global issues, media, psychology

National Symptoms, Invisible Causes

Suppose you have an nagging person in your life. They bug you, they irritate you, but they never hit you. Now and then they mock you. If you respond to them in anger, it may start a greater argument, and you might end up being the one criticized by others even though all you wanted to do was defend yourself. Still, if you do nothing, the problem within you only gets worse until you become very angry.

As a kid, I recall such a situation would have no solution if my parent did not intervene. Name calling and mockery was punished, as it should have been. But this was limited to children whose parents forbid such actions and was inapplicable to brats. Ignoring wasn’t a fun option, and while it did build character, let’s just say that I’m not a fan of this approach to building character.

An immediate response to unkindness is usually small – a tit for tat level. You might see one kid smack another and then get smacked back. If, instead, the child is the quiet kind and hopes the problem will go away, their anger may begin to fester until it all comes out in one big burst – much to the surprise of people naive enough to think that the calm before the storm meant no storm was brewing.

Some time ago, I heard that being mocked and called derogatory things activated the same parts of our brain that are activated by other sources of pain, such as being hit. (You’ll have to scour the internet for this doc since I don’t recall the source, sorry.) I can certainly believe this is true or at least draws attention to perhaps the real mechanism, which may be very similar. In any case, we feel upset.

To some degree, this is controllable. We may not be able to control the fact that we feel pain from being hit, but a scrape on the knee at age 18 doesn’t feel quite as life-tragic as when we are only 5-years-old. Words are alittle more controllable because the nerve paths aren’t built in.

When you learn something and memorize it, your brain starts to build a neural pathway to speed up the recollection process. This is a very important fact.

Your native language, as you use it over and over again, will start to become more and more intuitive. What actually is happening is that your brain has built pathways to speed up the recollection of words. (Tangent: This may be why sometimes you might have those awkward moments where you use a word and it “doesn’t sound right” even though you “know” it’s the right word. You’re “knowing” may be from the neural pathways but the “doesn’t sound right” part may come from you no longer traversing the logical information gathering to explain it and now suddenly your brain realizes that in an odd way. But that’s all speculation on my part.)

When you are mocked, your brain makes the conceptual association of yourself with the idea behind the mockery in order for you to understand the statement. This “negative association” is basically an association with path. Mocked enough times, a person will begin to subconsciously “believe” it – or rather, have neural pathways created that perpetually associate themselves with negative feelings (from the mockery). This causes a state of depression. Consequently, it takes a long time from a person to heal from verbal abuse as a child because those negative neural pathways need to be overridden by stronger pathways associating themselves with positive feelings and ideas.

Mental activity (especially subconscious activity) is difficult to explain in a debate, so it’s hard to argue why positive association is necessary and why someone mocking you is doing powerful harm to you. After all, it isn’t visible, and since an unfortunately large percentage of people need to see something visible to believe it, we have a world that criticizes and eyes skeptically these “invisible causes”.

Training of the Mind

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a ready example of how witnessing violence and death has a profound impact on the human mind. Unfortunately, it’s such an extreme example of how violence affects the human mind that many people consider the “non-traumatic” experiences of violence to have NO effect other than establishing a memory. Such experiences include watching videos and clips of violence and death (be they real or in movies) and playing video games. The common mentality is that “if it isn’t happening to me or it isn’t real, it doesn’t affect me”. That is, if a person is not directly experiencing something, then it should have no effect on them. (That’s a huge topic in itself, but I’ll save that for another time.)

The bobo doll experiments are famous in the field of psychology for demonstrating that children replicate what they see, but what about adults? And what about movies? Does everything effect you?

Baseball players (and other athletes) often practice over and over again to train their subconscious mind to perform a particular activity. They do this because their subconscious mind is actually faster at making decisions than their conscious mind. Think about it. The neural network in your mind is gradually tied together with pathways that speed up the reaction time. It’s easier to perform 1+1=2 and 345+912=1257 after you’ve trained your mind to do math (in base 10, of course). To prevent their conscious mind from trying to handle the decision of when and how to reach for that ground ball speeding at them, baseball players chew gum. The chewing “distracts” them so that the subconscious mind can perform the quick reaction.

Imagine someone comes up behind you and dumps water on your head. They do it again and again until finally, before the water is dumped, you cringe in expectation. Your subconscious is often the first to react in cases where you’re “not thinking” about what’s coming next.

As you go through life, often times, your first decision (or the one you choose to go with) is going to be based on more than just who you are naturally born as a person. And it’s also going to be based on more than what you were taught as a child. It will be based on those things but also upon your previous interactions with other humans and upon the other things you witness other humans doing and upon what your mind considers the most satisfactory approach.

What does it mean for your mind to consider an approach “satisfactory”. Perhaps the phrase, “I couldn’t live with myself if I did that” comes to mind. If your mind is based on how you feel in the moment, you’re likely going to take action in a way that your experiences and knowledge tell you will restore that peaceful feeling in a way that “feels right”, whether or not it is a logical, proven approach. If your mind is rational, the most effective solution may be the most expedient or utilitarian.

Where is this going?

Let’s start with a simple example and then get rough.

Suppose you wanted to date a particular individual but they rudely smack down your hopes in public refusal. You have a number of options. You could cower away and find someone else. You could shrug it off and try again. But perhaps a couple years ago, you had seen a movie that demonstrated what the script writer considered to be an effective way of seducing and then raping someone. Illegal as it may be, this idea has been saved within your memories – especially if it was shocking for you at the time. (Shocking events and trauma usually build quick mental pathways.) As fictional as that story was, your brain isn’t necessarily going to recall the title of the movie. The fact is, you were given an idea. It didn’t matter that it was in a “fake” setting; all that mattered was that it seems very much possible in reality.

If you have time to think about an idea in a rational manner, it is usually easier to refuse a bad idea. However, certain events – such as the murder of a loved one or a very embarrassing moment – can captivate us in an emotional state that seeks some kind of resolution, and the brain is full of random facts to contribute to the whirlwind of ideas swirling at the forefront of our mind.

One movie alone may not produce a noticeable change in character for an individual, but this is masked by a number of things. Many people with cancer feel “fine”. Most people don’t know they have it… until the doctor tells them. (If you want a technical answer, I recall reading nearly everyone eventually gets some kind of cancer in their life, but only some types of cancerous cells live long enough to reproduce and spread. The rest die out because the way that they mutated renders parts of them non-functional and may result in self-destruction.)

The most apparent effect of negative mental training is in tolerance. The more a person sees violence, rape, incest, theft, lying, witchcraft, monster-summoning, and other wicked activities, the more a person begins to tolerate these things as not only part of life, but also acceptable to some degree. It permits a kind of “halfway status” whereby the most heinous manifestation of the crime is reprehensible but activities that only partially match it are “acceptable”.

For example, rape is considered a crime. But if two people consent to adultery and one of them later regrets it, the other person may not feel as if they did anything wrong, even though the action and outcome were the same: sadness and suffering in the life of the other person. There is no legal action that can be taken to correct this, however, because the legal system only administers consequences for the initial situation. The fact is, the person who does not feel bad has already committed act. The legal system is unable to prevent this. It can only punish for what comes afterwards.

Let’s hold that thought for a bit and come back.

Video Games

Video games rewire the mind. Whenever you play a video game long enough, your brain will rewire itself to optimize certain neural pathways and speed up recollection. This is why, when you are the person playing the game, you will usually recall information about your current situation in the game than anyone watching you. It’s also the reason why your brain might feel odd after you quit playing. As a former gamer, I’ve often felt this, regardless of the game. (And, being that it can be rather uncomfortable to me, it’s one of the many reasons I quit.)

Being actively involved in the game (rather than simply watching) has a greater effect on one’s mind. I’ve already spoken about the neural pathways, but let’s also consider what the game teaches.

Some time ago, I recall reading an interaction between a game developer and a gamer. The gamer had purchased the game, downloaded it, and then asked for a refund. The developer asked if the gamer liked the game, and the gamer said that they did and had finished and now wanted their money back. Like the developer, who went on a rant about the difficulties in making the game and the time and effort spent, I found the gamer’s actions not only odd and disrespectful but rather despicable. This person didn’t seem to understand that video games are like carnival rides  – you pay your ticket and if you’re happy, you go home. You don’t get a refund. The fact that some companies even offer refunds is more for a pleasing customer experience than a process meant to be exploited. All game companies would go out of business if other gamers were acting as this gamer. But as odd as it was, there’s something to be noted about his mentality. In response to the developer’s ranting, the gamer thought he was in the right and verbally abused the developer! This was quite odd. After all, if you’ve found someone who makes great games, wouldn’t you want to encourage them to make more great games?

The answer was revealed in a recent blog post by Daniel Cook about “Cozy Games”. Cook is a long-time game developer. He’s seen it all. As I can attest, a certain contingent of “hard core” gamers (in this case, those playing M-rated games) have become increasingly mean over the years, and while to some degree, you would think it would be based on age (since many are in their late teens, early twenties), some of the meanest of these gamers I’ve seen were over 30. It’s something in the games. Daniel Cook notes that the kinds of games you make determines the kind of customers and players you attract, and more than that, they treat you the developer likewise. If your game has tasks and activities that reward selfish behavior and stepping on others, this is how they will approach you as a developer. If your game encourages teamwork and sharing, they will approach you the developer in a spirit of teamwork. If your game requires users accomplish difficult objectives and punishes their failures, you end up with angry gamers. (Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, who plays such games long enough (assuming the difficulty is high enough), from my experience, gets frustrated.) This can lead to cussing, cursing, and ultimately “taking it out” on something else outside of the game. This is especially true but not limited to little kids. (A number of people come to my mind.) On the other hand, if your game is gives positive-reinforcement (such as achievements), users will not only want to continue playing, but they may be less inclined to complain about being unable to achieve their goals.

About a decade ago, I wrote a research paper that spoke about the effects of violence in video games. At the time, there wasn’t a significant amount of data to show the negative effects of games on human behavior. Back then, tolerance was the most notable effect, and most research was criticized as being “too inconclusive” or “inapplicable”. Here we are a decade later, and the game industry went exactly as it showed signs of doing. Games like Grand Theft Auto and Blizzard’s League of Legends make hundreds of millions of dollars despite the wickedness they portray, but all of this has been made possible by gradual acceptance and the building of these communities around these negative themes.

Are video game companies entirely at fault? In many ways, yes. They pursued the money route and didn’t want anything to effect their business. They tried to downplay and discredit the research and skew the warning signs. Try figuring out what the rating “E-13” means. The “E” is supposedly for “Everyone” but the “13” is for recommended 13-year-olds. Games like Mario Kart fall into this category. A number of game companies tried avoiding having ratings on their games at all. These days, the ratings system is simply ignored. Game companies flash the rating on their commercials to say “we told you so” but then show gory content in their commercials anyways, regardless of the fact that children may be watching.

On the other hand, people chose to buy video games. It would seem the market determined much of the direction, but I would argue this wasn’t entirely true. Game developers often like action, so they created a limited set of games based on their own likings, and people chose likewise. This is why companies like Nintendo – many of whose games were relatively family friendly – stand out. They gave customers a different, enticing option, and customers went with what they liked.

The game economy is much politics – you get a limited set of choices, and the resulting climate is ultimately based on what people select from that list. Politics and the game economy are, to a large extent, representative of what the populous is willing to buy, taking into account their human desire for something in these areas. The same could be said for movies.

Psychological Environment

One of the major contributing factors to a person’s decision making is their culture. If something is not acceptable within a society’s sub-conscious, it is less likely to occur, and vice-versa, regardless of what the law says about it. The same can be said for any other psychological environment, such as being among friends and family.

It should go without saying that if a psychological environment – including and especially culture – promotes, encourages, or flaunts bad behavior, people will follow suit. For example, a number of people use the word “bad” to mean “good”, or rather, something that ought to be desired and pursued for the sake of being “cool”/culturally attractive, not because it’s good in the same way as angels and chocolate. This use of “bad” is reinforcing a negative idea. If you love your country, don’t use it.

At the Olympics closing ceremony in Korea, a pop star came out and sang about “bad girls” as if it was a cool thing to be a bad girl. Thousands of people around the world had cheered her on and pushed her up the polls to get to this point, but if people actually idolize the ideal she’s singing about, we’re in serious trouble. Do people actually do this? It’s tempting to say no, but after all that we’ve considered thus far, is it?

Music has a similar effect on the human mind as other inputs – it creates and reinforces neural pathways so that you remember the song. It might be fun to listen to certain music, but the lyrics – be they good or bad – often come along. Furthermore, different sounds have different effects. I’m sure anyone who has listened to music can attest to the way certain songs make them feel. And that’s an interesting thing to note.

The effects of music on the mind are immeasurable, much like the effects video games and movies on the mind are also immeasurable. If you’re hoping for solid “evidence” of the effects of these things on the mind, you won’t find it, but if you still think that the lack of such concrete evidence means this stuff has no lasting effects on human behavior, you need to reread this blog post. That’s about 3000 words thus far. Have fun.

The sounds of music stimulate certain parts of your brain associated with emotions. To the mind, one note is simply a note; two notes is a melody. When a variation occurs – such a raise or lowering in pitch – the resulting is a kind of dance of stimuli in the brain that begins to feel – be it ever so slightly – a emotion being conjured up. I encourage you to try this out. It’s quite interesting. A progression of notes with an increasing pitch usually stimulates a “positive” feeling whereas a progression of notes with a decreasing pitch usually stimulates a “negative” feeling, depending on the rest of the song. When a song has more of one progression than the other, it tends to carry the mood. Distortion – a popular feature of rock music – has a kind of raspy effect on the mind that expresses chaos rather than peace. For some people, listening to rock music eases their mind because their mind is in harmony with the music, so their anger translates outwardly into the music. For other people, distortion can translate inward, resulting in hyperactivity or irrational behavior (such as smashing a guitar onto a stage). Therefore, for the sake of both kinds of individuals – those who need music to synchronize with their minds or those who gain their mood and mental energy from music – their needs to music composed of peaceful, non-distorted sounds as much as music composed of distorted ones.

The sounds of music may not carry as much of a lasting effect on the human mind as lyrics, but again, their is no way to measure this. Lyrics stimulate ideas in the mind without necessarily conjuring up some emotional response, thereby making them more easily to conjure up in situations where the emotions associated with the sounds in the music are not present.

I recall hearing over the radio about research that said children who listen to songs with lyrics about sex and relationships will become sexually active sooner. A number of years later, I found myself working a day job where the radio was on constantly. Many of the popular artists sang about what? Sex and relationships. Country music, pop music, rock, didn’t matter the genre. And the stats about teens having sex in school indicate these things are on the rise. Music alone isn’t to blame, but the music industry is definitely a promoter and an encourager just as much as it’s an indicator of the current cultural climate. It’s difficult to not think about sex when that’s what’s pumping through your radio. So one person’s tastes are shared with another person’s ears, thereby passing on the culture.

Consequences

Most people deny something is a problem until there’s solid evidence, and even then, many people still deny it until it hurts them. And even then, most people treat the symptoms rather than the causes.

A couple of weeks ago, a young man took an assault rifle and murdered over a dozen people at his high-school in Florida and wounded others. The police and other authorities criticized themselves for not acting sooner on a possible tip that may have prevented the incident. Now companies and parents are pushing back against organizations like the NRA. Some people suggest arming the teachers. And yet, despite all this talk about preventing such as issue from happening again, the reality is that this isn’t the first time.

Some years ago, two boys murdered several of their classmates at Columbine High School. The tragedy made national news, but the cause for the boys’ rampage remained a mystery. The investigators pointed out that the boys possessed the game(s) of Doom – a series known for being one of the early popular first-person shooters. The blame of these video games was met with criticism by fans of the industry, who pointed out that playing such games didn’t turn the vast majority of gamers into killing-machines. Inasmuch as this hyperbole was perpetuated as evidence of the “safeness” of video games, it does rest on some truth: the video games alone might not have been enough to spark such activity. Instead, at the very least, they would have provided the ammunition – the ideas for how to go about such a rampage.

If you work with swords, you will think of yourself as defending and fighting with swords. If you work with guns, you will think of yourself as using guns. This isn’t to say you are necessarily a bad person. It’s simply that you have such an item in your mind, so you may consider it as something for use. If you want to divide a turkey, you will start to think of the various means you think would work for dividing a turkey. For most people, that could be a long cooking knife or a giant fork or even their bare hands.

The boys in all of these incidents had the same thing in common: the culture of the USA. In the United States, soldiers are glorified by the political “right” and abortion and physician-assisted suicide are promoted by the political “left”. Soldiers are people specifically trained to kill other people. Abortion and suicide are both murder. It should be no surprise then that death at the hands of someone else is an acceptable theme in the nation of the United States. Sound too picky?

Across the Pacific Ocean, the pacifistic nation of Japan has its own wonderful problem. Despite being a “first-world” country, Japan has the highest suicide rate in the world (or perhaps the stat is that it has the highest suicide rate for a “first-world” country). Why? After all, people living at the same standard as other “first-world” countries shouldn’t be any more likely to commit suicide if there isn’t some evident national problem. But there is. The culture of death has permeated Japan as it has in the United States, but in a different way. In Japanese culture, when a person felt they were no longer valuable to society, they committed suicide. Consequently, other people could cause indirect murders by simply bashing one’s social worth, causing people of every age to commit murder. Such has certainly been the case with suicides by high school students. Yes, every age is affected. Times may be changing to some degree, but the nation has ultimately taken a toll for this socially-acceptable activity.

In general, society is affected in a number of other ways that all appear as common symptoms. The human body often shows a number of common symptoms that can come from dozens of different causes. Vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, etc. could come from lots of problems, and without knowing or acknowledging the source, we can only treat the symptoms until things become so bad that we ultimately die. A nation is similar. Suggesting that government authorities attempt to solve the problems through legislation and police enforcement is only an attempt to treat the symptoms of the deeper problems that people continue to deny this nation has.

Conclusion

There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of national problems are at a personal level that cannot be resolved by government authorities, legislation, and merely treating the symptoms. Making stricter laws about guns, suicide, and video games isn’t going to repair society. It’ll only cause it to go underground. What will change society is both greater awareness of the effects of mental pollutants and acting to remove them from our lives so that we can think positive, constructive thoughts. Then society will be rebuilt from the inside.

What you do affects others, even if you think you’re doing it only to yourself. The music you listen to and the movies you watch, if they contain destructive, degrading, and immoral content, are both affecting you subconsciously and hurting others around you in ways that, given enough time, will come back to haunt you.

Let’s not let that happen to us, shall we?

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6 thoughts on “National Symptoms, Invisible Causes

  1. Making stricter laws about guns, suicide, and video games isn’t going to repair society. It’ll only cause it to go underground. What will change society is both greater awareness of the effects of mental pollutants and acting to remove them from our lives so that we can think positive, constructive thoughts. Then society will be rebuilt from the inside.

    i am not the sort of person to jump on any bandwagon regarding these sentiments, and i regard them generally with suspicion. but i read it, you made your points extremely well, and your conclusion is worth serious consideration. the conclusion in particular i find difficult to dispute, im even somewhat inclined to agree.

    of course i agree with you that cultural understanding (however rare) is better than censorship, but i understand the profit-seeking of media giants. you tied it all together very eloquently. good luck with it.

  2. It’s a sure thing that what we experience and do influences us in often subconscious ways. Your discussion of how video games influence how gamers approach developers is particularly interesting. My thoughts went to Call of Duty in particular. I myself tend to prefer the career mode because it gives meaning to the action on screen. This is unlike the online game modes, which often depend on racking up the most kills or beating another team solely for the sake of victory. High speed internet connections might very well have been the instrument of bringing out the worst qualities of video games!

    I just want to nitpick the concept of a soldier as a person trained to kill other people. When the political right glorifies the soldier, they do so because the soldier risks sacrificing his life in order to preserve his society. Prior to the political order we have now, every able bodied man could be pressed into service. (In a few cases, even priests and bishops went to battle.) Defeat on the battlefield often meant the enslavement of your family and the destruction of your society. Under such conditions, it’s no wonder the soldier was glorified!

    In many regards the soldier has been cast in the role of a modern knight, and–in America, at least–society expects honorable conduct even from the lowest private. I was just reading an account of the Battle of Ft. Donelson where Confederates leapt from their fortifications to rescue wounded Union soldiers from a brush fire–despite the Confederates still being under enemy fire. (N.B. The ideal of the soldier is the exact opposite to that of a mercenary, who just fights for money.) And, there are accounts from all wars of American soldiers risking life and limb to save other people.

    As for why the Columbine killers did what they did, resentment is the primary cause: they have that in common with serial killers like Carl Panzram and the architects of murderous regimes like Karl Marx or Adolf Hitler. You can actually read about Eric Harris’s or Carl Panzram’s idea that mankind is essentially evil and should be annihilated. As for why so many people can listen to diabolic music or play sadistic video games without carrying out what they take in, it probably comes down to the catalyst of resentment not being added to their psyche. When resentment comes, however, some pretty dark outlets for their resentment have been prepared by their way of life.

    1. Indeed, though allow me to extend the conversation.
      There often tends to be a justification given to the actions of anyone “on our side”, so to speak. For example, in World War 1 (that’s 1, not 2), both the Germans and Allies believed God was on their side. Was He? And whose side?

      That’s not to downplay the fact that some guy is willing to risk his neck for his country and friends.

      Rather, the target idea I take issue with is the societal status of soldiers, which embeds itself in the mind of people considering the soldier “image”. Soldiers – good or bad – are given license to kill. Of course, it supposedly means “killing an enemy from another country”, but even if we dismiss the very important fact that God created all humans equal and examine this from the psychological impact on the human mind, we find that this license to kill other people is given both a tolerated and desired status. Killing is never good, even though war may be an unfortunate necessity.

      Again, from the perspective of impact on the human psyche, consider what a soldier is and, in accordance with that definition, how a soldier (from any country) is created: A governing authority licenses a man to kill. If the governing authority is always God, then is should be clear that you have to gain God’s permission (as in the case of Joshua). But if the governing authority is composed of men, then it is simply one man permitting another man – that is, putting himself in the “seat of authority over life and death” (a status belonging only to God) to permit other men to kill. Now let’s consider this from the perspective of the average citizen – not the perspective of the soldier. How does the citizen respond to the soldier’s “power” or “license”? Some people will simply view his role as a national necessity – be it unfortunate this world is full of people wanting to kill us. Many people will have one idea or another, etc etc. Each and every person is going to view the soldier in a way that is based on her or her system of beliefs about the world. If the system of beliefs is based on raw authority deriving from mankind, then it should be no surprise that one could also permit oneself to “become the soldier”, so-to-speak, and license himself to use violence to defend something he believes about his nation should be defended.

      I know a number of crazy gun-wielding individuals who seem to have no problems talking about shooting foreigners, aliens, or anyone else who stands in the way of the interests of their country (even other citizens). That’s pretty sick. Again, sometimes resorting to violence is necessary, but the reality is that the “need for the army” has, in the human psyche, transformed into a kind of sick mentality whereby violence has become a popular suggestion to resolving international (and sometimes domestic) problems.

      Considering the fact that the permission to kill is coming from man (government), it can also lead to a number of people becoming soldiers merely for the sake of gaining that permission. Not everyone goes into the army for that. (Some people go in probably just to get free training, cheap schooling and a job, some people go in because they want to defend the country, etc. I’m sure there are dozens of reasons, and everyone has their own.) However, those that do have found an outlet that reinforces their morbid mentality, even if it isn’t the cause of it.

      In regards to everyone, the neural pathways created in people’s minds aren’t always going to be the ideal one. Some people will be taught and remember that having an army is merely a necessity. Some people will think of being a soldier as a way to uphold their nation’s dominance (yes, there are plenty of people like this). Whatever the underlying basis, however, not all of the good ideals are going to come to mind when one considers how to resolve conflicts. Rather, the idea of death and killing – disconnected from the ideals of necessity – can easily be warped in the human mind (I blame demons for this warping of ideals, but regardless, the outcome is what it is) such that violence is seen as an acceptable solution. After all, it’s considered an acceptable solution in other cases (in this case, soldiers, but also cops and other authorities, seen in such light depending on one’s personal experience with those authorities or learning about them).

      Since we should care very much about how people resolve day-to-day issues, it’s important that their mentality not be one of “shoot first and ask questions later” but more like “how can I resolve this diplomatically?”.

      The mind is a bizarre thing. It’s easy to warp ideas or make mistakes. Just think of how many times you’ve messed up the same problem (like adding two numbers wrong). You make a mistake once, and there’s a good chance you’ll do it again.

      Thank you for pointing out soldier comment. It allowed me an excuse to expand on that idea, which I had a feeling would come up. In short, I’m focusing on a person’s mental recall of the soldier image – ideas that your brain is going to try to use in day-to-day action – not the soldier “ideal” – courage, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.

      btw – I also played Call of Duty a long time ago. These days, I would find it very difficult. The enemy is both too human-like and too impersonal, alienating me from them at a period in my life where I’m trying to grow more connected to humanity. Second, it’s hard justifying the practicing (i.e. the mental training) of a course of action (going to war, killing people) that I should likely never need to resort to in life. Video games may be fun, but that’s another thought for you: Nevermind what the game represents (Allied victory), why are YOU re-living it? Are you playing the game for fun? And if so, what IS that fun? Would it still be fun if there were no killing involved?

      As for the Florida boys, I’ve heard various things about them, but no one is giving me sources, so it’s hard to say anything definitive about the specifics. What can be said is that, even if not directly, they are products of society, which is a sad, but unfortunate reality.

      1. That is a good explanation of why the soldier ought not be held in such a high place in society, but I think that it might not perceive soldiering quite rightly. And, there might be unintended consequences to reducing the connotation of a soldier to one trained or given license to kill, i.e. reducing him to an executioner. For example, the position of being a soldier during the Renaissance and Enlightenment period was almost the lowest in society. No one wanted to serve except in the officer corps, and so it was not uncommon to press criminals into the ranks. And, the difference between a patriot and a murderer–or even someone forced to serve through the draft–is very great indeed, especially in their interactions with enemy civilians. It’s of great benefit to bestow honor on soldiering because it induces honorable men to serve rather than mercenary individuals.

        Also, the ultimate aim of the soldier is to defeat the enemy, killing enemy soldiers is one intermediate end which aids the final end. Killing an enemy soldier is often the hardest and most dangerous method of defeating him. Inducing him to surrender is much to be preferred, and this is borne out by the fact that few soldiers are killed compared to those incapacitated or captured in modern warfare.

        As for the government not having the right to command its citizens to kill, yes, the government does have that right from God. Scripture bears this out by St. Paul writing “For [the ruler] is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil,” (Romans 13:4). If you further consider that every man has the right to defend himself, it makes sense that the state, having responsibility for its people, has the right to declare war in order to defend its citizens. When it comes to defending national interests, things get a bit more murky, and the state is not above judgment. The state can engage in conflict for the sake of evil or the sake of good, and it’s up to the citizens to obey or disobey the government depending on whether it acts for good or for evil.

        You write, “Killing is never good, though war may be an unfortunate necessity.” The problem here is with the word “good,” which covers a multitude of senses in English. If you were using Greek, I bet that you would have used the word “kalos” here, which can mean good or beautiful. The Greeks have another word for good: “agathos,” which means good in the sense of virtuous. To say that killing is never “agathos” is downright wrong. In the case of criminals, one is often forced to kill them lest they do harm–not preventing a criminal from doing grave harm when one has the power to do so is evil. (Why the deputy assigned to the school in the Parkland shooting has received such opprobrium.) It’s certainly not a “kalos” thing, because it would have been far better for the criminal to have repented and become a saint; but, one needs to act according to how people are in some situations–not how they could be if they wanted to change. Killing in war is certainly even less “kalos” because the individual enemies are often good people doing their duty as a good person ought to do. But, no “agathos” man would decline to do his duty against someone threatening his country.

        As for the crazy gun-wielding fellows who talk about how great it would be to shoot various “foreigners, aliens, or anyone else who stands in the interests of their country,” they have indeed a twisted psyche warped by anger. But, people can get pretty malevolent if they feel that others want to harm them or are behaving unjustly. Maybe they are only so malevolent because some authority is not using its power to enforce the law. It’s sort of like the immigration issue in the United States: the problem is not that foreigners are immigrating into the United States as that so many are flouting the law. Most Americans are not at the point of hating foreigners out of xenophobia, but because the certain foreigners are scoffing at American law–even boasting in public that they are illegal immigrants. If border security was tightened such that few entered the United States illegally, Americans would not be so angry about it–even with our current rate of letting one million immigrants into the country each year. Though, some polls do show that most Americans think that 500,000 is a more reasonable immigration rate.

        When it comes to video games like Call of Duty, such games are popular because fighting is fun–not because killing is fun. Airsoft and paintball are fun on a similar basis: there’s a challenge and some opponents who are fun to overcome. Most sports have a combative aspect to them. With video games, however, it’s true that many tend to revel in realistic gore to an unhealthy degree. Games can become not so much about the challenge as sadistic pleasure if they focus too much on blood and gore. That is a danger with them.

        The curious thing I noticed about some Call of Duty games, especially World at War, is that they can also cause one to feel admiration and respect for the people who endured that hellish affair to defeat fascism and military dictatorship. In this regard, they act like a military memoir or history, which can have the effect of making people see the good in sacrificing themselves for a righteous cause and honoring the sacrifices of their ancestors.

        There is a website about the Columbine shooting with source material from the two killers: http://www.acolumbinesite.com/diary.php. I’ll just pull up a couple of quotes from Eric Harris, the more malevolent of the two:

        “The human race isn’t worth fighting for, only worth killing. Give the Earth back to the animals. They deserve it infinitely more than we do. Nothing means anything anymore.”

        “If you recall your history, the Nazis came up with a “final solution” to the Jewish problem….Kill them all. Well, in case you haven’t figured it out, I say “KILL MANKIND.” No one should survive.”

        For some reason, the killers in the Columbine case thought that humanity was completely evil and deserved to be destroyed. This usually develops from a certain resentment against reality and ultimately against God. But, these individuals are really sick, and I would not blame you if you went no further in researching them than these two quotes.

        Thanks again for your response. I hope that my comments clarified why I think that it’s good for us to admire soldiers so much.

      2. Interesting comments there, sir. Allow my detailed reply.

        Truly, killing is an “ugly” affair, but the idea I’m looking for isn’t quite summed up in either of those Greek words. Without getting too technical, the “good” I refer to means something intrinsically beneficial to ALL creation.

        The word “virtue” entails acting in accordance with some “path” or “way” (which depends on what religion you prescribe to) and is highly contextual. For Joshua, killing the Gibeonites would have been a good thing initially, but for Saul it was not. It would have been BETTER for Israel in the long run if Joshua had killed, which is why God commanded it, but it was not because killing the Gibeonites was something inherently good or virtuous. The virtue was (and is) obedience to God. With this in mind, an “agathos” man would refuse to go to war if God told him “no”.

        In regards to the verse in Romans: As I recall, Assyria was called the tool of God for conquering the Israelites, but God then punished the Assyrians for doing it. In the US, we contribute to the government (by voting and writing to congressmen), so we’re partly responsible for its actions. Get my gist? At any rate, Paul doesn’t explicitly specify what powers are granted, but I think those become alittle more clear when we understand the purpose of government is the one thing God wants ALL humanity to do: preserve order (and that’s another big topic).

        What rights are granted to governments? One has to be careful with the word “right”. (I’ve written an article on the word “right” which I think is quite applicable here: http://wp.me/p2dM4Z-iH ) I don’t prefer that word at all due to its implication of entitlement in an “absolute” sense, as if a particular action was always permissible (regardless of circumstance), which is quite wrong. Pardon the straw man: if we say God grants government the right to kill, would it be in God’s will that the government execute an innocent child? I think you’d agree this is absurd, but it demonstrates the point. There is no “right to kill” granted to governments; the permission to perform this course of action is VERY MUCH contextual. But the particulars of this topic are too complicated and off-topic for right now.

        I would also object to the notion that killing is requirement to prevent evil, as I would suggest “disabling” (but that’s another complicated and separate topic). Bringing this back on topic – our ideas about a proper “solution” to this problem are based on what are mind has been trained to think. If society is only offering a certain number of solutions to a problem, you might naturally think those are the only solutions or at least think of those first. This happened with the gun-touting fellows, who are otherwise ordinary citizens. It’s easy to pick a single external source to blame for their reaction, but the reality is, they trained their minds to fight, so fighting they shall think.

        “Be not deceived, the Lord shall not be mocked. What you sow, so shall you reap.” (Gal 6:7) If you train your mind poorly, you will reap the consequences. If you train your mind for compassion, you will think compassionately. A perfect solution to immigration will likely never be found, but regardless, what I’m advocating is a change in the KIND of response people give in ANY situation: one of love instead of hate, even if their suggested solution still benefits one party over another (which seems inevitable).

        As for video games, I believe the reason video games are fun to the average person is because of a mental-stimulation feedback loop, but there are a number of people who just like killing (see Youtube for examples). We like action, which is fine in and of itself. Unfortunately, lots of good with a touch of evil is still sinful, but it makes for an awfully enticing temptation, no?

        Credit to your point – I do recall, after playing Call of Duty, the memory, sadness, and admiration, so I got something out of it. Now I’ve moved on to other things.

        As for the boys of Columbine, that doesn’t sound surprising to me. I wrote about such a perspective already in “Circus of Ethics” (http://wp.me/p2dM4Z-mv ). I can’t promise my writing is that article is as convincing as this one. It’s more musing. Thank you for posting your source.

        Parting thought: The apostle Paul, seemingly knowing how our minds are affected years before neurologists would, wrote, “Therefore my brothers, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy, think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

        *sigh* I tried to be brief (and even edited a bunch), but I talk too much. Do I like to talk or what?

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