformed by Gentile, Lynch, Linder & Walsh (2004, p.6) teens who played violent video games for extended periods of time,

Tend to be more aggressive…..Are more prone to confrontations with their teachers…May engage in fights with their peers….and will see a decline in school achievements“.

On average – back ten years ago – kids spent on average of 5 hours (girls) to 13 hours (boys) a week playing games. The number is considerably higher in 2013, as is the level of graphic detail and carnage available to those adolescents.

So what, if anything does any of this have to do with the Newtown shootings? Well, it has a lot to do with them. Check out this quote from the New York Post December 19th,

For hours on end, alone in his windowless basement den, Adam Lanza studied photos of guns and obliterated virtual victims in violent video games — until the virtual became a reality…..Lanza, 20, especially liked “Call of Duty” — a wartime role-playing game where participants use high-powered assault rifles, machine guns and other weapons to slaughter scores of people, according to a published report“.

Peter Wlasuk, a man interviewed about his experiences with the Lanzas had this to say,

It was a beautiful house but he lived in the basement. I always thought that was strange,” said Mr Wlasuk, who went into the basement on several occasions while working at the house….But he had a proper set up down there — computers, a bathroom, bed and desk and a TV. There were no windows…they had one poster of every piece of military equipment the US ever made. … The kids could tell you about guns they had never seen from the 40s, 50s and 60s. The kids who play these games know all about them.”

Someone will tell you that the best way to protect our children is to get rid of “assault weapons”.  While banning assault weapons may be “a” way to protect our children, it is not the “best” way. No assault weapons were used in Columbine. The law, as it’s being written today would not have prevented any of the types of guns those two boys carried into that school from entering.

Someone will tell you that better mental health programs is the best way to protect our children. While implementing better mental health programs may be “a” way to protect our children, it is not the “best” way.  Psychiatrists who have studied the lives of the two Columbine boys would tell you that one of them was one of the most well adjusted, happy-go-lucky kids you’d ever meet, and exhibited no outward psychiatric manifestations of depression or angst.

I want you to turn to that “someone” and tell them what you know, now. That you know what science has proven. What our tax dollars fund as far as military training is concerned. I want you to have the courage to stare at your television screen and shout, “NOOOOO” like me when an elected official tells you that a 30 round clip ban will save our kids, and make them the “safest” in the “shortest” period of time. It’s a lie. It’s a cop-out.

The solution is sitting on a Walmart shelf, right now. It’s a click away, in an Amazon warehouse. It’s sitting in your basement, or in their room, right now, with sore thumbs from firing for hour upon hour upon hour and getting rewarded for killing as many people as possible, as violently as possible.

It’s not a first amendment right, no more so than publishing pictures of naked women getting strangled is “art”.  Moreover, it’s the one commonality across all of these tragic events. The one thing we can point to and say with any authority, “this keeps happening”. Will the President have the integrity and the cajones to stand up in a few weeks and do something about it? Will we, as parents?

If history is any indication – no.

He won’t. We won’t. See – someone’s always paying to protect the lowest hanging fruit. The owner of the first engineering company I used to work for used to say, “Follow the money, Michael……..follow the money”.  When Vice President Biden comes back with his “findings” in a few weeks, I want you to remember those words. Remember that there are over 12 million subscribers that pay $15 a month to play the online game “World of Warcraft”. That’s $180 million dollars of revenue – for that one game, in one year. 

When everyone is out vilifying the NRA in a few weeks, I want you to remember that there’s another phone call being made. Another lobbyist is dialing your Congressman….your Senator….your President saying, “…Remember, take it easy when you talk about the video games….“.

Right after you remember to do that, go downstairs and look through your kids game collection, and remember what you read here today. I gave you all the links to go back and read all the articles, yourself. Look at the fruit, yourself – and see if logic doesn’t point to the same things I found here, today.

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