Friday, 18 May 2018 20:55

Another Day, Another School Shooting

"What's the point?" I wonder, as I sit down to write this.

What's the point indeed. Another day, another school shooting in America.

I start to wonder if, at every newspaper and magazine in English speaking world (and beyond), now has an established set of procedures to follow when news of another mass school shooting takes place.

Liveblog the 'news', minute-by-minute. Rush reporters to interview terrified students and teachers. Record the stale, banal, cynical "thoughts and prayers" rhetoric of our elected officials, who know full well that they have no solutions.

And then, of course, there's the analysis: always neatly bifurcating the issues, creating that illusion of presenting multiple perspectives while simply letting the scions of the Left and Right spout their usual self-serving nonsense. Too many guns are the problem. No, too many guns that shoot bullets too fast are the problem. No, the issue is the violence in the media. No, the problem is insane people who "slip through the cracks."

And in a few days, eyeballs and click-throughs will have wandered elsewhere. Until next time.

No one seems to want to accept that the persistence of mass shootings at school is a reflection on how deeply diseased American society truly is.

No one seems to want to accept that to understand why they keep happening, you have to get into the mind and motivations of the perpetrator.

First off: note that in almost every single case of a mass casualty school shooting in America, the perpetrators are white males.

There's a reason for this - actually, two reasons: the Patriarchy, and White Supremacy.

Most of us living in American society are motivated to avoid questioning its basic foundations. Part of being in a society means accepting a certain mythos, a belief system that justifies social rules that we conform with largely out of habit. And American society is predicated on the superiority of white males. It goes back to our myth of the Founders, propertied white men all, who established a governing system (as all Founders do) that reflected their beliefs about what society should look like. And that society, naturally, was one they themselves felt secure in. One that respected their rights and preferences, and gave both they and their children an opportunity to seek life, liberty, and happiness, as they defined those things.

White, Male, and wealthy is the default identity all Americans are supposed to aspire to. It's baked into the DNA of American society. It's the underlying reason why anyone who isn't a white male in America is always more vulnerable, always forced to conform their behavior to the demands of the ideal type if they want to "fit in", or, in many cases these days, survive.

The irony of it all is that this limited ideal of what constitutes the proper American identity is deeply damaging to most white males themselves. Because White Maleness is a social construct: while superficial biological characteristics do function as a "first-pass" sorting mechanism, at the heart of White Maleness is performing as a White Male. Acting as if you possess certain characteristics that signal that you are one of the chosen few, the white males who can articulate their position of social privilege into wealth and power.

To be clear: being a White Man in American society means signaling that you possess certain characteristics. Machismo, independence, decisiveness, toughness - the specifics do vary, but sum up to the same thing: a rigid code of conduct that leaves a White Male perpetually concerned about their position in the social order. Losing one's "man card" is synonymous with ejection from the club, with the underlying logic being that a man can't act like a woman, else he loses his man-ness. Likewise, being too willing to associate with the vast majority of the global population that isn't white, to take up their criticisms of White society and to deny that Whiteness=goodness, presents another threat to American man-ness. Because as a White Man, you are supposed to know thay you are superior to everything else. That when you want something, it is your right to have it - so long as you take it from someone not in the White Male club.

The persistent nightmare of school shootings in American stems more from this than any other factor. Sure, availablity of guns makes rampaging White Males more dangerous, and certainly glorification of violent masculinity in media functions as a powerful propaganda device, but the core problem is the basic social principle of American society: White Men deserve to have whatever they feel is their due. And failure to be successful in this, represents not a diseased social order, but something broken in the individual himself.

Teenage and 20-something White Males in America are on the front lines of learning how this works. American schools are not places of education so much as they are places of socialization. In the American school, young people are - as Pink Floyd brilliantly summed matters up - trained into brickness. Education in America is another fertile landscape for myth-production. We are taught to assume that children learn by sitting in neat rows in a classroom, their 'education' guided by a trained professional. That homework and recitation of barren factoids constitute the essence of learning.

Certainly, this is true in some cases. It, at the very least, is a neat ideal. But in reality, schools are - like much of America's deeply hierarchical society - rife with bullying, harassment, and other forms of abuse. Outside the view of the over-worked teacher, students are more concerned with figuring out who they are and where they belong than getting 'educated'. They, just like adults, form little cliques, clubs, and tribes. They learn how society works, what the rules are, and who has power, by interacting in these groups.

White Males, trained by society at large to expect that they are at the top of the social order, learn early on in life how contingent that 'superiority' actually is. How power flows downhill, and how those less obviously White and Male are subjected to it. A White Male's position is always unstable, always vulnerable. And, because Patriarchy and White Supremacy are, at heart, both concerned with establishing a social hierarchy that a well-connected few can exploit to their own benefit, White Males are locked into a social order that tells them both that they are better than everyone else, but also that when they fail to belong, or have success, that the fault is entirely their own. Because a real White Man, doesn't lose. Doesn't fail.

What no one seems willing to accept, is that young white males who murder their classmates are taking vengeance upon a social system that promises them everything, but is fundamentally structured to not deliver in the majority of cases. Mass shootings are how White Males demonstrate their power, once they feel so excluded from the social order that there's no way to recover. They are motivated by a desire to prove that they are individually powerful. They want and need so badly to belong in a society that tells them its their fault, their weakness, when they can't, that the only 'solution' at the end of the day is the totalitarian option: I'll show them.

They also learn from the example of others who they perceive to be in the same situation. Which is why one of the most important steps that the national media needs to take is to refuse to give them the public exposure and notoriety that they seek. News outlets have to stop focusing on the perpetrators, because by doing so they create a perverse incentive for those who feel outcast, to take actions that show they belong to at least some club.

Mental illness, availablity of guns, violent media, all play a role, sure. But nowhere near the role played by the diseased social order produced by America's deep and abiding traditions of sexism and racism.