Wicked Problems: Gun Violence

Ken Wilber Perspectives, Politics, The Ken Show, Video, World Affairs 1 Comment

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Ken and Corey take an in-depth look at America’s ongoing struggle with gun violence, using the four quadrants to track many of the most critical and commonly-blamed factors, conditions, and causes that seem to be contributing to this terribly wicked problem.


Why does America have such a deadly problem with gun violence? What can possibly be done to solve the issue? Why do there seem to be no easy answers?

F

rom the foundation of the American union through the War of Independence, to its near dissolution during the Civil War, to the open frontiers of the Wild West and the digital frontiers of video games and first-person shooters — America has always had a deeply complicated relationship with the gun.

Firearms are woven into the very fabric of American life, society, and history, enshrined in our founding documents. Which makes the question of how to reduce gun violence in America an exceptionally difficult one to answer.

America’s pathological relationship with gun violence is what is often called a “wicked problem” — a deeply complex, multifaceted problem that cannot be fully seen or understood from any single point of view, and therefore requires an integral multidisciplinary approach in order to solve. Unfortunately, when it comes to gun violence, there are very few discussions out there that are even trying to put all the pieces together, choosing instead to politicize the brutal deaths of innocent children and families, and allowing the narrative to become dominated by these narrow biases, ideologies, and objectives. In the meantime, nearly 100 Americans die from gun violence every single day.

Because few people can fully see all facets of this incredibly complicated problem, our relationship with the gun — as a deadly weapon, as a defensive tool, and as a deeply-embedded cultural archetype — has become shrouded by shadow. On the one hand it is the ultimate equalizer of power, allowing the most vulnerable among us to defend their lives and land from those who would take them away. On the other hand they are machines designed for only one purpose, to kill other living creatures — and we are seeing far too many senseless killings in America today. For some they are a symbol of independence, individual freedom, and personal sovereignty. For others they are objects of obsession and even fetishization, a substitute gratification for our felt lack of inner power and control over our lives.

In this discussion, Ken and Corey try to identify the root causes of gun violence in America, and suggest some innovative solutions that might help us turn the page on this terribly wicked problem. Ken and Corey begin by identifying some basic facts in order to frame the discussion:

  • America has a serious gun problem. In 2010, the U.S. homicide rate was 7 times higher than the average for populous developed countries in the OECD, and its firearm-related homicide rate was 25.2 times higher.
  • However, gun violence in general has fallen sharply over the last 25 years, by anywhere from 49 to 74 percent depending on which numbers you are looking at.
  • Suicide rates represent the majority of gun-related deaths. Suicides have risen by 25% in a 15 year period, and represent about 60% of all gun deaths.
  • While mass shootings are the most terrifying form of gun violence, they also represent a tiny fraction of total gun deaths per year. In 2018 there were 38,658 gun-related deaths. About 23,000 were suicides. About 14,000 were homicides. Only 71 were victims of mass shootings, or 0.18% of all gun deaths.
  • The majority of politically-motivated mass shootings since 2008 have come from the political right wing. Right-wing terrorism outnumbers Islamic terrorism by a 2:1 margin, and left-wing terrorism by a 5:1 margin.

Ken and Corey then discuss some of the most important factors, conditions, and commonly-blamed causes of America’s affliction with gun violence, using the Four Quadrants to help illuminate and unpack the true-but-partial roles that each of these factors play:

  • UPPER LEFT

    • Mental Illness
    • Mental Health in general
    • The decline of empathy
  • UPPER RIGHT

    • Pharmaceuticals and
      possible effects upon
      brain chemistry
  • LOWER LEFT

    • The gun as a uniquely
      American archetype
    • Polarization and the
      culture wars
    • Neoliberalism,
      hyper-
individualism, and the
      loss of community
    • The resurgence of
      white supremacy
    • Family values and the
      rise of fatherless families
  • LOWER RIGHT

    • Access to guns
      and number of guns
      in circulation
    • Internet culture and
      as a platform for
      radicalization
    • Video game violence
    • Over-exaggerated
      wealth inequality,
      automation, and other
      economic factors

Because this is such a complex and Integal problem, and because people tend to only identify one or two of these as the “root cause” of violence — typically the political left looks at exterior right-hand causes and solutions to gun violence, while the political right emphasizes interior left-hand causes and solutions — this conversation is one of the most comprehensive takes on the issue that you will hear. And because Ken and Corey want to give the problem the time and attention it deserves, they only make it halfway through the list after three and a half hours! Which is why Ken and Corey are going to pick up the second half of the conversation soon, where they will complete their discussion of these root causes and then suggest some innovative and multivalent solutions that can help address many of these issues and pressures at once. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, please let us know what you think in the comments below. Were any of these perspectives new to you? Do you think we are missing something completely obvious? Let us know in the comments section!

Corey deVos
Music by Stuart Davis

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Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is the proverbial "man behind the curtain". He is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996.

Notable Replies

  1. djturn says:

    I appreciate this discussion. As some one who is extremely passionate about integral theory and its application, I am also a life member of the NRA, and my father was on the board of directors. I also have spent the last decade in suicide prevention. This discussion touches on many of the complex topics that I am passionate about, and that only a teal or higher level of consciousness can fully comprehend enough to transcend them. I am grateful for this discussion, and hope to add to it. Thank you :slight_smile:

Continue the discussion at community.integrallife.com

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