Are the perpetrators of school shootings ‘lost causes?’

As a human being, I experience the deep, gnawing pain, shattered heart, and emotional trauma related with school shootings. Indeed, I will likely associate the names Columbine, Virginia Tech, and, as of yesterday, Sandy Hook, with their tragic massacres for the rest of my life. I find these incidents cruel and inhumane; staggering and confusing; painful and unforgivable.

And, yet, I am going into a profession that focuses on the complexity of human behavior, a field that strives to foster psychological well-being for those suffering from distress, whatever that may be. And, for this reason, politics aside, I believe we are facing an extreme crisis. People can debate tirelessly about gun control or proactive security measures. They can talk about prison sentences and the inadequacy of the legal system. They will point fingers at violent media, at the saturation and glorification of death and brutality on television and in video games. I am going to argue from a different approach, and take a stab at blaming my own home base: the mental health sector.

In the aftermath of school shootings, people respond with unquenchable curiosity and seemingly desperate need for unanswerable questions. What provoked him? Could this have been prevented? And most importantly, how could someone do that?

There are the typical predictors: being male, history of violence, sharing premeditated plans with others, emotional detachment, arrogance. It is likely that most of these perpetrators suffered from personality disorders among other mental illnesses. Hindsight biasthe phenomenon behind wondering “how could I have not known?” in cases of tragedies is common. For instance, when reading the infamous personality profiles of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two gunmen behind the Columbine shooting, it almost seems unfathomable that people did not take their ideations seriously.

These perpetrators need just as much help as anyone else. In fact, I will argue that they need help the most. Yet, due to the nature of their backgrounds and personality, most will not receive the adequate help they need. For good reason, we empathize with victims. Their traumatic stories move us; we seek to normalize their feelings and convince them that they are not bad people. And for the same reason, we struggle with empathizing with perpetrators. Rapists and murderers:  They deserve to die. They deserve to burn in hell. They deserve to rot in jail.

And, yet, what if we could intervene BEFORE these acts of violence? What if we could provide these individuals with the same sense of unwavering support and unconditional regard that we can give victims BEFORE these tragedies occur.

What if the perpetrators are just victims of their own abnormal distortions?

I recognize that there is not a simple black-and-white remedy, and I believe that anyone who claims to know how to “solve this problem” undermines the vast complexity of human behavior. This has nothing to do with tightening legal consequences or approving new restrictions. This has to do with simply talking to disturbed individuals and ending the societal stigma and denial associated with psychiatric illness.

How can we look for ways to reduce the rage and social isolation experienced by so many of these perpetrators? How can we raise awareness to their unrealistic perceptions of the world, of the people around them, of the human life value, while, at the same time, setting aside our own socially-constructed morals to provide support, nurture and validation for theirs? Is there a way to effectively treat these dynamic personalities, to provide successful treatment for their thought processes? How can we erase the idea that these people cannot be saved, cannot be helped, cannot be worthy of psychological treatment? Are they simply lost causes?

In addition to homicidal desires, most gunmen in school shootings have prior attempts of suicide. The underlying motives for suicide usually consist of an assorted of disillusioned, negative variables, including depression, isolation, extreme rejection. What if we focused on those symptoms first?  Right now, when people express ideation for harming themselves or others, we follow the mandated ‘5150’ procedure for involuntary commitment. Is that enough? Removing them from the public protects and benefits society, but I’m wondering, what protects and benefits them?

In light of yesterday’s tragedy, I send my deepest wishes and remorse to the victims and their families. But, I also feel frustrated and angry that we failed to protect so many innocent lives because we have failed to adequately protect and help the perpetrators. As an aspiring therapist with a passion for the psychological dynamics of behavior, I do not believe anyone is a lost cause; I only believe that we have not found a workable solution.

Clearing the Misconceptions of Therapy

Myths about Therapy

Right now, I consider myself extremely fortunate, because I am in graduate school, studying to become a licensed therapist, a field I am indescribably passionate about. Part of our school requirements includes the process of attending our own personal psychotherapy sessions to witness what the other side of the couch feels like. In my experiences of learning how to be a professional, while subsequently being a client, I have realized that our society promotes many stubborn myths regarding the therapeutic process entails. I hope this article clears some of these unfortunate misconceptions.

“Therapists are the experts.”

Actually, therapists are humans. They are not walking, compassionate fountains of knowledge who understand the textbook symptoms of every disorder or situation to inflict mankind. Yes, they are rigorously trained and educated. Yes, they are prepared to work through a variety of situations. And, yes, of course, they must hold a strong base of understanding and interpreting the complexity of human behavior. No, they do not know all the answers, nor do they pretend to. Therapists are required to take on clients of whom they are competent to treat; this is an ethical requirement. Likewise, they do not exist to provide expert knowledge to a client. That is what Google, textbooks, and self-help books are for. Therapists aim to guide the client’s feelings, thoughts, and perceptions in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Therapists aim to make the client accountable for being the expert of his or her own life.

“A good therapist will solve my problems.”  

Therapy introduces and raises awareness to a client’s conscious and subconscious problems, but, at the end of the day, the client holds the responsibility for making the necessary changes. Therapists do not hand-hold. They are not the puppet masters controlling a client’s actions. Therapy encourages clients to come to terms with accepting, working through, improving, and hopefully overcoming life adversities. Although solving problems is an ideal reason to pursue therapy, this does not always happen. Clients who seek therapy with the pretense of one problem often discover that this identified concern is really just a manifestation of deeply-rooted, complex issues. Likewise, not all clients benefit from therapy. Those who are unmotivated, in denial, or strongly resistant to receiving professional help may find that therapy does not fix any of their problems. This is a major cause for professional burn-out. Again, the therapist does not do the fixing or take an action initiative. That is the client’s job.

 “Therapists are trained to provide the best advice for me.”

Therapists are not trained to give advice. They are trained to help explore the layered, interactive process that involves helping a client make the best decisions regarding his or her well-being. Humans come from an endless variety of backgrounds, cultures, and opinions, thereby making them intrinsically unique. In other words, the right decision is not a black-and-white solution. Therapists who give advice risk jeopardizing the client’s quest for independence. He or she can lead the client in the “wrong” direction for him or her.

“I’m not crazy; only crazy people go to therapy.”

Just like only smart people go to college, moral people attend church, and people who love each other get married. Actually, the bulk of therapeutic treatment focuses on depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorders. Symptoms of these disorders often result from the difficulties and pain from coping with everyday life stressors. An overwhelming majority of clients seek therapy to improve situations in their lives. They are not on some fanatical quest to achieve sanity. Besides, the term “crazy” is highly offensive, and a good therapist would never perceive a client in such a way.

 “If I go to therapy, all I will do is lie on a couch and talk about my mother.”

Freud fathered this stereotype; almost every subsequent therapist exploration has debunked it. Sure, there is usually (but not always), a couch, but no therapist would make a client lie down on it if he or she did not want to. In fact, establishing rapport and trust is an essential feature of the therapist-client relationship, and most interpretation is based on nonverbal, rather than verbal, behavior. Lying on a coach can make this task very difficult. Moreover, while some therapists explore familial relationships, this plunge into the past is becoming more outdated. Newer, short-term therapies tend to focus on immediately identifying problems in the “here-and-now” present and providing viable solutions.

 “I’ll have to go to therapy forever.”

The length of treatment largely depends on individual. Some can achieve substantial progress in a few sessions; others may spend years working through problems. However, a therapist will never force a client to stay in treatment. In fact, ethical guidelines require therapists to appropriately assess their clients’ progress and reduce or terminate sessions once the client achieves measurable levels of success. Yes, some clients do attend therapy for years and years, but that is because they find the treatment helpful and beneficial to their lives. Therapists do not promote long-term dependency. This dissuades from the major goals of encouraging self-confidence and independence.

 “People who seek family or couples counseling have failed in their relationships.”

The maintenance of interpersonal relationships can be extremely stressful and difficult. While dysfunction in itself is not necessarily a problem, ignoring it is. Unaddressed issues do not just disappear; people tend to just adopt destructive coping mechanisms to handle them. Oftentimes, the unit fails to recognize the foundation of their toxic communicative or behavior patterns, thus resulting in resentment, anger, or a sense of hopelessness. By that point, the family or couple may believe the situation is simply irreparable. However, therapy can help identify core conflicts, restructure perceptions, and increase the resiliency of interpersonal relationships. Families or couples who seek therapy have not failed. Rather, they have made the brave and proactive choice to succeed.

 “I don’t need therapy. I need medication.”

Medication serves a clear purpose in the biophysical realm, as it can reduce severe symptoms and improve chemical and neurotransmitter imbalance. Indeed, for some disorders, a medical prescription may be essential. However, clients who are only interested in taking medication deprive themselves of working through the core issues that can improve cognitive awareness, happiness, and well-being. Medicine treats the biological scope; therapy treats the cognitive and behavioral scope. Furthermore, clinical research supports the notion that clients taking medication have a greater likelihood of achieving progress and stability if they attend conjunctive therapy.

 “Unless he or she has experienced my problem first-hand, there is no way a therapist will be able to understand what I’m going through.”

This thought process is common for people undergoing tremendous pain. Grief often demands support, familiarity, and strength in numbers. This is, in fact, the main premise for Twelve-Step programs, and indeed, this mantra has likely contributed to their high rates of success. People dislike contrived sympathy or the sugarcoated, “everything will be all right.” Therapists will not pretend to understand every client’s pain or trauma; they will not pretend to know exactly how it feels. Trauma inflicts every individual differently. What therapists will do, however, is provide true and genuine empathy, sit with the client, let him or her explain the problem, and discuss any vulnerabilities or fears. Clients often threatened to expose deep internal wounds, fearing misinterpret or judgment. It is the therapist’s job to provide comfort and offer the best treatment for that client. For this reason, they are trained to offer unconditional regard.

Mental Disorder Diagnoses: do they help or hurt us?

The decision to diagnose a client remains one of the most controversial issues in the mental health sector.

What is a diagnosis? It is essentially a title summing up a careful, methodical  arrangement of symptoms. It can be analogous with a recipe, in that a diagnosis has precise ingredients.  The universal code for diagnosing can be found in the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual: 4th edition revised). The fifth edition will be released sometime in 2013. This book provides a comprehensive overview of all the diagnosis (from anxiety-related disorders to schizophrenia to sleep disturbances to depression) and it is very specific in determining which diagnosis or diagnoses a client may have. It is a universal language understood among all mental health clinicians, from therapists to social workers to psychiatrists to psychologists.

 So, why do we diagnose? 

Several reasons. A diagnosis gives a name to an issue or several issues. It offers verifiable proof that the client is not “the only one experiencing this,” and gives a sense of strength in numbers. Diagnoses can aid in providing the appropriate course of treatment (mode of therapy, expected results, medication possibilities, etc.). For this reason, diagnoses can be beneficial for both the client and the practitioner. The client begins to understand his or her the problematic or distorted behavior, which, in turn, paints a clearer picture for the therapist in deciding the best, appropriate action. Diagnoses can also make room for more support and networks. Nowadays, there is an abundance of resources and treatment methods available for nearly every type of disorder. Clients may join online forums, participate in group therapy or community outreach programs to build that camaraderie and realize they are “not alone.” 

Moreover, diagnoses can help clients receive the materials and tools they need for treatment. Diagnoses are often necessary to receive insurance reimbursement, sliding-scale treatment and medication, and affordable and available assistance.  

There are, however, drawbacks in diagnosing. Some clients may find “living with a label” deliberating and painful. Some individuals will “become” that diagnosis, acting in such a way that fits a self-fulfilling prophecy. He or she may believe they are exempt from faulty behavior or simply feel hopeless and untreatable. Reactions such as deflated self-esteem, isolation, and the sense that “everyone else is normal” are common and can be traumatic for both the client and his or her loved ones. 

Likewise, while mental health professionals take all the steps and procedures necessary for absolute accuracy, mistakes do happen. Clients may lie, forget, or omit information when being evaluated. Symptoms can be overlooked, exaggerated, or minimized. Consider the evaluations medical doctors must provide when diagnosing a patient. Let’s say that an individual comes in complaining of “nausea, fatigue, irritability, and headaches.” He or she may be experiencing a head cold or fever. Possibly pregnancy. Possibly an autoimmune disease, such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis. Possibly a gestational issue or brain tumor or indication of spreading cancer. Or a combination of several problems. In other words, the possibilities can be endless, and the same overlap can occur when diagnosing mental illness.

If that same individual comes to a therapist complaining of “nausea, fatigue, irritability, and headaches,” further probing and analysis will occur. He or she may be experiencing general anxiety or dysthymia. Possibly a dissociative disorder or sleep disturbance. Possibly an eating or adjustment disorder. There are several different options (all which seem very close and similar), and just like with a physical illness, misdiagnosing poses a variety of serious problems, from legal issues (giving the wrong kind of medication) to ethical issues (serious, psychological distress).

 Diagnosing also tends to ignore individual differences, because diagnoses generalize several symptoms and lump them into a concise category. While this provides a black-and-white solution, we all know that human behavior can be surprising, evolving, and differing, depending on the social context, time frame, culture, and individual history. Theories on this often vary. Some believe that people all fall into certain categories of behavior, whereas others believe that we are all absolutely different and, thus, unable to be categorized.   

Clients and therapists respond differently to diagnoses, as does the general public. We are so quick to stereotype or label behavior (“she’s so bipolar,” “she looks anorexic”, “he’s a psychopath,” “he’s an alcoholic”), that we often fail to realize how harmful these quick, automatic statements can be for people who are suffering from these disorders. Furthermore, once we do find out people may have a diagnosis, the stereotyping can be even worse (“oh, she has OCD; no wonder she’s so anal about cleaning” or “of course he has ADHD; he can’t sit down for two minutes!”

These perceptions can be deeply-rooted and we often fail to believe the person can improve, change, or even rid themselves of certain mental disorders. We may “expect” them to act in certain ways that are in accordance with their diagnoses, and when they do, they are reinforcing our beliefs, and when they do not, they make us question the validity of their diagnosis (“she can’t have bipolar disorder; I’ve only seen her depressed” or “he can’t have narcissism; he’s just really confident and self-assured.”

In conclusion, as a society, because diagnoses are a mainstream part of therapy and medical treatment, we must be careful with how we interpret, label, and react to them.

A mental disorder does not make a person less of a person.

It also does not mean they are that disorder.

Suffering from something is not synonymous with being something.    

Stop using God as an excuse

I don’t believe in religion. I will openly admit I question the existence of God. I have concluded that I am too ignorant to  finitely decide whether God exists or does not exist. As a human, my knowledge of the universe and its mechanisms are limited. I realize that even proven facts are still a matter of opinion.

2+2=4, because mathematical formulas tell us that is the correct answer. 

Sky is blue and grass is green, because color and noun definitions have defined those images for us.

God exists, because…? Because a holy book of worship told us so? Because we heard it in church? Because the name and image has been passed on for generations? 

Interesting that we find it acceptable to debate and question most all forces BESIDES religion. In most settings, it is still considered uncouth, vulgar, and even unacceptable to challenge the dogma and institution. Skepticism is dangerous; if you ask questions, you must not “truly believe.” And, if you do not “truly believe,” you are poorly representing your religion; you are sinning or acting disgracefully or face potential punishment. 

Here’s my philosophy on God: The notion of God is a little like the notion of happiness or the notion of love. Intangible, complex, and different for every individual. To some, God is an almighty force watching over the Earth and taking care of everyone living on it. To others, God is more of a presence. God can be in each of us. God may be dictating what we do; he may be giving us freewill. Some hear him; others seem him; some talk to him, praying and kneeling and begging for his mercy. Others will never believe in God’s existence. 

Who’s right?

Everyone.

Every definition of God is right, because every definition of love is right. If I believe love is a combination of A, B, and C and someone else believes love is a combination of X, Y, and Z, who’s right? How can we know for sure? Isn’t it all just a matter of careful, subjective opinions? How can we know what’s wrong when proof is still a matter of bias? How can the God you pray to in your church be any better than the God someone across the world prays to, in a separate language? In the middle of the field? 

People have tremendous pride in their religion, which is absolutely beautiful and worthy of all respect and tolerance. There is nothing wrong with having utmost faith for what you believe in. What is wrong is when people believe their religion is “the right religion.” Why? Is your perception of love the only “right perception of love?” Is your car the “only right car to drive?” Is your definition of happiness the only “right definition of happiness?”

THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF RELIGIONS IN THE WORLD? And yours is CONVENIENTLY the right one?

This is not your fault. Unfortunately, most religions are designed to be righteous and influential. Challenge is dangerous; skepticism is often discouraged. Why is your religion the right one? Because, your society tells you it’s the right one. Your church or your family or your religious leaders tell you it’s the right one. Your book of worship tells you it’s the right one.

Let’s say, hypothetically, you were born in a jungle, without the access of human interaction or the knowledge of reading, writing, and speaking. Would you still “find” that religion? Would you find it without any awareness that your religion existed? Without any churches or holy texts? Without any ability to read or write or interpret its meaning?  Would you still pray to the same preconceived image of God that you have now?

And, for goodness sakes, can we end the dispute between believers and atheists/agnostics? Why the tension? It comes down to this: why should YOU CARE if your fellow citizen doesn’t believe in your same God? It can really go two ways from here. Either there is a GOD and that GOD will rightfully decide what to do with that individual. Your opinion will not affect the decision, nor will it make you a “better” person. Or, there is no God and you wasted your time.

No matter what the conclusion, why does it affect you?

If you love and believe in God, please enjoy his love to your fullest desire. Enjoy and relish in God’s spirit. But, don’t use God as an excuse to promote hatred. If God exists, would God want that? Would the force who supposedly embodies true, unconditional and unwavering love WANT the people to be fighting over him, to be using his name in such vain, to be using his force as an excuse to cause war, strife, and hatred? Do you believe that is what your God intended? 

Oh, and if God doesn’t exist, again, you’re just wasting your time channeling all the anger.

I realize this post will offend some. I understand the complexity and controversy that arises whenever religion is discussed. But, why does there have to be such discrepancy? Why can’t religion just be a matter of accepting differences, the same way we accept different favorite foods or colors or brands of cars? Yet, people are afraid to challenge religion, afraid of the tension it may invoke.

We need to stop that. 

My religious choices do not affect yours. Yours do not affect mine. Those who believe in God are no more worthy or “better” than those who do not. And, if they are, then their God will act appropriately. Again, if there is a God, doesn’t that God make the final judgment call? 

Fallacies of the American Dream and How We May be Harming our Children

The American Dream, while obviously subjective in its definition, epitomizes the idea of capitalism by reinforcing that In America, you can do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be.

And, sure, we know that this can and does happen. Everyone has heard the rag-to-riches stories, the infamous recounts from people who came to this country with no more than five dollars in their pocket and an imagination brimming with dreams. Naturally, these are the people who founded a small business, be it a restaurant or car dealership, and worked their way into billion-dollar lifestyles. These are the professional athletes from poverty-stricken families; the supermodels who immigrated for a better life; the Silicon Valley techs who never completed college.

Hard work and determination, that’s all it takes. That’s what has been drilled into our heads. As long as we have those two traits, we can achieve success. It may be slow and it may be mounted with obstacles, but it can be done.

Sounds good.

In theory.

But, for every pipe dream and every story with a happy ending, how many people fail?

A lot, it seems. This past financial recession and the widespread popularity of the occupant movements reveals just that, and in the past half-century, the once booming middle class has shrunk, making the class differences between the upper and lower class more evident than ever before.

 In a sense, the rich are staying rich and getting richer.

What about everyone else?

Capitalism benefits the wealthy because it relies on maximum potential of resources, which of course, the rich have. How so? A few reasons:

1. Income is associated with academic success, college enrollment, and college graduation, thus leading to more education and higher-powered careers.

2. Income is associated with greater health, both mentally and physically.

3. Income is associated with more resources (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know), and this is manifested through networking, powerful relatives and acquaintances, more opportunities

All of these three variables are high predictors of success.

Overall, more money = more leeway room for failure.

If a wealthy entrepreneur wants to open his own restaurant, he has more money to invest in marketing and start-up costs. If he needs loans, he will be more likely to receive approval due to his high income. Furthermore, if the business does fail, he is more able to recuperate after losses. Not to mention, this individual is more likely to have higher levels of education, more connections within the network (wealth brings power), and more professional support. Compare this to a man living just above the poverty line. He may be a genius chef and businessman, but if this man is married or raising a family, is he willing to sacrifice their finances? If he is already in a stable-paying position, is he willing to jeopardize that cushion of safety for an unpredictable, unreliable paycheck?

Those struggling with finances cannot necessarily afford to invest in such pipe dreams. If a poverty-stricken child enjoys singing and has obvious musical talent, her road to success will pose tremendous challenges compared to the daughter of a millionaire. The wealthier child may enjoy voice lessons, private conservatory schools, access to professional choirs, and parents who are willing to drive and spend money to audition and promote their child.

Hard work and determination? Sure, both children may work equally hard and be equally determined to achieve success.

Can raw, innate talent make up for the rest?

The American Dream is not unachievable, as we still have many new businesses and inventions emerging from individuals of modest backgrounds. Nevertheless, pessimism remains the general climate for most young adults in today’s society. With college rates soaring and employment meager, people are living at home longer, plagued with more credit card debt, and likely to settle for underemployed or underpaid positions. Likewise, their parents are likely to be racked with their own debt, potential possibilities for home foreclosure, the likelihood for reduction of social security and pensions, and their own fears of career layoffs. At the same time, we are literally bombarded with “get-rich-in-a-day” schemes, lottery results, reality television, the exploitation of lavish lifestyles, making us believe that anyone can join that elite life.

Moreover, we hate deluding the innocent children. After all, while we realize that the world needs the accountants, dentists, factory workers, middle managers, and construction workers, we don’t want them to settle for less than the glamorous. We want our kids to be the unstoppable athletes, breathtaking actresses, elegant models, unmatchable inventors, and the admirable superheroes.

Is this fair?

We want our children to defy the statistics, but yet, math is math, and disappointment is disappointment.

Is it fair to pretend that we are all on an equal playing board when eventually we everyone grows up and realizes we aren’t?

Is it fair to preach that hard work and determination always pays off?

Is it fair to be disappointed if our child doesn’t succeed in profoundly changing the whole world?

On one hand, it can be cruel and potentially damaging to a child’s development to explain how “the real world” works. We want to cultivate a nurturing and supportive environment. We want them to be motivated and driven to success, and having a solid dream can provide them with reason to work hard. Also, while it is numerically impossible for every child to be a star, there are always exceptions, always dirt-poor children who grow up to change the world and always believers who promise that if you want something bad enough, you can have it.

Yet, at the same time, ignorance cannot be bliss forever, and we may actually be doing a disservice to children by telling them that they can all be singers, ballerinas, and presidents. It can be hard for a parent to promise his children that they can grow up and be “whatever they want to be,” when the odds of that are so unlikely. Children of lower-class and now middle-class statuses are already at a disadvantage; they are more likely to attend less-prestigious schools and more likely to need to push education to the wayside in order to work.

How can one achieve those far-fetched dreams when food needs to be put on the table and rent needs to be paid?

The American Dream? What will it look like in the next century? Will the next generations of children grow up with that idyllic sparkle in their eyes believing confidently that they can be princesses and superheroes?

Who cares about politics, anyway?

Not many of us.

Americans enjoy all the hard-earned freedom that comes from living in a political democracy. We are allowed to vote, protest, repeal, advocate, boycott, petition, and change laws. We choose who represents our cities, states, and countries.

Most of us don’t care. Most don’t vote. Most don’t know the recent propositions on a ballot. Most cannot name their city mayor or senator. who the name of their current mayor or senator. 

We expect this. In a society that splashes its front-page news with celebrity gossip, our citizens know more about the Jersey-Karashian-Housewives saga than the politicians running their country. Should we be surprised? Today, politics are rarely discussed in schools, and even in high school history and civics classes, the curriculum tends to focus more on the structure of elections and the history of past presidents than recent events. Moreover, the American society seems to place a strong taboo on politics, as if talking about  controversy should be forbidden. 

So, who does care?

Rich, white men: No surprise there. The wealthy upper class keep up on recent polls and elections, because they know what happens in Washington directly affects what happens in their investment accounts. After all, who provides funding for such campaigns? Who is holding most of the nation’s income and using it to invest in the banks and stock market? These guys, of course. Politicians vary greatly on their take on how to govern the economy and taxes; naturally, people with money want what’s best for protecting and enhancing their income. 

Extremists: AKA, the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Moores of the world. To a lesser degree, people who swing to the far left or far right of the political spectrum tend to pay more attention than those in the neutral zone. Why? Because, they wouldn’t be extremists if they weren’t passionate about politics in the first place! Likewise, they tend to be more inflexible and rigid in their beliefs. Unlike people who gravitate more towards the middle, these people believe that if the opponent wins, it would be absolutely detrimental (ex: extreme conservatives blaming President Obama for everything that has gone wrong since 2008; extreme liberals blaming President Bush for everything that went wrong since 2000). 

Religious individuals: According to data from the last presidential election, those who attend church at least once a week were more likely to vote than those who attended less than once a week or not at all. Why is this? Despite any recounts or insistence of separating church and state, politics and religion remain intricately and stubbornly intertwined. Social, religious issues such as stances on abortion, gay marriage, and women’s rights are heavily tied into political platforms. This could explain why there has never been a president following a non-Christian faith. People like that sense of familiarity; as a society, we tend to perceive “strong, wholesome leaders” as those with some kind of religious background. 

Who doesn’t care enough?

Minorities: Despite being the fastest-growing group in America, minority ethnic groups simply do not vote as much as their Caucasian counterparts. While data on this is inclusive, it can be theorized that people still perceive politics as a game between the “rich, old, white men.” Other unaccounted factors should be considered: extraneous variables such as language barriers, lack of knowledge about politics, unfamiliarity with the process of registering to vote, physical and mental handicaps can all adversely influence an individual’s interest in politics.

Youth: Regardless of all the Rock the Vote campaigns and the soar of young individuals seeking higher levels of education, the 18-29 crowd simply lags behind every other age group when it comes to poll numbers. In 2008, approximately 46% of individuals voted in the presidential election. In 2000, that number was about 36%.Why? Age certainly can certainly play a role.  Young people learn how the “real world” works through a transition marked by independence, change, and growth. Politics may seem foreign and inapplicable to their daily lives. Compared to older age groups, they are probably not as affected by economic issues, such as positions on social security, tax breaks, or financial investments. Because they do not have as many assets or dependents (children, houses, stock), they may not feel as inclined to worry about how the current state of politics affects them.  In this demographic, we see young adults entering various universities, bouncing from apartment to apartment, transitioning state and city lines for new jobs. This can make it difficult to register to vote, and oftentimes, individuals who are new to the area may not know where the local polls will be held. Furthermore, if someone just relocated to a new city or state, he or she may not feel a need to vote, on the grounds that they lack adequate information about the current geographic issues.

Moral of the story: If you choose not to educate yourself about contemporary issues and you choose not to vote, you simply should not complain about the outcome. 

Who cares about politics, anyway?

Not many of us.

Americans enjoy all the hard-earned freedom that comes from living in a political democracy. We are allowed to vote, protest, repeal, advocate, boycott, petition, and change laws. We choose who represents our cities, states, and countries.

Most of us don’t care. Most don’t vote. Most don’t know the recent propositions on a ballot. Most cannot name their city mayor or senator. who the name of their current mayor or senator. 

We expect this. In a society that splashes its front-page news with celebrity gossip, our citizens know more about the Jersey-Karashian-Housewives saga than the politicians running their country. Should we be surprised? Today, politics are rarely discussed in schools, and even in high school history and civics classes, the curriculum tends to focus more on the structure of elections and the history of past presidents than recent events. Moreover, the American society seems to place a strong taboo on politics, as if talking about  controversy should be forbidden. 

So, who does care?

Rich, white men: No surprise there. The wealthy upper class keep up on recent polls and elections, because they know what happens in Washington directly affects what happens in their investment accounts. After all, who provides funding for such campaigns? Who is holding most of the nation’s income and using it to invest in the banks and stock market? These guys, of course. Politicians vary greatly on their take on how to govern the economy and taxes; naturally, people with money want what’s best for protecting and enhancing their income. 

Extremists: AKA, the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Moores of the world. To a lesser degree, people who swing to the far left or far right of the political spectrum tend to pay more attention than those in the neutral zone. Why? Because, they wouldn’t be extremists if they weren’t passionate about politics in the first place! Likewise, they tend to be more inflexible and rigid in their beliefs. Unlike people who gravitate more towards the middle, these people believe that if the opponent wins, it would be absolutely detrimental (ex: extreme conservatives blaming President Obama for everything that has gone wrong since 2008; extreme liberals blaming President Bush for everything that went wrong since 2000). 

Religious individuals: According to data from the last presidential election, those who attend church at least once a week were more likely to vote than those who attended less than once a week or not at all. Why is this? Despite any recounts or insistence of separating church and state, politics and religion remain intricately and stubbornly intertwined. Social, religious issues such as stances on abortion, gay marriage, and women’s rights are heavily tied into political platforms. This could explain why there has never been a president following a non-Christian faith. People like that sense of familiarity; as a society, we tend to perceive “strong, wholesome leaders” as those with some kind of religious background. 

Who doesn’t care enough?

Minorities: Despite being the fastest-growing group in America, minority ethnic groups simply do not vote as much as their Caucasian counterparts. While data on this is inclusive, it can be theorized that people still perceive politics as a game between the “rich, old, white men.” Other unaccounted factors should be considered: extraneous variables such as language barriers, lack of knowledge about politics, unfamiliarity with the process of registering to vote, physical and mental handicaps can all adversely influence an individual’s interest in politics.

Youth: Regardless of all the Rock the Vote campaigns and the soar of young individuals seeking higher levels of education, the 18-29 crowd simply lags behind every other age group when it comes to poll numbers. In 2008, approximately 46% of individuals voted in the presidential election. In 2000, that number was about 36%.Why? Age certainly can certainly play a role.  Young people learn how the “real world” works through a transition marked by independence, change, and growth. Politics may seem foreign and inapplicable to their daily lives. Compared to older age groups, they are probably not as affected by economic issues, such as positions on social security, tax breaks, or financial investments. Because they do not have as many assets or dependents (children, houses, stock), they may not feel as inclined to worry about how the current state of politics affects them.  In this demographic, we see young adults entering various universities, bouncing from apartment to apartment, transitioning state and city lines for new jobs. This can make it difficult to register to vote, and oftentimes, individuals who are new to the area may not know where the local polls will be held. Furthermore, if someone just relocated to a new city or state, he or she may not feel a need to vote, on the grounds that they lack adequate information about the current geographic issues.

Moral of the story: If you choose not to educate yourself about contemporary issues and you choose not to vote, you simply should not complain about the outcome.