Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Culture Problem

In the wake of the shootings last week at Sandy Hook Elementary, we're hearing a lot.  A lot is simple media sensationalism, like the accounts in which children are interviewed, telling of hiding in classrooms and closets as their fellow students were shot.  Some is sappy sentimentalism, like the abuse of these children's memories as we relive their birthdays and hear about their favorite toys.  And it's possible that some will be worthwhile, although little I've heard yet falls into that category.

As usual, we're hearing how this man was mentally unstable, how he was troubled, a loner, a nut.  How someone could have known the guy was a menace if only some set of circumstances would have occurred.  How he wasn't like other people. This is how we comfort ourselves.  Over and over and over--every time one of "them" mows people down.  We convince ourselves that the problem of people murdering kids, or employers, or teenagers, or moviegoers, is someone else's problem--the junction of too many guns (lawmakers' problem,") too little healthcare for the mentally ill (the healthcare system's problem), or an individual case of bad parenting (other parents' problem).  At all costs, we avoid the realization that this problem is a culture problem--OUR problem--by making the person who did it not like us.

I'm here today to point out the ways in which shooter Adam Lanza (and Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold, and James Holmes) is just like us.   Because until we see that, we'll have mass shootings and massacres come along like buses--regularly--just like we've been having ever since Columbine.

So how is he like us?  Well, for starters, he was raised in a diseased culture where males are taught in innumerable ways that the way to be "manly" isn't to be emotionally stable, good at expressing yourself, nurturing of your family, calm and measured, but instead to be a brute--to give less and get more--taking what you want, with force if necessary, whether more means more money, more sex, or more controlling power over others.

This sickness tells boys it's expected that a "real man" crushes his "enemies" on the sports field, or the playground, or the workplace or the battlefield.  It says that it's par for the course for men to philander, to kill, rape, beat, or blow up anyone who opposes their desires, no matter how childish, greedy, perverted, unfounded, or unfair.  To buck this trend gets one labeled a "faggot," a "wimp," or other charming epithets.

We teach our males, through TV shows, video games, sports, and "boys-will-be-boys" excuses for bad behavior to be Rambo caricatures, blasting their way through life, unaccountable for being brutes, because "that's how men are."  Our most recent mass murderer, Adam Lanza, is like millions of young men who are raised to be fearful of life (of women who want to "emasculate" them, or the underclass who will take their due, of Commies, or Muslims, or illegal immigrants, or other tougher men), while convinced that "safety" and "power" come not from strength of character, strength of your argument, goodness, and emotional security, but from forcing another person to do what you want at the point of a gun or after being pummeled, tortured (or should I say interrogated using enhanced techniques), or threatened.

Now, many of you are shaking your heads, saying, "that's not how I raised my boy."  And I'm here to tell you that most likely it is, at least in some measure.  Because no matter how anti-gun you are, no matter how pacifist and dove-like, you've probably bought into some part of the man-myth, and you probably passed it to your kids.

For example, do you think there's a different standard of behavior for men and women?  Is it "ok" for a boy to be loud and rough but not ok for a girl?  Are men "only to be expected" to yell, punch the wall, or go off and sulk in a huff instead of talking about a conflict?  Is a boy or man who sleeps around a "whore" or a "tramp," or is that honor reserved for females?  Do you expect that boys "play differently" than girls--with war games an pounding each other and blowing stuff up standard fare in the boy world and taking care of babies and playing school and pretending to cook more "girlish?"   Are men who are mild mannered, kind, and nurturing "wimps," while their loud, competitive, and aggressive counterparts are "men's men?"  When people refer to a man being a "good catch," does that mean he's faithful and loving and gentle, or that he's the best at today's most common form of warfare--earning money?  Is a man whose wife is the primary breadwinner while he stays home with the kids a good caretaker or a lazy bum?  What about in business--a guy who sees what he wants and steps on others to go after it is a "go-getter;" a woman who does the same is a conniving bitch. 

There are a thousand examples--and we all go for them at some point or other to some degree.  We've systematically made it the standard in our culture that men don't have to be as "nice" as women.  Our expectation, collectively, is that a "real man" is, compared to a woman, not just more physically powerful, but also more aggressive (physically, emotionally, or economically), more exploitive, and less capable of handling feelings, non-physical conflict, and communication. 

The corollary argument is, "men are just different."  We glorify male domination and aggression as not only the way things are but the way they ought to be.  Once they were the hunters and the protectors, the story goes, and so aggression, power-mongering, and even violence is "only natural."   Well, it might be--if they were animals in the wild.  But once a creature is brought to live in a society, those traits are not useful--they're abusive of others.   For example, being the biggest and fiercest might have served a dog well in the wild, but when they're living with humans, and a particular animal displays aggressive tendencies, that animal is not allowed to breed.  If only it worked that way with humans, but alas.

So here we are again, with 20 barely-more-than-babies and 7 women dead.   The problem isn't a gun problem--he could have used a knife or a bomb made of fertilizer or a can of gasoline and a match.  The problem isn't a mental illness problem--millions of people have autistic spectrum disorders and  mental illnesses and never hurt anyone, and this young man didn't believe he was killing demons or some other psychotic delusion--he knew he was getting back at his mother for some perceived slight.  No, the problem is a culture problem--yet another man taught by just about every influence in his life that male aggression is natural, that domination of others is the quickest form of  persuasion, and that violence is an acceptable way to deal with disappointment, rejection, fear, or anger.   Adam Lanza simply decided, on a grand scale, the same thing that thousands of men decide on a smaller scale every day when they beat their partners or rape their dates or punch out the guy who made a smart remark or torture the prisoner--that violence works.  And once again, we're trying to excuse the real causes of the problem, as we do so often when we we cast about looking to lay blame on the weapon, or the "terrorist," or the medical system or the woman who went out where she oughtn't to be in clothes she oughtn't to wear. 

So--other than the man himself, what or who is to blame when a man decides that the way to relieve his jealousy, fear, and insecurity is to blast people with high powered weapons or fill a truck with explosives and bomb a building, instead of talking it out or sucking it up or seeing a therapist? 

It may be all of us.

UPDATE:  I understand that a particularly dense Republican member of Congress appeared on an MSNBC show Friday morning, after my post, and referred to Sandy Hook as a "cultural problem," as he defended the unrestricted sale of assault weapons.  I regret that this "gentleman" chose the same words I did, after I chose them.  Unfortunately, he is one of the people I'm talking about--one of those who uses fear to justify violence (in his case, encouraging people to use guns to feel "safer"). I disagree with him entirely on the issue of an assault weapon ban. 

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