Our society has been traumatized by police killings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, near St. Paul, Minnesota and by a shooting rampage in Dallas that killed 5 and wounded 9 others. Hundreds have been arrested in protests that followed the police killings and several police officers have been hurt when objects were thrown at them.
The first incident happened on July 5 in Baton Rouge. Two white police officers were videoed shooting Alton Sterling, a black man, several times at point blank range after he had been tackled by officers.
In Minnesota, on July 6, a Latino police officer fatally shot Philando Castile, also black, multiple times during a traffic stop.
On July 7, Micah Xavier Johnson, shot fourteen people from a sniper position. Two were civilians and 12 officers. 4 Dallas Police Department officers died as well as and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer.
Johnson, who is black, said he wanted to kill white people and especially police officers in response to the police killings of the previous two days. After a standoff, he was killed by an explosive charge delivered by a robot.
Further investigation revealed that he had been training and making preparations for a mass killing for a long time and had been influenced by black militant groups although he disavowed membership in any organization or group.
Although we may feel powerless in the face of these tragedies that come one right after the other, we always have a measure of freedom with respect to choosing our attitude, intention, and behavior with respect to these events.
I want to argue that how we respond to these searing moments of societal discord makes all the difference in how the future will unfold for us as a society and as a civilization.
It is apparent that in our country, and to a lesser and greater degree throughout the world, we are facing unprecedented challenges and that people have responded to this constellation with fear, upset, anger, and distrust of government and authorities of all stripes.
Although this crisis of disaffection and discontent that we face has many roots, one key element is the pace of change happening around us. The comfort zone of what is familiar is being obliterated at a frightening pace. We can’t count on the future being like the past and so we are unable to predict with any confidence what is going to happen even months ahead.
As Yogi Berra might have said: “It’s hard to predict the future because it hasn’t happened yet.”
As individuals, when we face uncertainty, our unconscious minds often generate worst case scenarios as a kind of preparation where the unknown means disaster. This survival motivated fear may have served us well in our earlier history as a species but it is still with us today. So the uncertainty of the challenges we face creates a collective sense of anxiety and fear that is part of the background mood of our world.
The unhappiness we feel is proportional to the discrepancy between our reality and our expectations based on what we know to be possible.
With our amazing technology we should be able to create a world where everyone has all of their basic needs met, where there is universal health care, access to higher education and an opportunity to pursue our life dreams without having to indenture ourselves to jobs that are not fulfilling just to avoid falling completely through the cracks of economic necessity.
We’re living in a time of increasing economic disparity between the richest and the rest of us to a degree that has not happened in our country since just before the Great Depression.
Minority groups and especially the black community are also subjected to racial disparity in law enforcement. The Black Lives Matter movement is a Civil Right Movement that has the aim of moving towards justice on these issues.
The racial tensions that have come into play in this latest spate of violence are important issues and they rest on top of other stresses in our society.
Both black and white have died in this recent outbreak and this underscores the common cause that we need to rally around in order to have a just and safe society that works for everyone.
The unhappiness that we feel about our society generates an undertow of negativity. If we internalize this, we feel guilt and shame. If it gets externalized, then it goes to blame. In blaming we are vulnerable to projecting our personal shadows onto some other group we identify as different from ourselves. Blame can easily morph into hate and hate can lead to moral insanity.
Micah Johnson is the very archetype of moral insanity where someone engages in horrific acts that, although not psychotic per se, yet take humans into a dark abyss of empathic blindness and moral insensitivity.
We hope that Johnson is some rare aberration of human nature. Yet we are all subject to temporary moral insanity ourselves. In our rush to express ourselves, we can totally lose sight of the impact we have on others.
The Black Lives Matter Movement has legitimate grievances that need to be expressed and peaceful protest can be one avenue. Yet they and any other protest oriented group needs to be wary of going to a place where they hate the haters and act out this hate. Hate is an equal opportunity employer.
There was a protest by two white supremacist groups in Sacramento, California on June 26. A left-wing counter protest was organized against them and a riot ensued. Ten people were hospitalized. The supremacist groups were the Traditional Workers Party and Golden State Skinheads and the left-wing groups were ANTIFA (Anti-Fascist Action) Sacramento and BAMN (By Any Means Necessary).
I imagine we’ll see protests against Donald Trump in the coming campaign season and there may well be more violence there.
Hopelessness and despair about our society are our true adversaries. From the perspective that nothing we do is going to make any difference anyway, there may be motivation to burn down everything in sight since at least we could gain the secondary benefit of emotional release and getting our aggressions out.
The way forward for our civilization is evolution not revolution. Evolution is already happening on a daily basis and the progress we’ve made is truly stunning in just the last few years.
The cold war is over, there is no longer any prospect of war between big nation states, apartheid has ended in South Africa, there is peace in Northern Ireland, we’ve elected and re-elected a black president, we opened the military to both gays and transgender people, gay marriage is the law in every state, and we’ll soon have our first female president.
Because of our communication technologies, whatever injustice happens in our country and the world is rapidly transmitted in often graphic image form for all to see. Whether we like it or not, we’re all part of an increasing integrated global society.
What we do in one part of our country quickly affects everyone everywhere. This gives us the opportunity to grow our moral and spiritual intelligence through education, information, and example.
One down side is that news has become a big commercial entertainment enterprise and we’re subjected to the emotional amplification of drama on a daily basis. We can’t escape knowing what is happening in the world for very long.
What we do with this information is key to whether or not our society will growth and reach its potential where everyone can thrive or whether we devolve into a failed civilization of ongoing dystopia.
It’s important for us to grieve and feel the pain of our loss when we hear of the shooting deaths like what we’ve been through in the first days of July. But then we need to dust ourselves off and refocus our attention and our action on what kind of world we want to have.
We could have mandatory police body cameras for example, universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and a reform of racially biased sentencing laws.
The Dallas Police Force, the target of Johnson’s moral insanity, had already instituted police reforms that dramatically reduced the number of complaints about police actions. This can happen in other cities.
Whatever positive thing we do, even the smallest act of kindness or consideration to another human, will move our society forward. We not a hopeless, broken, or defective civilization. We are just a rapidly evolving one. We need to keep the big picture in view even as we go through these breakdowns where what needs to be healed comes to our awareness.
It’s a big error in perspective to judge how viable and functional our society is on the actions of those living out the worst aspects of their human nature. Who we are as a people is a measure of how resilient we can be when we are forced to confront the darkest aspects of our potential.
Right now in our country, the forces that would embrace progressive change and those that want to regress to the past and arrest cultural transformation seem to be almost evenly balanced.
Every progressive movement is met with a regressive backlash that tries to reverse it. For example, President Obama’s health care initiative, which made health care available to millions of new people, was met with a fierce resistance and was partly the cause of big political losses in the House and Senate in the midterm elections for the Democratic Party.
The result is the movement towards a more just and equitable society where everyone can thrive is going to be a spiral progress with steps forward and then steps back or no steps at all for a while. In the long run though, the momentum towards a more progressive and just society cannot be stopped.
The reason for this is that our technologically enhanced world with its easily accessible communication resources means that people are growing in intellectual, spiritual, and moral intelligence. People are becoming more tolerant of diversity and less accepting of moral outrage and injustice.
It’s important to keep refocusing back to the kind of world we really want when the one that we currently have presents us with heartbreak and tragedy. Our perceived sense of reality turns out to be directly related to what we give our attention to.
We need to maintain a positive attitude about our society as it is to move it forward and resist the temptation to uncritically accept what the fear merchants are selling. Trump’s book Crippled America is one example of this.
If we take on the worst case scenarios about our country, then extreme measures seem appropriate. Then someone like Trump, the autocrat, or Bernie, the socialist, seems to be just who we need.
But we don’t need desperate measures to change our civilization. Change is on the way, in any case, and our role is to adapt to it one small step at a time and shape this change in a positive and progressive direction.
The trend towards economic globalization, for example, is not going to stop. Any country that resorts to isolationism will suffer immediate economic downturn as the British experienced after their vote to leave the European Union. They were the fifth largest economy in the world one day and sixth the day after the vote.
The most pressuring danger our civilization faces is in environment degradation through man-made driven climate change. However, we’re not going to be able to meet this challenge until we are able to address issues of political, economic, and social injustice. It’s hard to think globally when you are unhappy locally.
I’m hopeful we can mature as a species to where our sense of justice extends to empathy for the other living things on the earth and our effect on them. But it’s not a given that will happen.
We must do what we can to get our own house in order and move towards a more just society in our own country, and then our attention has a chance to focus on more global and environmental concerns.
In the last few days, we have faced tragedy as a nation. How will we respond? May this extremity be our opportunity to find unity and common purpose.