Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Shootings a symptom of a deeply ill society

Just hours after six people were shot and stabbed to death and a dozen others wounded in Isla Vista, CA, last week, the father of one victim wrathfully put the blame for his son’s death on the National Rifle Association and “craven politicians.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

For one thing, the NRA has never promoted the right of Americans to carry knives. And half of the killer’s victims were stabbed to death before the shooting started. It’s easy enough to imagine that, were it not for the Second Amendment, the killer would have opted for an explosives-packed pressure cooker or some other weapon of massive proportion.

No, the killings were not the fault of the NRA or politicians (calling them “craven” is pretty much redundant.) They are the intersecting of two American illnesses; misogyny and a general culture of violence.

Forty years after the advent of the social movement that was supposed to put women on the same social and professional footing as men, our society clings to the notion that females are the weaker sex and, thus, acceptable targets of exploitation and abuse. From the prostitution apologists to the hate speech of Rush Limbaugh, men keep asserting their God-given right to use women for personal gratification. This is not a new phenomenon; a woman’s “wifely duty” has been a staple of marital relations since the beginning of time. Today it manifests itself on the smut-soaked World Wide Web and the hook-up culture celebrated in all forms of popular media. The natural, intimate, and emotionally bonding act that sex can be has become, in the minds of most men, the raison d’ĂȘtre of womankind.

It's no surprise that the self-loathing, self-pitying creature who killed women because no one would have sex with him was a frequent visitor to websites that comprise a digital base to the culture of the pick-up artist (PUA.) The killer, according to online news reports, had tried to hit on women using the techniques promoted by such websites as ReturnOfKings.com but was still unsuccessful in getting rid of his virginity. He then joined an anti-PUA website, which is just as bad because it still promotes the idea that all men are entitled to sex with somebody, anybody, whomever they please, but that PUA sites are shams and give false information. For its part, Return of Kings (don't you just love that entitled white European-centered name?) replied that if the killer had been given the sexual options he so badly needed, no one would have died. It's as if the PUA community is adopting the slogan, "Fuck a loser, save a life."

And if the bitches just won’t give it up, even to save the lives of the innocent? Well, that’s where the second illness comes in: Violence is the ultimate solution to all problems. Over 200 years after our nation won its independence at musket-point and 150 years after its unity was validated in a national bloodbath, we still have not transcended the use of violence to settle our conflicts. Two generations of Americans have grown up in the shadow of Martin Luther King Jr.'s peaceful resistance to forced racial segregation and bigotry, and we still have not learned that talking and working together actually bring better results than throwing fists, or worse. We Americans are unable to discern the difference between one president's gleeful waste of military might and another's tortured decision to kill a dangerous foe. So steeped have we become in hating those who hate us that, when Osama bin Laden was gunned down in his own bedroom, Americans waved flags and danced in the streets. It should have been a moment of introspection and national grief that we were reduced to assassination to protect ourselves, but we celebrated the murder as if it were a national triumph.

Particularly alarming is the loud declaration that the answer to gun violence is more guns and more violence. While the NRA is no more responsible for the killings in Isla Vista than the New York Times is responsible for the hate speech of the right-wingnuts, neither does it exactly preach peace, harmony, and understanding. More than once, the NRA's mouth-breathing figureheads have spouted the nonsense that, if everyone carried a gun, there would be less gun violence. That's like saying if everyone carried a gallon of gasoline and a book of matches, there'd be fewer arsons. And yes, it's exactly like that.

Violence is never a solution, and neither is outlawing violence. The real solution is much harder, and I have serious doubts that any culture as greedy, materialistic, and devoted to personal gratification as ours is can ever achieve it. The solution is simply to become more civilized. As a people, we need to learn how to put the needs of others before our own, both as individuals and as a culture. The growing blame-the-victim hatred of the poor must stop. We need to become focused, not on our own comfort, but on lessening the pain of others. We have to stop looking for blessings from outside ourselves and start finding the blessings inside ourselves that we can bestow on others. We have to learn to give without getting back and to accept with humble gratitude.

This means, of course, the erasure of many concepts Americans hold most dear; competition in which there is a winner and a loser, keeping what one earns with no compulsion to share, the universal righteousness of a particular religion or form of government or business model. In fact, it would require a fundamental change in the very idea of the American dream. Our historical icons would have to be seen, not as mythical gods beyond reproach, but as the flawed men and women they really were. We should not seek to emulate George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but to transcend them, to be better, even more civilized and more enlightened than they were.

Until then -- until we re-define ourselves as a nation -- we will continue to see outraged and emotionally shattered parents standing in front of microphones spraying blame at whatever target seems handiest. Like it or not, multiple-death killings of innocent people will be the price we continue to pay for being the people we are.