A tale of two angry young men


Two mass shootings in the US in two days, two very angry and disturbed young men.

In El Paso:

A manifesto posted online shortly before Saturday’s massacre at a Walmart in El Paso that the suspected shooter may have written blamed immigrants for hastening the environmental destruction of the United States and proposed genocide as a pathway to ecological sustainability.

Filled with white nationalist diatribes against “race-mixing” and the “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” the manifesto highlights far-right extremists’ budding revival of eco-fascism.

Titled “The Inconvenient Truth,” an allusion to Al Gore’s landmark climate change documentary, the ranting four-page document appeared on the extremist forum 8chan shortly before the shooting…

“The environment is getting worse by the year,” the manifesto reads. “Most of y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

He also rages against automation of jobs and blames both parties for “one of the biggest betrayals” in American history, namely “the takeover of the United States government by unchecked corporations.”

And in Dayton:

[He] was a self-described “leftist,” who wrote that he would happily vote for Democrat Elizabeth Warren, praised Satan, was upset about the 2016 presidential election results, and added, “I want socialism, and i’ll not wait for the idiots to finally come round to understanding.”

[His]’ Twitter profile read, “he/him / anime fan / metalhead / leftist / i’m going to hell and i’m not coming back.” One tweet on his page read, “Off to Midnight Mass. At least the songs are good. #athiestsonchristmas.” The page handle? I am the spookster. On one selfie, he included the hashtags, “#selfie4satan #HailSatan @SatanTweeting.” On the date of Republican Sen. John McCain’s death, he wrote, “F*ck John McCain.” He also liked tweets referencing the El Paso mass shooting in the hours before Dayton.

He was also in favour of gun control (!)

The El Paso shooter (as you might have gathered by now I don’t want to name the attention-seekers) was a bad-tempered loner who was picked on at school, while the Dayton shooter was a disturbed young men with kill and rape lists at school. It’s a truism that happy and well adjusted people don’t commit acts of terrorism and mass violence against others. Add the swan song of extremism, whether it’s white supremacist eco-fascism or nihilist socialism, and you get a toxic and dangerous brew.

I’m currently reading Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and something I read half-way through writing this post struck a nerve:

Our lives today are filed with information from the extremes of the bell curve of human experience, because in the media business that;s what gets eyeballs, and eyeballs bring dollars. That’s the bottom line. Yet the vast majority of life resides in the humdrum middle. The vast majority of life is unextraordinary, indeed quite average.

The flood of extreme information has conditioned us to believe that exceptionalism is the new normal. And because we’re all quite average most of the time, the deluge of exceptional information drives us to feel pretty damn insecure and desperate, because clearly we are somehow not good enough. So more and more we feel we need to compensate through entitlement and addiction. We cope the only way we know: either through self-aggrandizement or through other-aggrandizement.

Some of us do this by cooking up get-rich-quick schemes. Others do it by taking off across the world to save starving babies in Africa. Others do it by excelling in school and winning every award. Others do it by shooting up a school. Others do it by trying to have sex with anything that talks and breathes.

This ties in to the growing culture of entitlement that I talked about earlier. Millennials often get blamed for this cultural shift, but that’s likely because millennials are the most plugged-in and visible generation. In fact, the tendency toward entitlement is apparent across all of society. And I believe it’s linked to mass-media-drive exceptionalism.

The problem is that the pervasiveness of technology and mass marketing is screwing up a lot of people’s expectations for themselves. The inundation of the exceptional makes people feel worse about themselves, makes them feel they need to be more extreme, more radical, more self-assured to get noticed or even matter.

Mass shootings are a relatively new phenomenon, with their frequency rapidly increasing, strangely at the same time that homicide and violent crime rates are declining. Sure, you cannot have a mass shooting without guns (you can instead have a bombing or a mass stabbing or indeed a mass-casualty arson) but guns have been ubiquitous and widely available in America for all of its history, so what’s changed now? Maybe Manson is right. At the very least the picture is more complex than any monocausal answers.

FBI studies have found that only 25 percent of active shooters had ever been diagnosed with mental illness, and that shooters aren’t typically loners. Twenty-seven percent had significant online interaction.

When asked what the motivating factors are for shooters, [FBI agent Andre] Simons said, “Usually it’s a desire for some omnipotent control, even if it’s just momentary. There is also a degree of desire for infamy and notoriety.”

But there are some other patterns:

Peter Langman, an expert on the psychology of school shooters, compiled data that showed the vast majority came from households characterized by divorce and separation, abuse and neglect, alcoholism and drug addiction.

“Out of this sample of 56 school shooters, only 10 (18%) grew up in a stable home with both biological parents,” Mr. Langman wrote in a 2016 article. “In other words, 82% of the sample either grew up in dysfunctional families or without their parents together (for at least part of their lives).”

With majority of prison population coming from single parent households, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the high homicide rates in the African-American community are sadly not surprising when more than two third of young black males grow up without the second parent, most often the father. Toxic masculinity is what happens when children don’t get enough exposure to normal paternal masculinity. This is not to have a go at single parents and single mothers in particular, the overwhelming majority of whom are doing a great job under often trying conditions to bring up their children, but the facts don’t lie: broken homes are much more likely to produce broken men than two-parent families.

Until and unless the Second Amendment ever gets repealed, we should be having a more useful debate about other social policy levers out there.