“..[W]e are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”
-President Barack Obama, October 1, 2015
I don’t have any answers, but I have observed some things. Yes, mental illness is a major factor. But clinical mental illness alone does not explain 294 mass shootings in 274 days. It can’t possibly. There is a massive coalition of historical, cultural, and political forces at work that have produced this insane phenomenon of violence, and it will not soon be undone. It is a psychic cultural wound. Our spirit is being crushed on every front. What it comes down to is that we do not value each other. We value things. And ideologies. We are deeply divided across so many lines, and we have our loose tribes, but even then we are an “every man for himself” society. In this society, we are told that you are only worth what you can get– money, fame– and our form of mega-capitalism tells you that the sky is no limit, and there are no regulations about getting what you want, and that you can and should acquire as much as humanly possible at any cost. We are a repressed puritanical society that shames you for wanting sex and alcohol and drugs and pleasure, and then trillions of dollars are spent dangling all of these things in front of you, telling you that you are not good enough unless you buy everything they are selling so that you will finally be worth something. In the meantime they feed you all the porn you could ever want, and stoke your frustration with violent films and computer games, tripping your automatic impulses over and over, instilling deeply misogynistic and racist and fundamentalist ideas in your head, as a focus for your ire and frustration.
Because, what this generally boils down to is young males feeling like they are not getting what they are owed. And almost exclusively white males, because white males are the only ones in our society who are brought up thinking the world owes them everything. A huge percentage of these shooters seek notoriety. The UCC shooter even said as much on his blog, that “The more people you shoot, the more famous you are.” Of course they seek that. We are obsessed with notoriety and popularity, in a society where people will do anything, any shameful, idiotic thing to get on television, or get famous on American Idol, or get the most followers on Twitter. Particularly for young males, this notoriety, equates with value, and of course, sex. You always hear that the shooter was bitter about his lack of success with women. Because in his mind, women are just another object to be won on the road of plunder that leads to personal worth.
And so what do we do with this populace that is ripped apart by so many conflicting, painful forces, that feels worthless and has nothing left to lose? We arm them to the teeth with all the weapons of mass violence, and we fetishize those weapons as beautiful, gleaming badges of virility and righteousness. Think about it, in these sick broken minds, the pain they are inflicting on the physical world is equal to the psychic pain they are living with. The lack of value they see in their multiple victims is their own outsized lack of value. In their mind, they are the victim, they are the spurned and downtrodden, and the innocent, faceless masses are the enemy– or worse, just pawns in the war against the real enemy– the nebulous lack, the thing owed, the dearth of worth.
I do not pity them, I do not excuse them. This is real evil. But it is evil born of a badly broken society. Of course the proliferation of guns must be curbed. Of course mental health must be addressed. These are immediate solutions that could have wide-ranging effects. But this sickness goes much, much deeper. And I don’t have any answers to that. Because I think it may be a sickness too big to treat, may be too far gone to get to. Certainly it starts with us. We can’t teach our children that they are worth something, if we ourselves don’t feel our own worth. We can’t protect them from all of the forces that seek to bleed their souls dry for profit, but we can give them education, not pass along misogynist and racist ideas, not glorify violence, not shame them and repress their spirit, help build their confidence however we can. And we can care for each other– not just our friends and our families, or even our neighbors, but even the people we don’t understand or even approve of. Even then the odds are against us, because the forces of greed and self-centeredness and judgmental factionalism are probably too entrenched to uproot with mere decency and love. It probably requires burning some shit down and smashing the state. I don’t even know where to start on that. I’ll leave that to those of you who know more about that than I do. But I promise I will join when it does happen.
Like I said, I don’t have any answers. But I do know a few things. We are sick, and we need to get well.