People have been asking me for my thoughts about the shooting at the sikh temple outside of Milwaukee. It’s hard to say much except to once again state that there are too damned many guns in the United States. But I’ve already given that rant.
Lots of people are speculating that the shooter probably believed that the Sikhs he killed were Muslims and that this was some sort of revenge for the attacks in New York and Washington, DC on Sept. 11, 2001. Some have said that he was a white supremacist. Some are saying he was in a punk rock or heavy metal band supposedly called End Apathy. The Huffington Post has the most information on that aspect of the story. According to them the guy played bass in some of what they’re calling “hate rock” bands.
Of all that stuff, it’s the idea that he was a punk rocker that bothers me the most. The other things are all kind of obvious. White supremacists are bad. People who kill others for their religion are bad. People who can’t tell the difference between Muslims and Sikhs are stupid. Blah-blah-blah. I agree with all that. Who needs to hear yet another person say those things?
But I’ve always been one of those people who said that violent music or art did not necessarily lead to actual violence. I still believe that. But I also believe that violent art and music definitely can tend to make unbalanced people believe that real violence is OK. That appears to be at least part of what happened here.
All of the punk rock that I liked was very left-wing. But there was plenty of hateful stuff in there. The Dicks, who Zero Defex (the band I play bass in) played with a few times had songs like Dicks Hate the Police. MDC, whose name at one time meant Millions of Dead Cops, often had violent messages in their songs. MDC were big supporters of Zero Defex back in the day and we even played with them in Cleveland this year.
The photo of Zero Defex I put on this blog bugged some people who saw it when I posted it years ago because there’s a Nazi flag behind us. That’s me on the far left, just under the logo for The Dale, the bar we were playing at that night. The scowling skinhead in the middle is Tommy Strange, our main songwriter and guitarist. Although this was apparently taken during one of the songs that he sang while Jimi, our vocalist, played guitar because you can see Jimi just behind and to Tommy’s left with a guitar strapped on. I Photoshopped the picture to bring out the duct tape “No” symbol we put over the swastika on the flag to make it clear that we were against the Nazis and not for them. A lot of people didn’t catch that when I originally posted this picture. I still wonder where we ever got a Nazi flag. Think of the money we could’ve made selling that! A lot more than we got for the gig, I’m sure.
In any case, I never really thought those violent anti-police and anti-government messages were to be taken literally. To me it was a verbal working out of the frustrations we all felt at the way police and government power was abused. I didn’t think those bands were trying to incite people to literally go out there and murder police officers. Perhaps I’m naive, but I still don’t think it was meant to be taken literally.
Then again, maybe I’m like the dumb guys in the comedy heavy metal band Spinal Tap who said, “We say love your neighbor. Well, we don’t literally say it. And we don’t literally mean it either. But in any case that message should be clear.”
I feel like the problem isn’t so much the violent messages, even if some of the people who send them possibly really do want us to commit violent acts. It’s people’s inability to differentiate between art and reality. Even if you might argue that this isn’t the root problem, I still think it’s the problem we have to deal with because violent art is not going away. It’s been with us as long as art has been with us. And in the age of the Internet it’s as impossible to control access to violent artistic images as it is to control access to pornography. So rather than trying to make all art conform to some kind of arbitrary code of niceness I think it’s better to try and educate people that it’s one thing to say “kill the cops” or even “kill the Muslims” and a whole different thing to actually do that stuff.
In Buddhism there is an idea that right thought leads to right action. Conversely non-right thought can lead to non-right action. Thích Nhat Hanh cautions his followers not to consume what he calls “poisonous entertainment” that feeds our agitation. Dogen, too, told his followers much the same thing 800 years ago. I do not disagree with this approach. And yet I wonder…
As I have said many times, in my own case punk rock saved my life. It literally did. I was a suicidally depressed teenager. And one of the few things that kept me going were the so-called “negative messages” in punk rock music as well as in horror films and other supposedly “poisonous entertainment.” These messages let me know that I was not the only one who was frustrated by the status quo and wanted things to change.
Without these supposedly “negative messages” I would have felt totally lost and alone in the nice, clean suburbs of Ohio. Who knows? My frustration at all the supposedly “positive messages” I was receiving, which really just reinforced the false notion that everything was OK in the world, might have led me to take up a gun and shoot all preps and the jocks in my school. So-called “positive messages” are often just propaganda intended to help big corporations and the like control the populace, keeping them docile by insisting that everything they do makes life peachy keen.
It’s impossible to say anything really conclusive about all this. But I think it’s good to say something non-conclusive. I don’t have the great answer to this problem and neither does anyone else. I think it’s really vital, though, to look at all sides of this issue.
Just moments ago I did an interview on Freedomizer Radio out of Houston, Texas. You can listen to it at www.freedomizerradio.com
From August 11 until September 11 I will be at Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery. I’ll be working there as a student/worker or whatever they call it. Probably serving food or cutting cucumbers or something like that. At the end of my stay I’ll give a couple lectures about Dogen. I’ve done this every year for a few years now. It’s good for me to have to get up every morning at five, put on my robes, do some zazen, be an indentured servant for most of the day and then do some more zazen at night. I kinda need that experience to keep from getting too weird when I do the other stuff I do.
Speaking of weird stuff I do, I am going on yet another European tour less than two months after I get out of Tassajara. Here are the dates as far as I know them right now.
Oct. 26-28 Weekend Sesshin Kajo Zendo in Finland
Oct. 30 – Nov. 4 International Lay Buddhists Forum in Malaga, Spain
Nov. 9 Dogen Zendo Frankfurt , Germany
Nov. 10 Balance Yoga Frankfurt, Germany
Nov. 11 – 21 Possible dates in The Netherlands and/or Germany (Most likely Nov. 16-18 in Amsterdam or Rotterdam, but nothing is confirmed yet)
Nov. 23-25 Weekend Sesshin at Fawcett Mill Fields, Penrith, Lake District UK Sponsored by Yoga Manchester
Nov. 25 Manchester, UK Sponsored by Yoga Manchester
People want me to come talk to them. Isn’t that bizarre?
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