Mass Shootings as Social Virus

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I’m going to break from my usual ballyhoo and dust off my, what C. Wright Mills called, “sociological imagination”. Mills himself defined the sociological imagination as “the vivid awareness of the relationship between experience and the wider society” and the ability to “think yourself away from the familiar routines of everyday life”* . For purposes of this post, I will steal a line from – “The sociological imagination enables people to distinguish between personal troubles and public issues.”**

I’ve two degrees in sociology, which basically means that I can speak more eloquently about social issues than most. Notice I didn’t say I had better insight or more knowledge about social issues. I am just armed with bigger, fancier words like “milieu” (or milieux if you’re talking about more than one) and “panacea”. I’ll use these words to introduce my topic by saying “What follows is not meant as a panacea to our current milieu of mass shootings.” (This post won’t solve our cultural environment of mass shootings).


I wish to comment on the Dallas shootings from this perspective. Actually, for me to get my point across, I need to include ALL mass shootings – Sandy Hook, Orlando, San Bernardino, VA Tech, Columbine, and so on (I hate having to put that for this subject, but there have been so many).

A major school of thought in sociology is called “Functionalism”, which holds that society functions much like an organism, where each “organ” (i.e. religions, political parties, government, economic entities, etc.) contribute to the normal functioning of the “organism” (society). The University of Akron offers this explanation – “Individual and group behavior, more often than not, serves a FUNCTION for the larger society.”***

From a practical point of view, this perspective is too deterministic, approaching fatalistic. Applying this school of thought to mass shootings, one would say that mass shootings serve some vital function within the organism of society. That’s hogwash. As a diagnostic tool, it backs up my view that these shootings are a symptom of a social virus.

If society is an organism, these shootings are a sickness of some sort. Gun control is merely chicken noodle soup, treating a symptom rather than the infection itself.

What/where is the infection? This is where my imagination starts to get hazy. I think the overblown senses of individualism and entitlement are part of it. To put it crudely, “I” and “me” are more than just words in our “milieu” (surroundings or environment), they are concepts onto themselves.  In the case of terrorism, the perpetrators may not have internalized those conceptions, but they are aware of them and feed off of them.

Assuming that is the cause of the sickness, what is the cure? Camaraderie, I don’t mean in the hippie, free love sense, but a sense of belonging. Put less emphasis on “me” and more on “us”. I can tell you that the answer is NOT divisive commentary such as can be found HERE. I hesitate to share that link for fear that the visitor count on that page would encourage those sickos. I’ll summarize, so you don’t have to click if you haven’t already. Basically, the article quotes Dallas police chief David Brown “All I know is that this must stop — this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” said Brown. “We don’t feel much support most days. Let’s not make today most days. Please, we need your support to be able to protect you from men like these, who carried out this tragic, tragic event.” The author assumes the remarks are aimed at a lack of support from Obama. The author fails to see the irony in using a quote denouncing divisiveness to advance an agenda of divisiveness.

Well, if you’ve read this far, perhaps you have an idea of how to cure this sickness?



*Mills, C. W. (1959). The sociological imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.



One comment

  1. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    It was truly interesting to read about this mess from a sociologist’s point of view. I agree with Jarrett. Gun control does not fix the problem. The I and me are too pervasive. I believe that the best solution is to put God back into our lives and hearts. ~ Connie

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