While they may at first seem contradictory, I need to set down two premises before writing any farther. First is that depravity never has been and never will be a unique spirit of the age, but instead is a perpetual and omnipresent problem of the individual. Second is culture runs in cycles that always progress towards the more chaotic and more depraved, ending in terminal decline.
Also, this article is only the first part of a two-part thoughtpiece that’s been brewing in my mind for a while now. The release date of the second one could be tomorrow, it could be next year.
Pandemonium erupted following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on social media. The same old Christians who never considered abortion a worthy topic of discussion flirted with gun control again for the sake of preventing future deaths.
The boomers picked up their ‘dumbphones’ and blamed the video games their grand-children played for massacres such as these, before returning to watching their violent Western re-runs whose exemplification of the heroic warrior spirit in the modern context paved the way for said games.
For every time that the creed of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” was entered into social media, a trendy video with professional editing showing police officers, soldiers, old white men and the mothers and brothers of victims was shared by another.
School shootings and the mentality that haunts the perpetrator are a first world problem. In the tiers of development, the first world is expected to have the most advanced solutions to any problem. But we have been found lacking. What, instead, is our answer?
All along the way, the mild-mannered and undecided are pushed to apathy by the overwhelming vitriol that laces the noise surrounding tragedy or disengagement out of disgust. This has always been the natural response, but mass communication and social media have turned the disaffected droves into hordes.
This time around, the response seemed truly different. Apathy wasn’t the undercurrent, it was predominant. Social consciousness has become increasingly scarred ever since news railed showed images of the mushroom cloud, or journalist returned with footage of Vietnam, or as an entire nation stood transfixed watching two thousand people burn and suffocate to death on live-television on 9/11.
Traditionally, the mass politicization of an event can wait until the perpetrator is caught, but this time, this was not to be the case. Traditionally, the eye-witnesses are treated as victims of terror themselves, but this time Twitter and Snapchat documented people recording the aftermath of their own classroom’s decimation with amusement.
Every major school shooting is a useful bookmark for the social climate that was its backdrop, and this time, I think it is fair to say that we’ve entered into the new age of the guillotine.
Infamously hackneyed by now, Stalin’s quote suggesting the number of people dying is correlative to the emotional response might need to be tweaked. Perhaps it would be more pertinent to our era to say that it is instead the frequency of people dying that is correlative to our amount of emotional sincerity.
By which I am not referring to crime rates, but instead blood sports. In America, there has never been a need to substitute gladiatorial sports. Recreational sports have always been sufficient to keep young men fit and active when military activity was not necessitated and a long history of wars and massacres have sated the needs for actual bloodletting. The advent of mass media has also replaced the theatre, allowing us to consume whatever vision of depravity we desire from a couch or a desk instead of having to go out and view a moralistic tale with superfluous drama. And for those that prefer complete disengagement, there is reality TV. As the actor Gary Oldman is famously quoted as saying, reality TV is the museum of social decay.
And now, school shootings have been fully integrated into the media circus. No longer something to run away and disengage from, they are the newest addition to the menu of tragedies we can view from a safe distance, along with war and any other flavor of immorality that may tickle your fancy.
Massacres of American youth even predate our independence, starting with the Enoch Brown School massacre. I can only assume that it is the lack of media reporting in the pre-blood sports days that shielded our current generation of venerable elders from similar incidents, as school shootings have long been an American problem. Tales of trading guns on the bus and bringing them to school may permeate their nostalgia tinted conversations, even the 1800s and 1900s were chalk full of incidents akin to our own.
Where they are correct, however, is increasing the frequency. An ever-present problem, at accelerated rates. This leads me to believe that we are indeed entering another death spiral towards terminal decline. One that I believe that the vast majority of digital citizens remain ignorant, willfully or not. They haven’t been able to pinpoint the problem yet. Though that doesn’t mean they haven’t been trying.
In an era where technology has amplified the ability to narrow in on data points and connect the dots, it shouldn’t surprise people that studies are easier to publish than ever before. And as a consequence, agendas are also easier to push than ever before.
First, let’s have a look at the false narrative that the gun itself the problem, often used by the American political Left.
Ownership and widespread possession has always been the largest deterrent and always will be. The atmosphere of paranoia that any potential victim carries the capability is a potent deterrent that has prevented countless crimes. Perpetrator fragility is only amplified by the armament of the general public. Public disarmament is the reverse, acting as a tool of empowerment for any prospective criminal predator. Beyond all policies regarding magazines, barrel length, stopping power and other semantics derived from data points are laws of nature, of which this is one.
The only person saved by a gun-free zone the day of the Valentine’s Day massacre was Nikolas Cruz.
But the Right is not flawless in their analysis either, and subsequently shall not be spared. While the most notable gun crime perpetrators have been highly disturbed individuals with traumatic pasts and a history of treatment, notoriety does not equal causation.
The misconception of extreme tries to mental illness and mass shootings are common on the Left as well, the Right has recently adopted them as well as a scapegoat instead of standing their ground (pun, while unintended, left intentionally) on ownership laws. Hilariously, in my opinion, the political Right, whether they are the heirs of the Moral Majority or are simply fiscally inclined towards conservatism, has refused to budge on providing funding for the programs that would help with the issue the blame has been shifted towards.
Beyond the realm of popular opinions, the truth is far more horrifying.
While the United States of America is by far the greatest modern hotbed of psychological and neurological illnesses, perhaps that the world has ever seen, the statistics show that violent acts of turpitude do not require any diagnosis of mental illness.
I have to make up my mind (if a conclusion can even be released) between the correlation of psychotropic drugs and mass shootings, the fact remains that the vast majority of gun crimes are committed by those with psychiatrically healthy minds and clean bills of health with no subscriptions.
If pharmaceutical influence as well as ownership, licensure, and mental health can all be discounted, in varying degrees, what remains?
Society has been trying to pinpoint very singular causes and indicts them, and them alone, instead of performing a broader search of introspection into its very core. They have mistaken the trees of gun violence and mass shootings for the forest of modernity and the aestheticization of violence.
The Stark Reality
The truth, in the end, is that heinous acts of once deemed psychopathic in nature are being viewed by the world at large in a way that once would have been considered sociopathic. Psychopathy and sociopathy are becoming the new neurotypical.
While the odious feats of school shooters are most definitely related to the utter demise of communities and the death of a proper place for young men in society (ideas I plan to explore later in depth) as well as mental maladies, they matched by a periphery full of gang violence and domestic violence that is performed by seemingly normal people.
After exploring a long list of correlating data points that have refused to show any causations, what then is the cause?
My own opinion is that a genealogy of decline can be easily traced by the culturally aware. From the Lost Generation born that created the mass degeneration of society known as the roaring twenties, to the Baby Boomers shallowness and permissiveness to let values degrade into benefits, and the widespread sociopathy that Generations Y and Z (millennials) have learned from their parents and classrooms, we are looking at nothing but the harvest of seeds long since sewn into the fabric of society and nation-state.
The aestheticisation of violence, the insignificance of the permanence of death, and the infectious desire to disengage from society are now no matter just symptoms of a problem, but emblematic of normality. What was once appaling isn’t just uniform in thought, but also action.
My own exhortation for fellow Christians is to focus far more energy on opening people’s eyes to the larger picture than myopic policy debates. Engagement in politics is important but impotent and counterproductive if done uninformed and out of focus. Social myopia allows spiritual atrophy to fester even within the churched.
“In which I suffer … even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.” – 2 Timothy 2:9
The culture war is one worth fighting. The political forum is one with engaging in. But for it to be efficacious to any worthwhile change, it must be done in light of the gospel and in opposition to a post-structuralist, decaying world.
If and when I get around to publishing the second half of this, I will be making the case for reconstructionism and countering the decay of the world, as well as defining what is and is not “retreatism.”