Take a long, hard look at the violence around us

Complaints that the younger generation is going to the dogs are nothing new. Nearly all of the time they involve silly things like long hair covering ears or allegedly short skirts not covering ankles.

But when they are matters of life and death, it may be that we as a society should stop and think about such observations.

Only about half of the first month of this year has passed and already during 2013, West Virginia law enforcement officers have shot and killed four men, in Greenbrier, Kanawha, Logan and Mercer counties. In all four situations, officers either had been fired upon or had other reasons to believe they were in danger.

Whenever law enforcement officers use deadly force, investigations are conducted. Part of the reason is to ensure the officers had no choice. Investigators also want to learn more about why such confrontations occur and what can be done to head off similar tragedies in the future.

A veteran spokesman for the State Police, Sgt. Michael Baylous, offered a theory. It is that various factors have made – and are making – many people less respectful of authority and more aggressive in confrontations.

“We have a whole generation of kids that grew up exposed to violence, be it video games or movies. There’s also a lack of respect for authority. We see it in classrooms,” Baylous commented.

Some researchers say violent video games are harmless. And violence in movies has been around a long, long time, they point out. Finally, critics of observations such as Baylous’ insist questioning authority and refraining from moral judgments are longstanding American traditions.

All of that may be true enough. But what about the mix of societal factors present today? For example, violent movies are merely observed, while violent video games involve participation. Decisions about what types of behavior are acceptable are affected by a fuzzier line than in the past.

Meanwhile, those who, like Baylous, wonder aloud about the effects of our culture are derided as being too judgmental. It is much easier to blame inanimate objects such as firearms when violence occurs.

It also is much easier to demand that Congress and/or state legislators do something than to question whether we as parents and as a society could do more to prevent violence.

In truth, ours is a more peaceful world than at many times in the past – when moral teachings were firm and there were no violent movies or video games. That should not be an excuse for failing to take a truly objective look at whether societal factors are to blame for the violence that does plague us, however.