Swickard column - Evil: thy name is notoriety

© 2011 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. There is a great evil in our world gaining strength. It fosters violence and replicates itself year after year. Good citizens decry it but then do everything necessary to enable it. January 8th our nation was shocked by the mindless violence in Arizona which was neither more nor less horrendous than previous violence against innocent victims. It was merely the next time.
In the 24-hour news coverage not once have I heard, to my mind, the question we should ask: what were the incentives for this to take place? Why did the shooter think his life would be made better by this action?
The incentive question is critical since humans generally act upon a model of making life better for themselves. To themselves they frame each action as a way of living a better life. So where did the notion come from that shooting into a crowd would make things better for him? What did the shooter want to get?
Sadly, the answer is notoriety. It is one of the most prevalent influences in our society. Regardless of his stated reason, I suspect the notoriety of having everyone in our nation know his name was the lure. Axiomatic in Hollywood is, “It does not matter what people say about you as long as they talk about you.”
Yes, I am theorizing and do not know his mind. However, as I watch the coverage of major shootings in our society, all indicators point to: evil, thy name is notoriety. The perpetrator decided someone with notoriety is better off than being like the millions of anonymous common citizens.
Why use a gun? It is part of notoriety. Kids watch hour after hour of television and movies where the solution to problems is to shoot someone. They see unacceptable behavior lauded and notoriety rewarded. Children watch hundreds of “shootings to solve a problem” each week. Heroes as well as bad people, all larger than life, solve their problems with guns and become notorious for their actions. I cannot think of a major movie star who has not shot someone on screen to solve a problem.
The copycat syndrome has been well established. Many unbalanced perpetrators are only doing what they have spent thousands of hours watching on television, in movies and in video games. It is not a defense for their actions, it is an explanation. We find that perpetrators of random violence often have spent lots of time watching previous random attacks and valued the notoriety given previous shooters.
When the first news of the attempt on President Ronald Reagan surfaced in 1981 there was the notion it was connected to politics. No, the same potential assassin had tracked Jimmy Carter but was not able to mount an attack. His notoriety need was not political; it was to impress a Hollywood actress. Please note I am not using his name on purpose, nor am I using the name of the most recent shooter. I will not give that notoriety to either.
I am not saying to do away with television and movies but we must recognize where the “notoriety bug” is planted and work to deal with those effects. Do I have a quick easy answer to these problems? No, but I think we must start by identifying the problem. That problem is the incentive for some of our more unbalanced citizens to act out in search of notoriety.
So how do we deal with these shootings where for the next week the name of the shooter is the most important name in our society? This is not about guns, this is about notions. I am not for censorship but with our best minds we must see the link of celebrating (in an odd way) people like the man who planted the bomb that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma and how some unbalanced individuals seize upon the effect of that notoriety.
Think of it like planting a tree. The best time to plant a tree was ten years ago; the next best time to plant a tree is now. The best time to start dealing with this notoriety caused violence problem was ten years ago. The next best time is now.

Brazil: Short Term Sacrifice - Long Term Gains

Lula da Silva
Bloomberg - Eight years ago, a newly elected president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, faced the challenge of saving Brazil from economic and financial collapse. Last Saturday, Lula passed the presidency to Dilma Rousseff having done much, much more than that during his two terms. In the process, he relied on four simple pillars that other leaders would be well advised to consider.
After winning a hotly contested presidential election in 2002, Lula overcame tremendous domestic and international skepticism to guide his country to a development breakout phase. As a result, he left the presidential palace last weekend with Brazil in a position to sustain high economic growth for many years, strengthen an already robust financial situation, and better meet the aspirations of the poorest segments of its society. Read full column here:

Atrocities at Shopping Centers

How long would it take? Ten minutes? One hour? One day? In the wake of the shopping center atrocities in Tucson yesterday, one thing was as sure as night following day. Citizens will be seeing a tug of war develop in the U.S. media and in the political arena. We prepare now for a shift in focus. It will come as a result of efforts made by some to gain political advantage in the policy arena as result of an atrocity. The hopes of those who will no doubt use the horrible events at the Tucson shopping center will be that America once again commit the folly of treating symptoms.
Sadly, an ongoing disaster for our neighbors to the south will continue to go completely under-reported in the U.S. While Americans understandably recoiled in horror at the news from Tucson yesterday, another shopping center atrocity went unnoticed. In Mexico, a country where the law of the land embraces gun control, fifteen decapitated bodies were unceremoniously dumped at a shopping center in Acapulco. In fact, there were twenty-seven murders in the Acapulco area in the last seventy-two hours.
Rest assured that at this point authorities in Mexico still do not know whether the sharp objects used to decapitate the bodies were the murder weapons or the mutilation weapons. With untold thousands of murders in Mexico in 2010, most of them gun killings, law enforcement there has better things to worry about than hoping lawyers get more precise language into the statutes on the books that already ban guns. You can read about the shopping center atrocities in Mexico here: