When do we admit that we’ve gone too far?
The attempts to explain away the massacre in Connecticut this last weekend were the cries of shamefaced parents who all raised the same generation of shut-ins. A generation that is more and more aware of dead ends and lost opportunities. Unfortunately, we don’t have the social or political means necessary to express our frustration in an effective manner. Pornography is lauded as a way to reduce rape and violence against women. Video games are claimed to be a way to manage stress and anger. Yet these seemingly harmless channels for rage do nothing to sort out the root of the issue: that these monsters within us are growing.
It says something that we have so much rage as a human species at this, what is supposedly our most successful and advanced year to date, that the culture has set up these pressure valves to provide for the more base emotions – frustration, hate, anomie – that have not withered away with our stunning technological advancements. The result is a growing rage that is channeled through increasingly vivid and gory channels. When some of it slips out, we tear our hair and try and address the way that it happened. Did it happen because of lax gun laws? Did it happen because of a failure to medicate? No one is asking the real question: why did 20-year-old Adam Lanza think it even a remote possibility to walk into a school and murder almost 30 women and children? Perhaps the answer would be too much to bear.
For those locked in the struggle of living day to day, the idea that such terrible things could be done is probably subsumed in concerns about food, shelter, family and medical care. For those who are locked inside their mansions, those who can afford to stew in their illness, to supplement their fantasies with firing ranges, who have never been told that they are in fear of losing their homes or their food to eat, the idea can clearly become possible. Theirs is a world of isolation – and this act was certainly antisocial. It is, at its core, an expression of the anomie and atomization that goes hand in hand with our new political and economic landscape. There have been many safety valves to channel this frustration, but inevitably there are still rapists, murderers and spree-killers. The increase in the viciousness reflects a sick culture.
It would not surprise me to hear that some would argue that more cultural violence is necessary to help contain this rage, just as there are those who argue that the answer to gun violence is more gun ownership. It may be a quieter argument, as violence of any sort is still considered morally unacceptable by our increasingly violent culture, but it follows that if studies emerge lauding the somatic effects of virtual violent-by-proxy (the dick on the screen is not yours, the gun is not really in your hand) behavior, then the answer should be a winking condemnation, where we say one thing is bad in public and yet engage in private.
Acceptable violence is sanitized: it is a video game or a drone strike. It is far away and yet in the familiar comfort of an air-conditioned room. It is being able to kill and go home to our families with clean hands. The smell of blood does not travel far. That this is supposed to channel the worldwide frustration wrought by our current conditions is ludicrous, but it happens every day. The unemployed are distracted by MMORPGs, prisoners watch pornography on their cell phones behind bars, and even the more activist minded will settle for sharing a link they think people should care about on Facebook instead of taking to the streets in protest. Our worlds become more about ourselves as opposed to our communities – this is tactical as it happens. Capitalism runs on the individual while trampling communities. When our rage slips through the cracks, no wonder that it is so much more vicious, with the perpetrator acting as though no one else exists but him.