Musings on Newtown and Beyond: The Deadly Mix of Gender and Gun Culture

“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.

A Real Ad from Bushmaster Firearms, copped from Upworthy.com.

A Real Ad from Bushmaster Firearms, copped from Upworthy.

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:

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.

This entry was posted in 2nd amendment, alan grayson is awesome, conservative personality disorder, democrats, USA by SJ. Bookmark the permalink.

About SJ

I'm an older married guy, a former college psychology instructor and editor at a national magazine. Every stage of my very full life has been dominated by a passionate interest – from chess to distance running to photography (my current interest). I write under a pseudonym because the opinions I express, particularly about religion, might very well cause problems for my wife and me. I plan to "come out" after she retires. In the meantime, I'll do my best to defend and promote science and reason and to help keep power out of the hands of the proto-fascists who have declared war on just about everything I value.

One thought on “Musings on Newtown and Beyond: The Deadly Mix of Gender and Gun Culture

  1. What a great piece! Here is an article I saw on Alternet that also examines the “Whiteness” aspect of the shooters, privilege, and “aggrieved entitlement.” I think he may be onto something. Then there is this haunting piece that makes an eloquent (if long-winded) case for a culture of militarism feeding the problem:

    What’s more, more than any other industrialised nation, the US remains deeply embroiled ongoing imperial adventures, conflicts that foster a twenty-first century version of the militaristic values expressed so forcefully in 1914. Throughout the early phases of the Iraq war, the army recruited under the slogans ‘Be all you can be’ and ‘an army of one’, catch cries that replicate the Edwardian sense of battle as an experience that will restore the individuality crushed by capitalist modernity.

    In that setting, is it really so surprising that Grenfell’s joy of battle takes a certain proportion of damaged men by the throat, that some of those who know themselves to be among the detritus of a neoliberal order seek the power and clarity that comes from aiming a rifle and pulling its trigger?

    I am inclined to agree with this assessment. We live in a warrior culture, and we have a war-based economy. When that environment “aggrieved entitlement” (of young, white, middle class males, or any other cohort, for that matter) the connections between many seemingly disparate phenomena begin to make sense. Aggressive militarism abroad. Militarized police forces at home. Widespread support for torture. Rape apologists openly running for office, and relentless attacks on the autonomy and dignity of women. Rape and pillage of the planet. The flourishing of fundamentalist religions.

    And not to sound like a broken record, but at the source of all of this is a pernicious hierarchical worldview: Man over woman. White man over brown man. Us -versus-Them. Humans dominating every other species on the planet. US business interests dominating over the interests of every other person on the globe.

    And every single one of these hierarchies is enforced by the casual use of lethal force.

    The simple fact that we are all interconnected — every person, every species, the pale blue dot on which we maim and murder — is masked by delusions of individualism, by pundits and politicians stoking imaginary grievances, and by a willfully ignorant narcissism that perpetually elides this reality. We are truly all in this together. Policies that reinforce rather than undermine our interconnectedness — like single-payer healthcare, for instance — tend to strengthen the bonds between people rather than fracture them. This is why it doesn’t surprise me that in addition to significantly improving health outcomes for a population, single payer also appears to correlate with lower rates of interpersonal violence, improved rights and opportunities for women — and not incidentally, diminished religiosity.

    Is it any wonder America’s Owners and their servants in DC do not want that?

    Finally, I had wanted to write about something related today but in light of the subject of your post I think I’ll just put my thoughts here. One of the reactions I had in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre was anger: at the gunman, at the culture, at spineless and corrupt politicians, yes. But I am also infuriated at the spectacle of an American public grieving and mobilizing in response, who do nothing so much as shrug in the wake of our government’s massive civilian casualties (including children) overseas — except reelect and celebrate a president who has expanded and enabled all of it, and who is now explicitly targeting children in drone attacks. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out recently:

    There’s just no denying that many of the same people understandably expressing such grief and horror over the children who were killed in Newtown steadfastly overlook, if not outright support, the equally violent killing of Yemeni and Pakistani children. Consider this irony: Monday was the three-year anniversary of President Obama’s cruise missile and cluster-bomb attack on al-Majala in Southern Yemen that ended the lives of 14 women and 21 children: one more child than was killed by the Newtown gunman. In the US, that mass slaughter received not even a small fraction of the attention commanded by Newtown, and prompted almost no objections (in predominantly Muslim nations, by contrast, it received ample attention and anger).

    As Monbiot observed: “there can scarcely be a person on earth with access to the media who is untouched by the grief of the people” in Newtown. The exact opposite is true for the children and their families continuously killed in the Muslim world by the US government: huge numbers of people, particularly in the countries responsible, remain completely untouched by the grief that is caused in those places. That is by design – to ensure that opposition is muted – and it is brutally effective.

    Glenn’s piece is well worth reading in its entirety (as always). When we all have so much blood on our hands, elementary school shootings are inevitable.

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