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Column: Recent Events Have People Longing for the Good Old Days, Which Weren’t All That Good

Ariel Castro
Getty Images

The news coming out of Cleveland regarding the abduction, confinement, rape and torture of the three women that were released from the Castro home last week is truly startling. This is the type of information that makes us fundamentally question our society.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there is no such thing as the good old days. Reruns of black and white television shows can lead us to believe that there were simpler times, when everyone was neighborly and all was as it should be, but that was never true.
What that type of programming offered was an idealized version of suburban life. A generation of Americans, who had just lived through the decidedly less than ideal Great Depression and World War II, was rightfully tired of misery and hardship, and they consumed that fantasy, hoping to make it their own reality. The great move to the suburbs began.

Mind you, that this was the same time that conditions for African-Americans, especially in, but not limited only to, the south, became so intolerable that the civil rights movement was born. All you need to do is consider the existence of an operation like the KKK to realize that the sentiment required to birth such an organization indicates that there was plenty of violent thought seeking victims even back then. We are less than a hundred years removed from a time when a lynching was considered a public happening, and a pleasant way to spend an evening, judging from all the smiles in the pictures that recorded those events.

Don’t even bother looking back earlier than that, the story of human history in general, and American history specifically, just gets uglier and more brutal the further back you go. The sad truth is that this is pretty much the best it has ever been.

We also have to resist the urge to oversimplify things by saying this is what happens when people aren’t properly religious. His facebook posts suggest that Ariel Castro, the suspect in the Cleveland case, seemed to think he had a pretty close relationship with God/Jesus going, right up to and including his final post before he was arrested. And if that isn’t enough reason for you, let’s not forget that Religion was used as justification for some of the worst atrocities, and most of the wars, in human history.
For all the positives that religion has had on society, and on individual lives in particular, it is at best a mixed report card, and there is nothing in its history to suggest that it can cure us of the human impulse to violently control other people.

There are some good things happening. Over the course of 2012, the FBI cleared more people off their missing persons list than they added to it, meaning there are fewer people missing today than there were a year ago. Due mostly to increased parental vigilance and quick law enforcement response, the number of missing children nationwide now numbers in the hundreds, rather than the thousands.

Something about the Castro case though, just struck me as indicative of a sickness in our culture. Apparently, one of the rooms that a victim was locked in had chains hanging from the ceiling. That is an image that you can probably conjure up pretty easily, and why is that? Probably because you have seen something similar in a gruesome movie, or even an advertisement for such a movie.

These type of films and programs exist because people like them. They sell, or they sell advertising time that companies believe will help them sell products. They do something else too, they make it easier for sociopaths, because now they don’t even have to have an imagination to figure out new and cruel ways to hurt people.

Censorship doesn’t sit well with me, but boycotts and proactive parenting do. If we are going to move ahead as a species, we need to get past the violent impulses and desire to control others that linger in our psychological programming from a time in which they helped us survive. We won’t get there by stoking those character flaws with fiction bent on shocking us with violence. It won’t go away, until it doesn’t sell that well anymore; so don’t consume it, or let your kids, including teenagers, do so either.

So much of our fiction today is psychologically dangerous. Almost as dangerous as the fictitious story that we keep telling ourselves, the one where things were always so much better in the past.

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