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Responding to Sandy Hook There is a great deal of uncertainty about most if not all of the things that matter

a lot to us. Where did we come from? Why are we 'here?' and where is 'here'? Where are we going? When will I die? Will there be "life after death?" These questions, and many not as cosmic, point to a fundamental condition of our human experience: lacking omniscience, we must live and act even though we do not fully understand all of the consequences of our actions. What is one to do? The nihilist says that it doesn't matter since nothing matters. The agnostic says it matters but we just don't know how or why. The optimist puts a positive spin on it: It's all good! The Universe is on my side. I don't need to worry about this stuff. The pessimist point out that there is quite a bit that is patently not "good" in this life (things like cancer, car wrecks, rapes, molestation, abuse, destructive addictions, mental illness, birth defects, etc., etc.). So maybe the universe is actually hostile to us or, at best, indifferent. There are so many things we do not and cannot know that certainty is rare. We may know the 'what?' but not the 'why?' of a thing or situation. And if we believe that we are in some sense responsible for our lives it matters how we handle this ultimate unknowingness.1 Let us suppose for a moment that we, you and I, had been responsible for taking appropriate action in the aftermath of a terrible catastrophe, something like Katrina, Fukishima, Sandy, or 9/11. Or the massacre that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, in which 20 children and 6 adults were shot dead. We know what happened. A 20 year old boy apparently with a mental illness or brain disorder (Asperger syndrome) took weapons belonging to his mother and after killing her, went to a nearby school and shot 150 bullets killing 26 people and finally himself. This is something almost too horrific to imagine. And yet it was hardly the first time such a thing had happened. In the USA we have had 23 school shootings since January 2010. Nor was Sandy Hook the most deadly: 32 people were killed in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. Some of these assassinations were apparently politically motivated and their perpetrators were trying to make a political comment with their actions, the equivalent to a jihadist suicide bomber. Some seem to have been motivated by retaliation against bullying or less obvious means of humiliation, real or imagined. And some would appear to be the actions of genuinely mentally ill persons acting in a state of delusion. The reason for these acts, the 'why' of them, does not affect their tragic outcome: no matter why it was done, 20 Sandy Hook children and 6 adults are dead. The consequences of this act are limited in their scope, though they are absolute for those affected survivors, siblings, parents, teachers, neighbors, to say nothing of the actual deceased, whose lives

Unknowing is not necessarily a bad thing. Zen Masters and the author of the 14th Century Cloud of Unknowing, a book of Christian mysticism, argues that the path to enlightenment and beatific visions come after passing through the "cloud" of unknowing.

Responding to Sandy Hook were taken from them for no apparent reason or cause, at least no discernable cause. The bullets appear to have been random, not plotted. Now we are asking: What can be done to prevent such acts from occurring again? That is the question, isn't it? The nation is focused, it seems, primarily on the instruments of these acts, the guns. There is talk of better gun regulation; and there is the idea of arming teachers and school officials. I personally am horrified by the idea that we would arm teachers in the belief that a teacher would be expected to stop a would-be assassin with his (or her, though as far as I can tell, all the shooters were males) arsenal of automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Really? There are professionals who do this sort of thing; they are emotionally and mentally prepared to take this kind of action and physically trained in how to do it. Are we really going to require a teacher to keep a gun in her desk drawer? Is this what Miss Grumby signed up for? I imagine the teacher's union would require an appropriate adjustment to wages to reflect these new responsibilities as bodyguards and insist that they receive adequate training (at least equivalent to what a Marine gets in boot camp).2 But what if we began with a clean slate, with no preconceptions or pre-conclusions as to why this thing happened or how we should respond to it. Thinking we already know how to act in any given situation will foreclose the examination of options and reduce the likelihood of discovering unexpected consequences and/or unexpected benefits and avoiding unexpected costs and subsequent disasters. We call that a closed minded or biased action.
I would personally vote to remove all guns from private citizens, so called 2nd Amendment "rights" not withstanding. In my world, people who want to shoot guns would be required to do so under some authority or supervision. We do this for hunting now. We have to get a license to hunt and there are rules about where and when we can hunt, what we can hunt and how many of some things we are allowed to kill. Is it too much to do the same for ALL guns and their potential shooters? Shouldn't we know where there are guns and who has access to them? The only way to do this would be to de-privatize the right to own guns. Guns would be under the control of especially trained and authorized people. Authorized by who? Why by the same people who authorize speed limits and set safety standards and respond to disasters with aid and support. Would there be abuse, corruption, inefficiency? Certainly. But at least these things are in theory transparent to us the governed and, if abuses are discovered, there are consequences, not the least of which is relieving an elected official of his or her office. Guns are certainly more dangerous than cars, and yet we require training, tests, registration, review and renewal, and vehicle inspection. Should we not do the same with guns? Perhaps the extreme of banning private ownership of guns would lead to tyranny as the NRA asserts. Who knows? But if living in our society depends on being able to defend oneself with lethal force then we have returned to a pre-civilization state. Making individuals responsible for their own defense is, in my opinion, misguided policy. Trying to be worthy of its citizenry's trust is a worthy goal of a government. And not having to rely on one's own ability to shoot and kill for survival is a characteristic of civilization. This is not the "wild West" and we are not on a "mission impossible" or under attack from psychopaths or zombies every day of the week. In fact, the number of us who will ever be personally involved in such a situation is statistically speaking very small. But the possible unintended consequences of arming teachers and the rest of us are enormous.

Responding to Sandy Hook Because we do not have a sure answer as to the 'why' of this horrific act, let us begin by enumerating as many causal scenarios as we can. Lets defer any judgment for the moment as to the probability of any one of these scenarios and do our best to imagine as many causes as possible. Here are some that have occurred to me. Perhaps you will have others: 1) Adam Lanza was in fact in a delusional state acting out some drama known only to him. He believed, perhaps, that he was actually helping his mother and the children he murdered. In his disordered state, he was acting on behalf of a higher power, possibly perceived as God, who had instructed him to do what he did. Or perhaps he believed himself to be combating aliens who were disguised as children and who were going to take over the earth if he didn't kill them. Or perhaps he believed that they would not really be killed or that if they were killed, they would come back to life, as characters in a video game do. 2) Adam Lanza was himself an alien, disguised as a human being. As such he had no compunction about doing what he did -- he was, in fact, under orders running a test to see how difficult it would be to kill humans in preparation for an invasion of the planet. 3) He was angry with his mother, and/or with teachers and school mates who had, in his mind, abused him or humiliated him to such a degree that his only possible response was to revenge himself in such a way that would "show them" (whoever "them" was that he was powerful and capable of mighty acts. 4) That he had seen the response to similar shootings and longed to create such an impression in an attempt to prove that he was not insignificant and that his life was not meaningless. He wanted his 15 minutes of fame and shooting school children was the easiest way to get it. 6) Adam Lanza was the unconscious victim of a secret military experiment in which mind controlling technology was used to implant instructions in his brain in order to demonstrate how complete the mind control was that would have him commit matricide, slaughter innocent children, and then kill himself -- perhaps the most morally repulsive acts imaginable. The experiment was to discover if mind control methods, whatever they were, were absolutely effective and could be used on anyone to cause them to do anything. 'The Manchurian Candidate" and the Jason Bourne redux. 7) And then there is the supernatural causality of demon possession. All cultures have some sort of beliefs that disembodied evil spirits, called devils or demons or djinns are actively working to harm and destroy human beings, any and ALL human beings. This particular demon was devoted to killing innocents and was able to take over Adam Lanza's mind to such a degree that he could get him to do it for him. Notice as you read these 'options' that you probably pooh-poohed one or more of them as absurd, ridiculous, or very far-fetched. We don't believe in aliens or demons. So those scenarios are sick jokes. But remember that some people in other cultures and other times most definitely have believed in such things and some people still do today. And while what we believe does not determine what the truth actually is, belief can lead to a sort of pseudo reality, at 3

Responding to Sandy Hook least for awhile, until information and evidence that conflicts with the belief force us to to alter our belief to match reality, or ignore that evidence. (Evolution and global warming come to mind.) What if we instead suspend our beliefs and disbeliefs while we look for possible options, as absurd or unbelievable as they might be. We can then go on to assess the probability of any of these alternatives. Then we can discriminate among them. But we must understand that when this evaluation occurs it is always done with incomplete information and with some degree of bias. That is inevitable. Our process is to consider all the options we can imagine in order to identify the most likely and from there go on to frame a response that is most likely to prevent future occurrences. (It is obvious that our response would be different depending on which of these scenarios we decide was the probable cause, ranging from looking for conspirators to practicing exorcisms.) Actually our goal is not literally to prevent such acts from ever again happening. If we took that as a serious objective and were prepared to do whatever it took to achieve it, we would have to resort to such security and control measures that life would become intolerable: armored school busses, armed guards, controlled access, and extremely restricted freedom of activity for teachers and students alike all in an atmosphere of fear and danger that is about as far away from encouraging learning as anything could be. No one, not even to prevent another Sandy Hook, will be willing to do what it would actually take to guarantee it. I think rather that our goal would be to prevent as many as possible of these events, even if that means only preventing one shooting. Of course it will be very difficult to know if our actions have actually prevented something from happening. We might like to think so, but barring a very clear plot and evidence of intention that has been foiled, we will never know how many Sandy Hooks we have prevented. At least not immediately. However, over time we should see a reduction in such occurrences, and from that reduction, be able to infer that our efforts were successful, at least to a degree. Of course a reduction in violent attacks in schools could have nothing to do with the specific actions we take. For example, how many deaths by terrorist attack have our airport security measures prevented? We will never know. Deterrence is prevention. And conspiracy can certainly show intention to act. But how often can we say that our blanket restrictions on liquids that can be carried on board a plane has actually prevented someone from blowing up a plane? We can only speak in probabilities and trends. Probabilities are based on past experience and analysis by competent minds with sufficient information to make informed guesses. Trends are identifiable after the fact over a reasonable length of time. And trends are not predictors of future events. They merely tell us what HAS happened, not what is going to happen. No one can infallibly predict the future. And we should not be over quick to assign causality where correlation is all we have. We did X and Y went down. This does not mean that doing X caused Y to go down. Maybe it did, but maybe it went down for totally

Responding to Sandy Hook unrelated causes, causes perhaps so 'accidental' or unpredictable that no one could have predicted them, at least not specifically. But we are looking for action here, responsible and effective action, and so the next step is to try to winnow down possible causes into probable ones and craft our response accordingly. At the end of the day we are likely to have more than one cause, or more than one contributing factor, and so our response will have to be on more than a single front. For example, to restrict and control guns and gun use certainly would reduce the probability of such acts as Sandy Hook. And that is one of the things we ought to do. But what about the old saw, guns don't kill people, people do. It is true that those automatic and semiautomatic weapons require someone to shoot them. And so preventing Adam Lanza from having access to those weapons would have prevented the murders. Unless, that is, Adam Lanza found a different way to do what he did, and this brings us back to the shooter. Why would someone do what Adam Lanza did? Of the causal scenarios we have developed here there are several that speak to mental health. Adam Lanza had a diagnosis of Aspergers. Is violent action a characteristic of Aspergers? Not that I can see. It is possible that in a deluded state someone could do what Adam Lanza did while completely out of touch with 'ordinary' reality, ordinary feelings, perceptions, and understandings. Does this mean that we need to restrain everyone who is diagnosed with Aspergers because it is possible that someone with that condition could do harm to others? I hope not. From what I know of mental illness, the victims suffer enough without being labeled potential mass murderers and locked up for a possible delusional act. But there is another 'mental health' or rather emotional health issue here. Emotional and mental health requires social connection, otherwise known as love. Sociopaths are in a state of emotional and mental dissociation and do not think about themselves and their actions the same way we do. They are, as either cause or effect, victims of a mental and emotional disorder, socially non-connected, without the bonds healthy human beings form among themselves, and lacking in empathy for others. Adam Lanza was not widely connected socially speaking. He was home-schooled and as far as we know, had no friends, an absent father, and a brother he had not seen in years. He lived with his mother. Where was the father? What was the nature of the relationship between mother and son? What social experiences had Adam Lanza actually had and what was the outcome of those experiences? If we conclude that this condition (isolation and lack of social engagement) was contributory to Adam Lanzas actions, then it would follow that social interconnectedness for the mentally ill (and for the 'normal'!) is something we should pay attention to. Too much isolation, especially with a mental disorder at work, can lead to dissociation and delusion, which in turn can lead to irrational actions, including violence. A campaign promoting interpersonal interactions and connectivity would be in order, and it would have the added benefit of being applicable to everyone, not just potential murderers and psychopaths. Everyone could benefit from a massive societal and educational investment in fostering connectivity. Everyone's life would be enriched and 5

Responding to Sandy Hook theoretically both mentally ill and 'normal' people would be less likely to perpetrate such horrible acts. We know very little. But by taking what we do know and working with it until we find what seems to reasonable people to be a probable explanation and major contributor to an outcome like Sandy Hook we are doing the best we can to prepare for actions to prevent something like it from happening again. Will we succeed 100%? Of course not. But one or more of the scenarios generated in our attempt to understand the 'why' of this situation could lead us to formulate a response that deals with the real issues and has at least a good chance of being effective. I will leave the conclusion as to which scenario is more probable in the Sandy Hook incident to those who know more about it than I do. Based on my limited information, however, I would argue that a combination of weapons control and connectivity nurturing would stand a good chance of reducing the number of people who end up killing others and themselves. Gun regulation would address the 'means' required for such an act; connectivity nurturing would meet a fundamental human need and address a critical issue facing all of us, especially those afflicted with mental illness. A world with fewer guns and better regulated gun ownership in which our educational and social systems are geared to foster connectivity would be a world in which a Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting would be less likely to occur. That, at least, is my personal opinion and conclusion. Regardless of where one comes down on what action should be taken, a knee-jerk response that fails to explore open-mindedly all aspects of the causality question is not likely to be effective and might very well have adverse consequences. Put away the guns and reach out for connection. And perhaps a culture that delights in guns, bombs, explosions, car chases, cage fights, and government conspiracies will evolve into something more humane, gentle, loving, and in harmony with human and Mother Nature. Safety in our time is a very desirable goal. Real safety is of mind and body and soul. Let us head in that direction when we act. Let us explore the options and choose to invest our treasure, energy, and time in those which offer the best chance of success and of beneficial effect.

-- Robert Weston Holmes Beach, Florida January 23, 2013