“The gender of the perpetrator is the single most important factor, and yet it’s not talked about in that way in most mainstream conversations.” – Jackson Katz
“One failed attempt at a shoe bomb and we all take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine and no change in our regulation of guns.” – John Oliver on TheDaily Show with Jon Stewart
“There are large segments of the population that want nothing more than to eliminate subsidies to the poor and then await the desperate masses who will supposedly come to their doorstep with a lead welcome.” – David Atkins
At some point during the G.W. Bush administration my longstanding ambivalence about the U.S. ratcheted further down to the level of cynical pessimism. The election of a “transformative” President in 2008 briefly raised dormant hopes and dampened foreboding; but now that Obama’s had four years to serially disappoint me (and other progressives), I’m less hopeful than ever in some important ways. So at this point even an event as soul piercing as the massacre at Newtown does not shock to the degree it once would have. What it does is strengthen my conviction that the country and its political leaders are evading the most serious problems. Or, in the case of conservatives, actively obstructing responsible action or, when it comes to guns, aggressively promoting the problems. The Newtown murders and their aftermath have intensified my well-developed loathing for conservatives. Their self-serving, politicized reactions have been nothing less than despicable.
Now whenever someone condemns an entire nation, as I just did, they’re unfairly condemning by association a great many good people who don’t deserve it. I realize that, but I still want to ask, where are the thoughtful, unselfish, independent, public-spirited political leaders we need to step forward in these perilous times? Politicians like Rep. Alan Grayson, of Florida. Oh, wait, there are no politicians like Mr. Grayson. Are there?
I frequently read in progressive publications words written by and about good and honorable men and women. They contribute much; their words and efforts no doubt helped elect and re-elect President Obama, thus delaying the right-wing apocalypse. But does anyone want to argue in all seriousness that his administration has not betrayed progressives’ hopes and trust? Or that the Democrats have not sold out to the 1 percent?
But right now I really want to say this: Much of what’s wrong with this country is the persistence and glorification of a harmful, vestigial trait in males I’ll call macho mentality. It’s a public health problem that afflicts a broad spectrum of mostly right-wing types: teabaggers, corporate CEOs and crony/casino capitalists, fundagelical preachers, and especially lunatic gun lovers craving the opportunity to play out their ”tactical” fantasies. It is also destructively prevalent in our inner cities. It permeates and poisons all levels of American society.
Women don’t get off the hook entirely; but hell, no one does – we can all do more good and less harm, individually and collectively. But make no mistake: it’s men raised in a macho atmosphere who make us the most violent society among industrial democracies and one of the most violent nations on earth. And possibly the most destructively irresponsible. Consider, for example, that it’s powerful, conservative American men who are behind the unconscionable and suicidal denial of global warming.
That’s a subject I will follow up on in coming posts. For today, I’m calling your attention to three excellent, informative articles I just read:
- America the Horror Show, by James Howard Kunstler, at his blog, Clusterfuck Nation
- The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide, by Erika Christakis, at Time Ideas
- What Is it About Men That They’re Committing These Horrible Massacres? by Meghan Murphy, at AlterNet
Each piece in its way makes the point that the most salient feature of the many-decades-long series of mass killings in this country is gender. The mass murderers are men, mostly younger white men, mostly middle class men. Yet it has to be more than gender, there must be cultural factors or our numbers would not dwarf other nations’. And indeed there are, including the obvious one, the ease of procuring just about any kind of firearm.
But predictably, the strident conservative opposition to any gun regulation goes on, sometimes linked to their perverted idea of freedom or a faux-patriotic non sequitur like “The greatest country on earth,” which in any case needs parsing.
Okay, we are the greatest military power and the dominant economic force (for now); and our graduate-level higher education and government-funded research are tops, and . . . and . . . surely there has to be more. But other than boasting about freedom as if other countries don’t have any, just what can proponents of the “America is the greatest” hypothesis claim in support of that position? I’m not aware of any indexes relating to physical or mental health or quality of life that put us anywhere near the top. “Most religious,” perhaps? Oh, wait, that’s not a positive. Besides, most religious leaders complain that we’re not religious enough. Like masculinity, Americans just can’t get enough vestigial superstition.
We do lead the world in the category of most lawyers per capita. I can’t find the quote, but a public figure a while back noted – and don’t hold me to these made-up numbers – that while the U.S. trained ten attorneys for every engineer, Japan graduated ten engineers for every attorney. He then observed that history had recorded no instance of a nation suing itself to greatness. I love that line.
Anyway, I don’t think there’s any dispute that we’re the most violent of the first-world nations; and there is, obviously, a much greater number of embarrassing statistics on the negative side of our ledger, including the highest teen-pregnancy rate, highest child-abuse death rate, the highest percentage of prisoners, etc. So I’m not buying into that “greatest country” conceit. Never have. That would be stupid.
The authors of the three blog posts are highlighting the long-overdue question that needs open discussion: Why is it always men who commit mass murder? For what it’s worth, here’s my take: On average, male genetic makeup is associated with a greater innate tendency towards violent solutions to problems (and please note, that’s tendency, not destiny). But when maleness is embedded from birth in a culture that has a near-psychotic obsession with guns and violence, the result is a peculiarly American style of manliness that has become an increasingly dangerous force at home and abroad.