Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Dark Knight" Shootings: When Do We LEARN?

Another massacre has been committed by yet another deranged gunman---whether he be sociopathic, schizophrenic, or bipolar is not the point for the moment—and yet the USA is doing the same old things it does every time there’s a similar massacre, which is more than one a year now. That’s right, here in the USA there are several massacres a year, if you count the “incidental” ones that don’t get too much media attention, like a postal worker shooting himself and three others in rural Alabama, or four people in a WAWA store in Maine killed during a robbery. Not to mention the infamous one of last year in which Jared Loughner, who has been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial due to paranoid schizophrenia, shot at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Gifford and killed several people in the process.

But this is all we do, every time:

1. Hold prayer vigils and offer “soothing words” to use Mayor Bloomberg’s succinct phrase

2. Congratulate everyone involved on their braveness and law enforcement on their rapid response; which is all very honorable but what does it change?

3. Wish the gunman was dead and fantasize about how we’d like to kill him, as if doing that will change anything.

What we should be doing in order to prevent more irrevocable violence and having to endlessly repeat steps 1 to 3:

4. Pass gun control laws so that Nobody can BUY an Assault Rifle of any kind, and nobody can buy more than 1 Handgun in an Entire YEAR.

5. Have longer wait periods for buying guns.

6. Have a mandatory psych test before you can buy a gun.

7. Make the state laws for psychiatric committal just a little less stringent, so that when mentally disturbed people start to show themselves as being deranged, we can force them to get help while they still can be helped.

        It is important to recognize that sociopaths, like Ted Bundy, are classified separately from schizophrenics, like Jared Loughner, who told other college classmates that his math teacher was missing the messages the numbers were trying to send! In many ways, sociopaths, who have no brain disease but cannot feel empathy, are more dangerous than most schizophrenics will ever be. Many people with bipolar or schizophrenia can be helped to live productive lives IF they get medicine and therapy before they develop violent tendencies. James Holmes, as everyone has seen, started out a normal high school student who was involved in extra-curricular activities such as playing soccer with the other guys, in addition to being on the honor roll. As we all see, it took him several years to "break"--- during which he earned a BA from a top college and began a  MA in another-- years in which he could have been helped and the massacre prevented.

Yes, we love our guns and our “freedom” here in the U.S., but we should look around the world for once instead of being so megalomaniac, and see that no other country has so many massacres by deranged gunman, yet alone no other country has such a high rate of accidental gun deaths and murders through shootings. How many times do these things happen in England? In France? In Germany? In Japan?

They say that repeating the same method while still expecting to get a different result is the hallmark of insanity, and by that criterion-- the way we refuse to control gun ownership and  work more on mental health prevention--then my fellow Americans are insane.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Welfare of Children: Where Do our Loyalties Really Lie?

June 22, 2012 was a great day for justice, both around in the world and here in the somewhat prosaic and parochial state of Pennsylvania, USA.  It was a day for making a major dent in the current social paradigm of embarrassed silence and conspiracy to keep quiet over abuse, for in that short, 24 hour period an incredible thing happened: two people in power were convicted for their egregious, nefarious crimes against children.  Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky and Monsignor Lynn were both found guilty as charged in separate Pennsylvania courts of law, the former for direct sexual abuse of children and the latter for disregarding those acts and deliberately employing commonly known or  suspected abusers near children. Two kinds of guilt are found here: to use the words of a common Christian prayer for forgiveness, guilt “for what we have done” (Sandusky) and “for what we have left undone,” (Lynn).  Regardless of denomination or even religion, these are essential truths that should have been glaring in  Monsignor Lynn’s conscience as a Christian clergyman, and indeed in Sandusky's as well.

Yet these unspeakable acts were allowed to happen because so many people did nothing, so many people allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by the shamed silence created by the social taboo of even discussing the sexual abuse they’d seen (or endured). “Evil happens when good men do nothing.” Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary initially did the right thing in going to his superiors about the loathsome “shower scene” he’d  witnessed of Sandusky performing anal sex on a young boy, reporting it  despite his natural embarrassment and disgust  at witnessing and relating something like that.  But his half-hearted try at justice, no matter how well intentioned, just wasn’t enough. Children’s physical and psychological welfare are worth more than that.  He should have gone straight to the police.  After informing head coach Joe Paterno and seeing that Sandusky was still working there, Mc Queary’s resolve to do something more should have kicked in. Why didn’t it? Because of not wanting to lose his job in retaliation, or to avoid being resented in the tight social circles and old boys' network that exists in Penn State’s athletic department? Again, this is about where we place our loyalties, our priorities.

Of course, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and former Penn State president Graham Spanier are even more to blame in this matter. Emails retrieved by state prosecutors have revealed their decision to cover up Sandusky’s actions, and their reasons are undoubtedly monetary. Let’s face it: anyone who lives in the USA, much less the state of PA, knows that Penn State has a lackluster academic rating, is notoriously easy to be accepted into, and that their one claim to fame and fortune is their football team. Sandusky was part of the recipe for their meal ticket, and Penn State powers-that-be decided that the children could keep getting screwed—quite literally—as long as the Penn State football team kept winning and raking in the money. To avoid upsetting the balance of their winning formula, allegedly paternal Joe Paterno helped Spanier and Co. to throw the kids under the bus.

As for Monsignor Lynn, he admittedly is partly a fall guy for the Church, in the sense that, as in the Penn Stated debacle, there were so many others in positions of power that knew about the abuse and did nothing. Here again, saving face for the organization, and the good old boy clique of the clergy, was valued more than the lives of children. Yet the State and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania simply must make an example out of him, which they did, to set the standard of future culpability and punishment, not just for the Catholic Church, but for any church or organization. 

While endemic in the Catholic Church, sexual abuse in churches is definitely not relegated to the Roman Catholic Church: as an Episcopalian, I am personally appalled that Bishop Charles Bennison of the PA Episcopal Church is not in jail right now like Monsignor Lynn.  In 2008, Bishop Bennison admitted unapologetically to a clerical inquiry and trial that despite the fact that he was aware years ago that his brother, also an Episcopal minister, was having sexual relations with a 14 year old girl, he did nothing and carried on, eventually rising the clerical ladder to become bishop as did his father before him.  (As Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady would say, “Well isn’t that special?”) And maybe a little too convenient.

Mr. Bennison was initially deposed from his position as Bishop, with the conviction reading thus, “The court finds that even today [Bennison] has not shown that he comprehends the nature, significance and effect of his conduct and has not accepted responsibility and repented for his conduct …” He appealed the decision, and then suddenly was restored in 2010, to the great dismay and shock of my religious community.  While the diocese states a legal technicality caused the inexplicable, sudden decision to reinstate Mr. Bennison, it is my belief that bribery or blackmail might well have occurred, as he is a man from a prestigious and well established family.

Here’s something else that Lynn, Bennison, and other clergy who profess to be Christians yet who abuse or protect abusers should remember: “And whoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” Mark 9:42. King James Bible.

As welcome as the June 22nd convictions are, what disturbs me is that I wonder if the universal clamor of indignation over Sandusky’s victims and the Catholic school victims would be as great if they had been mostly girls instead of mostly boys? I say with great sadness that I honestly don’t believe so.  Little girls are valued less around the world than little boys, and still bear the unpardonable burden of having stereotypes of promiscuity projected onto them—of salaciously “wanting it” or “liking it”-- just as adult women bear these unthinkable, unwarranted projected stereotypes.  In these aforementioned cases, men could identify with the little boys more than they could little girls, and instinctively saw them as innocent victims, immediately sympathizing with them.

Yet when all is said and done, June 22nd, 2012, was still a victory for children everywhere and for adult survivors of this abuse, and helps a new paradigm to arise that values children’s welfare over expediency and a conspiracy of silence. What needs to be done is for people to never forget and to keep passing laws for protection of children, keep prosecuting the guilty, and above all to remain vigilant, for this epidemic of sexual abuse of children is a silent holocaust of its own.