Cultural Trauma

Bloody 4th of July

I felt devastated by the shootings in Uvalde. How could we have allowed this to happen? The video of the police response was recently released. Hundreds of gunshots can be heard. The police carefully edited out the screams of the children. I can easily imagine my own children’s voices…and I can’t even… The mass shooting during the 4th of July parade in a sleepy Jewish suburb of Chicago was another blow. A close friend grew up there. Her backyard neighbor was one of the killed, and she spent hours trying to learn the fates of her classmates. The little boy who will grow up without parents, for what? What do we get to gain by equipping ourselves with weapons of war? The guns used in these two and most other mass shootings were made to kill people. They are very at it. Why do we need these weapons among civilians living in a peaceful nation? America is very efficient. If it ever came to us needing weapons to defend ourselves from enemies, I’m sure we can distribute them to those who know how to use them — our national guard in no time. Apocalypse is great to watch in the movies or read in books, it’s not very fun to experience in real life. We have amusement parks for safe thrills. Why subject ourselves to a constant threat?

Mass shootings in America have become a cultural trauma. We have to watch our backs and think about exits everywhere we go. We have to constantly think if it is safe to take our kids to a park, to a supermarket, to a theater, to a place of worship, to a 4th of July Parade! At school, our children are drilled on what to do to make their responses to a shooter automatic. These kinds of reactions change us physically, cognitively, and psychologically. Each mass shooting creates a before and after for those who lived through it. The deaths rob us of our dignity as well as of our loved ones. They are not normal. And we can’t live in a state of continued heightened fear of our environment indefinitely. Our bodies weren’t made for this! [Consider reading Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.” Holt Paperbacks; 3rd edition. ISBN-13: 978-0805073690]

When the traumatic events are so overwhelming that they have a mass epigenetic effect on the population we get cultural trauma. The classic example of epigenetic cultural trauma caused by historical events is WWII and the Holocaust. These events change our vocabulary as well as our bodies and our understanding of our place in the world.

If we passed laws to outlaw all guns in America, the cultural trauma that the years of mass shootings created wouldn’t simply go away. It will take a generation to heal and the children of our children that haven’t been born yet will experience epigenetic effects and carry them in their very DNA — the genes that are expressed and dominate their development will be chosen based on the trauma their ancestors experienced.

We can look into this future and give up, or we can vote to make sure changes are possible.

I write about personal and cultural trauma all the time. It is a prominent theme in all my books, as is the theme that focuses on the consequences of tragedy that is played out over multiple generations. Perhaps the most obvious book that explicitly sets this up is Twin Time, where the family’s peril in the past — The Russian Revolution of 1917 — is played out in the present with unexpected twists and turns. The past rarely lets go of any of us.


To make this newsletter a bit more cheerful, I made Twin Time ebook free for a few days on Amazon, July 15th through 17th. That said, it is fully illustrated. Those who read the print version will see a lot more, but those who read the ebook version will get the full-color experience of the illustrations (on iPhones or other color devices). Enjoy!