Method and Madness

What if Adam Lanza was a systems thinker? If so, he might have thought sacrificing a dozen or so children now could save hundreds or thousands later by provoking increased gun control. We will not likely ever know, but we have certainly seen a lot of linear (non-systemic) thinking in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Blame has run rampant, often involving exploitation of the incident to promote an agenda: guns, bullets, violence in media, schizophrenia, autism ("You'd have to be crazy to do something like that."), the shrink that should have stopped him. 

But our society is a complex, non-linear, multi-loop feedback system, the kind that loves homeostasis, so now instead of fewer guns sold we see an increase. We see a vicious cycle in which increased fear leads to understandable attempts at self protection. Media coverage may promote copy cats, but it may also provide an outlet for aggression, thus preventing violent acts, or some of each. We may get better funding of psychiatric treatment which could give some meaning to the senseless losses, but what psychiatrist would want to chance the negative consequences if she, like Colorado psychiatrist Fenton, becomes the focus of a media frenzy, or worse? Many of us will try to avoid involvement with potentially violent patients, perhaps the ones that need us most.

Jaspers drew a distinction between meaningful connections and causal connections. Once again many have confused the two. If it will really make a difference to sell only pink polka dot assault rifles we need to find out. Feel-good changes based on flawed thinking could backfire. We must stop pretending to have powers that we lack, stop blaming, and focus on what little we can do in this world.

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