Friday, December 14, 2012

Civil neglect

Here’s a too-familiar headline: “Single White Male Goes on Murder Spree.”

Here’s another one: “Shooting Tragedy Renews Calls for Gun Restrictions.”

I bet you won’t see this one: “Society Fails Murderer and His Victims.”

It did, you know, and despite my personal attraction to this subject, it gives me no pleasure writing about it. None. It pisses me off so much that I spent much of the afternoon on the verge of tears just thinking about it. The proof is in the pudding: Fifty years of revolution have left “we the people” ill-equipped to deal with our own problems.

A big reason we have nanny government is what used to be strong, tightly knit communities have largely abandoned the idea of self-governance. In our age of self-obsession, we have debased the ties that bind us. Breakdowns in faith, family, and vocation are contributing factors. So is the radical dissociation of place we have undergone in a global, more centralized economy.

Regardless of the pathology, there’s no mistaking the symptoms. A motivated people, engaged in each other’s lives, notice and take action when one of their own slips into the margins. When citizens disengage, a distant, bloated government can do only so much to fill the void. The margins widen, swallowing more people.

Last Sunday Pastor Mark at the church I’m considering joining told a story of how he drove past a young man selling newspapers on a street corner, a young man who, by the look of him, needed help. Pastor Mark didn’t stop, because (in his words) “I don’t like complications.” I am guilty of the same. Countless times I’ve neglected to help strangers in my neighborhood because I was so preoccupied in my own doings.

The Newtown, Connecticut, shooter is described in this article as “obviously not well” by a relative. If it was obvious, why didn’t people make an effort to reach out to him? Family, friends, neighbors, teachers, church leaders...How many saw the struggling young man and yet did nothing? For how long did Adam Lanza stew in quiet rage while everyone avoided him, fearing “complications” in their lives?

Lanza is the latest single white male mass murderer in a line of single white male mass murderers. The collapsing structures of the civil society leave few avenues through which a young man like him is socialized. As I’ve written before, men’s wayward energies need to be channeled towards the good and civilization, lest they emerge from prolonged adolescence an enemy of his peers. Key to his identity is action as prescribed by the culture via male role models. Since the middle of the 20th century, we have gone from Gregory Peck and George Patton to Justin Bieber and Charlie Sheen.

Men are capable of terrible things, with or without guns. The answer is not to disarm, but to make enough good, strong men to stop the bad ones. If society wishes to survive, making good men is a project it must undertake.

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