Hydraulically Fractured

Human nature provides us with an almost unlimited capacity for complexity and drama. The wheel of history turns, sometimes repeating, sometimes rhyming, but always powered by the same engine. After several generations of relative peace and prosperity at home in the US, our wheel has hit a pothole not uncommon in the historical record. We begin to long for a smoother track, a return to simpler times, even if we have never actually experienced those times.

The irony is that the discovery, or rediscovery of that simplicity can in great measure be achieved by a single movement of the hand: A click, a swipe, or the push of a button.

It’s obvious that a world of 7 billion people provides more pain and suffering than any single person can comprehend. In time, that pain and suffering will visit each one of us in turn. Yet even when death is not knocking at our own doors, we seek tragedy like moths to a flame. Open the laptop, turn on the phone or the television, and there it is in unlimited abundance, and what is seen cannot be unseen.

It would be impossible to absorb it all. We could click and swipe and gaze 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and still fail to scratch the surface of the human drama available to behold. For God so loved the world, but we are not divine. Nevertheless, we prefer to think of ourselves as caring and compassionate. Many of us find ways to turn that compassion into action, but for most of us, we are faced with numerous limitations physical, financial or emotional in our capacity to help.

Enter social media, and the ever shortening pathway to social unrest. Here’s what happens:

The mechanism used by information pushers for selecting a tragedy to market is a carefully researched and well maintained machine. The nightly shooting report is available in every city with a television station. Occasionally a tragedy contains the necessary dramatic elements to become part of the national narrative, and it is distributed across all information networks.

We rarely stop to ask why a paticular story is selected. It just appears, already accompanied by the usual celebrity reactions and reactions to reactions, the slams, the “push backs.” When the drama appears on social media, it’s our turn to participate. Most of us will add the appropriate pixels, the thumbs up, the likes, the hearts, the angry pixel faces. We type a few lines of condolence or pixel prayers. We think we are informed. We feel like we have helped in some way, and we go about our business. No harm done. No help, but no harm.

A growing number of us, however, go the extra pixel mile. We help stir the pot. We express our personal outrage. We’ve had enough. This has got to stop. We know who the enemy is and we’re not going to be nice about it anymore.

This is known as “trauma hijacking” or “trauma appropriation,” which happens when a person who has not experienced a tragedy takes over the narrative and makes the issue about their own outrage or upset. “I’m so upset I’m literally shaking.” In a culture tilting towards narcissism, this process can be highly contagious, and it makes us extremely vulnerable to manipulation, to political or social goals that we may or may not share.

Media now injects information into our society like hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and the result is just as flammable. The horror recently visited upon Nashville is a prime example. The infosocial drama regurgitation matrix injected the Nashville narrative into the widening fractures of opinion about gun control, gender and even race, but here’s what that matrix failed to tell us:

Over the last 24 years there have been 174 deaths caused by school shootings. In 2021 alone, there were 465 deaths of children under the age of 19, in 9 cities alone. More than 1400 people were shot in Philadelphia alone in the first 8 months of 2022.

Why were these tragedies not made part of the national narrative? Where was the outpouring of sympathy, support or outrage? Why didn’t we see these names posted on social media to be clicked over?

Those deaths and injuries did not fit the narrative. The majority of the victims as well as the perpetrators were black people. The majority were poor. Gang activity was a big factor. We are more than willing to argue the pros and cons of controlling the access to guns for average Americans, but we don’t talk about guns in the hands of the very people who suffer the most from their misuse. In some of the cities suffering the most from violent crime, the charges are reduced or not even adjudicated in some misguided attempt at achieving “social” justice.

Media and political fracking has conflated the issues, fracturing us into believing that the issue of violence is about guns or race. The roots of the problem are much less complicated. Consider this: Repeated studies show that children who exprience even mild malnutrition are significantly more likely to have IQ scores of 89 or less, and the likelihood increases with the level of malnutrition. Children who experience trauma early in life are much more susceptible to mood disorders, depression, suicide, substance abuse, anger control issues, even chronic disease later in life. These effects are independent of race, social and economic status.

It is the poverty of inner cities, not race or the availability of guns, which is driving the cycle of violence there. Trauma and stress are also the perennial companions of poverty, and now trauma is injected into the national consciousness by pixel pushers, as well as being self-replicating over social media.

Instantaneously, continuously, repeatedly, politics and pandering is injected into our lives, merging with our subconscious thought and emotional processing. It is fracturing the most vulnerable of us, our children who live so much of their mental and emotional lives hunched over their phones. It guarantees that their future mental and emotional lives, even their physical health, will be burdened by challenges they did not have to face.

It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, about the intentions of those entities responsible for the fracking?

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