Columbia, SC — What was going through the mind of Adam Lanza as he murdered first-graders he didn’t know? Did he hear their screams? Did he see the carnage? Were the events real to him? The answers to these questions won’t help Adam or his victims, but there are other Adams and other school children, and we must find answers.
The world in which Adam Lanza found himself surely had two realities — one real, the other virtual. In the screen of his TV and computer and phone, he could live in an artificially created, one-dimensional world. That world had no smell or taste; it was neither cold nor hot. He could not touch it, and it could not bridge the space between the screen and his real body. He was insulated.
This virtual world is becoming more realistic and graphic at the speed of light. Wanton cruelty is depicted. Women are targeted for sadistic violence. Mass violence is not uncommon, anonymous victims are common, destroying is rewarded, and whether the ones to be destroyed are humanoid or monsters is inconsequential. It’s all a remorseless fantasy.
I remember in the 1940s seeing pictures of silly stick figures wiggling and dancing on a screen. I knew they were supposed to represent mice. I knew they weren’t real. I remember playing cops and robbers, pointing my finger at my friends and saying “Bang, bang, you’re dead,” and watching them fall down, but I knew they weren’t shot, and I knew they weren’t dead.
What I did in the real world had consequences. I knew that guns were made for killing and killing was wrong and we had police for protection and I didn’t need a real gun. I knew there was good and evil, and I could tell which was which.
I haven’t grown up with a small hand-held device that occupied my consciousness for hours on end; I don’t play video games, so I don’t know how they would have affected me.
Of course the world would be a better place if we didn’t promote guns and violence as entertainment. Of course we need to speak out against that. Even more, we need to recognize the existence of these two realities and prepare our children to distinguish between them.
The cyber world is not evil. But real people must recognize that it isn’t real, that hurting people isn’t entertainment and that guns are for killing.