Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Tragic Reality Underlying Our Terrifying School Shootings

Several weeks ago I wrote an ironic article recommending that we arm special education students, as a solution to the tragic number of school shootings in the U.S. today; and given the superficial nature of the solutions bandied about by the media, and by our malodorous current "leadership," that seems about as good an idea as most, and better than some. But now I'd like to address the question in all seriousness.

Firstly, I think we must realize that school shootings can't be stopped by putting more guns into the schools, in anybody's hands. A student with violent intent can only be given more opportunity to commit violence by bringing guns into the schools. To think otherwise is to think that these kids aren't intelligent enough to get their hands on those guns, with the element of surprise on their side, and to believe that is a fatal flaw in our own reasoning. It's difficult to believe that it's even necessary to point this out.

Likewise, the view of gun control itself as a solution is almost equally superficial. Though gun control is a good idea in general, and many killings would undoubtably be prevented by it, school shootings are among the relatively rare percentage of murders that are calculated, in which case the perpetrators can overcome the inaccessibility of guns, through premeditation.

Our notion (or more accurately the notion of the NRA) to inject guns into our schools is a tacit admission that our culture's degenerated to the point we are no longer civilized, and that most certainly is not a problem that can be solved with more guns! What we must do is ask why our culture is producing such maladjusted kids, how to deal with these kids in the short run, and ultimately, what aspects of the culture itself must be changed to solve the problem.

Recently, the NRA has been funding advertisements, in effect blaming these shootings on a "liberal, permissive society". . . Well, whether America is permissive or not, it certainly isn't liberal. The far-right now controls virtually every element of American society from the Presidency, to Congress, to the Supreme Court, to Wall Street, to corporate business, to most of the governorships and state legislatures. Yet somehow the NRA, the conservative think tanks, and their obsequious puppet media, blame school shootings on liberals! The question of exactly how liberals are responsible is kept very vague, of course, because it can't stand up to a moment's scrutiny on either the grounds of logic, or morality.

This effort to blame liberals is a spoiling attack, intended to preempt the much more logical argument that these shootings result from the unjustified increase in militarism, and authoritarianism, in America - and our incessant promotion of guns and violence. Because these things, along with increasing wealth disparity, are indeed among the most obvious culprits. There isn't any other country in the developed world where this is happening - not in democratic societies, socialist societies, communist societies, or among the Inuit. It doesn't happen in Denmark, France, or Holland, which are socialistic countries, and far more "permissive," (if I understand that also vaguely defined term) than the United States.

No. School shootings are a singularly American problem.

In all of this one very important thing is missing, and that is to ask these kids themselves why they are doing it. I haven't seen a single interview with a kid at risk for this kind of behavior (and there are many), asking them why they think others like themselves are doing it; and such omission is not unusual in America. It's become standard practice over the last forty years, or so, in the media. We ask everybody else. We ask "the experts." We ask school principals, teachers, housewives, the man on the street, dog catchers, or anybody in short, but those who would actually know! Could it be that we're afraid that their answers might bring up aspects of our culture and ourselves we find unpleasant to examine?

For about five minutes after 911 there was an attempt on the part of common Americans, (as reflected on the internet), to ask the obvious question, "Why are they doing this?" But those who asked were quickly drowned out by the roar of the offended, and the self righteous. They were chastised by the "America is greatest country in the world" crowd, who seem to believe we never have to introspect, we never have to think, because we are Americans. And then, as always, the media re-affirmed our preconceptions, and so few of us ever heard the views of those actually responsible.

Personally, I find the restrictive fundamentalism, either Islamic, Christian, or any other stripe, abhorrent, but I also know that when we refuse to engage in a dialogue with those who oppose us, we will never see an end to wars and enmity. I also know that many people in the Middle East have a legitimate grievance over who profits from the wealth of their oil fields, because in most cases they themselves do not. This is to some extent a digression, but the point is, our persistent belief in our own inevitable rightness, and our refusal to engage in self-examination, will finally prove more dangerous to us than most of our supposed enemies will ever be. . .

So, we don't ask these kids why they're so desperately unhappy. Nevertheless, some of the reasons are transparent. These are, in no particular order, that many of these kids are rootless. Their families have often moved from place to place, and they haven't been able to establish permanent connections. Most Americans no longer have farms, own no land, have no animals to provide these kids companionship and allow them to learn empathy. They have no sense of place, or room to roam freely, no appropriate spaces to play with each other, and later, to safely congregate. In many modern tract housing developments today children don't even have a cursory strip of grassy yard in front of their house to play in. Their world is built for cars and for degraded adults, not for them.

We are continually told (by Republicans mostly), that more guns and more law enforcement will solve our problems, when all the evidence shows they have done the opposite. The more money we spend on added "security," and take away the things that comprise a civil society, like decent schools, the worse our problems become. The fact is by now obvious even to a sub-par intelligence that the "Reagan revolution," with all it's emphasis on selfishness, and on police and security, has all but destroyed the once great United States. And yet the lunatic liturgy goes on. . . Deregulation! More police! More "national security!" More guns!

We must face the truth, that everything about current American culture tells these kids we don't really value them. Even after so many school shootings there are a grossly insufficient number of qualified counselors in the schools, and counselors are the most important mechanism for preventing these attacks! Except for a tiny minority of the overprivileged, who get whatever they want without having to earn it, everything in these kids' world is now sub-par, starting with the condition of the schools they attend. We no longer build city parks for the great majority of American children, or athletic fields, or public swimming pools. They will have no jobs that pay a living wage when they graduate from high school. College is too expensive, and even college graduates are now lucky to find jobs that can support a family.

Many of these kids are also tormented daily, by peers allowed to vent their Darwinian instinct towards domination on them unrestrained. In many schools even teachers, and particularly athletic coaches, have encouraged this pecking order out of the very subconscious impulses that drive the schoolyard bullies themselves. When children are exposed to a value system like that, is it any wonder they sometimes lash out in rage? With boys this "hazing" is often looked upon as something positive, as "toughening them up." But children can learn physical toughness, and discipline, without being encouraged to torment and humiliate. It should be especially evident we need to do whatever is necessary to reform this simian social hierarchy when, with modern weaponry available to anyone determined to get it, this bullying behavior is increasingly getting the bullies themselves shot with high powered rifles.

Perhaps the reason we don't ask these kids why they're so angry is that we don't really want to know. If we did, we might have to confront the fact that it is we ourselves who must change, if we want them to change. If we really care about ending the school shooting tragedy we have to repudiate the outlook that gave rise to it. Partly that is the "Reagan revolution," which takes as it's first tenet the abdication of all social responsibility.

We need to care about something beyond the wealth of a few bankers and corporate executives, and show these kids that we actually do care about them, by taxing those bankers and executives and putting that money into the things these kids desperately need, starting with school counselors. For the price of one military contract boondoggle, like the obsolete-off-the-assembly-line B1 bomber, or the osprey aircraft that isn't safe at any speed, we could have built new high schools for just about every state in the union. And even those kids who don't know this can sense it. In their hearts they know exactly how much we really care about them.

If we want them to care we have to care about them - not just pay lip service to caring about them - while a few unconscionably greedy individuals cheat them of a life. Even more importantly, far more so in my judgement, we need to subdue our acquired cultural arrogance that prevents us from critically examining our culture, and ourselves - that prevents us from introspecting, and therefore from making any positive change, in any area of our society at all now for over 40 years. For if we continue down that road, even these school shootings will prove to be a drop in the bucket of the social chaos to come.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018, Brent Hightower
*Image, Washington State Psychological Association

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