community conversation: thou shalt kill?

Read the headlines and see new stories about murders, shootings and all manner of violence and it’s easy to wonder what the world is coming to. Homer resident Will Files is no different.

Taking that question to the next step, Files is inviting the community to a series of conversations organized under the question, “Thou shalt kill?” The conversations begin at 7 p.m. today.

“If you look around the world, you see a lot of things going on that aren’t too nice. A lot of violent stuff. And I keep asking myself what this is all about. Why are we seeing all this violence? Why do people have to go to war?” said Files. 

For the past year, Files has been organizing those big questions into five parts, one to be tackled each of five evenings with the community’s help. Narrowing it to five was a challenge.

“I’ve been brainstorming in my head and talking to others and had a list of about 12-20 topics, things like the death penalty, euthanasia, all kinds of things that have to do with maybe ‘legitimate’ death. There are all kinds of topics that have to do with killing.”

Identifying fear as an underlying factor in situations that escalate into violence, Files believes the sharing of viewpoints at a community level is important.

“The more we can understand where we can meet one-on-one or in small groups, the more we can appreciate each other and the less likely we are to be shooting at each other,” he said.

As an example of the multitude of viewpoints that can surface during a sharing of opinions, Files plans to open the first session by presenting the views of Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker.

Among the books Pinker has written is “The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” In the Sept. 24, 2011, edition of The Wall Street Journal, Pinker began his “Violence Vanquished” article by referencing catastrophes occurring on a daily basis that lead to the what-is-the-world-coming-to question.

“But a better question may be, ‘How bad was the world in the past?’ Believe it or not, the world of the past was much worse,” wrote Pinker.

“Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.”

Another viewpoint comes from an article by columnist Kevin Drum, suggesting a connection between lead poisoning and rampant crime, lower IQs and rising ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

For each of the topics, Files is attempting to open the evening discussion with someone familiar with the subject. He has invited local law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, end-of-life experts and veterans of past wars.

For Part II, “What Is It Like To Go To War?,” scheduled for Jan. 31, Files will include the writings of Karl Marlantes. Among books Marlantes — a former Marine and the recipient of numerous military medals and commendations — has written are the bestselling novel “Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War” and the nonfiction “What It Is Like To Go To War.”  

“In Vietnam, it was not clear what winning was,” Marlantes said in a Sept. 2011 interview on C-Span.

“We heard phrases like winning the hearts and minds of people. But … that’s a very difficult, fuzzy way to measure. And if there’s no territory to gain or capital to end up with, … how do you measure success? You begin to measure success by body count. To me, that’s not moral.”

Files realizes some topics, gun control and abortion for example, won’t be solved with an evening’s discussion. That’s OK with him.

“I’m not really trying here to come up with conclusions. I’m trying to stimulate discussion, promote understanding and to lower fear,” he said.

In 2011, Files facilitated another series of community conversations, “Rediscovering Values.” 

 “My goal is to keep the conversation going.”

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at