In a challenging new essay for Eudaimonia & Co., Umair Haque names 5 social pathologies of collapse. And I think they can kickstart a conversation around our culture’s greatest needs. This is my reflection of the first pathology: rampant school shootings.
I remember how I felt when I first heard about the school shooting at Columbine High School. Or more precisely, where I was when I was discerning what I heard earlier in the day.
I was walking home. It was dark, the streetlights lit the way from the T station to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Milton, Massachusetts. I had those old over the ear headphones on and I was listening to a CD on my Discman knockoff. The album was by Gus Gus.
The walk home processing is what I remember. I don’t remember if I had class that day or work. I just remember the dark and the streetlights and the thoughts which consumed days of these walks.
It consumed talks with my Mom who then had taken a job teaching art at an alternative school. A school full of students who struggled in the public school. She would tell me about what the administration was doing in light of Columbine.
Back then, all the rumors about a “Trench Coat Mafia” and industrial music hadn’t been debunked yet. Administrators all over the country were obsessed with the warning signs. We all were.
We weren’t ready for the truth.
But when the truth arrived, the fiction had taken hold.
And in the nearly two decades since, we’re experiencing the same pain on a rapid, increasing, nonstop pace.
Today, we’re even training our teachers to shoot our children.
We’re the only country with school shootings
“Let me give you just five examples of what I’ll call the social pathologies of collapse — strange, weird, and gruesome new diseases, not just ones we don’t usually see in healthy societies, but ones that we have never really seen before in any modern society.
“America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.”
When I first read these words, I was struck by the numbers—so out of proportion and incredible.
But the shock of one occurring is so long gone and the idea so entrenched. Words like “another shooting” or “another school shooting” should not have any meaning to us—not because we should be numb to them, but because they should carry with them no meaning, no baggage.
They should be like a foreign concept—one with no reference points. It isn’t normal to live in a world in which a “school shooting” is even a thing. In which a “shooting” is a thing.
The base level in the world is no school shootings.
We have to strip the meaning out of the phrase to find comparisons. And even then, when looking at war-torn countries with communities leveled and massive instability, we don’t find a school shooting every other day.
Not in massively corrupt countries led by dictators.
None of the countries we call friends have this. None of the countries we call enemies have this. No other countries have this.
This is the great big neon sign pointing to part of our biggest problem.
Nobody anywhere in the world thinks this junk is OK!
We are quite literally letting our children be murdered.
“Why are American kids killing each other? Why doesn’t their society care enough to intervene?
It’s easy to make excuses. Because we keep making them.
We’re avoiding the causes behind the deep crisis of despair and depression which are devastating our youth. Because that would require us to reckon with our culture.
We have a problem with morality. But our churches are failing to inspire it in our kids. And worse, many are inspiring morality deeply inconsistent with the gospel—a love of material goods, power, and status; a hatred of neighbor, the weak, and redistributive justice.
We have a problem with class. The U.S. has stripped the dignity and support from our lowest classes, reduced social mobility, and redistribute wealth away from the disabled and working classes alike to funnel it up to the top.
We have a problem with isolation. We’ve built up our suburbs and exurbs for car travel and strip malls so we don’t have to talk to each other. We’ve shipped our kids off to other parts of the country for work and our parents to retirement communities thousands of miles away. So our children have less family support and more homework and activity which strips them of unstructured social time.
We have a problem with punishment. The problem isn’t just that many of our kids are sick and crying for help, it’s that their cries are falling on deaf ears. They’re falling on ears closed to help. Ears looking only to punish or expand dysfunction like a darwinian Wild West Showdown.
We have a crisis of leadership. Too many of our leaders are paralyzed from doing anything about our deepest problems. They are paralyzed by a paradox of a right to health and right to guns. But seeing the two as a paradox is paralyzing us into a crisis.
We have a problem with guns. They’re easy to get, easy to use, easy to love. Guns, bombs, tanks, the military, national security, police, militias, and the language of defense through violence, peace through war, brothers in arms, vigilantes for the rule of law–violence for good, violence for God, violence for its own sake.
Digging our way out
“Well, probably because those kids have given up on life — and their elders have given up on them. Or maybe you’re right — and it’s not that simple. Still, what do the kids who aren’t killing each other do? Well, a lot of them are busy killing themselves.”
We must name the crisis and focus our attention upon it because the crisis is itself the grave problem.
Our job isn’t only to assign blame (or justification) but to reduce the epidemic to the point in which it disappears entirely. Getting to the root of the problem: social dysfunction, easy access to firearms, militarization of our public spaces: all accelerate a problem only the U.S. has, and only this era (early 21st Century U.S.) in all of human history has had.
To put it flatly: the entire world thinks it is obscene to not protect children. And that so many Americans think that protecting kids from gunfire by fighting it with more gunfire is absolutely abnormal.
We keep digging
Our digging even further can reveal the social isolation which leads to the shooting and the “need” for such easy access to instruments of death.
As we explore the other pathologies, we’ll dig further into this common soil of dysfunction. And we’ll find the common system of roots: which embrace violence, fear, isolation, and a rejection of compassion. The very adversaries of our culture’s white blood cells.
For now, we’re left with a stunning truth: the U.S. has the distinction of being the only country with an epidemic of school shootings in the world and is also the only country paralyzed by the politics required to end it.
And that alone should be compared with the worlds’ mean: zero school shootings.