This morning my son came down to breakfast with a queasy look on his face. “I had a dream that I killed a baby,” he said. “I was shooting with a machine gun at these guys, and the baby was in the way.”
I hate the fact that this kind of violence, which kids are exposed to through the media constantly these days, creeps insidiously into their sleep, invading their dreams.
The subliminal violence is everywhere. This same son, a 9th grader in a typical American public high school, is reading Lord of the Flies for English class and All Quiet on the Western Front for Social Studies.
Lord of the Flies, you’ll remember, is about how a group of adolescent boys, turned loose on an island without any adult authority present, morph into “beasts” who bully, torture and kill one another.
All Quiet on the Western Front is about World War I, and my son’s teacher is sparing the class none of the gory details of that war; in fact, a whole section of the paper my son has to write about the book is supposed to enumerate all the challenges ordinary soldiers in that war faced, from freezing muddy trenches to disease to field amputations, rats and artillery fire.
Last month, this same teacher had the kids reading 1984 and spent a lot of class time talking about how the surveillance tactics and physical brutality in that book related to real-life episodes of torture and detention camps in the history of China and the Soviet Union.
In short, my son’s imaginative life lately has been saturated with violence, for which the peacefulness of our home is no match. And he is one of the more sheltered boys growing up today; I do my best to keep him away from violent movies or military-style and gangster video games. We don’t even have TV at home.
When dreams like this emerge at our breakfast table, they remind me that the apparent peacefulness of a small American town like mine is terribly fragile.
With every mass-murder shooting incident that occurs, the fine veil of civility frays just a little more.
The truth is that the United States has one of the most heavily armed civilian populations in the world.
It would not take much, in terms of social unrest, for those guns to come out and the “beastly” side of humanity to emerge, a la Lord of the Flies.
That’s what worries me when I contemplate climate change scenarios involving catastrophic storms like Haiyan that result in power outages, fuel and food shortages—which could happen here in the U.S. just as easily as anywhere else.
What we should be doing now, in the time we have left before climate change gets truly out of hand, is strengthening our bonds as communities.
Never mind the dysfunctionality of our Congress, the bashing and competitive trash-talking that too often passes for ordinary public discourse in America today.
On the local level, we can do better, and indeed we must.
Every community in America should be starting to plan for how it would respond to disruptions in power, fuel and food supplies.
We can’t rely on FEMA to ride in to the rescue. We can’t afford to entrust our survival to the guys with the biggest guns in our area.
The Transition Town movement has it right in their focus on building strong, resilient communities and re-learning valuable pre-industrial skills. But they need a greater sense of urgency.
My son’s dream is a warning that we ignore at our peril. There is no time to waste.