Fear and the Blame Game: On Violence in America // Hannah Press

Turn on the news and you will undoubtedly hear a story containing some sort of violence. We seem to be intrigued by violence, yet afraid of it; aware of its negative consequences, yet unwilling or afraid to prevent it. Some violence is veiled and less apparent—such is the case with the factory farming industry. Other violence is more obvious—mass murders, for example.

About six months ago, I would have never thought a connection could be made between factory farming and school shootings. However, through two quarters in my Critical Thinking and Writing course, I came to see the deep-rooted violence in both and learned to draw parallels between the implications each form of violence has on individuals, communities, and on a larger scale, American people.

In both the case of factory farming and the case of school shootings, the problem comes down to our fears, which lead to our placing blame on other factors instead of recognizing our individual roles in the issue. This ultimately results in an inability to take steps to prevent or fix the problem, allowing violence to perpetuate.

How many of you know how meat is produced? Well, before I took a Critical Thinking and Writing class at Santa Clara University, I had little knowledge on the subject, and I assume most of you are on the same boat. I was aware that the factory farming system is not exactly the most honest industry, that animals are treated inhumanely and brutally. However, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and watching the documentary Food Inc., I learned about the magnitude of the issue and the specifics of the cruelty involved in meat production.

Cover of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Cover of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Though most American consumers do not have expansive knowledge on factory farming, the majority knows that there is a problem within the system (Hawthorne). However, it is not in our interest to become educated because the issue does not directly harm us. Those who are aware of the problem and even those with extensive knowledge on the subject do not make a unified effort to make a change. There are some groups, such as PETA, and a few activists who make an effort to move toward a solution, but the lack of a united and universal cause, along with the refusal of the leaders at the production level to make any changes, reflects our fear of the unknown.

In this instance, we fear making a change in our methods of food production because we do not have a sure picture of the outcome. Say we decided to make a shift and build more family farms, like Foer suggests in Eating Animals (Foer). Many would argue this method is not sustainable with the large population in the United States, and it would make our meat more expensive (Lipton). No one wants to spend too much money on food, right? It may very well be that devoting time and effort to a new system with more humane treatment of animals will lead to just as effective production as factory farming does, and in an ethical, honest way. But because we do not know any other way than our way, and because a new method brings the threat of failure, we stick to the status quo.

Thus, instead of making progress, we separate the problem from ourselves. Consumers place the blame on the producers for

A chicken from 1950 compared with a factory-farmed, genetically-modified chicken of modern times
A chicken from 1950 compared with a factory-farmed, genetically-modified chicken of modern times


implementing these brutal methods and for genetically modifying animals to the point where they cannot so much as walk normally. In turn, producers blame the consumers for demanding so much meat at such a low price. In this cycle of fear and blame, no one comes out the winner, yet it effectively satisfies everyone in that the fault is always placed elsewhere.

Similarly, in one of my CTW 2 papers, I discussed the American fear of the unknown in its relation to life-threatening violence. We are fearful of death and what happens after our time on earth has come to an end. Do we go to Heaven? What constitutes whether someone goes to Hell? Is there even a Heaven or Hell? Or do we simply cease to exist after death? We have no definite answers, despite religious beliefs and scientific theories. And in the aftermath of tragedies that result from violent acts, we are so afraid to face the reality of why that we shift blame elsewhere to separate the problem from ourselves (Bucher).  

But what does this have to do with school shootings? Well, after studying the Columbine massacre, a mass shooting carried out by two high school students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold on April 20,

Eric Harris (left) and Dylan Klebold (right), the two Columbine killers
Eric Harris (left) and Dylan Klebold (right), the two Columbine killers

1999, the response of the community and law enforcement exemplifies an inability to accept blame in the face of tragedy, resulting from fear. Take the psychopath theory, for example. Following the Columbine tragedy, Special Agent Fusilier and journalist Dave Cullen alike, suggested that Eric Harris was a psychopath, or at least a budding psychopath (Cullen). With the support of psychiatrists, this theory was widely accepted by the public as an explanation for why Harris meticulously planned and carried out the mass shooting at his high school.

However, it is tough to be sure. For one, Eric Harris is dead. It seems a bit unwarranted, even impossible to diagnose a deceased person with a psychological condition. This speaks to the tendency of Americans to quickly come up with answers to an issue, whether the responses are accurate or not. Why? We are scared to face what we do not know. There really is no definitive answer as to why the massacre occurred.

Many factors may have contributed, but no one in the Littleton community accepted responsibility for their part in the tragedy. The public never considered that the conformity and monotony of suburban life likely played a role in the killers’ elaborate plan. The cops and investigators never accepted blame for acting slowly and being disorganized in the midst of the massacre, nor did they take accountability for the dishonesty regarding earlier knowledge of Eric’s illegal activities (Cullen).

The distance we create between ourselves and the violence hinders any progress or change in combating school shootings. Indeed, the shootings continue to occur, and with larger impacts. The Virginia Tech massacre, for example, resulted in 32 dead and 17 injured. It is the largest mass murder by a single gunman in the United States to date (“Virginia Tech”).

By letting fear rule our minds, we ignore our individual contributions to issues like factory farming and school shootings, effectively allowing the violence to continue unabated. If we want to make progress, we must accept individual responsibility and universally work to take action.

Signs pointing in all directions, each representing  a shift of blame and refusal to accept personal responsibility
Signs pointing in all directions, each representing a shift of blame and refusal to accept personal responsibility

Ultimately, Critical Thinking and Writing has taught me to creatively craft my ideas in a way that effectively communicates my argument and convinces my audience to believe what I propose to be true. In previous writing courses, I simply followed a format: introduction, body paragraphs with data and analysis, conclusion; no casual language, no contractions, and no personal pronouns. But Professor Leither has taught me the importance of adding my own flavor to my writing, enjoying the process of creative expression, and being genuinely interested in the topic I am focusing on.

Works Cited

Bucher, Rue. “Blame and Hostility in Disaster.” American Journal of Sociology: 467-475. The University of Chicago Press. JSTOR. 1957. Web. 18 March 2015.

“Virginia Tech Shooting Fast Facts.” CNN Library. 6 April 2014. Web. 18 March 2015.

Cullen, Dave. Columbine. Twelve: Hatchette Book Group: 2009. Print. 22 February 2015.

Cullen, Dave. “The Depressive and the Psychopath.” Slate. 20 April 2004. Web. 22 February

Foer, Jonathan. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.

Food Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. Film

Hawthorne, Mark. “Inside the Life of a Factory Farm Worker.” VegNews. 1 May 2013. Web. 18 March 2015.

Lipton, MIchael. “The Family Farm in a Globalizing World.” International Food Policy Research Institute. June 2005. Web. 18 March 2015.



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