A list came through in the never-ending information stream that is the modern communication system. This one was a list of the most bizarre hip-hop criminals. Interestingly enough, most of the crimes themselves weren't particularly bizarre, assault, bank robbery, drug possession, and a couple of homicides, although someone commented that a rapper who got really ripped on PCP, killed and attempted to eat someone should have made the list. Reading through these rap sheets got me thinking about the culture and mindset that generates this kind of activity. Unfortunately, much of the rap culture is tied strongly to the gang culture, where the objective is to live fast, die young, and take as many with you as possible when you go. Before I get slammed as an evil racist, there is a similar culture in parts of the heavy metal world, exemplified several years ago in the European black metal scene, where several murders and cases of church arson occurred, in the interest of showing how "evil" the perps were, just like the rappers were trying to prove how "thug" they are.
How does any culture get to a point where these levels of violence and antisocial behavior are goals to be reached? It comes down to the foundations of that culture. As Rome sunk deeper and deeper into it's own pit, the levels of deviancy rose higher and higher. The death matches in the Colosseum, be they armed man vs armed man, armed man vs animal, unarmed man vs armed man, or unarmed man vs animal, were spectacles that the folks at UFC and WWE are only in the foothills of. Never mind the legendary sexual exploits of the Roman Empire, the (literal) backstabbing and political games played by the emperors make the most despicable maneuverings of Washington D.C. look like tiddlywinks. And what were the foundations of the Roman culture at these times? Very similar, materialistic, nihilistic philosophies to the ones we see in the aforementioned subcultures, as well as many other parts of our modern society. Think about the abortion debate. Regardless of one's feelings on the act in general, how can anyone accept killing a late-term baby who can live outside the womb? Only by adapting those materialistic, nihilistic ideals, and deciding that even though the baby is viable, since it hasn't gone through the birth process, it isn't really a person. This is one ugly, but more widely accepted example of that same mindset which tells a person it's ok to shoot someone who is a member of a different gang, or simply not a member of their gang.
Pointing out problems is easy. Offering solutions is another matter. Both of the specific subcultures that I've mentioned have similarities in their members. Poverty, lack of family structure, various social strata that tell people they can't move beyond their present level are all common among gangbangers, metalheads, disenfranchised punks, white trash, and any other group you can probably name. I remember the Judas Priest trial back in the late 90's where a pair of kids decided they heard voices on the album telling them to "do it". The blame was laid on the record, not the alcohol and pot the two had consumed at the time and in the past, not on their troubled home life. We saw the same thing with the Columbine shooters. Their violent rampage was blamed on video games and Marylin Manson, not the lack of parental involvement in their adolescence. I know we don't want to add to parents grief when these events happen, but we've also got to be honest when these things are analyzed, and not make up strawmen to avoid other factors.
The world lays either a foundation of material goods and pleasures, or a foundation where those goods and pleasures don't bring any real satisfaction. Neither of these foundations can hold up under the storms of life. They both lead to emptiness, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, often anger, depression, and other issues that get expressed in various ways. Not usually the severe antisocial behavior at the beginning, but it is quite disturbing when you start listening to people's stories how many of those tales boil down to thinking one of those two ways. Many religions lay claim to knowing how to rise beyond the material, yet they seem to be either setting goal of becoming nothing (while becoming everything at the same time) or working hard enough to please deity X sufficiently to gain entrance into the afterlife. Some folks are going to say that the second describes Christianity, and that as I move into the preaching portion of the post, I've already discounted my own solution. They are incorrect. Following Jesus isn't about earning anything. It isn't about getting everything we want here on Earth. It isn't about being constantly happy. What it is about is believing that mankind in general and ourselves specifically are broken, and we don't have the means to fix ourselves. What it is about is accepting that the price to fix us was paid on a hill in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. What it is about is acknowledging that we are not our own, we simply choose who our master is, and the master we obey is the master who we will spend eternity with. That "obey" is a major problem to our modern ears. It's why we would rather adrenaline rushes and shiny jewelery, or fame and acknowledgment for our abilities. But when pushed out, as history, both modern and ancient shows us we always do, those desires for worldly paradises never end well. They always end up glorifying depravity, be it crowds cheering for the surviving gladiator or the whispered infamy of criminal musicians. And when an entire society glorifies depravity, it is a short trip to the end of that society, as history also shows.
Each of us can only control our own choices, but if we choose to follow life instead of death, and listen to the orders that the real Master gives us, either in His Word the Bible, or through the many other ways He talks to us, then we will be set fire, and that fire will spread to those around us. No one of us can cure the ills that lead to the kinds of crimes that have been discussed here. But if we hold up the Way, the Truth and the Light, and teach it to our children, and the people we interact with, then a new dam can be erected, and those types of stories can become less celebrated.