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  • Dr. Ted Klontz

What's Going On? Part I of II

“Have compassion for everyone you meet, Even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone". - Miller Williams

A friend asked me the other day what sense I made of what's been happening lately. They were referring to the Dallas, Baton Rouge, Milwaukee, Ferguson, Milwaukee, Cleveland and half a dozen incidents as well as other societal “happenings”. The Trump and Bernie factors, the greater world stage with bombings, truck assaults, shootings, axe murderers, and related mayhem. I responded that I thought those situations made perfect sense to me and they are all related. He was as surprised to hear those words come out of my mouth as I was. At the risk of invoking “Grossman’s Law”, which says that “for every complex problem, there is a simple, easy to understand, wrong answer”, here are my thoughts. The dominant and controlling (and, unfortunately sub-conscious) part of our brains (think, at best, of the 70,000 decisions you'll make over the next 24 hours, you will consciously make, 300 of them; some argue that number is closer to 70), has not received a software update in 150,000 years. The instinctive survival behaviors that were triggered when our ancestors perceived that their lives were in mortal danger, the behaviors that emerged that maximized their chances for survival back then are still alive, well, and dominant, This makes us pretty inefficient in many important ways in today's world, but at the same time makes what I'm seeing not only understandable but absolutely predictable. The only thing that's not predictable is the "when". The "what" and the "why" are easy answers. The "what to do about it" is pretty easy to figure out (though not so popular for the people who would ultimately have to agree to go along with the changes), so making them happen is an entirely different animal.

I used the metaphor of a pot boiling over to explain to my friend what I thought we are experiencing. So, what's in the pot? One major ingredient is a certain element of our population that believe their "families" or "tribe's" or "people's" very existence is being threatened. Why would they get that impression? A HUGE factor is that now, there are cameras everywhere and the media can't wait to show what is on the film (think ratings and subsequent cash infusion vs information and/or social justice as their primary motivating factor by the way). No less a man than the now infamous Roger Ailes said the secret to Fox News’s success was that he figured out early on that news was about entertainment, not the reporting of facts. That mirrors my own personal experience with the media. I walked away from my first mass market interview with having learned that lesson. This “on-camera” exposure has served to move the temperature of the contents of the pot from simmering to boiling). AND we can't keep ourselves from watching. Genetic programming determines for us, for our own preservation, that if we have access to the story, we HAVE to watch, to see if we can learn tips to keep it from happening to us. For example, has anyone besides me, had thoughts about not going places where these bad things are happening? I'm not saying such thoughts actually have changed any of my behaviors, but it did enter my mind as to the advisability of going to Europe, or malls, or beaches, or airports, or stadiums, or large public gatherings...... As I see it the problem is that what these shooters and bombers in our country see, day after day after day, is something that looks, to them, suspiciously like genocide. The dead people all seem to end up being pretty much the same color, gender and, especially, socio-economic level, whether that is ACTUALLY true or not. They feel compelled to not let that happen to them, again. What do I mean, again? History texts that I've read tells me slaves were seldom brought directly from Africa to the buyers here in the United States. The ships would off-load their human cargo in a confined area, a remote island for example, and those in charge would then begin identifying those who emerged as leaders. Once the overseers determined who the "leaders" were, they were eliminated. Sorting them so that only the passive ones who remained would go to market. An aggressive, leader type was too threatening to the stability of the slavery system to have any value. We did (still do?) the same with the people native to our country, still do the same with dogs, bulls, aging chimps, elephants, and other animals that show too little deference for our safety. There was an article in one of the journals I was reading recently suggesting that scientists have been able to determine that in addition to everything that we commonly recognize as being genetically transmitted from generation to generation, the effects of historic generational trauma can now be added to the list. That trauma actually becomes a part of our DNA, and like eye color, height and certain medical conditions. Perhaps those shooter’s drive to shoot and bomb is, at a genetic level, they sense, at a cellular level that they are experiencing it again. For some reason, the people mentioned above, those who make the news by using violence, don't seem to be able to see what's happening as mere coincidence, or an isolated incident. The human brain, is wired to look for and find patterns whether there are any or not. Our ancestors (passed on to us) survival depended on their ability to do so. They often weren't right, but their ability to look for and find patterns, worked better than those potential ancestors of ours who see failed to find patterns or determine cause and effect. The latter didn't survive long enough to be able pass their genes on to us. The shooters and bombers think they see a pattern. "Never again", they say. The subsequent riots and violent protests that sometimes follow the events may very well have the same roots. Why the police as the primary targets? Because they are seen as the protectors of the perpetrators (the dominant culture) and agents of (they either are or represent those who do the actual shooting, they are the ones seen on film) the dominant culture who, as they see it, are trying to exterminate their "family" members. They watch and believe they witness that if those who end up dead refuse, in any way whatsoever, to be controlled and don't show the appropriate deference, or even if they appear or are even suspected of not doing so, they are simply eliminated. At the same time I would believe that law enforcement is baffled to be seen as the problem. Why would the shooters/murderers/looters resort to violence? Why the killing? Why not change things by way of the political and legal process. Studies suggest that under normal conditions only 17% of us, at most, would ever kill another human being, even if our own personal lives are being threatened. Our species apparently determined a long time ago that we had enough outside predatory threats that it'd be best for our own survival, if we didn't kill members of our own, the human, tribe. However, if we believe our family is at risk that number zooms from no more than 17% who would kill one of our own kind to 90 + %. Why? Our personal DNA is selfish that way. There is a murderous energy inside each of us that says we must pass on our DNA. (See Dave Grossman's Classic book "On Killing"). The military knows this. That's why in basic training recruits are purposely and very effectively stripped of their family of origin identity and assigned new brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents. Doing so increases the percentage of individuals willing to pull the trigger from 17%, to over 90%. Their “job” efficiency rating soars. Another strategy, used quite effectively too, is very to paint a picture of "them" as sub-human animals. Both strategies help override the "Humans don't kill humans" genetic programming. By the way, unfortunately, there is not an equally powerful military re-orientation program to "un-train" them from that shift of reality. They stay stuck in a time warp. You'll hear, if you listen closely, the men and women, so trained, speak of that. "I feel guilty for leaving my brothers and sisters there" (as they leave their wives, children, moms and dads to volunteer for another tour). Or "I feel/felt closer to them than I've ever felt in my own family. Both the Dallas and Baton Rouge shooters were ex-military. Marines I believe. I wonder what the long-term effect of their training and their experience (watching, witnessing the military "family's" response when they or someone else in the "family" perceived that their lives were threatened during their deployment to a war zone. It’s not likely they witnessed a peaceful protest march, or witnessed their superiors going through legal or political channels trying to engage the opposing powers in a meaningful dialog with those who threatened their lives. More likely they witnessed a violent response to the threat. My guess is they saw the same thing that they ended up doing. Killing others in order to try to protect their "family". It’s my guess also that those in our society whose job it is to try to get a handle on all that we are currently witnessing as a culture and nation are not considering this factor.

If you listened to the Dallas shooter, that's exactly what he said he was doing, "defending his brothers". One less cop, one less potential person to kill one of his "family". The Baton Rouge shooter said, "The only things that those in power in the U.S. understand and respond to in terms of change is violence and money". And since he saw what he saw (on TV and social media) and knew that his "people/family/tribe/community didn't have money to get the attention of those who could make changes, the only thing left is violence. As much as I might not want that to be true, he may have had (he's dead now) a point. I'm trying to recall a significant social change in our country’s history that has occurred without violence. Women's right to be seen as equals? No. The civil rights movement? The labor movement? No. For all these changes, witnessing the violence is finally what got our attention. It was watching women being thrown through plate glass windows, watching them get beaten. It wasn't just that those things happened. Incidents were witnessed, recorded, and shared. It was scenes of the killings, bombings, images of dogs, beatings, murders, fire hoses, assassinations, unarmed shooting of students and bodies of 57,000 dead young men and women that eventually got enough of our attention to actually force changes. Our country's independence, ending slavery. All significant social, economic and political changes with significant violence ......Even Gandhi ended up dead. I remember my personal "shift" regarding the Vietnam War. I was a staunch company man, holding and defending the dominant culture's "truths" about that war until I witnessed unarmed, except for their voices, protestors being bludgeoned with night sticks during the 1968 Democratic convention. Violence finally got my attention. And, as a footnote, in our infinite wisdom, we refuse to do anything to make it difficult for those people impacted by all this to procure the weapons of war. Even armies at times, take their soldier's weapons away from them.

So, why do they shoot, bomb, burn, loot, maim and kill? Simple. One of the greatest fears our subconscious mind has is to be tribeless; to not belong. Our poor ancient brain "knows" that those who lose or are thrown out of their tribe are soon dead. That's not true today, logically, but it used to be. The ancient dominant part of the brain doesn't operate from today’s logic, it’s still operating from an ancient survival place.

Why would they do such things when they know they very well may end up among the dead and they know that these behaviors are wrong? Because it's been well established (genetic programming again) that we will do things that harm ourselves if we believe we, or our tribe are being treated unfairly. That's how our brain works. A classic, oft repeated experiment speaks to this phenomena. Always the same result. All over the world. If I gave you $100, and told you that you had to share it with another person, and you could determine how much of the $100 you gave them, and that the only condition being was that the other person would had to agree to accept or not accept (no bargaining, you get to make only one offer) what you offered to give them, unless what you offered was about a $50-$50, split, they would refuse the deal, and thus lose whatever you we're going to give them. For example if you said I'll keep $70 you get $30, the average person would say "no" which would mean they don't get the $30 and you don't get $70 even though $30 is more than they would've had if you would've offered them nothing. Why? Because the $30 person has the power to make things 'fair', and equal. You get nothing, they get nothing. You don't get to lord your power over them. They get to demonstrate their power over you. We are wired (genetically speaking) as human beings to believe that we must have fairness and equality to be able to safe and ultimately survive.

The dominant culture, has their answer for why all this is happening. Their answer? The people who shoot, bomb, and kill, are simply deranged and mentally ill. The news media tries to find ways in which they can prove that these people have been deviant their entire lives. They posit that the shooters are outliers. Looking for ways in which they are sick, different than us, rather than see them as possible canaries in the coal mine that says "there is something really wrong inside this mine".

What doesn't happen, in any meaningful way, after incidents occur, is an examination of what factors might have been within the context of their lives that would cause people to do these things. Instead, we focus on these people. We know that if our dog is hurt he will be more likely to attempt to bite the hand that feeds him. I don't believe that humans are all that different. God help the soul who says "maybe they have a point”, or “maybe there is something else deeper going on here". Those who might dare to say that get an immediate trip to the front of the room, put in the corner facing a wall, a dunce cap slapped on their head and anything further that they would have to say is summarily dismissed. (What an outrage to suggest that our King-our dominant culture- has no clothes on, how sacrilegious!” Unpatriotic!! Bleeding heart, Socialist, Liberal, Communist,) I am not justifying anything that people do like the shooters or bombers or looters, what I am saying is that as I understand human nature, there's something deeper going on and the perpetrators are most likely acting "normal", based on our genetic programming.

If my six-year old granddaughter (By the way that’s approximately the developmental age of the subconscious part of the brain that is driving so many of these aforementioned behaviors) is having a bad day, she may be acting out in anti-social ways. She may be having a fit. If we, her parents, grandparents or loved ones are having a good day, instead of simply reacting with force to her behaviors we may respond to them with an awareness that they are coming from a place of fatigue, fear, or frustration. I wonder what might be different if our society was able to do the same for those who “act out”. Next time we’ll talk about what makes the Bernie and Donald phenomena so logical.

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