The Las Vegas shooting – just the latest episode of Murder and Mayhem, American Style – has left 59 dead, and some 500 wounded. The details are still being unwound, and it’s unlikely we’ll get any conclusive answers given that the shooter killed himself. Like everyone else, I have no idea what specifically motivated 64-year old Stephen Paddock to go on a shooting rampage. But I do have some thoughts on why these tragedies are becoming more common.
It’s Time to Stop Blaming Foreigners
Many Americans like to believe that we live in some sort of pristine nirvana. They prefer to blame foreigners for whatever goes wrong. Just look at how the Democrats are blaming Russian hacking for their candidate’s presidential loss in 2016.
But blaming foreigners is a highly simplistic belief. It might be comforting to believe that the many mass violence episodes we’re seeing have roots in radical Islam. That’s certainly true in some cases. But here in the US, most of it seems to come from domestic sources. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for it, and certainly no organizational forces driving it.
But I think that there are big picture problems in America that are being ignored. For a variety of reasons, American culture seems to have become a breeding ground for violence.
Two Sources of Violent Behavior Unique to America
I think these two conditions can’t be ignored:
The highest rate of incarceration in the world. There are currently 2.3 million people being held in prisons and jails in the US. Most people believe this is the answer to our violence problem. I disagree.
Most of the people who are in prison right now will eventually get out. When they do, they won’t be model citizens. When people go to prison, they become immersed in that culture. As well, when they get out, they’re released into a society that will never forgive them, and will never make room for them.
That means that each of them are a ticking time bomb.
War veterans. Nearly every country in the world has some sort of military establishment. But what differentiates the US military from those of other countries is that we actually go to war. We have a very high percentage of enlisted people who see combat. If you’ve been immersed in an environment of kill-or-be-killed, it can be difficult to transition into peaceful civilian life.
This is not an attempt on my part to implicate veterans, but rather to highlight that military service can mess with people’s heads. McVeigh was involved in Operation Desert Storm, though Rudolph had no actual combat experience.
The point is, we have two large groups of people for whom violence was considered a viable option, at least at some point in their lives. It might not be so easy to turn that switch to a permanent “off” position.
What We’ve Lost in the Past 50 Years
It’s become fashionable among those who consider themselves part of the avant-garde to trash the human institutions that have helped to keep humanity stable for thousands of years. The four most prominent institutions include faith, marriage, family and community.
You may not participate in any of those institutions, but there’s no doubting that each exerts a calming influence on the culture. In some form, each is an indication that we belong to a group, and that the group actually has a vested interest in us.
But many seek to disparage these institutions. Some even assert they are the very nexus of evil in the world.
For example, there’s a widely repeated chant that more wars are caused by religion than anything else. This is of course, a complete fallacy. But if you’re looking to create a rule-less world, facts don’t matter. And if you hear a slogan chanted enough, you’ll begin to believe it to be true.
The same is true with marriage, family and community. Many today feel that these institutions are no longer necessary, or are even obstacles to personal and social progress.
But what most of the opponents of these institutions miss is that the world is NOT a better place by their absence. I grew up in a world where all four of those institutions were still solid. It was a more secure world than what we have now.
Yes there were more rules and expectations, but there was also a definite sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.
Tearing down those institutions has left us with a 50% divorce rate, broken families, rampant drug addiction, and communities that are communities in name only. People don’t know their neighbors, and don’t trust them.
The Las Vegas Shooting and the Lost Among Us
So, we tear down proven human institutions, and what are they replaced with?
Institutions with deeper human significance have been replaced by the pursuit of wants. It’s as if everything will work out as long as we get what we want.
This is not a harmless development, as we’re seeing the results all around us.
I have a theory. At any given time in history, somewhere between 1% and 10% of the human race is struggling with sanity. Stable societies keep this group in line. Rules and expectations are clear, as are the necessity of right and wrong, and people have a sense of belonging.
But when basic social structures break down, and like now, everyone is left to their own devices, loneliness becomes the order of the day. In a culture that lacks cohesiveness, and where nothing means anything (no rules or concrete beliefs), those walking on the edge of society resort to following their impulses.
The end result is that we get people becoming antisocial and narcissistic, and yes, even violent. There’s always been people who engage in these behaviors. The difference now is that the numbers have grown wildly.
When I was a kid, the Manson killings were a big deal. But they were a big deal precisely because it was a one-off event. Today, similar violent tragedies seem to be happening on an almost weekly basis. I believe it’s because the culture is no longer capable of holding the borderline unstable in line.
I’m borrowing that term from the 1984 movie The Neverending Story. It’s a fantasy movie in which a mythical world, Fantasia, is gradually being consumed by an invisible force called The Nothing. I think this has a parallel in modern America.
At every turn in our culture we see some degree of rot. It’s gone beyond marriages, families and communities. It’s infecting everything in the culture. Social leaders try to minimize it, perhaps because they have no logical explanation. But there’s no question that there is some invisible force eating away at the fabric of our culture.
I believe that The Nothing in America is the absence of faith, marriage, family and community. Practically speaking, there has been nothing to replace them. It’s as if we’re descending into a shadowy, bottomless abyss.
The very discussion causes dissension. Talk about “values” to a lot of people today, and they’ll claim that you’re being divisive or engaging in hate speech. In today’s America, it’s perfectly OK to have no values.
Are the inmates running the asylum? I think so. We’ve descended into a society that calls evil good, and good evil. The fact that this practice has become so normal, is a testament to how far we’ve fallen.
There’s even a word to describe it:
Nihilism – “Total rejection of established laws and institutions…anarchy, terrorism, or other revolutionary activity…total and absolute destructiveness, especially toward the world at large and including oneself…nothingness or nonexistence.”
In short, to tear down and replace with…Nothing.
The State is Not the Solution to Every Problem (But we think it is)
Do you ever hear people say something like:
- “They (or someone) should do something about that,” or
- “There oughta be a law”?
When people say such things, it’s a backhanded reference to government. When you’re referencing “they” or the law, you’re calling for public action. Calls for public action are commonplace. Deep-seated problems are assigned simplistic causes, with a solution believed to lie in government action, such as gun control or tougher drug laws.
But have you ever noticed that no amount of laws passed, additional people imprisoned, or cops on the street, ever results in an improved condition?
There’s a good reason for that.
It’s because government cannot do what people will not. Government cannot make a rogue population behave. It cannot keep married couples or families together. It cannot keep people off drugs. And it cannot create cohesive communities.
In fact, most government actions do the exact opposite. The problem is that greater reliance on government results in less reliance on ourselves, on people and on communities. That will never change, and it never has a good outcome.
A former head of the Department of Human Services for the State of Georgia said it best a few years ago: “Government doesn’t make good family.” I don’t recall her name, but I applaud her observation of a fact that should be obvious to us all.
Government action cannot fix what’s broken in a culture. But the more we rely on it to do just that, the more dysfunctional we become. That’s because reliance on government is a form of passing off the problem, and even a belief in a false god.
There is no substitute for faith, marriage, family and community. We move forward without those institutions at our own peril.
The Culture of Distraction that Surrounds Us
The Mainstream Media and the politicians have unofficially joined forces to create an undeclared Culture of Distraction. It’s to keep us from seeing or questioning what’s really going on.
A good metaphor is a magic act. “Magic” is largely about keeping the crowd distracted. The magician gets the audience to pay attention to what’s going on in his right hand, so they will not see the sleight-of-hand going on with his left.
That tactic has become entrenched in our culture. The media keeps us distracted because they can’t explain what’s really going on, while the politicians do the same because they can’t fix anything.
I believe this also helps to explain the war on Donald Trump. The mainstream media and a large slice of the politicians would have us believe that 20 – 50 years of systemic rot can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the man whose been sitting in the Oval Office only since January.
To the reasonable mind, this is utterly preposterous. But it’s a theme that will be played as long as it retains some credibility – or until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Both signal to the populace that all is well in the Republic, despite a few pesky problems. As long as the markets are rising, and people’s 401(k) plans and houses are increasing in value steadily, the distraction works. That’s why I believe that the perpetually rising stock market has become a matter of official government policy.
What are they trying to keep us distracted from?
This is a short list of real problems that we should be dealing with but aren’t:
- Chronic under-employment
- A seriously dysfunctional healthcare system
- A counter-productive tax system
- A simmering student loan debt problem
- A looming pension crisis
- A state of perpetual warfare
- Declining living standards for most of the nation’s households
Those are all serious problems that will require nothing short of structural change and personal sacrifice. Both the media and the politicians want to skate along and pretend that all is well, and that we just need to trust them.
Where Will this End?
I believe that all of these problems and dysfunctions – that the distractions are intended to keep us from seeing – are contributing to the episodes of mass violence.
As more people become disenfranchised, whether economically, socially or emotionally, they move farther away from what we would call “normal”. Inevitably, some will become violent. We even have a term for it, going postal.
Life comes with a lot of pressures. But with all of the problems descending upon us in recent decades, conditions are only getting worse, and those pressures are building.
Superficially, life seems to be better than ever, at least if you watch TV or go to restaurants and vacation resorts. Yet most of us know something’s wrong, even if we can’t describe what it is. People may be getting tired of just coping, or of pretending that everything is wonderful.
I think that’s in part because of the distractions, but also because it isn’t just one problem, but many. Our culture is breaking down, and no one wants to admit it. And if we don’t admit it, we can’t and won’t take the painful steps that will be necessary to fix it.
And if we can’t, we should only expect that we’ll get more of the same. More dysfunction, more disenfranchisement – and more violence.
There is no “we” in America anymore. We’re increasingly handling the difficulties of life alone. Not everyone can do that peacefully. When people sense hopelessness, it’s inevitable that some will become violent. I think that’s where we’re at.
Do you have any theories that help to explain the increasing episodes of mass violence, like the Las Vegas shooting?