I’m not big on using national tragedies to promote political agendas and even if I was this blog isn’t necessarily political in nature. The truth is there is no simple solution to gun violence. We can’t erase centuries of concentrated bigotry or abuses by law enforcement. Nor can we coerce honest citizens to give up their rights to bear arms and even if we could we could never seize the hundreds of millions of firearms that already exist in this country.
But in truth I don’t believe guns or race relations to be the biggest culprit in the rise of mass shootings. Far more sinister in nature is what I believe to be the mass dissolution and disenfranchisement of a lost generation of males. With some exceptions their is a clear pattern of perpetrators of mass shootings. These are young (18 to 25) year-old, mostly Caucasian, single males. Some have had military training, most have had ties to racist, or homophobic, or nationalistic beliefs. In short these are young troubled men who view themselves out of the mainstream of society. These are not married men. These are not men who hold a steady job, and these are not men with ties to the communities they spill their violence out towards. All of these things form a distinct pattern for the disenfranchised male. A problem we have ignored for far too long.
In terms of revolution the anger of a generation of lost men is nothing new. It was the driving force behind Napoleon’s “Levee en’ masse,” the hordes of men fed up with the monarchy that took to the countryside with clubs and bayonets and nearly won Napoleon the western world. It was the driving force behind the Bolsheviks rise to power in Czar Russia, something articulated in Theodore Dalrymple’s brilliant essay “How to Read a Society.” A far more obvious example is the rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany. People forget that the German men were so poor after WWI that many of them burned money to stay warm. When Hitler offered them a chance at power and even in some men’s minds revenge at the Jewish merchant class these young, dissolutioned men flocked to the Nazi movement.
In America FDR saw the threat of young unemployed men as a real and serious problem. It was already evident in the rise in national crime and the growing Mafioso in New York and Chicago. In order to combat mass poverty and unemployment Roosevelt created National Works Projects. You can still see these signs on old buildings and bridges. Keeping young men employed and off the streets meant keeping these men from drunkenness and crime.
Today we have no such programs. The recession has often been called the “mancession” because so many men have lost their jobs. Nearly all the U.S. jobs lost in the recession were regained by women. This is not a knock on women. Just an admission that while trying to help women and minorities find work we have largely ignored young white men.
Furthermore our society has changed in what we expect from men. Our “hookup” culture and millennials going to college and living at home for thirty years has removed the trappings of marriage and family for many men. Our internet society and social networking has removed the church and community events as a source of social interaction that was common fifty years ago.
Without family, community, or gainful employment young men whose brains have not yet developed to learn empathy choose chaotic and sometimes violent lifestyles. Some of them turn to drugs or alcohol. Some of them become withdrawn, depressed, and stay inside with no social interaction, but some join violent or oppressive groups. Some embrace violent and hateful ideologies, and sometimes with nowhere to turn they embrace random acts of violence.
There is no easy solution. We can’t go back in time to the sixties, nor should we. And we can’t bring back manufacturing jobs and industrial jobs that are long gone. We can’t simply put our arms around troubled young men and make all their fears wash away. But we can be aware of this problem. We can ask more of young men. Parents can raise them better. Society can expect more and we can combat massive unemployment. We have to decide collectively that we want to raise a better generation of men in the future. Otherwise violent acts of revolution are sure to follow, as they have throughout history.
Jack K. Brewster