Friday, October 2, 2015

Peculiarized violence and American society. Looking at root causes, and not instrumentalities.

Because of the horrific senseless tragedy in Newton Connecticut, every pundit and commentator in the US is writing on the topic of what caused it, and how to prevent similar tragedies from reoccurring.  A lot, indeed frankly most, of this commentary, and most of the effort in Congress to address this, is and will be ignorant.  I don't mean stupid, but ignorant.

Analysis doesn't seem to be the American long suit these days, and perhaps it never was. But here's a topic that cries out for really deep analysis.  Indeed, it cries out for deep analysis in advance of any action, as otherwise the action will simply be ignorant and ineffective, and then will be off on the course that so many other nations have taken on serious topics, which is simply to end in dead end, wringing our hands, trying what's failed.

I'm no more qualified than most to look at this, but I'm probably at least as qualified, by training I suppose, to try some analysis.  Something I haven't seen happen much yet. So let's take a look at this grim topic and see what, if anything, that tells us.

Is there really a new problem?

One thing that hardly anyone asks at all is whether we're seeing a new problem.  Nobody wants to ask this, as it is just too horrible to ask. But it needs to be.  If this problem isn't new, the solution on it will be different, presumably, as opposed to it being a new problem.  And maybe that helps us learn what the actual problem is, as opposed to merely supposing we know what it to be.

According to an article recently run in the Casper Star Tribune, mass murders, into which this fits, have actually been occurring since time immemorial. And, violence in America society, all types of violence, is on the decline. Its way down.   Oddly enough, this includes mass murders.  Mass killings in the US are way down.  They're actually way down in the entire civilized world.  To my huge surprise, the peak year for mass killings in the US was. . . 1929.

1929.  That's right.

That date isn't insignificant. That was the year the Great Depression started globally, and it started by surprise most places.  It was a year of peak economic despair.  We'll come back to that.

Does that mean we've been experiencing this horror for centuries, that it peaked in 29, and that it's been on the decline ever since?  Yes, it does. But that might not be the full picture.  What probably is unique is the setting and the victims.  I have no data on this, but most mass killings of earlier eras, I'm guessing, occurred in different settings with adult victims.  That tells us something about this story as well.

Is it an American problem?

If you listen solely to the news media, you will get the impression that this is uniquely an American problem.  But it isn't.  While the US has had its share of these in recent years, recent years have also seen mass homicides in Norway, the UK and Canada, at least.

Indeed, according to a recent article by a psychologist in the New York Times, the psychological profile of mass killers does not vary at all from those who do it in the name of terrorism.  If that's correct, and his article seemed extremely solid, to say the least, it's then the case that the US doesn't come close to being the mass killer epicenter.  Indeed, as political and criminal activity masks what is essentially the same homicidal impulse, mass killing that really do not vary, it motive by the killer, are much more common in other lands.  All over the Middle East, for example, the same motive is causing nearly identical killings.  We've seen them in Russia as well, and it may be the case that they're actually quite common in Mexico right now.

All this is significant in that it gives us a pretty big database about the type of person who commits these acts.

But wait, isn't it really the implements?

In spite of the fact, as we've seen, and will continue to see below, that this topic requires analysis, and obviously has some aspects to it that have been missed in the past, for much of the press and the public the discussion immediately devolved into one on "gun control."  

In recent decades in the United States there's been a decline in support for gun control and, as noted, there's been a decline in violence too.  Also, interestingly there's been a real increase in states that allow citizens to carry concealed arms. Finally, there's been some action by the Federal government that has allowed the carrying of guns in places that previously it did not.  So, as a statistical matter, not really open to debate, as guns have become more accepted in everyday life, gun deaths, of all types, have declined.

Immediately this will raise the hackles of some, but it's a simple fact.  It can be argued that there's no cause and effect. That is, it can be argued that he increase in guns has not caused the decrease in violence.  And there would be a basis to argue that as violent death has declined everywhere in the Western world, but that in and of itself would suggest that merely looking at the implements does not provide a solution to this problem.

Additionally, and very much missed by the press, none of the implements used in these crimes are new.  The semi automatic pistol first became common, and commercially available, in the 1890s, when they first became reliable.  One of the first, Mauser's 1896 pattern pistol, remained in production up into the 1940s, showing how reliable they'd become.  Various armies started adopting them in the first decade of the 20th Century, as did the first few policemen.  Concealed carry semi automatics entered the picture at that point too.  The semi automatic pistol was perfected by 1911.  While pistol shooters could debate the point, the arm has not really changed since that point in time.  Functionally, while there are some mechanical innovations, the semi automatic pistol has not changed for practical purposes since 1911.  If a person wanted to argue about "high capacity" magazines, they were introduced first time in 1935, when Fabrique National of Belgium used one for its High Power pistol. So, if a person wanted to argue about it, you could say that the high capacity magazine equipped modern pistol appeared in 1935, although it would seem that the 1911 date for the perfection of the modern pistol is a better argument.  Anyhow, semi automatic pistols have been around for decades. This would pretty conclusively demonstrate that their mere existence is not relevant to the problem we're discussing.

Well then, what about "assault rifles?"  They're new, correct?

The problem here is that it actually gets a bit difficult to define what's being discussed, as the term that's used in the news media isn't actually correctly used.  But we can work around that here.

Some people seem to think that the problem is the semi automatic rifle. But like the semi automatic pistol, they aren't new at all.  Semi automatic rifles made their first real appearance in the first decade of the 20th Century as a sporting arm.  The few early ones were actually surprisingly similar in some ways to the current "assault rifles" in that they were all relatively light in caliber.  Both Remington and Winchester offered them commercially before 1910, and in the Winchester offering featured a detachable box magazine, making it essentially identical to many common definitions of "assault rifles".  

These rifles were available for sale, but figure in crimes at  rate that isn't spectacular, although there are a few instances.  A Remington 08  was used in the notorious Spring Creek Raid in Wyoming, but then so were a lot of lever action Winchesters, so that doesn't tell us much, even if it did lead to the rapid discovery of the perpetrators.  Winchester semi automatics were used by at least one of the criminal gangs of the 1930s, but the same gang also used fully automatic weapons (machine-guns), so that probably doesn't tell us anything at all.

Indeed, if we look at it that way, it's really hard to see a connection between the existence of semi automatic rifles and these crimes in a causal fashion, and maybe there simply isn't one. But that would not fully look at the "assault rifle" aspect of it.

The rifles we're discussing probably wouldn't be recognized as an assault rifle by anyone, although a regulatory scrivener might include them accidentally.  When most people discuss "assault rifles", what they really mean are the M4 Carbine or, at least at one time, the AK47.

The latter two weapons are actually military weapons, under that designation, and in their military use they are "assault rifles". Assault rifles are a class of weapon that the Germans basically get credit for, although there were precursors going back as far as 1905, with the Russians getting the credit for being the very first army to have such a weapon. The true definition of an assault rifle is a selective fire rifle, filling the role of rifle and submachine gun in the infantry squad, which fires an "intermediate" cartridge.  As this isn't a tutorial in military firearms, I'll basically leave that definition there, but both the M4 and the AK47 fit that definition.

The first really mass produced assault rifle was the German MP44, which to a lot of people looks a lot like the AK 47 and which some claim, incorrectly, was the design basis for the AK 47.  The Germans also made a "battle rifle", which is a "full sized" selective fire rifle, during the war, and issued it only to paratroopers, sort of oddly, as it was extremely heavy.  "Battle rifles" became extremely common in Western nations after World War Two, and that's significant in that a lot of regulators confuse battle rifles with assault rifles, even though battle rifles are so enormously heavy and large that they are associated with almost no criminal activity whatsoever.  Indeed, most, in civilians hands (and they're becoming quite rare in military hands) go no further afield than the range, being as big as they are.

Assault rifles, by the military definition, are not offered for sale to civilians, as they are selective fire. That is, they can fire fully automatically, like a machinegun. But they have been offered for sale in semi automatic configurations.

This is significant for us here as what can be noted is that, starting at some point in the late 1960s, civilian variants of this class of military weapon were offered to civilians for sale. Can they really be distinguished from the earlier semi automatic rifles?  Well, sort of.  The principal means of doing so, however, would mostly be visual, as unsatisfactory at that would be. The first one to be offered in the US was the AR15 in semi-automatic, a rifle that had just been adopted as the M16 by the US military.  It is a distinct looking weapon.

To be fair, battle rifles were probably in civilian hands earlier, in their semi automatic variants, and some armies actually adopted them in semi automatic rather than selective fire.  I think perhaps Belgium offered the FAL for sale at some point in the late 50s or 60s, but they didn't really take off as a civilian arm at that time.  The Army itself released a very few M14s, the U.S. Army's battle rifle, into civilian hands for target shooting in the 1960s.  That rifle became commercially available in the early 1970s, where it was sold mostly to high end target shooters, who remain its principal market.

Later in the 1980s AK47s became available as various nations that had made them started offering them for commercial sale and they became more common in the 1990s, as various Soviet client states came out of Communism.  You don't hear much about them in the press anymore, and it seems to be the case that they aren't imported like they once were.  Anyhow, they're distinct looking also.

Since 2001 the U.S. Army has gone from the M16A3 to the M4 carbine, basically the same weapon, but with a much shorter barrel. Somewhere in that time frame Cerberus, the investment company, bought up a bunch of firearms manufacturers and united them, and that resulted in a tremendous spread of the AR15 type design as companies that had not offered one started to in their market niche.  Anyhow, after the war in Iraq and Afghanistan started, the M4 carbine type rifle, as a semi automatic, became extremely popular as a civilian arm.  Most of these are used for range plinking, for the most part.  But their visual impact apparently appeals to those who are inclined to commit the type of crime we're discussing, as does the appearance of similar looking arms, as military looking "assault" arms, even if not really military arms, have featured in some of these recent tragedies.

That's pretty long winded, but what we can, maybe, take from that is that the design of firearms hasn't changed enough over 120 years to have been the cause of what has been occurring. But what we can also take away from that is that, oddly enough, the appearance of these arms is unique, and they seem to show up in these horrors as a rule.  What that tells us is that it isn't the mechanics of what is used at all, but that the attractant here is a psychological one. And that tells us something about the shooters.

Who does these things?

It's pretty apparent that you could go to the average gun owner, and actually equip him with a machinegun, and he'd never do anything with it.  It's also apparent, from a recent mass killing in Casper Wyoming, that if you arm some people with medieval implements, they'll use them for murder.  That's correct; recently in Casper Wyoming, there was an event that fit this pattern that was committed with a bow and arrow and a large knife. Grisly, to be sure, but telling.  It isn't something new in the arms that's causing this, it's something new in the mind. But what?

I'm not qualified to be a psychologist at all, but I am trained to observe human behavior and to analyze it, and there are certain things that seem quite connected here, but which are ignored.  These are the things that need to be looked at prior to our doing anything, as the solutions are to be found here.

What we're seeing in many of these murders is that the killers are mentally unstable in a truly insane sense. The attempted assassin of a politician in the US seems to fit this category.  Others, and here's where the New York Times article is helpful, are not so much insane, but they fit into a category of people who, by some means, are subject to a personality disorder that renders them socially marooned, and it would seem, it renders them also incapable of empathy, but fully capable of despair.

Some of these individuals are quite smart. The recent killer in Newton Connecticut, apparently afflicted with Aspergers Disease, seems to fit this category.  The killer in the Denver theater shootings also very clearly had some sort of personality disorder and was very well educated and intelligent.  Others are not so smart, but a consistent strain of some sort of very pronounced personality disorder runs through these stories.  The killer in the Casper Wyoming murders was self-diagnosed with Aspergers, and based on his personal history, I suspect his self diagnosis was correct.

Does this mean that everyone who has these conditions is a time bomb waiting to go off?  Absolutely and clearly not.  And, if we assume (perhaps quite incorrectly, however) that incidents of these conditions are not increasing in frequency (which they very well may be), what that tells us is something else.  If we've always had people who have been so afflicted, but haven't had this particular set of problems, something else has changed. What could it be?

First, before moving on in this, however, what is it about these conditions that make them unique. That's important. What we know is that the conditions make these people socially awkward. In some cases, they divorce them of empathy.  That seems to be all the more to the conditions that we can discern, that's relevant here.  But, as the vast, vast, majority of people who have these conditions also have moral standards, and usually go on to live fully productive lives, it tells us something is also wrong at the societal level, and not as much the individual one.

Maybe the violence has been masked.

Once again, before going on to really analyze what's different, maybe we ought to attempt to determine if anything at all is different.  Is it?

Maybe not. As noted above, all types of violence are going down in the Western world.  But that means that there was once a lot more violence. And a lot of that violence was committed by "average people."  But that may mean that there was a lot of violence committed by our target population here that just went unnoticed as unique.

I suspect that there's more than a little truth to that.  Going all the way back in history we can find examples of violent people who probably fit into the group we're looking at.  Viking Berserkers, for example, just strike me as homicidal youths with severe personality disorders, recruited for cannon fodder by Scandinavian raiding parties.  Indeed, I suspect the whole "glorious" example of Berserkers celebrated in Nordic sagas is a whopping fraud, probably done for recruiting purposes, and that the true story probably involved the gang encouraging poor Sven to go mad and charge into the English, so he'd get killed but take out a few Englishmen with him.  Coming more recently into time, Billy the Kid probably fits this group.  Same type of deal, I'd note.  He was a killer, but a killer whose talents were useful in the Lincoln County War, until they no longer were, at which point his status as a homicidal maniac were finally noted.  John Wesley Hardin might.  The whole James Gang might for that matter.  Celebrated to this day, the entire group may have been a group of misfits who proclivities came to light in the Civil War, and just continued on until finally a cousin took out Jesse James.  Entire groups of people at war might.  For example, while many of the Nazi mass murderers were average men caught up by evil, I'd guess that a few were people who fit into our target group here.  And we can find plenty of examples of German battlefield executions that have to raise this question in our minds.  It's not a comfortable one, quite frankly.  But maybe part of the answer to the question, regarding mass killings of the past, when stated "How could average people do this?", is "they weren't average people."

I'll leave this part of the analysis here, as I'm not sure what we do with it.  But it might very well be the case.  Maybe we've always had these killers, but couldn't recognize them as unique until this era of relative non violence.  Maybe Viking Berserkers, Moslem Assassins, William Bonnie, the Dillinger Gang, SS Guards, would be school killers today.  

Certainly the New York Times analysis would support this.  I suspect, to more than a little degree, these people have always been with us.  Maybe what has changed, has been what has changed from time to time.  For most of human history, and in most societies, people are taught a set of standards that discourages this behavior.  From time to time, however, certain societies encourage and glamorize it.  The Crusader era Moslem Assassins encouraged suicidal behavior.  Al Queda encourages it today.  The Viking raiders encouraged young men to go shrieking into the enemy.  Quantrell encouraged killing, looting and burning.  The Nazis glorified violent death, and the infliction of violent death.  When those things are taught as virtues, some people who are otherwise troubled will pick up on it.

Maybe we're tolerating the behavior

Anyone who is old enough to remember back into the 1970s would be aware, if they're observant, that a great deal more is now tolerated in terms of bad behavior of all types than once was. This may very well be a factor in this.

Prior to the 1980s bad behavior by children in school simply wasn't tolerated.  It wasn't tolerated by the schools, and it wasn't tolerated by other children either.  The concept of "take it outside", which would now be regarded as actionable in a school, was the rule. As late as the 1970s I can specifically recall being the witness to a teacher's order that a brewing altercation, by a bully against another student, be "taken out into the hall" for a fight.  I remember it, as I was the student.  The teacher didn't attempt to order the bully to stop, and there was no effort to counsel anyone. Rather, the teacher simply ordered the brewing fight out of the classroom.

The degree of social control of this type was quite high, and while it sounds shocking, it was amazingly effective. There were always kids who were problematic in school, but there was also always no doubt that there would be action.  In some classes, such as Physical Education, the action would actually be teacher imposed. That's correct, I can also recall a PE teacher taking a swing at a student, which impressed the students, but which didn't seem inappropriate to any of us.

When a student simply couldn't be tolerated, they were not. This meant some were farmed out of school directly to trade schools and others to institutions. This is now all a thing of the past.  In the 1980s it was determined that all of this was cruel, but perhaps there's a lesson here in this.  Up until that time, there was a concept that if a person couldn't accommodate themselves to a set of standards, they'd be hit by the system and society.  Now, this is simply not the case.

Indeed, it is now the case that even the dangerously insane are generally not addressed at all, unless they harm somebody.  For at least a period of a decade here, an insane man wondered the streets threatening people with a cane.  He never hit them, but he came close to looking like he would.  I haven't seen him around for some time, so perhaps he did. But up until that point was crossed, nothing was going to occur.

This last item is particularly misguided.  There's a concept that leaving people alone in their insanity is kind. But to be insane is a particularly hard cross of misery to bear, and that misery is always there.  Allowing the misery to be violently inflicted on others isn't doing anyone a favor or kindness.

Anyhow, there's at least an argument that, up until the 1980s, there was a set of standards that existed which people, particularly the young, were expected to adhere to, with consequences if they did not. There was no effort to insert those who could not, through no fault of their own, into the main body of students, and there was a point at which those who would not comport were disciplined or removed.  

None of this is to suggest we need to return to the "take it out in the hall" type of mentality, which wouldn't be a good idea at all.  But, perhaps that teaches us another lesson here.  We may have, through our attempts at being enlightened and tolerant, failed to teach a certain population that there's a standard to which they must comport.  Probably all the "take it out" type of behavior did was to reenforce that, in a fairly crude manner, the basic lesson being that there is a standard at work.

But what is that standard?

Maybe the standard was destroyed

There's been a lot of commentary the last few years about the lack of prayer in school, and as recently noted on the Ramblings of a Teacher blog, there's been an email and Facebook item circulating that promotes the return of daily prayer to public schools.  Like the author of that blog, I think that idea misses the mark.

What I do think, however, is that we've seen an evolution from a loosely recognized general standard, which was frankly religion based, into the concept of "tolerance" for other ideas, which has now slipped into complete moral relativism that lacks any standards at all.

This is, I think, fairly demonstrable by history and the result isn't good.  A brief look at that history is instructive.

This is not to suggest that the country had a uniform Christian history and that this suddenly fell apart recently, that wouldn't be true.  And it wouldn't even be true to maintain that the country has been uniformly religiously observant throughout its history.  What would be true, however, is that a loose set of Christian standards was generally recognized, even by those who were not religious, or even a-religious, and even though the degree to which people closely identified with religion has changed varied enormously over the country's history.

Early in the nation's history the country was almost uniformly Protestant, although there was more than one Protestant church that was present in the country, and the doctrinal differences between them were in some instances quite pronounced.  It would be false to claim that they all had the same theological concepts, and indeed some of them had radically different theologies.  Indeed, even those several Protestant faiths that were present in North America had acted to strongly repress each other here, on occasion, and had been involved in some instances in open warfare in the British Isles..  Catholics, and Jews, were largely absent from the early history of the country, except with Catholics nervously present in some very concentrated regions.  The Catholic presence in the country really became pronounced first in the 1840s, as a result of the revolutions in Europe and the Irish Famine.  This actually created huge concern amongst the Protestant sections of the county, who were often very anti Catholic.  This started to wane during the Civil War, however.  Jewish immigrants came in throughout the 19th Century, some from Europe in chief, but many from Imperial Russia, where they sought to escape Russian programs.

The purpose of this is not to do a treatise on religion in the United States, which would be a massive work and which, at this point, would pretty much cease to be illustrative of anything relevant to this discussion, but rather to note something else.  Even though the degree to which the American population was adherent and observant of their Faiths, and even though the country has had, at various points, very strong doctrinal differences in the population, to the extent that it impacted public policy, the country had a culture that loosely recognized a very loose set of Christian principals as social principals.

This was so much the case that everyone, even members of non-Christian faiths, and even those who were members of no faiths at all, recognized what the standards were.  Interestingly, up until quite recently, people who chose to ignore those standards, and in any one era there are plenty of people who do, often recognized that they were breaching the standard and sometimes even that doing so was wrong.  To use a non-violent example, people generally recognized that cheating on a spouse was wrong, even if they did it.  Most people were a little queasy about divorce even if they divorced and remarried.  Nearly everyone regarded cohabitation out of wedlock as morally wrong, even if they did not attend a church.  Sex outside of marriage was generally regarded as wrong, and indeed even the entertainment industry used that fact as part of the risque allure when they depicted that scenario.

The point of this isn't to suggest that various topics regarding marriage and non marriage are somehow related to this topic. Rather, the point is to show that there was more of a concept of such things at work in society, and that's just an easy one to pick up on, as the changes in regards to it have been quite pronounced.  But, if the argument isn't to be extremely strained and fall flat, other examples would have to be given.  So, what we'd generally note is that there were a set of behavior and social standards that existed, and they generally seem to have a root in the "Protestant" ethic.  I'll note here that I'm not claiming this as a personal heritage of mine, as I'm not a Protestant. Simply, rather, it's been widely noted that this ethic has a long running history in the US, and North American in general, and has impacted the nation's view on many things.  These include, I'd note, the need to work and the value of work, and the relationship of the individual to society, all of which have greatly changed in recent decades. Again, I'm not seeking to campaign on this, merely observing that it seems to have happened. This is not a "Tea Party" argument, or direction towards one political thesis or another.

The point of this is that, even though there were multiple Faiths, and people of no faith, there was a general concept of a set of standards that were almost universally accepted and they had roots that went way back into the country's early history..  Included in that set of beliefs was that you didn't harm others.  It isn't that people didn't do it, it's that they knew it was wrong to do it.

Starting in the 1960s, however, American society really began to break a global set of standards down.  The concept of "tolerance" came in. Tolerance means to tolerate, not to accept, but over time the two became confused, and it became the American ideal to accept everything.  Even people with strong moral beliefs were told that they must accept behavior that was previously regarded as morally wrong, or even illegal in some places. There are many present examples of this that a person could point to.  The point here is not that toleration is bad, but rather that confusing tolerance with acceptance, and following that a feeling that acceptance must be mute, probably isn't good.  Toleration sort of presupposes the existence of a general standard, or at least that people can debate it.  If they can't openly debate it, that' probably is not a good thing.  If self declared standards must be accepted, rather than subject to debate, all standards become fairly meaningless as a result.

The overall negative effect this has on a society would also be a major treatise in its own right and I'm not qualified to write it..  Most cultures do not experience this, as most are not as diverse as ours. Whether any society can in fact endure an existence without standards is open to question,  and the very few previous examples that creep up on that topic are not happy ones.  It is clear that most people do in fact continue to retain  bits and pieces of the old standard, and perhaps most people are very highly analogous to our predecessors who lived in eras when standards were very generally held, and there were decades of American history that were just like that.  But for some people, who are otherwise self-focused, and with problems relating to other people, the weak nature of the standard is now potentially a problem.  Unable to relate, and in a society that teaches that there are no standards, they only standards they have are self learned, in a self isolation.

But what are they learning then, and how?

No place to go, and the lessons of the basement and entertainment.

Standards were taught, first in school, and then in the workplace  And, frankly they still are.  That's quite a burden on both, however, as a society that otherwise has such loose standards is asking an awful lot of the school and the workplace.  Truth be known, there was never an era when schools were really expected to impart a standard, it was assumed that kids came into school with one and that some re-enforcment could be done there.  Asking schools to impart a moral code is a pretty tall order,, and pretty darned unreasonable to expect.  It's even more unreasonable for the workplace to do so, so no standards are going to be taught there, save by individuals through their own examples.  But is there even a workplace to go to? 

There is a school to go to, that much we've made clear.  And as evident, I'm not keen on the trend in some quarters to blame schools.  I doubt very much that the average public school of 1912 was teaching a lot more in the way of a set of standards than the school of 2012.  Kids came into school with one, and as noted, it was re-enforced.  And I'm not keen on expecting schools to teach what parents and society simply earlier did.  I don't even know if that's possible, but it doesn't seem really reasonable.   At any rate, what about after school? That is, after graduation?  What do people graduate into?

I've analyzed that here from time to time, and need to do so more as it related to the changes in society topics I've addressed from time to time, but this is a critical aspect, I suspect, of this overall topic that's been missed.

The recent killer in Casper Wyoming was very intelligent and highly educated, but his lack of an ability to interact meant he couldn't find work. School, didn't fail him.  Something else did.  The killer in Newton was an adult, and he seems to have been fairly intelligent but with severe personality problems.  The killer in Colorado was also very intelligent, but was dropping out of school.  All of this is reflective, to a degree, of modern American economics.

Since World War Two we've gone from a manufacturing society to a consumption society. And in doing that, we've sent a lot of manufacturing overseas.  What on earth, you'd be justified in asking, does that have to do with this?  Here's what.  It has completely changed the nature of available American jobs.

Prior to World War Two less than 50% of the American population graduated from high school.  This wasn't seen as a  problem really, as at least the males departing from school had jobs they could generally enter, save for period of economic distress.  And many of the jobs provided for life long careers.  Machinist jobs, for example, and heavy manufacturing jobs, did not require a high school education and they did provide a solid middle class career.  There were a lot of analogous employments.  Indeed, it wasn't until after World War Two that anywhere near the current number of Americans, or Canadians, or Europeans, went on to advanced education.

Most of the men who entered these careers were average men, the same guys who take up most jobs today in any one field, but a few of them were not.  There were always a certain percentage of highly intelligent people with bad social skills who were not capable of relating to others who could find meaningful productive work where their talents for detail were applied in a meaningful way.  There were also places for individuals like that on farms and fields.  And in retail, indeed in retail shops they owned themselves.  Even as a kid I can remember a few retail shops owned by people who had next to no social skills, but who were talented in detail work.  The Army and Navy also took a percentage of people who otherwise just couldn't get along, often allowing them to have a career path, even if just at the entry level, which allowed them to retire in 20 or 30 years.

Now, this is all gone.  We live in the age of certification, and that promotes college education for some who are not well suited for the careers that they're studying, and it encourages certification of everything, which requires some social skills. Now even a college degree does not guaranty employment, and worse yet some level of social skills are necessary for most people with a college degree.  This means that some of the class of people we've been discussing are dangerously marooned.  They can get an education, but they have a very hard time doing anything with it. And that leaves them at home, bitter, and highly educated.

So what do they do with their time?

As noted, there was once an era when even the severely socially disabled generally worked.  People didn't know not to encourage them to work and having to work was presumed as a given.  Not all work is pleasant by any means, but the irony of this is that many of these people were well suited for fairly meaningful work.  Some men silently operated machine tools day after day in a setting that required a lot of intelligence, but not very much interaction.  Others worked in labs. Some on rail lines, and so on. This isn't to say that everyone who had these jobs fit into this category, which would be absolutely false.  But my guess is that some did.  And some ended up as career privates in the Army, a category that no longer exists, or similar such roles.  They had meaningful work, and that work was a career and a focus.

Now, for some of these individuals, this is all gone. The expectation of work probably isn't, but the ability may very well seem to be. So what do they do?

One thing it seems that they do with their time is to play a lot of video games, or computer games, and a lot of those games are highly male oriented, and highly violence oriented.  Quite frankly, by all appearances, they appear to be highly sexualized as well.

This is one aspect of this situation that is completely new.  Violence isn't new, and the implements aren't new, but this type of cartoon active violent entertainment is.

Violent works of literature have existed forever.  Beowulf, for example, is pretty darned violent.  The Niebelungenleid is awash in blood and gore. The Iceland sagas are pretty darned violent.  But they're all written. And the written word is just a tiny evolution of the spoken word.  Both seem to serve the function of redecoration and entertainment, but neither seem to lodge in the brain in a way that comes out as "I'd like to replicate that".  Indeed, to a degree they seem related to the function of play, in which humans replicate certain scenarios as unconscious rehearsal for what we'd do in similar situations.  In other words, to use the Beowulf example, "if confronted by hideous evil I will. . . ."

Visual images seem to be different to us, as a species.  This seems, therefore, to dull us to what we see, or to actually encourage us to excess.  It's been interesting to note, in this context, how sex and violence have had to be increasingly graphic in their portrayals in order to even get noticed by their viewers.  In terms of films, even violent situations were not very graphically portrayed in film up until the 1960s. The first film to really graphically portray, indeed exaggerate, violence was Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch.  Peckingpah used violence in that film to attempt to expose Americans to what he perceived, at that time, as a warped love of criminal violence and criminals, but the nature of our perception largely defeated his intent.  At the time, the film was criticized for being so violent, but now the violence is celebrated.  In that way, Peckinpah ended up becoming the unwitting and unwilling equivalent, in regard to violence, to what Hugh Hefner became intentionally in terms of pornography.  Ever since, violence has become more and more graphic and extreme, just to get our attention.  Likewise, Hefner's entry into glamorizing and mainstreaming pornography starting in the 1950s ended up creating a situation in which what would have been regarded as pornography at that time is now fairly routine in all sorts of common portrayals.

Recently, due to video games and computer games, both of these items, sex and violence, have crossed over from film into a type of hyperactive concentrated sophisticated cartoon portrayal.  Video games have popularized the concept of over muscled, hyperactive, amoral violent men, whose glory is their violence.  Their reward very often is an over endowed cartoonish female.  Neither portrayal is realistic in anything that it seeks to portray.

So, then, certain people are left with no work, and no socialization.  In a prior era, these people fit in, even if they were awkward themselves. Their work was valued and on Friday night, when pay came, they were dragged along to the local bar, the Union Hall, or the Enlisted Man's Club, even if they had little to say and were work oriented.  More than a few probably found a family that way.  Others never did, but their work and workers became a sort of family

Now, they're in the basement watching a make believe world glamorizing violence with M4 carbines which seems to offer them hero status and sex.  

This, I would note, rolls us back around to the analysis that this sort of violence and the Arab suicide bomber are committed by the same type of people.  Youth unemployment in the Middle East is massive.  Those societies have a set of standards, to be sure, but they're under internal attack, with one group arguing for standards that only apply to the group itself.  And violence has been massively glamorized in the region, with the promised reward for it being highly sensual in nature.  In other words, out of a population of unemployed young men, with no prospects, and very little in the way of learned standards, recruiting those with narcissistic violent tendencies should not be very difficult.  The difference between there and here is that there, those with a political agenda can recruit these disaffected misguided youths with promises of the reward of 70 virgins, while here we're recruiting them through bombardment by violent entertainment. 

The Conclusion and what to do about it.

That's where this seems to lead.  It's a long road, but it seems solid to me.  

The implements are not new.  But what is new is that we have a population that has nowhere to go, having a hard time fitting in, has a hard time finding meaningful work and which is spending its surplus time saturated in the glamorization of violence.

Well, what can a person do with that?

That's another question entirely, but the ultimate one.  What seems clear is that people who have pinned their hopes on a targeted solution will be tragically disappointed.  Banning one singular thing, even assuming that a statute was drafted by somebody competent to address the material items (which has so far proven to be completely the opposite of the case) would be at best a band aid approach and at worse actually do nothing at all. Indeed, if that approach failed, and it would be likely to, it would be very bad, as once any society tends to adopt a certain approach, they tend to follow that path in spite of failure.  The decades long "war on drugs" is arguably such an example.

What does seem to be the case is that we have a population we've really failed, but the failure is now so systemic that addressing the problem is massive in scope. But if we don't confront that now, the problem will grow worse and worse.  The difference between tolerance and acceptance needs to be reestablished, and the concept that a society must have standards does as well.  And that can't be foisted off on the school system.  And, while we now seem to accept that we've lost forever certain types of work, we must recognize that work, for some people, is much more than a career, but literally a life raft for them and us, giving their lives meaning.  Finally, while we're talking of banning things, we need to really look at violent entertainment.  Just as the argument will be advanced by those in favor of banning certain firearms that it doesn't matter that most of the owners of those arms will not misuse them, but that those who do, do so catastrophically, it is even more the case that some will be impacted by the glorious cartoon depiction of violence negatively.  And entertainment, at the end of the day, is just that.  There's little justification for highly glamorized sexualized violence aimed at teenage and twenty something males.


Since I first wrote this, a couple of news stories, based on statistics have run which are interesting in the context of this story, and perception.

The first one was the release, by a proud New York City, of the hugely dramatic decline in homicide in New York. That data revealed that not only had homicide declined massively, but that almost all homicides in New York involve parties who have been convicted of prior felonies.  That is, almost all homicide victims are the associates of felons.    In other words, people who get murdered tend to be involved in criminal activity themselves.  Almost all of the remaining homicides, a very small number, are domestic incidents.  So, the threat to the general public is almost non-existent, and the recently enacted firearms provisions in New York will have next to no, and may no, effect on anything.

The second news story was just released, and it reveals that death by gun homicides has declined about 40% in the US since 1990, and is now at something .like 3.4 deaths per 100,000 people.  Of note, if you remove certain cities, indeed cities with gun control provisions, the homicide rate in the US is very small.  That would actually suggest new laws may actually be counterproductive.

Epilogue posted on May 8, 2013

Epilogue II:

This topic has been back in the news again, so I'm bumping it up.

One of the things that strikes me here is the degree to which there's no original thinking on this topic, and that the same old supposed solutions, which are nearly wholly devoid of any analytical thought, are dragged out every time something occurs.  There seems to be no appreciation that at a time in which overall violence is decreasing, these stand out because they are anomalies, and anomalies with distinct patters, the most significant of which is mental illness.

When we consider that, and that we consider that recent statistical data demonstrates an increasing dissociation and dislike by Americans for their employments and careers, we have a dual disturbing trend of being unwilling to address a disturbed person until that person acts out, and having an economy which increasingly suits the personalities of fewer and fewer people.

Epilogue III

And I'm bumping this up again.

One thing I'm increasingly inclined to emphasize on this story is the media's role in feeding the mentally in regarding this.  That may seem extreme, but truth be known, violence of all types, including of the type that hits the news, is on the decline. Yet the news makes the opposite seem so.

When news was more local, the violent acts of mentally ill people stayed local for the most part.  While there's no ready way to sensor the news in this day and age, some responsibility in reporting is in order.

Additionally, there's something about social cohesion that's lacking, it seems to me, that is feeding into this. Whether it be the actor in Oregon or ISIL proponents in France or the East Coast, its increasingly obvious how these acts are perpetrated by people who have dropped out of society and have nothing to rely on.  Arms in the hands of such individuals are no more advanced than they were a century ago, so its an evolution in something else, and this seems to be part of this, that helps perpetuate violence.


LeAnn28 said...

An impressive analysis. Thanks for the linkback. :-)

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

Thanks go out to Couvi for proofreading this and noting my numerous grammatical errors. I can't proofread worth a darn, and I greatly appreciate his effort in doing that. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"Long and boring, and unlikely to be read by other than me." Not so likely. Couvi has a way of spreading the news of a good read. Excellent.

Pat, Marcus & Alexis said...

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus has an interesting item out today on the event that inspired this post:

Marcus flat out blames the mother, and she deserves blame.

This also raises the uncomfortable truth that not all of the mentally ill can be helped by keeping them at home. They'll be equally happy, or unhappy, in an institution. People who make what must seem like some species of heroic sacrifice to help a child like this are deluding themselves on that fact. And it isn't only children that people sometimes treat this way, but the mentally ill, and sometimes the dangerously mentally ill, in general.