America is Unwell

Guns: The New Colossus

“The New Colossus” was a poem (1883) containing the oft-quoted line inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free” …. The poet, Emma Lazarus, was 38 when she wrote the famous sonnet. An activist and member of the New York literary elite, Lazarus was known for vigorously protesting against the persecution of European Jews and the growing anti-Semitism in America.

The Statue to welcome immigrants arriving in New York Harbor was a gift of friendship from the people of France. Titled “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” and offered as a symbol of freedom and democracy, the 151 feet tall Statue placed upon a 154 feet tall pedestal was an awe-inspiring presence.

Only the ancient Colossus of Rhodes (280 BCE) could compare. At 103 feet tall, that statue towered over the thriving Mediterranean port city of Rhodes. The Colossus represented Helios, the ancient Greek god of the Sun, and was built to thank the gods for protecting Rhodes during a merciless military siege. Decades later, in 225 BCE, the Colossus was designated one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Shortly after that, however, the massive structure toppled, the victim of a violent earthquake.

A 21st-century Colossus-of-sorts now towers over America. The AR-15 assault rifle that has crept into the hands of Middle America is small—less than four feet tall—but mighty and popular. When Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) testified on March 29, 2023, on the Senate floor, he read gruesome AR-15 statistics into the Congressional Record. The facts and numbers were from The Washington Post Editorial Board, and they included:

“‘One in 20 U.S. adults own at least one AR-15…That’s roughly 16 million people, storing roughly 20 million guns designed to mow down enemies on the battlefield with brutal efficiency,’” Durbin then further quoted. “‘The rifle fires very small bullets at very fast speeds. The projectiles don’t move straight and smooth through targets like those from a traditional handgun. Their velocity turns them unstable upon penetration so that they tumble through flesh and vital organs.’”

Senator Durbin also inserted into the Congressional Record the names of American towns and cities where mass shootings occurred and the numbers of victims at each site. This was just the latest of Durbin’s tireless efforts to persuade legislators to reinstate the ban on assault weapons. His state is a haven for guns; even universal background checks would help a lot. Nationwide, though, there have been so many killings, each with so many unique characteristics, the numbing of America might have disclosed its root cause… except for the other causes drilling their way down to America’s core.

Their drilling has caused many tectonic-type shifts and above-ground quakes. Some of them exposed deep fissures in America’s democracy. Others left wide cracks in consumer confidence and gaping holes in leadership. Yet, despite such warning signs, Richter-scale debt climbed higher and closer to the “too bad we failed” mark. Ultimately, the shifts in America’s foundation exposed the sludge and sediment that had been slowly rising to the surface. “Yearn to be free somewhere else,” oozed out of the sludge, “Jews will not replace me,” came from the thickest part of the sediment, and “Guns protect me and my rights, so get outta my way” burned inside the impenetrable center.

“I think therefore I am.”
~René Descartes, 1637

“I seethe, therefore I kill.”
~Mass Shooters Today

Tremor and Quake. Underneath America’s surface, more tremors are regularly detected. The most prominent ones come from in-your-face challenges to the many long-running inequities. While the list of denied-in-plain-sight ones is troubling and regrettable, the list of established injustices is as unbelievable as it is unwarranted. The very existence of the list disputes the caring, competent image America projects and protects. The list especially underscores the long-standing corrupt workings in the nation’s body politic. Instead of honestly and courageously working to change inequities, too many politicians have historically feigned efforts, conjured excuses, and blathered incredulous denials.

Over time, those inglorious tactics have left scores of citizens with untended physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds. Some assaultive wounds have been inflicted directly and knowingly, some indirectly, but all were aimed at the citizens most dependent on America’s afflicted care systems. The wounds from reputed-to-be friendly, repeated fire were incurred in the battlefields of poverty, hunger, homelessness, joblessness, addictions, inadequate healthcare, insufficient minimum wage, wealth disparity; unaffordable childcare, unaffordable housing, affordable housing cum polluted air and water and land, affordable housing cum crime; voter suppression, immigration dysfunction; redlining, whitewashing, blue state values usurped by red-capped fury; and overall, the disintegration of families broken by combinations of the above.

Additional wounds have come from discrimination based on race, religion, appearance, orientation, and choosing to be identified “otherwise”; also from child, sibling, partner, elder, or worker abuse; corrupt acts paying more than honest ones; money-bought elections, money-bought tax cuts and havens, money-bought “justice” that is more than what public defenders can extract; and money unavailable for unaffordable education leading to unfindable jobs.

Many enduring inequities are enabled by “charities” that give out too little from the donors who give too little. Those donors’ deductible dollars are meticulously meted out in synch with unfair tax laws teeming with exclusive exploitable loopholes.

An example of the opposite is present in the values, deeds, and motto — ”Everybody has a responsibility to do good.” — of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrows’ foundation. Instead, it is the cut-rate charitable giving combined with “give ’em what they want” tax breaks that leave teacher salaries squeezed, school buildings unrepaired, school lunches unprovided, school supplies unavailable; bridge, road, and rail maintenance deferred, long lines and hold times at government agencies, the nation’s budgets and debt ceilings relegated to boxcar status on a runaway train, and many “other” categories suffering from Stage 4 neglect.

“But wait, there’s more,” just like the TV ads tease. The entries turn stark toward the end of the list of what keeps shifting under the ground that Americans walk. The homeland is threatened by civil war, domestic terrorism, authoritarianism, tyranny, the erosion of laws and order, cyber-AI-simulation fears, nuclear strike fears, and orders-of-magnitude climate crises with unrelenting effects.

Leaving the worst for last, the final entries on the inequities list are the unspoken reasons humans break: the absence of love and the breakdown of truth.

“The world is too much with us.” Those words, written in 1802 by the poet William Wordsworth, are surely a summary of today. Any combination of a few selections from the litany of discontents outlined above would overwhelm and undermine the average human. Forensics done on the lives of mass shooters show that many feel crushed by the weight of too many of the generalized discontents becoming personal. (“I can’t get a job and I can’t keep a relationship and I don’t have any friends or future.”) That weight constricts the human circulatory systems that give life to healthy thoughts and feelings. When those systems shut down, so do the psychological systems that distill personalized toxins. With all outlets for detoxifying collapsed, all conduits for reality checks close up. As the normal flow to all well-being systems shuts off, the various pathologies holed up in the human’s aura (“my so-called life”) fade to black.

Then comes the madness. What is true and where is love blur into oblivion. “I can’t stand the torment” becomes “I don’t want to live.” Added to that death wish is a plan for expressing how much “I just wanted to be heard!” In the shooter’s mind, any final act must match what is buried inside: the deepest pain, the cruelest torment, and the most unbearable sadness to cover the single most unutterable truth. “I just wanted to feel loved.”

Rage has no emotional conscience.

What is the cause of gun violence in America? The hopeless, furious American who kills to relieve the unbearable pain. Because America is unwell, many of its citizens are unwell, and more and more of the unwell are showing it.

Camera crews and worldwide networks beam the horrors of America’s violence night and day. On both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation’s Capital, cries and whispers bespeak the collective angst. The carnage is unspeakable and seemingly unending. It is frightening to admit there is no solution in sight. It is wrenching to go through the what-ifs for one’s own family. It is chilling to uncover the shooter’s thoughts, drawings, and planning details and to affirm the reinforcing effects of video games, chat rooms, and supportive affiliations with other malcontents. Comprehending the icy alienation jammed inside one human being is practically impossible… despite the evidence of twisted factors that combine and convert to rage, murder, and maim.

A nation whose leaders and caretakers do not know what to do can always approach an unsolvable situation with an inadequate solution. It has been done before, and it is back again.

“We need more laws.” “We need to enforce the laws that are on the books.” “We need more prayers.” “Guns are not the problem.” “If we rankle the NRA, we will lose the money to buy the next election.” “It’s a mental health problem, not a gun problem.” “Gun manufacturers have the right to build the meanest weapons they can, and Americans have the right to buy them and use them… for “hunting” [squirrels] . . . and shooting anybody they disagree with.

It is the American way. It is killing us.