People don’t need momentous and calamitous events to inspire them to mount their favorite political, social, cultural, and economic hobby horses, but something as awful as the shootings at Newtown will always cause a stampede.
All over the internet, in the newspapers, and on TV, people are trying to explain what happened or explain it away according to pet theories they’ve argued for many times before.
It’s guns. It’s not enough guns. It’s mental health. It’s personal responsibility. It’s video games. It’s patriarchy. It’s feminism. It’s religion. We’ve made God mad.
The last one is my favorite. God’s in a snit because we don’t bow and scrape enough so he let twenty little children die.
Conservatives and glibertarians like the Daily Beast’s Megan McArdle don’t offer an argument or a theory. They just harumph their usual harumph: Nothing to be done. Whatever the problem is, no solution that inconveniences me could possibly solve it, so better to not even bother to try.
At the New York Times Opinionator blog, Christy Wampole, a professor of French literature at Princeton, saddling up a hobby horse I’ll bet had been ridden around more than a few tracks well before last Friday, argues that because so many mass shooters have been, like Adam Lanza, young men, the problem is young men. Well, more that young men have a problem. They don’t get to grow up to be heroes anymore.
So…what? They become the worse sort of villains instead?
Echidne takes on Wampole’s ideas takes them apart to show that as far as Echidne can see they don’t have much to do with life as it's truly lived generally let alone provide any insight into what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Seems to me that Wampole should have offered evidence that some of what she’s saying is going on culturally was on the minds of at least a few of the young men who became mass murderers.
Before we try to use any grand unifying theories to explain these killers, we should look at what they can tell us about themselves.
I don’t have any grand unifying theories. I can cook one up on the spot, using one of my own pet ideas. Try this: Of course we live among so many young men who put no value on life, their own or others. Look at us. We’re in the third year of a debate over how many old people should be left to freeze in their homes, how many children should be sent to bed hungry, how many poor and sick people of all ages should suffer and die from treatable illnesses so that millionaires don’t have to pay a few more pennies on the dollar in taxes.
But although I believe such heartlessness is catching, it’d be up to me to show that Adam Lanza and James Holmes and Jared Loughner and Seung-Hui Cho caught it.
And here’s the thing. This is knowable.
We’re talking about a very small set of specific individuals.
There are 300 million of us Americans and 299,999,999 of us did not walk into a grade school last Friday and start shooting children.
That’s glib, I know, and I also know I could have been writing that 299,999,998 of us didn’t.
Still, it’s a big country and while it’s terrible to contemplate the number of us who go nuts, it’s also a wonder that so many more of us don’t.
And though it’s important to keep in mind that the great majority of people who lose their minds don’t turn to violence, going nuts appears to be a common factor in these mass shootings.
We don’t know very much about Adam Lanza yet, but other shootiers have detailed personal histories. Before he killed all those people at Virginia Tech, Cho had a long history of mental illness. James Holmes appears to have come apart all at once before he shot up the movie theater in Aurora. Both had come to the attention of professionals who were watching them as whatever happened to them happened and for one reason or another were unable to help them or stop them.
There are two conclusions to draw.
One is that there are wide cracks in our mental health system and people fall through them.
The other is that it’s too easy for the deranged and violent to get their hands on guns.
We don’t need any broad theories to fix either of those problems.