A Texas psychologist looks at recent violence

I remember reading about the people diving out of windows in New York after the stock market crash in 1929. The recent shootings at Fort Hood, Texas and Orlando, Florida suggest that people today may have a different response to economic collapse than what happened during the Great Depression.

It should be pointed out that the horrible events in Fort Hood and Orlando did not occur in a vacuum. They were not only acts of deranged individuals. They were the violent acts of people responding to an environment of violence. This does not excuse the horrors of their deeds, but it is important to try to understand the process if we are to move forward.

It is no coincidence that economists announced 17.5% unemployment, just after the despicable acts of violence erupted. The unemployment rate is staggering, but that says nothing about the mounting terror of the populace who fear losing their jobs. As a practicing psychologist for over 28 years, I have never heard so many people voice their concerns about losing their livelihood as now.

Let's look at the respective incidents. From the media reports, the killer at Fort Hood was a military psychiatrist who happened to be Muslim. He allegedly opened fire on people on the base, killing 13 and injuring 31. Reports also indicate he had been seeking to separate from the military and had even engaged an attorney to assist him in this effort. Apparently, he opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was facing imminent deployment to Afghanistan. He alleged he had been harassed for being Muslim since 9/11.

Mental health professionals know that given enough stress, anyone can lose contact with reality and behave in irrational ways.

In the case of the shootings in Orlando, the story is similar in terms of overwhelming stress leading to irrational behavior. The perpetrator in Orlando was apparently fired from his entry level job with an engineering company in 2007. He was financially destitute and was holding down a low level job. He killed six people at the site of his former employer. Questions abound in both cases. Is the doctor a "bad apple" (or "terrorist") as has already been asserted by the military and the media? Why was this person not granted his requested separation from the military?

Or in the Orlando case, why did this person not have better opportunities for employment? Why was he destitute? Could he have been rehabilitated and placed in an appropriate employment situation so that his basic needs were met?

Some scholars have pointed out that when a nation is violent in its dealings with other countries, it will be violent in its dealings with its own people. Endless war against other nations has resulted in pervasive violence at home. Of course, the wars are a result of continued class war and the violence at home stems from the class war here as well.

We are in a phase where the differences between working people and the owners of the means of production are in sharp contrast. This clash of interests is extremely stressful for working people at this time.

Remember the context. Recent U.S. history is filled with bloodshed including the Civil War, the annihilation of the indigenous peoples of North America, violence against trade unionists and minority groups, and innumerable wars against foreign countries such as Viet Nam, Korea, Panama, Grenada, Iraq and Afghanistan. This list does not include the 14 invasions of the newly formed Soviet Union, the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the firebombing of Dresden, the violence against Cuba and the continued economic violence, the coup in Chile and countless other acts which benefited only wealthy Americans and ignored the needs of working people around the world. Violence to support capitalist exploitation of working people only begets further violence.

Violence has an effect on the psyche of the community and we see the results every day in our communities. Working people do not benefit from wars overseas or violence at home. It is time for us to unite and oppose further wars overseas and stand together against the economic and physical violence at home.

 

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