Finally the USA has an act that perfectly expresses its true spirit as the horror show nation among nations: the random mass slaughter of little children by a maniac. Is it not so that the failure to protect little children from harm is the most shameful weakness an adult human can present?
Next, of course, comes the empty ritual of pretending that we must make sure something like this never happens again. How? By some forensic inquiry into the psychology of the shooter, Mr. Lanza… his comings, goings, email musings, Netflix rentals, chemical composition of his fingernail clippings? We flatter ourselves with the technocratic conceit that if we can measure something enough, we can control it. Ban assault weapons or tighten up the background checks? The horse is out of the barn on that one. There are enough weapons loose in the USA to conduct a full-scale Civil War right now. And probably enough ill feeling. Just pick the flavor of the conflict you want: ideological? Religious? Racial? Regional?
For what it’s worth, the Newtown Massacre to me is largely about the failure of men in America, and in particular the failure of men to raise up male children into men. The tragic monster that Mr. Lanza grew up into lived with Mom and ended up parking four bullets in her brain. Imagine the tensions in that monster. It’s not an accident that the commercial fantasies represented in movies and television aimed at boys are populated by legions of super-heroes. This sort of grandiosity — the wish to project supernatural powers — is exactly what you get in boys who have not developed competence in any reality-based, meaningful realm of endeavor — and I wouldn’t necessarily include school, such as it is in our time, as a reality-based, meaningful realm of endeavor, since it is mostly a brutally boring accreditation process. Notice, Mr. Lanza’s chief instrument of death was the “Bushmaster.” His weapon made him a “master” of something, at least, even if it was just the systematic slaughter of six-year-old kids and the women in charge of them.
History has its own arcs and particular moments in history have their own spirits of the time. This moment for us is the sum of the unintended consequences of countless bad choices we’ve made for many decades against the backdrop of enormous material riches. I’ve inveighed against these manifold fiascos enough for this audience. The net result is a nation that has turned men either into weaklings, fakes, or monsters. I think the greater tragedy is that we are past being able to teach ourselves how to act and now it is up to nature and history to provide the only kind of instruction we can understand.
I used to crack a joke when showing a particular slide in my visiting college lectures that “we’re a wicked people who deserve to be punished.”
It’s not so funny anymore. Look around at the squalid mess that America has made of its own terrain: the endless wastelands of free parking and slumping strip malls, the wilderness of tract housing subdivisions, the cities left cored, rotting, and stinking in the fall drizzle, the countless redundant roadways — and while you’re at it, take a good hard look at the depressing and disgraceful industrial boxes that school is conducted in, these euphemistically-named “facilities.” We live in physical surroundings that are the perfect growth medium for serial killers, mass murderers, psychopaths with no feeling, and sado-masochists preoccupied only with the ritual orchestration of their own shame and guilt in the service of inflicting pain.
Let me remind you that there is a range of thought and feeling evinced in human culture that no longer exists in America. These things were called virtues. They are qualities in thought and action related to goodness and excellence, and they are in very short supply these days in the USA, though we are well-supplied with fakes and approximations of virtue — such as the moments of sham heroism witnessed yesterday afternoon and evening by men watching televised football. What matters now is that an epochal undertow of events is dragging this enormous nation into an economic convulsion that will inevitably turn political. I don’t think that our society can be redeemed in its current form. It has to pass through a tribulation that demands the reemergence of adult male humans who know how to be men in more than one dimension. And you who make it through to the other side will barely comprehend the monsters left behind, or how they made themselves that way.