5 Oct 2015        home | more politics

Pop Culture and the Oregon Shooter

More on the Oregon shooting.

Culture is still largely ignored, while presidential candidate Jeb Bush says "stuff happens" and Donald Trump speaks of the killer, Chris Mercer as having been mentally ill. There was nothing in Mercer's past regarding treatment for a mental condition of arrests that would have prevented him from being able to buy guns were such laws. Before the shooting, people didn't see him as mentally ill, and, falling back on the belief that he was crazy, many still consider culture not worth discussing.

Is monkey-see-monkey-do, "copy cat" of learned cues, involved in the frequency of mass shootings? Today's news describes a frustrated young man someone in Bonn Germany sentenced to three months in prison after announcing on Facebook that he would go on an ISIS-inspired killing spree at his local job center. He was frustrated by his benefits (unemployment benefits, I presume, were cut for three months.

In the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960s I saw a few young men picking up on a trend in spiritualism and philosophy and guiding impressionable young women. One of them was Charles Manson. This added to my suspicion of popular culture. And there was the phony spiritualism of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh that some in the United States followed. Not everything in our culture that is popular is bad. Some of it may be worthwhile, and some of it is neutral, good only for passing time. Pop culture includes police dramas, shoot 'em up sensationalism and macho stuff for young men about the power that comes with a gun. There are the power-with-a-gun video games. We can expect none of this to be censored.

I was unimpressed by Mercer having described himself as spiritual and as interested in music that was "mostly goth/punk/industrial/electronic." He also said "I love to watch movies, Horror movies are the best, but I also like some action films, depending on the type, and I like crime dramas as well."

Pop culture is by definition within the mainstream of a given culture. Some may consider me an elitist for being down on pop culture and having extolled academic learning. At least I am not as elitist as was the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He believed that the best of men were weighed upon and dragged down by the weight of mass mediocrity – some truth in that viewing some of the politicians that the masses give us. But unlike Nietzsche, I believe in the good sense of something like fifty percent of the people. They have values and often try to pass these values onto their children. They can be educated in my opinion as well as trained. There are also generosity and responsibility to consider: people willing to pay their share of expenses for the maintenance of society's well-being. I may be wrong in blaming Mercer's mental deficiencies on his lack of good parenting.

Coincidentally, the journalist Fareed Zakaria has a new book out: In Defense of a Liberal Education. In it he extols the benefits of studying the humanities: social, political and psychological insights – in other words, better social skills.

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