When I told my friend that I will be visiting the US for a week, she told me with a little sarcasm that she “hopes I don’t die in a shooting”. And after surviving only a few days in the US without getting shot (ha.ha…), it wasn’t all too surprising to me why school shootings were happening all over the country.
I didn’t do anything unusual while there: I walked around town, took the subway in DC, visited a friend and spent time with family. But the more I interacted with the US on an economical or sociological level, the greater need I felt to get back to my room, unplug the TV off and read my book.
What was it that caught me off-guard and made me feel the need for… change? How was the short time I spent there so different from my home in Switzerland?
In reference to the shootings, gun control activists would explain that the US is the only country that has a widespread gun culture, unique among developed nations which might have affected me. Gun control, so activists would claim, would inevitably reduce the amount of firearms given to people who were deemed threats or ones with mental health issues, and reduce the number of shootings.
I think such reform would indeed reduce the amount of shootings: less access to guns, less gun-related everything. This is pretty straightforward to understand.
However, gun rights activists respond with the idea that shootings are a symptom of a larger problem, which I must give them credit for: Restricting guns would not solve the underlying issue, but would only change the expression of how people deal with whatever it is they are struggling with. Increasing funds to mental health advocacies however, is not a passionate cause gun rights activists care for, revealing a notorious blindness within their reasoning. According to their way of thinking, advocating for more guns to “stop the bad guy with a gun” then, is not such a bizarre concept.
Gun rights activists furthermore claim that gun rights are part of culture, that it is impossible to solve the problem (so we should not even try). They invoke the 2nd amendment with nigh religious interpretations of it, while ignoring the fact that massacres are caused by people.
Having more guns is most assuredly not the solution (as claimed by gun controlists), not a long-term plan, and anyone who thinks it is, is mistaken. Most countries on earth ban guns, and none of them have consistent mass shootings.
Whichever camp you’re in, however you align yourself in this culture war, both views ignore a plain and simple fact about these massacres, that shootings are committed by people, not guns. Given how legislation regarding guns is basically dead (while not even being the underlying issue), both political parties must shift away from this strategy and towards the idea that we must fix people, or at least make sure that further damage done to people’s psychological selves is avoided.
This is in line with the surge of discussions on mental health. Over the past years, an ominous trend of “attending therapy” may have improved mental health on the whole, but in my opinion, has not affected the health of those who would commit massacres. Worse yet, I think that not only does therapy/counselling necessarily exacerbate school shootings, but also contributes to them to a small degree, by ignoring the actual problems shooters have by their inherent dishonesty about themselves.
School shootings happen only in the US and I don’t think that guns are the problem. If this were the case, we would have similarly disturbed teenagers in other countries in proportionate amount, which I don’t necessarily believe to be the case. From outside the US, one imagines America to be a multitude of “worlds” à la Westworld theme parks, with New York as Wall street cash machines, California as the glamourous fakery of movies and Texas as the 18th century gunslinger capital where anything goes. Food is fatty, cars are aplenty, and “everyone” is an immigrant.
None of these actually explains what’s going on: Most school shooters are young men, from all over the country. Fatty foods are becoming more problematic around the world, while car cultures are an omnipresent reality in countries without public transportation. Canada is a country of immigrants, but they don’t have shootings.
It doesn’t seem like it’s any of these things: These are characteristics one might present to aliens, to explain what is happening, instead of people who understand that things are interlinked in tight ways that are not apparent. Looking deeper into the country’s complexity, there are significant racial divides by ways of income, language, class and education, many of these things which are separated by geographic distance.
Countries around the world also have multicultural and multilingual societies, but none of them have school shootings. People of the same social class, education, etc. in different countries are separated as well, which means that it’s not necessarily any of these reasons either. Without a shadow of a doubt, guns seem the most obvious answer, and anyone who thinks about it for two seconds, will agree.
Let’s think about it for a second longer though. One of the few things that I find that is uniquely American, that no other country so far can say of itself, is that it prides itself on allowing dreams of “success” to be a reality for everyone. Canada doesn’t pride itself on a country of possibilities, while at the same time achieving this to higher degrees than its neighbor.
An impossibility to achieve what the country prides itself on then, is a hypocrisy of the highest national order, an unfortunate condition the country finds itself in. While Chinese citizens pride themselves on being Chinese, and defend the country against outside criticisms, they at least have economic or political successes (defined by themselves, not by me) to look back on. Given the continuous state of warfare the USA is in, Americans do not.
Inflationary prices now are going nuts, while teachers have always been everely underpaid and overstressed. The perverse freedom of employers to hire employees at-will, while great for them, is terrible for the lil’ guy. To move up in this world, a college degree is stupefyingly necessary, despite it not being so on a practical level: The debt accrued for an uncertain future is too much to keep minds thinking straight in nothing but crooked ways.
Having such top-down pressure on one’s self is challenging enough. But if they are now subjected to the same, repetitive environment as adults, such as the same empty green lawns surrounding every single building, the endless onslaught of school for all teenagers, regardless of desires or mental states or worse yet, child employment which is being advocated by some conservatives, kids are not allowed to be kids anymore. Kids turn into adults before they are mature enough to know what good can be in this world. They become the repetitions of the things sensed in their environment, which primarily, is targeted at adults: “Ask your Doctor if [drug name] is right for you.”, “Batteries not included.”…
General advertising to adults is so prevalent, and so extreme, there hardly is a moment to breathe, before being subjected to another ad, regardless if you’re watching TV, driving down the road, surfing the web, or listening to internet radio. With most living areas choke-full of asphalt and cars, and everyone living far away from one another, these distractions hinder social interaction and people inevitably must look inward for peace, and keep to themselves. Find peace within.
Even so, no one is ever given any peace of mind at all. Stated prices are before tax (7.25%?), meaning one pays an uncalculated extra on all goods. In restaurants, one still needs to add a ridiculously high tip (18% , 25%, 10% (???)), making the final price… how much exactly? Is there a separate sales tax on food?
Visual and auditory marketing is a cacophony of stimulation, in none but bad ways: They want your money, and advertising has become unashamed of saying it out loud.
School shooters I believe are reminded by these things. They grow isolated, seeking something to hold onto, and descend into the dark canyons of the internet, where advertisers dare not go. But on the web, where “normal” people (i.e. “normies”) don’t go there are places which can only be accessed with a payment. Or rather, certain websites only exist in order for you to make payments to.
Libraries are being shut down, any charities work illegalized, to the point where every charity, every interaction, every everything that one does, has been regulated by the law (j-walking is illegal, child lemonade stands are given fine), or worse, social stigma, whether it be the Pennsylvanian Wawa vs Sheetz debate, to Marvel’s Ironman vs. Captain America, or Twilight’s Edward vs Jacob feud.
But even if you don’t do much online, even if you keep your TV off, even if you’re borrowing books from whatever friends you have and don’t go out… people remind you, that you’re a product, and nothing more.
Through despotic means, companies like Amazon somehow managed to create their own holiday, “Prime Day”, a household phrase akin to Jesus Christ or 4th of July. While religion can be parodied, 4th of July be criticized, threat of defamation for currently existing brands and people is present in the back of one’s mind. Prime Day, really, is nothing but a figment of capitalism that has implanted within us a seed to not just be a product in the eyes of greedy companies, but be a product in the eyes of our own.
People are reminded by others of such capitalistic events and what they did to contribute to them. We are reminded by what school people chose to spend thousands, tens of thousands of dollars to attend, while working off student loans for the rest of their lives. People are reminded in the subways to “Step back, to allow customers to enter”, an astoundingly self-alienating phrase if one thinks about it. “Customers” or “other customers”? Am I special, because others are customers and I am somehow… special?
“Of course I’m special“ one’s natural-narcissistic emotion would say. All guidance-arrows on what to do, where to go, who to desire… all of them seem to point to one’s own self, given how much attention every individual is given, even if it is in the form of advertisements. Thus, every change one wants to enact, creates the feeling that you, and you alone, must commit to the change, and see it through. Otherwise, it will never be done. But there’s a catch: true change in society emerges bottom-up, and not from powerless individuals.
“Wait!”, goes the crosswalk, everytime you walk across the street. Sounds from radios trivialize politics, events, weather, and turn all information about the world and the subsequent universe into numb distant truths that no one cares to understand.
But the arrows are all point at me: There is a pressure to do something, to mark one’s self, somehow in this world. Every job, every activity, every thing requires endless bureaucratic hoops to jump through to achieve. These stimuli force one’s self to feel that “I am the captain of my soul, and all else is nothing”. When everything is trivialized as it is in the US, then those who didn’t have the chance to feel meaning, especially in the form of empathy between people, feel that they’re the only thing that matters.
And because one knows about these struggles, knows that this is a world in which all is an illusion, it is clear that truth must be created, instead of found. What better way to create harsh truths, than shock the outside world into living?
Adults are rarely empathetic, rarely kind and considerate. Children however, are beings that do emit a lot of emotion. Shooting kids would break the illusion of a perfectly geared and impersonal world, break the illusion of meaninglessness. There cannot be a more direct, and forceful way to wake the world up to this central problem.
Young men don’t have the luxury of knowing many considerate adults, which is why they don’t believe in their humanity. Young men only know schools to be filled with real people, while the rest of the world around them act as speaking machines, as phone operators performing gamebook-like responses. Killing human gears in well-oiled capital factories would only replace them with more robots, or in the worst case scenario, cause the downfall of a worthless company, to be replaced by a more generic one. But school shootings are different:chool shootings would permanently touch people at their cores, to the point where they wake up from this loud world, to send out the simple message that “we need to change”.
No one understands this: School shootings are a (violent and) subconscious protest against the status quo of machinerization of non-machines (i.e. people). Until we treat humans with more dignity than they are worth, we will continue to see more shootings. More guns, less guns, more control, less control, only add to the system of machination. Violence is confronted with humanity and the ability to genuinely care.
So while pro-gun activists are not wrong per se, it’s the anti-gun stance that happens to behave with more irrational empathy: Restrict the tools of destruction. Restrict their production, restrict their proliferation, ban anything that can kill tens of people within seconds.
On a more practical level, we must give charity, from the bottom up. Allow libraries to persist without threat, fund university for those who want to attend them, open vocational schools for those who don’t and from my own personal experience, strongly restrict advertising and imperative sentence everywhere. Mandate paid vacation days, unions and more workers until they feel like they can live freely. Give job security, fight climate change, conserve forests and parks.
It’s like this, that we must proceed.