My contention in the first two parts of this series is that America’s violence is not caused by guns. Guns, violent entertainment and the like are all symptoms of a deeper problem – our lack of feeling bonded to other people.

How did this occur? To answer that question fully would require much more depth than we can get into here. I recognize that the causes are much more complex, but I’m going to simplify them down to two basic factors: (1) forces put in motion by our evolutionary past and (2) the pace and complexity of modern life.

Science tells us that we humans evolved over millions of years from earlier forms of life. Our successful evolution depended upon the so-called “survival of the fittest”. From our earliest beginnings, we were in a competitive struggle to survive. Yet even evolutionary theory points to an interesting dance between selfish actions and cooperative behavior as being in our ultimate best interest. Although Richard Dawkins and some other evolutionaries say that all our behavior is in the service of “selfish genes”, many others point to the fact that evolution made great strides as cooperation came into play.

Even as human consciousness and culture evolved, we have seen this yin-yang push and pull between selfishness and cooperation. Up through the days of hunter-gatherer ancestors, we competed with other tribes but bonded with our own group. Our survival depended upon it. We shared our bounty with those in our group as we couldn’t carry excess food when we moved.

With the rise of farming and agriculture we settled down in groups and cities. We had possessions needing to be protected. Those outside our group were still feared, but competition now grew within our group. Here began rise in the haves and the have-nots, the rulers and those who were ruled.

Next came the growth of states and countries as well as the rise of the major religions. Here our groups grew in size, but there is still an “us” and a “them”. There is greater cooperation with our larger group, but a growing competition with a larger “other”. Even with the coming of the Enlightenment, democratic forms of government and the power of capitalism to grow our wealth, there were still incentives for competition.

Consider for a moment the founding of the United States. This was in some sense a Confederacy of misfits forced out of other countries. These outsiders came to United States and created their own independent state. It was only until the threat of a common enemy in the British that forced these states to band together. From our early history on there has been an undercurrent of independence and separateness even within the unity of our country.

The point is this – there are a lot of factors from our past that point to our sense of being in competition with one another. When we feel threatened, we have a natural inclination for flight or fight. Neither reaction builds a sense of connectedness with others.

Modern life has given us a lot of benefits, but it’s also given us a lot of challenges. Author Alvin Toffler in his book Future Shock was quite prophetic in his description of how the acceleration of technology, the pace of life, fracturing of the family, the information overload and the diversity of options would place extreme demands on our psychological lives. Toffler predicted that we would possibly reach the limits of our evolutionary adaptability and experience what he called “future shock”:

“Thus, despite its extraordinary achievements in art, science, intellectual, moral and political life, the United States is a nation in which tens of thousands of young people flee reality by opting for drug-induced lassitude; a nation in which millions of their parents retreat into video induced stupor or alcoholic haze; a nation in which legions of elderly folk vegetate and die in loneliness; in which the flight and family and occupational responsibility has become an exodus; in which masses tame their raging anxieties with Miltown, or Librium, or Equanil, or a score of other tranquilizers and psychic pacifiers. Such a nation, whether it knows it or not, is suffering from future shock.”

This description is as apt today as it was when it was written in 1970.

I realize we could discuss other potential causes, but the results are undeniable – we live in a country where more and more people feel alienated and disconnected from one another. We feel unloved. We feel we have no love for others. We feel we are constantly in competition with others. Those others, especially those outside our group are on some level simply objects like so many other things which can simply be discarded if our survival is threatened.

Somehow, we need to increase our sense of connectedness to one another.

Thoughts on that solution form the basis of our next article – part four in this five-part series.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!