The recent mass-shooting at Umpqua Community College has put violence in America back on the front burner. Some people are crying “mental health care!” Some are saying “gun control!” The NRA and its supporters are shouting back. Our politicians are playing political ass-grab with the whole gun control thing, which isn’t going to go anywhere, but hey, so what if it makes thm look good and gets them re-elected? Meanwhile a community is horrified, families are heartbroken, and little effort is going into addressing the big question: “why?”
Why does this happen? Why does a person who is broadly speaking just like YOU make this choice?
“Because there are so many guns!”
No. A tool is responsible for nothing. The human makes the choice.
“Because we need more mental health care!”
Um, we’ve never had publicly-provided health-care for all, yet mass-incidents like this seem to be a rising, recent thing. Check it out:
A quick graph I made from data I found here. Most data you find on the net only goes back 30 years. That’s really short-sighted. When you’re looking at big social trends and changes, you need to take a longer view than just 3 decades. I wanted a century, and this is the only set of data I could find. If the data is correct then things are looking pretty gnarly in America from the 1970s and beyond.
The accessibility of guns and lack of access to mental health care are not the causes of mass shootings. I happen to believe that guns should be more difficult to obtain than they are, should be registered and monitored, and there’s no reason for anyone to own anything beyond handguns and hunting rifles. I think the NRA should transform itself into the NPAA (National Personal Armament Association) and promote sword ownership for self-defense, like this bad-ass. I also happen to believe that all health-care, including mental, should be provided to all citizens in a single-payer system. Now some of you believe I’m some kind of hippie antichrist. That’s all fine. Yayyy, freedom of belief!
But the truth is that none of that would have any effect on reducing or stopping these horrible violent incidents. Fixing those problems will only treat symptoms, not the cause. And, as always, identifying the cause is the only correct first step or enacting a solution.
So what’s the cause, if not guns or craziness?
I point the finger at Despair. Big D.
I bet every one of you has felt the crunch, the pinch, the feeling that you just can’t quite get ahead. Sometimes worse than others, maybe it’s bearable, maybe you soldier through and make it work, but even when you’re doing okay it hurts to see the costs for food, fuel, shelter and utilities creep up, and your annual raise, your pomotion, your new job, they just don’t creep up at the same pace. I’ve felt it, each boon I’ve struggled and clawed for coming in just in time to meet up with a new expense, so I feel I’m stuck in the same place. How about you?
Contrast that with the expectations we all develop, the model of the middle class we’ve had since the 50s – One income to fund a family in a decent home, nothing fancy, just good. Study hard, learn well, get into a career and be a god worker, and you can have that kind of life. You won’t get rich, but if you work hard and keep your nose clean you can support a family in a good home, make ends meet and look forward to a retirement. That’s what we’ve all learned growing up. Stories from older generations, books, film, encouragement from family, social expectations – they all paint that picture.
What does this have to do with mass shootings? Bear with me, I’ll get you there.
“Back in my day…”
The old joke goes that the elder generation always had it worse than the younger generation, and they won’t hesitate to tell you just that. But it’s just not true. You can tell me all the stories you want, but anecdotes are just anecdotes. there are always good times and bad, poor people and rich. I respect my elders for the struggles and the work they did. But I’d also like for olderr people to respect young workers enough to think that, when we ccomplaiin about making ends meet, mmaybe we have a real point, and we’re not just belly-aching crybabies. If you look at the whole population, the whole system, the balance between pay and cost-of-living was way more favorable in the 50s-70s than it is today.
Doesn’t matter how you cut the numbers, life for the average American is harder than it was in the 50s, and getting harder. Single-motherhood is rising, 2-earner housholds are the norm, at great social and developmental cost, wages have not risen since the 70s, while the cost of everything has gone up. The dollar ammount of your paycheck has risen, but not as fast as the dollar ammount of your expenses. That’s as good as 40 years of pay-cuts for everyone, and who thinks that sounds like fun?
You and me, maybe we’re doing okay. There’s struggle, there’s toil, maybe we’re not getting ahead, but we’re getting by. Or maybe not. How much debt do you have? How well does all your hard work training and doing well in your career compare to your compensation? How much quality time do you have to spend with your family, to teach your kids how to behave and live well? Do you have the time to clean you home, do basic chores, prepare healthy food? Are you struggling with the decision to have a family at all, even with your and your partner’s incom because it wouldn’t be responnsible to create an dependent child when you can barely make ends meet as is?
That’s a lot of pressure. It’s not coming down just on you. That’s been pushing down on every single American for decades, getting heavier and heavier. Most of us are struggling through, sticking to the rules even tough the game is rigged against us, even though the promise that “anyone can get ahead through hard work” has become more and more of just a carrot on a stick.
Metaphor – Popcorn. Get it going. Increase the heat. Think about physics. Heat and pressure are largely the same. Increase the pressure, the kernels don’t all pop at once, do they. It starts with one. Then another. Then a few more. Our senseless mass shooters are the first kernels to pop under the pressure.
Think about the pressure being put on the whole population. think of what’s happening to people. Most people aren’t growing up with a parental figure full-time at home, teaching, scolding, correcting, caring, loving. The basic unit of a healthy society, the first source of care, food, education, mental health care – the family – is falling apart. Every parental figure in the home is run too ragged just trying to make ends meet to have the time and energy left over to also provide the in-depth home-care and family-building they’d want to.
For purposes of clarity – my definition of “parent” is a responsible adult. That’s it. Man-and-woman, same-sex, parent-and-grandparent, you and another single parent you met at rehab and now you’re platonically sharing a home, raising your kids and getting your shit together – doesn’t matter the composition of your family. The family is stronger, the children grow up better, if there’s always at least one parent around actively involved in raising them, maintaining the home, teaching the basics, instilling values and some damn common sense. (Now we expect our schools to do that. Go ahead, ask any stay-at-home parent how hard that is. And we expect teachers to teach basic life skills, common sense and morality… oh, and the academic content… to 30 kids at a time? C’mon!) Used to be that having a strong, close-knit family was a safety net most people had. But with both parents working all the time, or just one parent in the picture who of course has to work, all just to fall farther and farther behind, the exhaustion and despair, increased isolationism and introversion, parents too worn out or too busy scraping for basic needs to give their kids the proper moment-to-moment guidance they need… Well, yeah, emotional bonds fray or just don’t form. Lessons are missed. Small misbehaviors you as a parent would have corrected go unchecked and become personality traits. The family becomes a meaningless facade, something that is endured until the kid reaches majority and gets cut loose. There’s no-one around to intervene, to smack you upside the head, to step in and stop you from drifting further and further into social isolation, despair and rage.
Think of the pressure you’re enduring. Now try to imagine that pressure being applied to the least of us. Those most alone, weakest, poorest, those born into the most recent generation of a long line of poverty, each passing day another knock down against you. Think of how often you just want to snap at the unfairness of it all.
Now imagine that same pressure coming down, but take away the blessings of whatever family, job, frineds, health, whatever you do have. Take that away. No one to stop you. No one to teach you how much you’re worth, how much every person is worth. No one to tell you you can do it, you can endure. No one to say it’s all right, at last we have each other.
Now try to convince me you wouldn’t snap.
I found an article by Rob Myers which echoes my own feelings. He calls it “lonliness.” I call it “despair.” It’s all the same. He says nothing the government can do will stop this – that it is up to us to seek out and support those who are lonely, the social outcasts on the fringe, those who have lss and less connection to humanity. I agree. We must support those of us who are wounded, outcast. Bring them in, heal them, don’t let them drift away. Let them re-integrate and build their lives among others.
But I disagree that there is nothing our collective will – the structure we call government – can do. There is something, and it is huge.
“We need better health care.”
No, we don’t need public shrinks. We need families to earn enough so they can make ends meet and still have the physical and emotional resources left to properly care for one another.
“We need stricter gun control laws.”
No, we need good people to raise healthy, responsible citizens who respect other humans.
I’m going to abandon those two big scary hippie-liberal notions and present you with a third. Support the fair distribution of wealth to the working public. Protect us, elected leaders. Want to have a strong, happy, healthy society that produces fewer disgruntled social outcast nutjobs ready to go out in a blaze of stupid glory and take as many people with them as they can because everything has lost all meaning to them and it’s the only way they can think of to show that they exist at all? Then our government, for us and by us, need to look out for us.
A totally free market will always prove the same truth – we’re all greedy bastards and anytime any one of us gets a little money/power, we’ll leverage that to get more and more power. Leave us unregulated and you’ll always end up with a few big dogs with all the bones, and everyone else tearing at each other just to stay alive. That’s what we do. Ultimate power-mongery. For all our beauty and wonder, we’re really awful creatures.
Our government has the authority to write the rules by which the game is played, and right now the rules favor the consolidation of wealth to the privelaged few. Local, state and federal levels of government can raise the minimum wage to a true living wage for today’s cost of living. A living wage for a family. They can adjust the taxation structures to be more fair and transparent, where everyone buys in, and change how they spend to benefit all. Change the way schools are funded so that it’s nott a competition between “good” schools and “bad”, but rather a guarantee that ALL schools labeled “public” will be operated as institutions which America can be proud of. The rich will scream and cry. Screw ’em. They’re rich, they can take the hit. Our government is supposed to look out for the whole population, not just those with the cash to buy their attention. Level the playing field so that a hard-working American can support a family strong, healthy and close-knit enough to recognize when a brother, sister, child or spouse is drifting into trouble and smack them back into line.
Change the rules to favor the majorrity, the common working citizen, and you will see a decline of despair and the atrocities it breeds.
Heck, forget the mass-shootings. You’ll see a drop in the 38+ people murdered in America each day. Yeah, did you forget about them? Doesn’t make as much news when it’s one at a time, does it? And it’s mostly “others” killing “others,” though I contend that you can shove your “other” up your butt, they’re all my countrymen, and deserve better. They would prefer the dignity of work, a respectable wage and a safe community any day, just like any human. It is desperation that drives one to chose to cause harm to another.
If we’re too worn down by working more and earning less, how are we supposed to have the time, much less the energy, to love each other the way we should?
As always, my proposals are very unlikely to be enacted. Nevermind the fractious, polarized clusterfuck we’ve put in charge, each individual leader more worried about re-election than taking care of the people (there’s that big-dog mentality again). Even worse than the unpassability of what I propose, the big problem is that it won’t yeild instant results. Level the playing fiield and change the rules of the game to favor the middle class, and you’ll have to wait a generation to see the deep, resonant social benefits of broader mental and spiritual health, of relieved pressure on the masses, of stronger, tighter familial bonds for more Americans yeilding better, more stable citizens. It’ll take a generation at least for that change to show, and I don’t think our leaders have the patience, intellect, or wisdom to wait that long. Go ahead, America, take the long view, skip the knee-jerk stop-gap reactionism and take on a big problem. I don’t think you have what it takes. Go on. I dare you.