As a photographer I favor my wide-angle lens, and that is what we need to help us understand these regular waves of mass shootings that seem to have no single cause. And when something has no single agreed upon cause, you can’t remove it or stop it. In order to stop something, you need to find its cause. This uncertainty creates a collective fear of a Death on the Loss. It’s like the movie No Country for Old Men, where Death roams killing without restriction.
What we have when some behavior is repeated with regularity as if scripted is a Ritual. We have an American Ritual now. This is what’s so maddening. When something is predictable, and yet you still can’t stop it…. That feels intolerable, yet we are helpless. And we Americans pride ourselves on being in control and make the world safe for us. Yet here..here we are helpless.
I think we can agree we have a national ritual here. It’s like going to the Rocky Horror Show over and over, repeating from memory the lines as the characters speak them. A ritual is a repeated ceremony. You have the Breaking News (the shock) and the real time event unfolding. Then you have the list of victims, who are always the innocents, the slaughter of the innocents. And then you have the grieving family and the police giving you a blow by blow of the event. And then there is the national coming together in shared grief, and the street altars of flowers to mark the spot to make the place sacred through this slaughter of the innocents. It is only the death of the innocent that creates the sacred.
Rituals have meaning, but the meaning is metaphorical. The Mass Shooting ritual is meaningless. The shooter’s motivation is not the meaning. The apparent randomness is meaningless. We cannot find any meaning in this death. And we must find meaning in death. But is that the truth we are avoiding: death has no meaning?
I’m trying to find some meaning in the meaningless ritual of our Mass Shooting. So just walk with me. OK, let’s look at it from this angle with a wide angle lens, looking at the whole ritual as if we were outside of it, and not inside of it. From the outside we can see the ritual with a beginning, a middle and an end as if it were a TV show that just repeats the same formula in a different context of time, people and place. The formula stays the same, the content changes.
I know this in my own experience that when I have created through repeating a behavior it becomes a compulsion, a behavior that is on automatic pilot. The habit does itself like cruise control. And societies have a collective mind that operates the same way our individual minds act. A collective mind creates habits behavior that repeats itself just like individual minds do. When conditions are right, that compulsive habit will be triggered. We don’t even know we are doing it until we aware that we are smoking again. Damn, I thought I had quit.
Here’s another truth I have discovered in my own life. When I have a compulsive habit or behavior, that ritual behavior actually wants or creates the conditions in which it can be activated. In other words, the unconscious ritual—and it is unconscious if we blindly repeat it—wants to become conscious, so it will activate itself in a condition in order that it can become conscious. The unconscious cannot become conscious unless it manifests itself in form where it will create the suffering that will motivate the mind to make the leap that makes the unconscious conscious.
My point is here, from this wide-angle view, is that America is in the evolutionary process of becoming more conscious, and this ritual provides all the necessary suffering that will motivate a leap into a wider lens, a bigger map of our reality. Something is dying, and it is really our limited view of reality. Our lens is too narrow. We are missing the wider context of our life by identifying with divided and narrow views of who we are.
The really wide view is the Life wants to be conscious of itself. And consciousness is always unified and whole. When it’s divided, as our culture is now, we are essentially unconscious. Life, America as life, will creates the means to become conscious, and the Mass Shooting ritual, it’s sacrifice of the innocents with real blood and pain—unlike our movies of death and sacrifice—has the power to awaken us to a wider consciousness of life. A sacrificial ritual has the purpose of awakening us. When we awaken, there is no longer any need for the ritual. The Mass Shootings won’t stop until America wakes up to a greater consciousness of itself. Then…all those deaths will have meaning.
Just as Jesus needed his Judas, America needs its mass shooters. The shooter and the victims are both participating is a collective ritual, which is now part of our mythology.