Slaughter of the Innocent:

Reflections on the Virginia Tech Shootings

Originally published on KPFT Pacifica Radio, Houston, TX, April, 2007

By Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

Exactly one week ago, on Monday, April 16, 2007, 32 innocent people were gunned down by a lone suicidal killer at Virginia Tech in what President G.W. Bush called “an act of senseless violence.” Yet, was it actually a senseless and random act, as Bush implied, or is it a telling and understandable manifestation of our cultural mentality as it exists today?

We should not be quick to shake our heads in disbelief at this gruesome incident. Though our heads may not understand the underlying dynamic involved, we understand it in our bones. In our bones, we know that we were all born into a culture that reduces beings to things, and that exploits them as commodities to be used. We know that our culture has at its core a mentality of violence and privilege that is universally mandated and reinforced throughout our society in the relentless slaughter of over eight million animals daily in the U.S. for our meals. We dine routinely on the flesh and secretions of animals who have been mutilated, confined, and reduced to mere cuts of meat and to being mere egg- and milk-producing machines.

In our bones we know that we live in a culture that trained us from birth to eat like predators, to compete in an exploitive economic system, to exclude vast numbers of people and non-human animals from the circle of our compassion, and to numb ourselves to the suffering that our daily food choices force on the innocent and vulnerable: on animals, on starving children, on future generations, and on fragile and precious ecosystems. We know in our bones that we have been taught by our culture to disconnect from the reality of violence and slaughter that is meticulously hidden and yet permeates our culture, ironically ubiquitous on our landscape as the fast-food restaurants, supermarket meat counters, and bloody movies we flock to but rarely reflect on.

Universal principles, like gravity, demand understanding and respect. What we do to others will eventually be visited upon us. What we do to animals, we will do to each other, inevitably, because our life and our experience flow from our consciousness, and our behavior determines our consciousness. Sowing seeds of exclusion, predation, and slaughter of the innocent, we are not, in our bones, shocked when suddenly we see this horror thrust into our reality against us. In our heads, maybe we are surprised, but not in our depths.

To create a culture of peace, kindness, caring, and cooperation, we are called to practice these qualities toward those who cannot retaliate against us—to those who are at our mercy and to whom we are taught by our culture to show no mercy. Our ongoing violence against animals is the hidden root of violence in our culture, and we are each called to uproot this violence from our mentality and from our daily behavior. When we do this, we create a field of compassion and peace that radiates through our culture, blessing and transforming it. We are all connected. Though the animals we routinely abuse and kill cannot themselves retaliate, our violence itself retaliates against us. We can see it clearly when we make the effort to question our cultural conditioning and change our behavior.

As long as the underlying foundation of violence in our culture remains invisible, denied, and fed, its voracious appetite, mirroring our own appetite for flesh, will crave and perpetuate violence, competition, terrorism, disease, exploitation, and war. We daily make our bed, and as the saying goes, we must then lie in it. The greatest victory for peace, justice and sanity is when we go vegan and live, as Gandhi said, the change that we would like to see in the world. We build a field of peace, kindness, and respect for life that blesses everyone, and removes the underlying forces that drive us to war and senseless killing.

The horror and suffering experienced by those involved in the Virginia Tech tragedy need not be in vain. If we make the deeper connections and transform our lives to be agents of inclusiveness and universal kindness and respect for others, we can help each other awaken from the cultural trance of oppression that comes from reducing beings to mere objects to be used and killed for our pleasure. Let this tragic incident inspire us to transform ourselves and our culture.

To avoid the innocent being senselessly slaughtered, we must stop senselessly slaughtering the innocent.

Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.

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