Pearl Jam Promotes the Avielle Foundation, Created by Sandy Hook Victim’s Parents to Prevent Violence Through Brain Health
I’ve been a big fan of the band Pearl Jam for many years. And they just released a new album (which, incidentally, is the #1 album in the US as of this writing) so I’ve been listening to it a lot over the last few days. In particular, the album includes what I think is one of their best songs ever, “Sirens”. The song is about mortality and how fragile life and love are in the face of it.
So I’ve been grateful to them for connecting me to those issues and feelings through the song. But then, last night, they connected me to them in another way that is extremely relevant to ponerology.
Pearl Jam performed on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” last night. Well, technically, their taped performance from an earlier time was played. In fact, they played a live show in Hartford, Connecticut last night. So after watching the airing of their performance on Fallon’s show, I was just looking around on Twitter to see what people were saying about it.
Instead, I ran into this tweet from the band regarding the show in Hartford:
— Pearl Jam (@PearlJam) October 26, 2013
I was instantly hit with a mix of heartbreak for the obvious tragedy the tweet alluded to and curiosity about what the “Avie Foundation” was all about.
So I clicked through to their Twitter account.
The description reads:
“The Avielle Foundation – A non-profit foundation dedicated to preventing violence through brain health research and fostering community engagement and education.”
This grabbed me immediately. In the wake of the tragic loss of this little girl and many other children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, this group is advocating for the importance of understanding the link between the biology of the brain and violence. The relevance to ponerology could not be clearer.
I then clicked through to their website.
It tells the story of Avielle’s life.
It describes the organization’s mission.
And then the motivation behind the Foundation was revealed even more when I looked at the page about its founders.
The leading founders listed are Jeremy Richman, Ph.D., trained in pharmacology and toxicology and having worked in, among many other areas, neuroscience, and Jennifer Hensel, M.S., a multi-disciplinary scientist. They are also Avielle’s parents.
As a scientific discipline, ponerology encourages us to consider and respond to events often labeled as “evil” by applying the methods and tools of science. One of the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Avielle Richman, was the child of two parents who are scientists. And in response, they have created a foundation through which to apply their expertise in science toward preventing violence.
The organization’s objectives revolve around addressing the causes of violence through a focus on what the organization terms “brain health.” They have very consciously chosen this term. As they explain:
“We want to start using this term, brain health, because mental health is intangible – it comes with some degree of trepidation and stigma. But we know there are real, physical manifestations within the brain that can be imaged, measured, quantified, and understood – We can work with that, and then, we can fix it.”
Specifically, their two objectives are:
- “Understand the Underpinnings in the Brain That Lead to Malevolent Behaviors”
- “Brain Health Community”
These are goals at the very heart of what ponerology and my interest in it are all about.
In the wake of the events at Sandy Hook and similar events elsewhere, people have channeled their anger and despair into certain causes usually focused on gun control or generally improving mental health awareness and treatment. But far too few have focused on something even more precise and central to the genesis of violence – the very biology of the violent brain.
Progress in the objectives of the Avielle Foundation could do so much to really get at the root of why tragedies like the one in Newtown continue to occur and how to reduce their likelihood. And I cannot think of a more fitting and meaningful way for these parents to honor their daughter’s memory than in working toward these goals.
I then wondered if those at the organization were aware of the many other researchers who have done such great work on topics related to their mission, a number of whom have been featured on this site. That question was answered when I looked at their impressive Science Advisory Board, which includes some of the most outstanding researchers on ponerology-related topics, including:
- Dr. James Blair, whose name is ubiquitous whenever I look at the research on the biology of aggression and malice, and who is mentioned in this post about a researcher that did post-doctoral work with him.
- Dr. Adrian Raine, author of The Psychopathology of Crime: Criminal Behavior as a Clinical Disorder and The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, whose fascinating work and ideas have been discussed in several posts on this site.
Sometimes in life, a perfect storm happens. Sometimes it is a storm we wish never did happen. But out of that perfect storm can come something special. It is remarkable that one of Sandy Hook’s victims happened to have parents like this with just the background to be able to turn this horrible event into a movement with real potential to focus people on something so crucial and so often neglected – study of the biological underpinnings of violence and how we can foster healthier, less violent brains in our world.
The fact that Pearl Jam, an extremely socially conscious band – and one whose career was, in many ways, launched by a song and video about violence in school – got involved and happened to play in Hartford, so close to Newtown, the night I was looking at tweets about them, and that I then became aware of all of this through them is just another aspect of that perfect storm. Perhaps, with all this talk of storms, it’s fitting that the band’s new album, which started me down the path that led me to learn about the Avielle Foundation, is called “Lightning Bolt.”
Thank you to Pearl Jam for helping to promote this incredibly important subject matter by bringing attention to this great organization. Thank you to the scientists getting involved in this organization. And thank you most of all to Avielle’s parents for allowing their loss and grief to be catalysts for the very sort of effort so badly needed.
This is the precise type of organization that this world desperately needs.
The other day, after playing “Sirens” over and over, I went to share the song with my father. After he heard it, he saw a link to Pearl Jam’s famous video for “Jeremy,” which he hadn’t seen before. As he played that video – directed, in yet another example of a perfect storm element, by Mark Pellington, who also signed on to direct the pilot episode of a television show based on Raine’s Anatomy of Violence - I mentioned how timely it was since just that day there was another school shooting, this time in Sparks, Nevada. He hadn’t heard about the incident. And I mentioned that, sadly, we’ve gotten to the point where a school shooting can happen and elude our radar because we are becoming so numb to it.
The Avielle Foundation is doing the kind of work that we need to really understand how to change this situation.
Learn how you can help them in their mission by donating or volunteering to get involved with the Avielle Foundation here.
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