So the hysterics say the world is going to end in five days. Other less hysterical Mayan calendar believers are saying it’s just the “world as we know it” that’s going to end. But doesn’t that happen every day, as elections and national disasters and technological discoveries and revolutions and protests and media events perpetually alter what we consider to be familiar and normal?
The “world as we know it” certainly ended on Friday in Sandy Hook. And prior to that, at Virginia Tech. And at Columbine. And at a grocery store rally for Gabby Giffords. And at a movie theater during a Batman premiere.
It keeps happening, and people keep asking why. There are answers– many answers– but our society has not yet been ready or willing to acknowledge them.
Why do socially awkward young white men (and overwhelmingly, this is the demographic that perpetrates these awful mass murders) keep flipping their lid and shooting up scores of innocent people and then offing themselves??
BECAUSE OUR SOCIETY IS TOTALLY FUCKED. There, I said it.
And yes, the media is largely to blame. And sure, technology is partly to blame. This shit didn’t happen when I was a kid, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the media explosion of the last decade plus has coincided with a dramatic rise in mass murders committed by mentally disturbed, lonely young men who, tragically, have given up on themselves to such a degree that they believe the only way to leave their mark on the world is to do something so horrendous that no one will ever forget them. But are the media and technology really the only culprits?
Of course not.
Media and technology have power over our society for one reason and one reason only: WE GIVE IT TO THEM. If Americans were not watching Honey Boo-Boo, Hoarders, Keeping Up With the Kardashians and other mindless “reality” TV shows, producers would stop making them. If Americans were not perpetually lapping up sensationalist journalism– like the coverage of these horrifying murders– the media would stop covering it the way they do.
If parents stopped buying video game systems for their children, and stopped allowing their kids to spend hours on end in front of a screen watching gore and violence and interacting with no one, the video game manufacturers would be less inclined to keep making violent video games.
Why does this horrible stuff keep happening? Why are young men shooting up schools and movie theaters, and gay kids killing themselves, and whatnot?
Because people need people to survive. People need attention, and affection, and love, and support, and interaction with each other. They will settle for attention, whether good or bad, if they can’t get the rest of it. People do not want to be ignored, sidelined or forgotten. We are pack animals, meant to live in families, villages, and communities. When we feel lonely, abandoned, ostracized or ousted from our “pack,” whether it be at home, at school, at work, or on a larger scale by society in general, we act out. We feel an inherent need to make our mark, whether it be on family, community, friends, or on the world at large.
When we act out, seeking attention or notoriety, there is always an intended audience: the person or group of people who have made that person feel ignored or ostracized. If it’s a person’s family, they will act out at home, in a way that will affect the family members they feel have wronged them. If they feel they’ve been passed over for another sibling, they’ll do something to harm that sibling, or distract attention from them. It’s pretty common knowledge that kids, and people, will seek negative attention when they can’t get positive attention. So let’s think about these shooters. Who do they think wronged and ignored them? EVERYBODY IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. Their parents, siblings, classmates, countrymen–Everyone.
These are the loneliest, most maladjusted people of their generation. They are probably all mentally ill, and it’s likely none of them have been treated. Why? Because no one cared enough to get treatment for them. Why not? Because we are all so focused on ourselves, and on the media, and on what such-and-such said on Facebook that nobody fucking bothered. Because there’s a stigma attached to mental illness, and parents– just as concerned about their social standing as kids are– don’t want to acknowledge that their kid might be depressed, anxious, disabled or messed up. Because it’s easier and less expensive to give the kid a computer and say, “he’ll be fine,” than it is to actually confront the problem of a depressed kid head-on, by getting professional help and actually admitting that as parents, perhaps they have failed.
Yes, these people are monsters. Every single one of them. But monsters like that don’t happen in a vacuum. They are created. They are created by their parents, by their peers, and by society. These monsters are a result of lifetimes of being told that they are not good enough, not worth anything, never going to amount to anything, unimportant and pointless. I’d be willing to bet every single one of these people was rejected, whether subtly or obviously, by their parents. (“He’s a weird kid. Why aren’t you like normal kids? What’s your problem. You’re not a real man if you’re gay,” etc.) And if they were rejected by their own parents, it’s almost a given that they were rejected in school. Rejected by the opposite sex. And society as a whole REJECTS people who do not fit into the prevailing standards of what is socially acceptable. Chances are, having been allowed by their parents to grow up with few social skills and few coping skills, these young men were pretty much rejected by everyone. That kind of isolation and self-hatred is a ticking time bomb.
It is OUR responsibility as a society to do what’s necessary to prevent it from going off.
It is YOUR responsibility, if you are a parent, to give your child attention, structure, confidence and most importantly LOVE. If you say you love your kid, but you don’t show it, THEY KNOW, stupid. If you don’t say it at all, the absence of those three words is THE ONLY THING THEY HEAR. If you show your kids their unimportance by prioritizing your own social or career aspirations over the time that you should be spending with them, they internalize that. If you don’t believe in your child’s abilities, they will never believe in their own. And if you don’t tell them you believe in them, they will think that you don’t. If you criticize their talents, their passions, their aspirations, their intelligence or physical abilities–thereby invalidating them– you will crush their confidence before it even gets a chance to grow. If you pick on your kid, other kids will pick on your kid. If you instill confidence in your kid, he or she will have confidence around other kids.
It’s really that simple, but it’s an almost impossible message to convey in this age of greed, selfishness and laziness: If we want this kind of thing to stop happening, we have to STOP criticizing, STOP marginalizing, STOP ostracizing, STOP focusing on money and status and ego and power and START being pack animals again. We are meant to take care of each other, to teach each other, to protect each other, and to support each other. We are not meant to interact with each other through machines, but in person. We are not meant to share Facebook memes or YouTube videos, we are meant to share meals, and skills, and challenges, and hugs, and kisses, and tears. We are not meant to be alone, tromping through a stressful life without company. We are meant to be together, as a family, facing the challenges and joys of life TOGETHER.
So if you’re upset by what happened at Sandy Hook, stop watching it on TV and reading about it on the internet, and spend time with your family and your friends. Take a walk, share a meal, play a game. Give the people who matter to you your attention, and stop giving your attention to the things and people and devices that don’t matter. We don’t need technology, or money, or status to survive. We need food, water, shelter, and OTHER PEOPLE. We need to express ourselves, and be heard. We need to be loved, and to love ourselves. This is where we as a society have gone astray. It’s time to go backwards. We’ve gone forward enough. It’s time to unplug and return to the values we had before technology created a global community that is NO SUBSTITUTE for the actual, in-person community that we need in order to be complete as human beings.
I’m not saying deactivate your Facebook account and throw out your TV. I’m not planning on quitting Facebook, and I don’t have a TV but if I did I wouldn’t throw it out. I’m not saying all video games are bad, and should be gotten rid of. I’m just saying that these things need not be prioritized in people’s lives the way they are nowadays. They should be an afterthought, a tiny piece of entertainment, to be enjoyed for a short period of time after a day full of human interaction and creative expression. They should not be a lifestyle.
The people who are the happiest are those who give and receive the most love. Period.