The problem runs deeper than “guns”

What concerns me more than the gun issue per se is the extraordinary violence-saturated, pornified culture of young men driven crazy by failure, loneliness, grievance, and anger. More and more, there are no parameters for the normal expression of masculine behavior in America — for instance, taking pride in doing something well, or becoming a good candidate for marriage. The lower classes have almost no vocational domain for the normal enactments of manhood, and one of the few left is the army, where they are overtly trained to be killers.

Much of what used to be the working class is now an idle class that can only dream of what it means to be a man and they are bombarded with the most sordid pre-packaged media dreams in the form of video games based on homicide, the narcissistic power fantasies of movies, TV, and professional sports, and the frustrating tauntings of free porn. The last thing they’re able to do is form families. All of this operates in conditions where there are no normal models of male authority, especially fathers and bosses, to regulate the impulse control of young men — and teach them to regulate it themselves.

The above was written by James Kunstler as he attempts to examine the greater root causes of gun violence in America. (h/t Greg Ellifritz)

When you have an illness, if you want to get better you have to address the root causes of the illness. For example, get a seasonal cold, and you have to get some rest so your body can fight the infection. To just take Advil and Nyquil to suppress your cough and runny nose, yet you continue to go to the office and slog through, ever notice that you only get worse? Addressing symptoms doesn’t cure what ails you.

And rarely is attempting to suppress one symptom able to fully address the issue.

“Gun Violence”, as some like to term it, is a symptom of a greater, deeper illness in our society. Supposing all guns suddenly disappeared overnight, the deeper underlying problems won’t go away and it will just (re)manifest itself as “knife violence” or “baseball bat violence” or “plowing cars into groups of people violence”.

And what is that context? A nation physically arranged on-the-ground to produce maximum loneliness, arranged economically to produce maximum anxiety, and disposed socially to produce maximum alienation. Really, everything in the once vaunted American way of life slouches in the direction of depression, rage, violence, and death.

Take a step back and look at our modern society. People do love to opine that all this technology brings us closer together – and it does in the sense that you can converse with people on the other side of the world and be instantly aware of everything going on in the world. But it also alienates us – witness a group of people sitting at the dinner table together, yet everyone has their faces buried in their phones instead of eyes and conversation fixed on each other.

Look at how people are afraid to take time off work to go on vacation, and even when they are on vacation don’t stop checking their computer/phones/emails to “check in” at work? Because there’s a perception if you don’t, you’re not a team player or could lose your job.

Where a guy, finally plucking up the courage to say something nice to a girl and maybe ask her out, gets construed as a creeper and shamed because his nervousness and awkwardness get framed as a “threat” or some other social injustice. So instead of risking knee-jerk crucifixion via Twitter, he just closes off and retreats.

Ever notice the common threads that tend to permeate a lot of these mass shooters? It’s not even “mental health” in the sense that they’re psycho and crazy. Often it’s just alienation taken to an extreme. And when the rest of us prefer to be angry and victimized, instead of actually living the compassion they hashtag all day about, is this any wonder?

The physical setting of American life composed of a failing suburban sprawl pattern for daily living — the perfect set-up for making community impossible — obliterates the secondary layer of socialization beyond the family. This is life in the strip-mall wilderness of our country, which has gotten to be mostly of where people live. Imagine a society without families and real communities and wave your flag over that.

A lot of the talk of the failing of family tends to be framed as: man married to woman, with 2.3 kids and 0.8 of a dog. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care how “traditional” or “untraditional” the family is, because if we’re honest with ourselves, family is a far looser construct in terms of composition, but far stronger in terms of ties. You have people in your life that have no blood relation to you, yet you consider them family. You may have people that are genealogically family, but are complete alien to you. I don’t care if family is 2 men or 2 women or adopted or fostered or whatever compilation you can come up with. Do you care for each other? Do you provide for each other? Do you look out for each other? Do you help each other grow and learn and love? Family.

But yet, is family strong or is family failing? As children grow, they will look for role models, for strength and guidance, for belonging. And they will seek it and find it somewhere, even if that somewhere is what you may consider a perverse notion of “family”. Many young males lack a “proper” father-figure, but find that fatherly role and family bond through gang membership. And if you cannot find that family, if you cannot find that community, what consequences are there of that hole? Where you can’t even find a perverse stand-in? What cost does that bear?

Furthermore, with modern men being unable to express masculinity, what consequence does that have?  Knustler touches on this, but I think Jack Donovan provides the best perspective. Another topic for another time.

I know people want to “do something”, but we are wasting time and money on solutions that will not work. There are those that see guns as the problem, but they are met with so much resistance because there are those that see the proposed solutions as not long not solving the problem but making things worse. So yes, there will be resistence those solutions because there is no positive gain. It’s worth stepping back from your dogma and taking honest stock in the situation; it may not be what you like to see, but if you want real solutions it’s usually best to open your eyes and take your fingers out of your ears before plunging headlong.

Realize the problem is complicated, and rarely do complicated problems have simple solutions. Yet, if we can look honestly at the root causes – even if we must admit we had a hand in creating those problems – maybe we can come up with real solutions. The best part is solving those problems will make many things better.

5 thoughts on “The problem runs deeper than “guns”

  1. If I could see a solution, I might be optimistic for our future. Unfortunately, neither the left or right, conservatives or liberals, republicans or democrats have come even remotely close to addressing real social and economic problems.

    In that, I can thank the influence of interest groups that are not focused on the overall picture, but only in securing their own slice of an ever-shrinking pie. I can thank corporations who have no interest in investing locally when they have the whole world to play with. In politicians who blatantly look out only for themselves and are happy to ensure the status quo does not change. And yes, even ordinary citizens for they form the support structure for most of these agents who care little about seriously addressing the problems we face.

    You are right, it’s complicated, and I have no solution . . . but it’s also simple; I see no mechanism currently in place to affect any kind of meaningful change toward improving an ever-deteriorating situation.

    My fear is that history will (as it often does) repeat . . . there will come a point where change will not come about from reasoned discourse, but by draconian measures that few will find to their liking (save, of course, those who will propose them).

    • The question is… are they out to address (fix/remedy) real social and economic problems? What is their actual motive? Truly if it is to address such issues, that is a noble but quite difficult cause, and it’s unlikely to be solved by the conventional means by which we keep trying to solve things. Because like you said, even if that person’s motives are noble, so many others have other motivations — primarily to secure their slice of the pie.

      To me tho, I think the change can happen — but it doesn’t happen on a global level. It’s happens on the personal level. It starts with people being better, and expecting better out of others. Then, helping others achieve that better.

    • “They” are not doing anything of consequence toward fixing social and economic problems. As for individuals, I write fiction (so far, for my own pleasure) and that is one of my themes, the change people can affect individually and in aggregate.

      Sadly, I don’t see the mechanisms in place. I hope you are right, but if you take the most violent areas in our society and their underlying causes (usually tied to economic opportunities and education), I don’t see a willingness to tackle those issues from the inside. History does not have many examples of outside forces (short of violent and deadly action) resolving deeply ingrained patterns of behavior. Not to say there aren’t people who are trying to affect change from inside, but they are seldom heard, and it’s difficult to affect change without offering something truly life-changing (socially and economically).

      For that, society at large has to substantially improve, mostly economically. I’m not a fan or believer in the “rising tide lifts all boats thinking” because it’s obvious some boats practically levitate and others barely keep afloat as they furiously bail, but in one aspect it’s true that favorable economic times offer more opportunities to lower income individuals.

      That’s not going to happen without lots of good-paying jobs, many in the low skills sector, but those jobs have long since left these shores.

      Lest you think I’m referring to minorities, yes, they too, but by definition their numbers do not make up more than a small part of the whole. One can’t put all of our ills on their shoulders, no matter how hard some try, and some do try hard.

      Anyway, my little rant for the day. I’m glad people still have hope, and I am cautiously optimistic in some aspects, but I don’t see a good end game. By that I mean, sure, we’ll adjust, find a new balance, restart our lives, but not before a whole lot of people are going to hurt financially, emotionally, and even physically. Even if not personally affected, that can weigh heavy on one’s mind, which does not bode well for the society at large.

      But enough of being a downer. How about them (enter favorite sports-team here)? Are they great this year, or what?

      p.s. I’m actually a pretty cheerful guy; I have a decent life and the means to keep it so until I’m gone (I hope). I may be pessimistic about the way society is heading and what many are facing, but I am relatively hopeful and confident it will limp along until I will pass from short-term memory.

      • I sometimes wonder too. Humans seem to have a special affinity for the negative, for destruction. But yet, somehow we’re still here after thousands of years.

        I guess best we can try for is some of us just gotta keep trying to be positive and build/create. 🙂

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