Perhaps it’s a good thing that our latest school shooter was verifiably sick. News reports have been documenting that Adam Lanza had a personality disorder. Or maybe Asperger’s Syndrome. Or even something worse. He was, in the least, a loner. Perhaps we should be grateful, for if he was a loner, we don’t really have to look much deeper.
Yet, the recent school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut once again confronts us with incomprehensible violence. Like a dozen other shootings in the past few years, we stand in its wake, stunned by the senseless brutality of the killing. Twenty little kids dead, and a bunch of adults. How can this be?
In the wake of the shootings, always there’s a profile of the killer: angry, quiet, trench-coat mafia types. They are never “one of us.” Surely, there’s no way to stop such killers. Stricter gun laws, we are told, won’t help. Perhaps more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens would? Become the law unto ourselves. Such suggested solutions show the depths of our desperation. We don’t know what to do, so in the end, feeling utterly powerless, we can only try to prepare for the next violent outburst. Evil people are out there, let us be ready.
Yes, there are mentally unstable people in our society who are capable of doing terrible things. But, mass shootings are now a routine part of our cultural landscape. And at this point, except for the really big shootings—like Newtown—our cultural killing spree barely registers because we can hardly look at it, and when we do, it’s only momentarily. A few memorial services and candlelight vigils, and later we forget about it. Why is this?
The mass shootings of 21st century America point to some disturbing social and psychological realities that we ignore at our own peril. To look past the disturbed, lone gunman narrative is to take a scary glance into our cultural abyss. Something is terribly wrong in America; we all know it, but few have the stomach to really look at it.
It would be nice if we could just blame our cultural violence on the fact that our nation is awash in guns. Sadly guns, as destructive as they can be in the wrong hands, are simply symptomatic of deeper problems. Television, video games, and movies, saturated with sex, violence, and an unrelenting cynicism toward authority, find us constantly distracted with violence as entertainment. And our individually based consumer economy, shaped by the idea that everybody and everything is for sale, leaves us to pursue our most base desires regardless of their impact on the greater good. In America, it used to be that “what’s good, sells.” But today it’s “what sells is good,” whether that “good” be bombs or porn or violent entertainment. Sadly, such an economic ethic, absent any moral component, leaves our social fabric in tatters.
Additionally, what happens on the local level cannot be separated from our national behavior. The United States today is a nation whose most profitable products include the weapons of war, sold to any and all, while pursuing a foreign policy of drone-based assassination, pre-emptive war, and CIA-sanctioned torture. The box office hit, “Zero Dark Thirty,” in theaters now, allow us to wallow in the redemptive violence we claim as successful policy. And while it is always in the name of “getting the bad guys,” our internationally projected violence reveals to the world our despair and fear-based psychosis. Luckily, with our latest mass murderer identified as “a sick individual,” we are now forced to look beyond the local carnage.
In the end, the mass shootings that have occurred in our nation—and the mass shootings to come—confront us with realities that no one really wants to look at. We will continue to find ways to link such events to the actions of individuals. Of course, mass shootings are always closely tied to the actions of an individual. But these individuals do not grow up in a vacuum. They are products of our society, a society that more and more people are beginning to realize, is sick.
As the funerals begin in Newtown, many tears will be shed and words shared, acknowledging the tragedy and pain of this particular moment. But we’ve been here before. Previous tragedies, from Columbine thirteen years ago, to Virginia Tech, and up to the present day, have revealed us to be woefully unable to look our national dysfunction in the eye.
Perhaps our hope lies in the fact that this latest tragedy indeed has us scared. But are we scared enough to rethink our civic life and the values that inform our corporate and individual violence? Are we scared enough to turn from our rabid individualism, greed, and efforts at self-preservation to embrace our families, neighborhoods, and wider communities once again? Are we scared enough to demand and embody the change we so desperately need?
These are the questions before us. Fearfully we await the answers.
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This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.