20 June 2015 by Published in: Uncategorized 22 comments

A white man, really barely more than a youth, walked into a prayer meeting in Charleston on June 17th and killed 9 innocent people: African-Americans whose sin was to gather to worship, but were perceived as a threat – an enemy to be eradicated – by a mentally unbalanced zealot.

It’s easy to condemn psycopaths. Easy to see the pointlessness in their reprehensible actions. Simple to demonize that which is plainly evil on its face.

What’s not so easy is to look inward.

In a society that increasingly strives for conformity of opinion, that celebrates superficial diversity but prizes unblinking consensus on the big issues, that preaches tolerance and yet is provably intolerant in myriad ways; in a society that is divisive – be it based on race, religion, sex, sexual preference, political party or leanings, financial strata; in a society whose narrative is increasingly us vs. them, whose answer to complex, nuanced questions is to bomb ’em into the stone-age, that turns movies that glorify killing and violence into box office hits; in a pressure cooker society where the divide between the haves and the have-nots has never been greater, there are some things one can predict: that, if the answer to the fear-based society’s external problems is to attack any real or imaginary threat, then that attitude will eventually turn inward.

In a world divided into friends and enemies, where fear is adequate justification for use of unconscionable force, fear will always find plenty of enemies to be afraid of.

Fear is a strange thing. It distorts, just as does hate, just as does rage. It polarizes, creates brinkmanship, makes the only solutions seem to be drastic, because it’s either us, or them.

In a society where the media harps on our differences, both as countrymen, as well as our differences with other civilizations, it seems sensible, at least to some faction, to use whatever means are necessary to defend oneself from “the threat.” Every generation needs to address this – recall McCarthyism, where “the threat” was “them” – the communists. Peoples’ lives were ruined out of a fear-based response to that perceived threat, and individual freedoms were cast aside in favor of mob rule based on fear/aggression. Fortunately, that didn’t last long. But for too many, it was long enough.

The U.S. is in crisis. There’s a crisis of leadership, there’s a crisis of vision, there’s a crisis of justice, of opportunity, of trust and trustworthiness. But perhaps most damaging is that there’s a crisis based on a philosophy of exclusion, and the lack of a culture that celebrates our differences  as human beings as one of our greatest strengths, rather than as a source of fear and hatred. That crisis can be seen in the militarization of the police (and the resultant us vs. them attitude), in the way the media colors any controversy (there’s the official stance, and there’s “them” – the fringe nuts who don’t buy it), the way it pits culture against culture and paints any real or perceived enemies as sub-human or savage, again, because of race, religion, politics, whatever.

Growing up, I was taught that the U.S. was different than most other countries because it was considered a melting pot. That’s the official narrative, anyway. As with a mutt dog, which will invariably have a stronger immune system than a purebred, our strength was assimilation and the protection, the valuing, of different opinions. But was that ever really true? It’s not that long ago that those of African descent couldn’t drink at the same water fountain or use the same bathroom or sit in the front of the bus. It wasn’t that long ago that Japanese Americans who were born in the United States were imprisoned in camps because of their race. It wasn’t that long ago that women weren’t allowed to vote. It wasn’t that long ago that being gay was defined as a mental illness, or that our government used the police as a mechanism to support the wealthy in their quest to squelch rebellion in the work place.

Change came about because we, as a society, refused to tolerate inequity any longer.

Lest we forget, the oldest and most powerful technique of the Roman Empire when it subjugated a new land was “divide and conquer.” To keep the population squabbling among themselves rather than recognizing that their master was a tyrant and a despot. It worked then, and it works now.

As long as the U.S. is a nation that pays lip service to diversity rather than putting its heart and soul into battling inequity, it is on a disastrous course. A divided population is an easily manipulated one.

And one that, for some, fosters the perspective that it’s either us, or them. That in order to defend from “the threat,” drastic action must be taken.

Empathy with those whose differences are objectionable to us is all too rare. Fear-aggression, where one lashes out violently out of fear, all too common. If a society fosters fear, it will wind up with fear-aggression, which is extremely dangerous to anyone within reach.

It’s easy to condemn psycopaths and atrocities.

It’s far harder to condemn ourselves.

And harder still, to change.



  1. Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 12:51 am

    Well said. I don’t remember when I started noticing how divisive the media and the government were becoming! Destroyed from within. Rome all over again. Sad. It was such a great nation. Or at least that’s what I remember. But not anymore. The way the people in Charleston have reacted is a testimony in itself of what is possible in America. They have reached out to each other, the family of the shooter and the shooter himself. What they have done is the epitome of Christ’s teachings! Can you imagine if this had been in any other part of the country? We could all learn from the people of Charleston. God be with you and keep you!

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 1:20 am

      And yet a flag that’s a symbol in many people’s minds of a region and era synonymous with slavery still proudly waves. It’s every bit as inflammatory as if a giant swastica were mounted across the street from a synagogue. I can’t help but believe someone still thinks the good ol days when “They” knew their place are worth commemorating with a symbol for all to see.

      • Terry P  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 3:28 pm

        When the established “good ole boys” are dead and gone maybe things will change. Its kinda strange for me. Here in KY we don’t call it the Confederate Flag, its always been known as the Rebel Flag. But you would think they would have realized long ago that there is only one official flag here in the US, and that is the Stars and Stripes. Living in a state that is neither Northern nor Southern even we realize that. I can see those old farts now, sitting in their cushy office smoking cigars and drinking whiskey on ice laughing at the people who want that flag taken down.

        • Russell Blake  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 4:24 pm

          The first step in dismantling hatred is to eliminate the symbology that glorifies it.

          • Sharon Adams  –  Mon 22nd Jun 2015 at 11:47 am

            Those of us who would gladly take the flag down are out number it seems in SC. Never did think it should be flown as the past is gone . If I were an Africian American I would not want to see it. Maybe soon it will come down as one state Senator has said he’ll push for it’s removal.
            Please remember that not all South Carolinan’s are like this sterotype .

  2. Steven Parker
    Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 1:04 am

    Excellent essay.
    I’d comment more, but I’m just too fucking sad…

  3. Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 2:31 am

    Spot on again Russell Blake. Spot on! The problems we see now are not new nor confined to the US (its just worse here because of the gun ownership/worship by individuals that have trouble spelling their own name) the true pestilence of this world is the white man when he left the shore of Europe to spread his disease.

    • Fitch  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 11:07 am

      First, reading Russell’s blog post, I recalled this quote which pretty much summarizes it:

      “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety), by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” by H. L. Mencken


      I’m one of those gun owners who have trouble spelling my own name. Talk about divisiveness – your comment is a prime example.

      Alas, it probably doesn’t help your theory that I have a BS in engineering, a Masters in Business and an award winning 35 year career as an Engineer: first in nuclear power (I toured the reactors at Laguna Verde in Mexico while they were under construction – safety equipment I managed the design of is installed there) and then for 20 years in Aerospace as a systems engineer on the Space Station Power System (working in partnership with every race, religion, and sexual orientation you can imagine, spread across the world, and some you probably can’t). Not bad for someone who can’t spell his name. : )

      Because I regard myself as responsible for my health and safety, I carry a gun, all day, every day, every place it’s legal – which is pretty much everyplace but schools, courthouses, and post offices where I live; I pray every night that I never have to use it to defend myself or my family. I never go anyplace I think I’ll need a gun. I never do anything because I have it that I wouldn’t do if I didn’t have it. But crimes happen in places people didn’t expect them to happen (or they wouldn’t have been there), so I’m packing.

      There are always at least two people at the scene of the crime, the assailant and the victim. Almost never a cop. Criminals are seldom willing to wait while you call 911 so the cop can arrive in time to help. The victim always knows who the bad guy is. The assailant regards the victim as “next”.

      FWIW: I’ve never been to a gun show where I could buy a gun from a legitimate dealer with out passing the NCIS background check – not that passing that check is an indication of fitness for ownership since the database isn’t kept current as has been graphically demonstrated in the last few days. If a bad guy want’s a gun, he’ll get it.

      Rifles can be purchased out of the state of residence, but handguns can’t unless one has a Federal Firearms License. At least I’ve never been able to take possession with out having it sent to a dealer in my home state. (I’m not sure how JET was able to do that but it didn’t bother me or jerk me out of the story.) I’m also an accomplished home machinist – I buy barrel blanks, machine them to fit, chamber them, and install them on my varmint rifles (it’a a ton of fun). I could make a suppressor in an after noon. I have a good friend who has a class III FFL – he owns a suppressed MP5, M4, and a few other submachine guns. I’ve shot them all. The MP5 is remarkably quiet shooting 158g subsonic ammo – so is a Glock 19. A suppressed Walther P22 is about as loud as a field mouse with the hiccups.

      That said, in every country with strict laws about gun ownership, including Australia, England, and France, the bad guys have guns – lots of guns. Only the victims don’t. Criminals don’t follow laws. Crime is by definition illegal but it happens anyway.

      I own a several hunting rifles, I don’t consider it all that much of an accomplishment to shoot a ground hog (or a deer) at 500 yards from field positions (in other words I can more often than not hit a softball size target at 500 yards). And, just to make matters worse I, gasp, own an AR15 because it’s fun to shoot, though I never hunt with it because it’s illegal to hunt with a semi-auto where I live. It’s locked in the 800 lb. safe in the basement. My home defense weapon is a Glock 19 with night sights and a rail light. (One of my carry guns is a P238 which Russell accurately described – his gun stuff is right on – best of any current thriller writer.)

      If you don’t like guns, fine, don’t own one. I can live with that. Put a sign in your front yard proclaiming proudly you don’t have any. Works for me.

      There have been a number of church massacre attacks that were aborted by citizens who happened to be carrying a gun. It is a fact that nearly all mass murder attacks happen in gun free zones. There is a reason for that.

      With regard to inequity: it will exist as long as professional racists promote it and foster entitlement in place of effort for reasons of political advantage.

      Alas, possibly a surprise for those who didn’t read ‘his books’ before voting for him, we’ve had 6 years of a president who was supposed to be “Post Racial” who turned out to be “Pro Racist” and pro criminal. He has allied with every professional racist he could find and managed to create a huge divide between the police and the citizenry. .

      Professional racists? Sharpton, Jackson, Eric Holder who also happened to be the Attorney General, among others. That hasn’t worked out well. They’ve promoted divisiveness at every opportunity. They aren’t done.

      I worked with a scary smart African American technician during integration testing of some of the major components for the Space Station Power System. Jessie Jackson was giving a speech at the division’s other campus. I mentioned it and asked if he was going to attend so I could adjust the test schedule to accommodate it. He looked at me for a moment and said, “His hand doesn’t fit a hammer. Let’s get this done.”


      • Russell Blake  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 11:25 am

        Note that nowhere in my blog did I mention being pro or anti gun control. I live in Mexico, where it’s effectively illegal to own a gun, and there are countless gun crimes every day conducted by cartel members, who have no problems obtaining them (including from the U.S. government in Operation Fast and Furious – got to love those names) – just yesterday, ten people were slaughtered at a brewery by criminals whose total take was $650.

        My personal belief is that gun laws work to the extent that the law abiding are the problem. The criminals don’t really care about gun laws, because, well, they’re criminals.

        But my take is that we have government control systems operated for the benefit of powerful elites, whose approach to getting their way is a combination of divide and conquer, and using fear to justify basically anything. I have yet to see any evidence that’s mistaken. The U.S. loves double standards – it has double standards in the way it enforces the law for the very rich vs. everyone else, it has double standards in the way it behaves internationally vs. what it tolerates from anyone else, it uses double standards in virtually every area of its behavior on the world and domestic stage – it’s approach is inherently unfair, which it knows, and which the population understands, but accepts as a sort of divine right.

        The answer to many of its problems are framed as us against them, with the answer invariably violence – sometimes to “free the people” (who must largely die so they can be free), sometimes to overthrow democratically elected governments so American corporate interests can operate more advantageously, sometimes to effectively seize resources or block important trade or fuel transit areas to other powers. Domestically we see the same thing – we see a society where police killings (including of the unarmed) are something like seventy times higher than other first world nations, we see a larger percentage of our population in prison than any other country, and we see greater expenditures on prisons and enforcement of security and military might than any other nation – all for a country with 350 million people.

        Complex issues don’t come down to easy answers like “gun control” or “they’re all on psychotic meds!” or “blame your favorite racist faction!” It requires a lucid examination of the society that makes one feel justified in requiring a gun everywhere to feel safe, for starters. When I lived in an affluent area of the U.S., I owned three guns – a handgun, a rifle, and a shotgun, which I felt were justified for home defense. Since I moved away, I don’t carry one in Mexico and I feel, and have been, safe. I’ve lived all over the world without one, and haven’t been unsafe, nor felt unsafe because of not having one. Yet in the U.S., a highly educated, intelligent professional like yourself feels it’s reasonable and necessary to carry a gun everywhere for his protection, and I needed three to feel safe in an area where there’s literally no crime. Because you never know when “they” will come.

        I rest my case.

        • Fitch  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 2:30 pm

          I didn’t think your bog post was either way on guns. You do a good job with the gun stuff (including making a suppressor with machinery that can be carried in a trunk – that’s possible – although threading s standard barrel to receive it is pushing it a bit). Some of it is a bit over the top but it’s that kind of story and I love the stories.

          I don’t disagree with your ‘case.” You have good points. I completely agree with your points about different rules for the elite and the rest of us, and the power elite running things. They do.

          Ted Kennedy’s treatment after his actions on July 18, 1969, that resulted in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, prove it the rich live by different rules beyond a reasonable doubt. He was the first, and only, person ever to be represented by a lawyer when his case was presented to the grand jury in that state.

          Fast and Furious (a government conspiracy gone wrong – they did what they wanted to but it didn’t have the desired result of making the case for more gun control as planned) should have resulted in criminal prosecutions, possibly including the Attorney General. It didn’t, which also supports your case. The list goes on and on.

          My Dad, a lawyer (who worked for the OPA during WW-II and got death threats almost hourly – he carried every day then and walked to work via a different route every day back then), had the same view of the country in the 1940’s. He thought FDR was the worst president, ever – and in truth FDR’s intimidation of the Supreme Court laid the foundation for the growth of the progressive agenda.

          Re: Mexico. What has happened to that country is tragic.

          My family and another family packed ourselves into our crew cab pickup truck (a 1971 Ford F350 if it matters) and camper (4 adults and 4 kids – adults had beds, kids slept on truck seats) and spent a long weekend on the beach about 15 miles south of San Filipe in 1973. We drove from Thousand Oaks, CA, after work on Friday, crossed the border, drove some more, then pulled off the road in the middle of nowhere and slept till daylight. Woke up to find two other truck and camper rigs a few yards away from us. We had a good conversation over morning coffee and all went on our way. Had a heck of a good time. Didn’t feel unsafe at all.

          Wouldn’t do that today for any amount of money.

          Beautiful beach. Sunburned the top of my feet to a crisp wading in the water which washed off the sunscreen. Never did ‘that’ again either.


          • Russell Blake  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 3:15 pm

            Sounds like we’re on the same page. Your dad was right about FDR, but then again, we’ve had some pretty astoundingly crooked and malevolent ones recently, so the bar keeps getting raised.

      • Craig McDonough  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 12:38 pm

        Perhaps “don’t know right from wrong” would have been the better allegory. It was my intention to point out that while hate isn’t confined to the US the results are horrific because of the uneducated that see different as threatening and the ease of which they have access to firearms. You have my apologies sir, if I offended you because of my remark.

        • Fitch  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 3:17 pm

          Hi Craig,

          No offense taken. We have dialog, not a shouting match, or at least I hope I didn’t come across as shouting.


  4. Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 6:39 am

    Thought provoking, and much that I agree with. I’m not sure my desire to celebrate diversity of opinion extends to racists, however. But my main issue (and I see this a lot) is treating the media and the government as “them” in an “us vs them” scenario. Last I checked, the media and the government were made up of people (“us”). One of those slain in Charleston was part of the government.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 11:39 am

      All forces of evil that are human, are by definition made up of people. Stating that they are all made up of people affords no illumination, any more than saying they are all composed of atoms. Sure, okay, of course they are. So then what?

      My point is that societies mold attitudes, and people behave in certain ways based on those societal norms and beliefs. The Nazis portrayed everyone who wasn’t Aryan as being inferior and some as sub-human. That forstered a culture where it was acceptable to use horrific violence to protect the us against the them. Germany is also composed of people. People have a habit throughout history of doing amazingly savage and brutal things. That governments are people is an indictment, not a defense, in my opinion.

  5. Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 4:50 pm

    What happened in Charleston was horrible. I live in fear it will happen again– in any given venue on any given day. Hate is a powerful emotion – when combined with fear even more so.
    I’m a mutt. I’m proud to be a mutt. Jewish, black, native American. My father taught us- someone will always find a reason to hate you. Live your life with integrity anyway. We did not learn to hate. Who would we hate? Ourselves? We need courageous leaders who unite rather than divide. And they are sorely lacking. Sometimes I feel like we’re living in the movie Independence Day. Only when the entire human race is under threat will we set aside our differences.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 4:55 pm

      I can predict it will happen again, with regularity. That’s the inevitable conclusion of a society where violence is glorified and the culture harps on hatred of differences, rather than celebrating them. The truth is we are all mutts – we all come from the common ancestor, and all share the same lineage. It’s just a shame that the world focuses on distinctions rather than commonalities. As I said, it’s classic divide and conquer. We will see that amplified in the coming elections, where the two favorite choices are both privileged elites with zero in common with anyone voting for them, and any differences merely cosmetic when the pedal hits the metal.

      • Julia Barrett  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 5:06 pm

        Here’s what I have to say about politics and politicians– Those you want as leaders are not politicians and do not want to go into politics. And I can’t say I blame them.

        • Fitch  –  Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 5:18 pm

          Right on.

          We need to get rid of professional politicians. I’d vote for term limits in a heart beat. One in the senate, three in the house.

  6. Zarayna Pradyer
    Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Thank you for your compassionate analysis, Russell.
    It seems all governments, of whatever species, rule by fear eventually.
    Here in the UK I support various organisations that in a democracy shouldn’t really be necessary – deaths in custody being but one. (See also my little offering on your FB item 14.06.15 on The Sunday Times and Snowden).
    You know, I wish I could remember the man’s name but some years ago I heard an American Police Officer advise – people do evil because (1) they want to and (2) because we let them. A brilliant summation of the history of the world.
    Thank you again. Happy Solstice day to everyone.
    Kindest regards, Zara.

  7. Sun 21st Jun 2015 at 8:24 pm

    We are indeed a divisive society. It starts at the top, the very tip of the leaderboard in this country. Our politics is us versus them; Democrats vs Republicans and it is plastered all over the news.

    Nowhere in the national media do we see leaders striving for the common good. The closest we may come is after an event such as Charleston where leaders call for calm in the face of the violence sure to come.

    Even grassroots movements maintain this confrontational posture to gain airtime. It is measured as the growth of the movement. The more the media covers them, the larger their piece of the pie.

    No group is immune to the fray. Religious groups of all types thrived on this notion, often to the betrayal of their own beliefs. The message in the Bible has always been love the sinner, hate the sin. Unfortunately, groups like Westboro Baptist Church thrive on the kill the sinner mentality.

  8. Mon 22nd Jun 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Nice post! I grew up in Boston in the 70’s. From my small sampling of the world racism seems to be in steep decline. My kids have real friends of every color. So there is hope.

    Preventing mentally ill people from becoming obsessed with weapons and false religions is a much harder thing to do.

    A good and simple start would be to eliminate symbols of hate from our society like a certain flag that is flying over the South Carolina State House…


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