After Newtown: Shifting the Structure and Culture of Violence towards Peace


Marianne Perez de Fransius – TRANSCEND Media Service

A look at the structural and cultural violence underneath the Sandy Hook attack and action steps to move towards peace.

While there is a tendency to think that the violence has stopped in Newton, CT, because Adam Lanza is no longer pulling the trigger on the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and two handguns, only the direct violence of this particular incident has stopped. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline, there is the largely ignored cultural and structural violence that set the preconditions for this shooting, and if not addressed, will be fertile ground for further similar acts.

On Friday, December 14, 2012 there was another attack at an elementary school, but this one was in Henan Province, China.  A 36-year old man, Min Yingjun, reportedly broke into an elementary school stabbing 22 children and one adult with a knife. This is important for 2 reasons; it gives us a window to look at the structures and cultures that perpetuate violence.

On the structural side, China has strict gun control laws, so the perpetrator could “only” do as much harm as his knife yielded. The net result is that of the 22 people that were attacked at the school in China, none are dead and security guards were able to subdue the attacker. It certainly begs the question, “If the US’s gun laws were as restrictive as China’s would we now be grieving the lives of 20 children and 7 adults?” (Not to mention those killed by firearms in Aurora, Colorado, at Virginia Tech and every day in the US’s inner cities.)

In terms of cultural violence, coverage of the Chinese elementary school attack appeared in the Friday morning news cycle on US networks. While we may never know if the Chinese attack inspired Lanza, it is highly probable that he saw coverage of it, as well as coverage of the Aurora and Virginia Tech shootings earlier. Mainstream media likes to think of itself as objective and thus reports these incidents with out condemning the violence. Sadly, because violence is so pervasive in the media (in movies, video games, song lyrics, as well as the news), we need more voices and public figures saying that violence is not permissible. Most likely, this pervasiveness of violent culture contributed to Nancy Lanza’s (Adam’s mother) doomsday fears and desire to protect herself with so many weapons.

Additionally, mainstream media needs to take a hard look at the US’s gun laws and compare them to other countries’.  Finally, mainstream media would do well to report on the US’s (lack of) healthcare system and demystify mental illness. In fact, in China as well as many other parts of the world, symptoms of mental illness and appropriate interventions should figure on every news rooms’ editorial calendar.

Many of the approaches that have led to the decrease in lung cancer in the United States, could be applied to the cancer of gun violence. The leading cause of lung cancer is smoking cigarettes. The US not only restricts the sale of tobacco, but it also taxes it heavily. Additionally, smoking has become more and more restricted in public spaces, starting in restaurants and now even public parks in New York City. While cigarette advertisements have largely been regulated and even banned in many media, tobacco use in films and television shows remains problematic. But at least we no longer see our newscasters smoking cigarettes while delivering the news. Increased reporting about the correlation between tobacco and lung cancer as well as effective public education campaigns have led to a decrease in the incidence of lung cancer in recent years. Why not adapt these strategies to gun violence?

How do we do this? Simple. Halve the military budget ($673 billion in 2013, half would be $337.5 billion) which still leaves the US with the biggest military expenditure in the world by far and re-allocate that funding to address gun violence. You’ll still have enough left over to address health care (all aspects, not just mental health), reform the education system, rebuild infrastructure, generate green jobs and decrease the debt burden. As an added bonus, it gets us off the fiscal cliff.

The Oreo Cookie demonstration video below by Ben & Jerry’s Ben Cohen doesn’t have the latest numbers, but the proportions are still accurate.

How is this going to happen?

It’s great to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to grieve, inform yourself, and exclaim outrage. But unless we all take directed, purposeful action, meaningful change won’t happen.

Here are some actions you can take:

–       Write to Members of Congress (all you have to do is put in your zip code and this website does the rest!)

–       Petition the NRA to support reasonable gun laws

–       Support Dick’s hardware decision to stop selling assault weapons by sending them a thank you note.

–       Ask media outlets to include more condemnation of violence, information about mental illness symptoms and research on root causes of violence in their reporting

–       Donate to organizations that have a track record of working on systemic change around violence


Marianne Perez is a member of TRANSCEND and founder of Peace is Sexy.

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2 Responses to “After Newtown: Shifting the Structure and Culture of Violence towards Peace”

  1. Poka Laenui says:

    On School Violence and all other violence in society –

    One of the dangers of the way we deal with violence is to individualize it, i.e., to treat it as an individual occurrence and to focus on an individual perpetrator. The more people killed or maimed, the more horrendous the event, we again separate it from the rest of the society and individualize responsibility or liability to the principle actor. Having done so, we than begin to pick and choose one or another differentiating characteristic between the perpetrator and the rest of “us.” This becomes the salve we use to sooth us into believing that we are not like “them.” We’ve done that separation and differentiating with race, with religion, with political systems, with economic status, and with mental illness. It’s all part of the game of stigmatizing. The underlying game is one of denial and avoidance of the reality that the culture of violence is pervasive, and that we have all engaged in it.

    As a result, the society begins the discussion of how do we treat “them” more appropriately so that we can overcome such incidents of violence. We should have better ways of identifying such individuals, and either treat, separate, or discriminate against them. In the 2nd World War, it was to round up the Japanese and concentrate them in camps where we can keep our eyes on them. In an earlier time of colonization, it was to change the indigenous peoples into Christians and if that fails, kill them off or take away their sources of survival, as we have seen across the Americas, Australia, Scandinavia, Hawaii, etc. It was part of the same mentality with Joseph McCarthy and that era of hunting Communist and sympathizers, (today substitute Muslim terrorists and their sympathizers). Yet another basis of such discrimination is when we demean and blame the homeless for ruining our tourist economy, for all the crimes on the streets, for the drug dealings and violence. (“If only they would get a job” is the suggested panacea.)
    The current school shooting is yet another example of short sighted approaches to society’s violence by focusing on the difference between the shooter (his mental health) and the larger society, essentially asking how do we cast a large enough net to catch more people like the shooter and treat and/or separate them from the rest of us. By this differentiation, we successfully separate and absolve ourselves from that act of violence.

    This is like passengers arranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic as it sinks into the sea.
    We are being swallowed up by a deep culture which praises Domination, Individualism, and Exclusion, establishing these three fundamental values as the pillars of our modern society. We do so in our leisure, in our work, in education, in social interaction, in financial relations, in political affairs, in medical and mental health practice, in family relations, and even in law. This D.I.E. culture is so pervasive and yet so subtle that we fail to realize its presences until it rears its head, and when it does, we try to excuse ourselves by declaring that this is normal and natural for a society! Such a declaration is not based on evidence or reason, but merely a lazy and defensive approach to excuse the society for its behavior.
    We have many cultures, and deep behaviors even within our own society which follow an alternate culture, which runs just as deep in the way people conduct their lives. In Hawaii, we express that deep culture as reflecting the values of `Olu`olu (compatible, non-conflictive, mellow, comfortable), Lokahi (as compared with the individualistic/separateness value) and Aloha as opposed to exclusion. This O.L.A. culture persists not only in Hawaii or only among the Hawaiians. Many societies around the world, including the American society, have exhibited pockets of this O.L.A. deep culture. Many families still practice this form of life. So do some churches, schools, etc. Unfortunately, this deep culture stops at the borders of families, churches, . . .

    In short, (sorry for the long diatribe to introduce my conclusion) we need to be far more broadly focused than only looking at a more effective treatment for Asberger’s or anything on the Autism spectrum, or even for more intensive treatment of the mentally ill. We need to see that the paradigm of D.I.E. itself must be left behind and that a shift to O.L.A. (or however one chooses to express it) needs to replace D.I.E., in all of the areas of society’s life. We need to be just as strident in the advocacy for an O.L.A. approach to international relations as we advocate for peace on the school grounds, we need to be raising such contrasts in our studies of economics, in our treatment of the environment, and in our family counseling sessions. We need to see that the D.I.E. culture of violence, of supremacy, of separation is the very root of violence in our society which provides for fertile conditions of shootings in our schools or country attacking other countries.
    It’s a “tall order” and none of us can do it alone, but by understanding the broader framework of the issue, as we work within our individual areas of “specialty”, we can have a better common appreciation and the depth of the changes which needs to come about, and we will not feel so isolated in our work, knowing that others are trying to bring about changes in their areas of work themselves.

  2. satoshi says:

    Six points as follows:

    First: Let me express my sincerest condolences and deepest sympathy to the victims, their families, relatives, friends and everyone else those who may concern.

    Second: How many times did Americans repeat the same reaction to the gun killing incident like this? And every time the gun/rifle lobbyists obtained the political victory after these incidents. The same pattern has repeated itself. What lesson learned so far, then?

    Third: The main issues are not just whether the use/own of the gun should be strictly regulated. It is, as some people already discussed, the “(American) culture of violence”. Go to a local computer game shop and you will know, at least, one of the indirect and possible/potential elements/causes of the future (and of the past) tragedies. Most of these games are those of war/violence ones as you may know. Or go to a local movie theater or a video rental shop and you will also know. What is the difference, in the psychological sense, between “the military pilot, watching the computerized screen in the cabin, to shoot missiles” and “the child, watching the computer screen, to shoot the game missiles”, for instance? What is the difference, in the psychological sense, between “the mad man, looking into the scope, to shoot at his classmates” and “the child, looking into the computer game scope, to shoot at the children on the computer screen”, for instance? Imagine that a new computer game that simulates the tragic incident of Newtown has just been released! What would you think, then? Exciting, profitable, horrible or what? Are you for the “culture of violence”? Or are you for the “culture of peace”? Your value system and ethics will tell. (By the way, did you know that there is a compute game that simulates the war-zone Sarajevo, Bosnia? The game was prepared by a former Sarajevo citizen. What do you think? )

    Fourth: One more issue on the “(American) culture of violence”. If you encounter someone or some people and if you consider him/her or them as your obstacle, it is very often that some (or many) of you think or utter such words like, “Kill him,” “Remove her,” “Destroy them,” or other similar words or expressions. If that way of thinking is “natural” or if that way of conversation is “a part of American daily conversations,” or both, then, that could be one of the basic elements that produce or support the (American) culture of violence”. Thought produces words. Words produce deeds. Thought also produces deeds without bypassing words. Any culture – whether it is the “culture of violence” or the “culture of peace” – begins in the minds of the people whether they are aware of it or not.

    Fifth: A case study: Suppose that the father is working for some weapon industry. His child was shot and killed by a mad man at school.
    – Case One: Suppose that the father’s company is a gun company. Suppose that the gun used for the killing of his child was produced by the father’s company. What would this father think of the tragic incident of his child?
    – Case Two: Suppose that the father’s company is a military heavy industry company whose products are used only by the US military forces outside the US such as in Afghanistan, for instance. What would the father think of the tragic incident of his child? Would he think any potential link between his profession and the tragic death of his child? Both heavy military weapons and a small handgun kill people though. The former kills people in the name of national defense, while the latter kills people in the name of the self-defense. (Think that, in the name of the national defense, how many innocent civilians were killed so far. Think also that, in the name of the self-defense, how many innocent American citizens were killed so far. This is one of the core issues of the “defense”. What “defense” really is? What or how “defense” should be?)
    – An assignment: Discuss both Cases One and Two in terms of the “culture of peace”.

    Sixth: How many American/NATO forces killed innocent children in Afghanistan so far, for instance? Then, every time the American mass media (and the rest of Western mass media as well) treated such incident(s) either as a small news (or as a middle-size news at best) or as no news. But if American children were killed in the United States (or outside the US somewhere in the world), the American mass media treated the incident as a big news.
    – An experimental proposal: Give the US citizenship to, say, all Afghans and let’s see how the American mass media will treat the killing incident of the “US children” in Afghanistan, for instance. Would you laugh at this proposal? This proposal raises a potential (and fundamental) question on whether the value of life is different according to the citizenship. Does the American child’s life is more valuable than that of the Afghan child, for instance? Or both lives are equally valuable? I do not say that the news value equals the life value. But it can be said that mass media’s perception of the news value seriously affects our perception of the life value. And our perception of the life value seriously affects how we formulate the “culture of peace”.

    May peace be with all American citizens and all other citizens in the world as well.