“Our screams seldom break past our lips. They burn in the belly;
They sword-clang in the brain; they smolder in the chest.”
– Harold Myra
Early in the now 40-year life of the abortion legislation known as Roe vs. Wade, a group of anti-abortionists produced a film called The Silent Scream – silent because aborted fetuses can’t scream. I don’t know whether this film and its gripping title had the intended effect or not, but on the subject of killing live kids, as happened in Connecticut last month, silent screams are no longer enough.
Usually, when composing my columns, I couch my words, read them 20 times to see if they are too strong, offensive, silly or just plain stupid, but not this time. It’s too late to worry about stepping on some expert’s toes, hurting feelings or protecting my own reputation by being socially or politically correct. After 387 school shootings in this country in the past 20 years – most notably and tragically at Colorado’s Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., it’s time to do some socially incorrect screaming, out loud.
If I hear one more expert, like Berkeley Law Professor Franklin Zimring, say: “These shootings don’t represent any major fissure in the American soul; that kind of breast-beating is (not) a very good prelude to public policy,” I’m going to scream.
If I hear one more movie-maker or video-vender deny accountability for shaping behavior – “Media violence is not a major factor in violent acts by children” (author Sissela Bok) – I’m going to scream.
If I hear one more politician decide what we need are school uniforms, tighter security, better computers, more money, still more think-tanks to discuss the problem, or similar Band-Aids to curb teen violence, I’m going to scream.
If I don’t hear someone in the movie industry say, “OK, instead of trying to outdo each other, climb to greater sadistic heights and project greater bloody gore onto the screen, we’re going to tone down the violence, rein in the vulgarity and clean up our entertainment act,” I’m going to scream.
If I don’t hear at least one video game manufacturer announce, “Even if sales fall and profits plummet, we won’t make any video games in which shooting, killing, bombing, dismembering or destruction is involved,” I’m going to scream.
If I don’t hear at least one local theater manager say, “No matter the rating or hype, there are some movies we just won’t show,” I’m going to scream.
If I don’t hear parents, teachers, politicians, church leaders, entertainers and everyday citizens say, “It’s my fault as well as yours; let’s work together to change the direction of our increasingly obscene culture,” I’m going to scream.
Words and opinions swirl around the country – and your head and mine – like bullets at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Make that many more opinions than solutions, far less responsibility than blame. Everywhere, anger and frustration reign.
Glenn Woiceshyn of the Ayn Rand Institute ties this “retrogression toward anarchy” to the rise of the progressive education philosophy of the 1950s, and the belief that school is primarily a social institution. This might explain why schools now appear to focus on children’s social needs more devoutly than to their intellectual ones, and why classroom discussions are encouraged to treat everyone’s uninformed ideas as equally valid. Rage erupts, Woiceshyn said, when that social being’s desires are not met, and the unguided opinion takes over.
I wouldn’t mention yet another expert’s opinion, or assign still more blame, except that the timing of this new direction in education suggests a valid point. Most of the country’s leaders, educators and movie-makers were brought up during that period when rules faded, authority waned, and more of everything – money, power, stimulus and emotional response – was never enough.
In spite of unequaled progress in technology, and a better economy – even during our recent recession – than previous generations ever enjoyed, the cutting edge kept slicing off more and more of the solid foundation our families and forefathers laid, and the social condition the progressives thought they were sending to utopian heights has regressed to a sometimes horrifying low.
It might be too late. Rushing back to basics, enforcing rules and practicing even limited censorship may push the pendulum too far the other way. Pendulums do that, you know, move from one extreme to the other. But the pain of the extreme we’re in now is too great not to try something else.
We owe the children of America – Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook – and Columbia County, Georgia, at least that much.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer, and author of the book, As Long As the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County’s Past. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)