ONTD Political

Guns and the Decline of the Young Man

3:11 pm - 12/18/2012
Guns and the Decline of the Young Man

Adam Lanza was a young man. Jacob Roberts was a young man. James Holmes is a young man. Seung-Hui Cho was a young man. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were young men.

We can all name a dozen or so hypotheses about why they kill: their parents’ unlocked gun cabinet, easy access to weapons on the Internet, over- or under-medication, violent video games and TV programs, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed mental disorders, abusive or indifferent parents, no stable social network, bullying. However, young women are equally exposed to many of the same conditions yet rarely turn a weapon on others. This leaves us wondering about the young men.

There is something about life in the United States, it seems, that is conducive to young men planning and executing large-scale massacres. But the reasons elude us.


The first reaction to the horror and bloodshed of a mass killing like the one in Newtown, Conn., is a rekindling of the gun control debate. I happen to believe, along with many others, that the repeated mandate we give to the National Rifle Association and its lobby, and the complacency with which we allow our politicians to be subject to the will of gun manufacturers is odious.

Limiting access to weapons is certainly a pragmatic albeit incomplete solution to the United States’ propensity for murder. However, were the guns to vanish instantaneously, the specter that haunts our young men would still hover in silence, darkly.

What is it that touches them?

I come from a small town near Fort Worth, Texas. In this region, like many others across the United States, young men are having a very hard time of it. When I consider how all of the people I knew there are faring, including my own family members, the women have come out considerably better than the men. While many of the women were pregnant in high school and have struggled with abusive relationships, financial hardships and addictions, they’ve often found ways to make their lives work, at least provisionally, and to live with their children if not provide for them in more substantial ways.

The same cannot be said for many young men in the region, who are often absent fathers of multiple children by multiple women, unemployed or underemployed, sullen and full of rage. While every woman in my family has done O.K. in the end, every man on one side of my family except for my grandfather has spent time in jail, abused drugs or alcohol, suffered from acute depression, or all of the above. Furthermore, pervasive methamphetamine use, alcoholism, physical and psychological abuse and severe depression have swept not only my hometown and my region but large segments of the United States. If this pattern is not familiar to you personally, I am certain it is the lived experience of someone you know.

This is merely anecdotal evidence, not social science, but I believe that it is indicative of a sort of infection spreading in our collective brain, one that whispers to the American subconscious: “The young men are in decline.” They were once our heroes, our young and shining fathers, our sweet brothers, our tireless athletes, our fearless warriors, the brains of our institutions, the makers of our wares, the movers of our world. In the Western imagination, the valiance of symbolically charged figures like Homer’s Ulysses or the Knights of the Round Table remained unquestioned since their conception. However, as centuries progressed and stable categories faltered, the hero figure faces increasing precarity. Even if we consider the 20th century alone, we see this shift from World War II, when the categories of good and evil were firm, to later conflicts like the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, involving a disparity between what the government believed to be right and what much of the civilian population did.

Does the heroic young man still make sense today, or has his value already been depleted?

Certainly, there are young men who are paragons of success: the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, the sharply dressed bankers, the swarms of brilliant graduates who receive their diplomas each year. And there are heroes who fight our fires, soldiers who fight our wars and the first-responders who are the first to set eyes on the dead children’s bodies at the scenes of mass shootings. But more young men these days are avatars of soldiers rather than soldiers themselves.

If the soldier has largely been replaced by the video game character and the drone, if the mothers have proven that they can raise the children alone, if the corporations are less able or willing to guarantee the possibility of upward mobility and some level of respect that comes with title, if someone else can bring home the bacon, what is left for young men?

All this, and they still are not allowed to cry.

There is also the issue of race. Not all of the men I listed in the beginning of this piece are Caucasian. However, take a moment and imagine what the archetypical image of a mass murderer in the United States looks like. Is he white in your mind? This image can only be attributed to the truth of those patterns that have established themselves, from Charles Whitman’s 1966 shooting spree at the University of Texas, to Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, to the 1999 Columbine massacre, to Wade Michael Page’s 2012 attack on the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The mass murderer is a type. And his race is white.

Young, African-American men are often imagined to be violent on the street, killing one another in gang-related violence or murdering convenience store clerks while trying to empty the cash register. The stereotypical image, even in its wrongheaded reduction of the black man to an inherently violent being, does not leave room for that other kind of murderer, the one who plans and executes a calculated, non-spontaneous large-scale death spree.

The angry white man has usurped the angry black man.

I would argue that maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline. And while those of us who are not male or white have enjoyed some benefits from their decline, the sort of violence and murder that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary will continue to occur if we do not find a way to carry them along with us in our successes rather than leaving them behind.


For women, things are looking up. We can vote, we can make more choices about our bodies than in decades past, we’ve made significant progress regarding fair pay, and more women are involved in American politics than ever before. The same can be said for minorities. However, because resources are limited, gains for women and minorities necessarily equal losses for white males. Even if this feels intuitively fair to many, including those white males who are happy to share resources for the greater benefit of the nation as a whole, it must feel absolutely distressing for those who are uncomfortable with change and who have a difficult time adjusting to the inevitable reordering of society.

From the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and onward, young men – and young white men in particular – have increasingly been asked to yield what they’d believed was securely theirs. This underlying fact, compounded by the backdrop of violent entertainment and easy access to weapons, creates the conditions for thousands of young men to consider their future prospects and decide they would rather destroy than create.

Can you imagine being in the shoes of the one who feels his power slipping away? Who can find nothing stable to believe in? Who feels himself becoming unnecessary? That powerlessness and fear ties a dark knot in his stomach. As this knot thickens, a centripetal hatred moves inward toward the self as a centrifugal hatred is cast outward at others: his parents, his girlfriend, his boss, his classmates, society, life.

A partial solution to these toxic circumstances could be a coordinated cultivation of what might be called an empathic habit. Most people surely felt an impulsive empathy for the parents and survivors involved in the Sandy Hook massacre, as shown by the countless memorial services and candlelight vigils that took place after the murders. But empathy could help best if exercised before rather than after such tragedies.

Empathy could serve many of us: those who have not yet put themselves in the position of a person who is losing their power and those who can aim a gun at someone without imagining themselves on the other end of the barrel. For those of us who belong to a demographic that is doing increasingly better, a trained empathic reflex toward those we know to be losing for our gains could lead to a more deferential attitude on our part and could constitute an invitation for them to stay with us. To delight in their losses and aim at them the question, “How does it feel?” will only trigger a cycle of resentment and plant the seeds for vengeance. It is crucial to accommodate the pain of others.

For a start, feeling needed is undoubtedly essential to each individual. This fact must be addressed at home, at school, in the workplace, and in politics. For example, one could envision the development of a school curriculum that centers around an empathic practice, particularly in courses such as history, social studies, literature, and political science. If students have no access to an empathic model at home, they would at least be exposed to it in the classroom. In the workplace, the C.E.O. must be able to put herself in the position of the lowest ranked employee and vice versa. Victims and victors must engage in the hypothetical practice that forces each to acknowledge the others’ fortunes and misfortunes.

Empathy is difficult because it forces us to feel the suffering of others. It is destabilizing to imagine that if we are lucky or blessed, it just as easily could have gone some other way. For the young men, whose position is in some ways more difficult than that of their fathers and grandfathers, life seems at times to have stacked the cards against them. It is for everyone to realize the capricious nature of history, which never bets consistently on one group over another. We should learn to cast ourselves simultaneously in the role of winner and loser, aggressor and victim.

We have a choice whether our national refrain of “No more mass murders” will be meaningful or meaningless. We cannot neglect the young men. By becoming empathic stewards of civic and personal life, there is a chance we could make someone think twice before targeting another human being.

--

...Have at, y'all. 'Cause hooboy.
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kaelstra 18th-Dec-2012 03:44 pm (UTC)
OH MY LAWD

SOMEONE

SOMEONE PLEASE PLEASE THINK OF THE YOUNG WHITE MAN AND HOW HARD HIS LIFE IS!

Those poor babies, oh my god.

ETA: Oh, I see. The reason men go on these killing sprees is because women are trying to take their privilege away and that scares them. It's all women's faults! If we just stopped trying to be equals, men wouldn't feel threatened, and then they wouldn't take their rage out on people!

FML.

Edited at 2012-12-18 03:47 pm (UTC)
sephirajo 18th-Dec-2012 03:48 pm (UTC)
There is something about life in the United States, it seems, that is conducive to young men planning and executing large-scale massacres. But the reasons elude us.

THE REASON IS GUNS!
tnganon 18th-Dec-2012 07:12 pm (UTC)
not that i'm agreeing with the rest of the article, and i definitely think "bc guns" is the answer to why the united states has been uniquely troubled by mass shootings but i don't think we should ignore the fact that since 1982, out of 62 mass shootings in the us, 61 have been carried out by men, and 44 by white men.

right question; wrong answer

Edited at 2012-12-18 07:47 pm (UTC)
____jonas 18th-Dec-2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
So basically, we should go back to fucking over women and minorities (like we've ever stopped) in the hope that some young, white guy won't open fire on us?

oystermato 18th-Dec-2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
That seems to be what the article's writer is suggesting.

UGH DON'T EVEN. What an awful article.
temperance_k 18th-Dec-2012 03:52 pm (UTC)
From the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and onward, young men – and young white men in particular – have increasingly been asked to yield what they’d believed was securely theirs. This underlying fact, compounded by the backdrop of violent entertainment and easy access to weapons, creates the conditions for thousands of young men to consider their future prospects and decide they would rather destroy than create.

At this point, I was like "Yes! That entitlement complex is a big part of the problem! We need to stop telling white men that they have been guaranteed anything in life, because other than their basic human rights, people around them owe them absolutely squat. The world is not here to cater to their needs. Good point article!

Can you imagine being in the shoes of the one who feels his power slipping away? Who can find nothing stable to believe in? Who feels himself becoming unnecessary?

... And then this happened. Nononono. The answer to "white entitlement is at the heart of mass murders" is not "therefore, we should feed into their white entitlement!"
maladaptive 18th-Dec-2012 04:12 pm (UTC)
I can't imagine it. Because I didn't have that power to begin with!

Oh, boohoo, losing power but no sympathy for people who didn't have that power in the first place. How my heart bleeds.
castalianspring 18th-Dec-2012 03:53 pm (UTC)
I don't even know where to start with this shitfest. How telling that any advances for minorities and women are seen as leaving the white men behind. Still on top, yet acting like they have nothing.

Men suck tag well deserved.
kalikahuntress 18th-Dec-2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
I had no idea that others must be treated like less than equals in order for young white men to not be violent waste of space. I guess I will go and give up my rights then so they can stop shooting innocent people.
Fuck this opinion piece, women, LGBT community and POC have felt alienated, pushed down and ignored for years. Yet it is up to us to make them feel better and accepted when so too may of them make us feel unsafe and afraid. Are you fucking kidding me, like hell I will coddle some racist, sexist shit longing for the old days when he was on top solely because others didn't have the same rights as them.
What needs to be done is that we have to stop encouraging and telling these young white men that the world is theirs for the taking and ensure there is more access to mental health, less stigma associated with mental health, tear down the patriarchy that contributes to these guys entitlement issues and reduce the number of guns that are in circulation.




Edited at 2012-12-18 04:28 pm (UTC)
muizenstaartje 18th-Dec-2012 04:03 pm (UTC)
As much as I keep hearing "mental illness" as a cause I think that entitlement is a much bigger problem. How many of those mass murderers killed so many and them themselves knowing they would be on international news as if the world owed them that kind of attention. They wanted attention, didn't get it and then claimed it with a severe lack of empathy for other people. But we're supposed to have empathy for white young men who didn't get on a silver platter what everybody else has to work hard for?


Edited at 2012-12-18 04:03 pm (UTC)
little_rachael 18th-Dec-2012 05:49 pm (UTC)
A+++
zhiva_the_mage 18th-Dec-2012 04:07 pm (UTC)
# a sort of infection spreading in our collective brain, one that whispers to the American subconscious: “The young men are in decline.” #

My reaction: check if post has "bawww" tag.

Then my eyes skipped to the next bolded part of "if the mothers have proven that they can raise the children alone, [..], if someone else can bring home the bacon, what is left for young men?" and I stopped reading there.
kaelstra 18th-Dec-2012 04:14 pm (UTC)
They could stay home and do all the chores and look after the kids!
maladaptive 18th-Dec-2012 04:13 pm (UTC)
You know, "why do white men do this" is a good question. Why people keep turning to "it's because women have jobs!" doesn't baffle me, but it frustrates me because it offers no solutions and it's not even really the problem give how white men have been violent even before women and minorities got the franchise, let alone when they started holding jobs.

And if the answer really is "white men feel powerless because women" we should address that entitlement complex rather than just lament about how sad it is.
____jonas 18th-Dec-2012 04:23 pm (UTC)
It's interesting that they're also the group constantly going off about "entitlements," as though they aren't the most entitled segment of society.

It's five o'clock somewhere, yeah?
metanoiame 18th-Dec-2012 04:21 pm (UTC)
How the hell does anyone assume that these mass murderers were motivated by politics and the supposed decline of the white man? This seems like an obvious attempt to insert ideology into the news. Pretty pathetic.
eversofar 18th-Dec-2012 04:25 pm (UTC)
not really sure why i should feel sorry for someone over the devaluation of whiteness and maleness. by all means, let's deal with white male entitlement, but i don't see how lamenting the good old days will do anything but feed into it.
cellared 18th-Dec-2012 04:25 pm (UTC)
Can you imagine being in the shoes of the one who feels his power slipping away? Who can find nothing stable to believe in? Who feels himself becoming unnecessary? That powerlessness and fear ties a dark knot in his stomach. As this knot thickens, a centripetal hatred moves inward toward the self as a centrifugal hatred is cast outward at others: his parents, his girlfriend, his boss, his classmates, society, life.

boo



fucking




hoo
jenny_jenkins 18th-Dec-2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
You know, back when women didn't have political enfranchisement or were able to benefit properly from their talents, I can't remember any going off, getting an assault rifle, and killing a bunch of children.

So even assuming that "the poor white man" is feeling burdened by the fact that just showing up won't cut it anymore, I'm not too fussed.

This here:

For women, things are looking up. We can vote, we can make more choices about our bodies than in decades past, we’ve made significant progress regarding fair pay, and more women are involved in American politics than ever before. The same can be said for minorities. However, because resources are limited, gains for women and minorities necessarily equal losses for white males. Even if this feels intuitively fair to many, including those white males who are happy to share resources for the greater benefit of the nation as a whole, it must feel absolutely distressing for those who are uncomfortable with change and who have a difficult time adjusting to the inevitable reordering of society.

I laughed out loud reading this. This is such typical BS from the New York Times. Piss off.

Edited at 2012-12-18 04:30 pm (UTC)
keestone 18th-Dec-2012 06:50 pm (UTC)
Yeah... You know what? No. It's only a zero sum game because the people in power are trying to make it one by making sure nobody else gets anything. It's not actually a situation where A's gain = B's loss.
luminescnece 18th-Dec-2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
"For women, things are looking up. We can vote, we can make more choices about our bodies than in decades past, we’ve made significant progress regarding fair pay, and more women are involved in American politics than ever before. The same can be said for minorities. However, because resources are limited, gains for women and minorities necessarily equal losses for white males."

NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN NEIN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You know, for women and minorities, things are looking up! We're allowed to vote, marginal control over our bodies and reproductive cycles and like. Augh! White men already HAD all that stuff. GEEZZE.
scolaro 18th-Dec-2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
For a start, feeling needed is undoubtedly essential to each individual.

This clashes like WOAH with the bit above: "many young men in the region, who are often absent fathers of multiple children by multiple women, unemployed or underemployed, sullen and full of rage."

If you have a bunch of kids (with multiple women at that) YOU ARE NEEDED. Desperately. You just have to make the choice to do something about it. TAKE CARE OF YOUR FAMILIES, GODDAMMIT!

This article is a fucking joke.
roseofjuly 22nd-Dec-2012 07:04 am (UTC)
This. It's not so much that young white men don't have a place in society as it is they don't want to accept the shifting place in society they are being offered.
not_emily 18th-Dec-2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
So once again, women and minorities are being blamed for all that is going wrong?
ragnor144 18th-Dec-2012 05:50 pm (UTC)
This sounds more like an argument for locking up young white men in specialty psych wards because they are too fragile to deal with the crap that the rest of us face day to day.
ntensity 19th-Dec-2012 04:42 am (UTC)
I like the way you think! haha
endlos_schleife 18th-Dec-2012 05:51 pm (UTC)
"maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline"

Can't say I see anything wrong with this picture.
a_phoenixdragon 18th-Dec-2012 05:53 pm (UTC)
Every move forward has been about equality and change for ALL for the better. Things haven't been so great for everyone the last ten years. Poor economy, scarce jobs, food scares, house shortages, rate hikes on everything while our dollar goes into decline...

The things they list (like a single mother caring for children and working, for example) are not 'great strides' forward. They are borne of necessity and if you peek into the background reasons why the majority are single mothers struggling by with a job as best as they can, the reasons behind it aren't always the best. Everyone does as well as they can with what they have as they try to do better, find better, live better for themselves and their families.

I'm hard pressed to find a reason why the 'young, white male' has not moved on with the rest of us. Sounds like (to me) society as it learns and grows is being blamed for the supposed problem, when the problems are rather self induced. This is no longer the 50s and 60s. These young men were not born in that era and despite upbringing (assuming that comes into play) anyone with eyes and access to the outside world knows that the days of old aren't coming back. And thank goodness for that.

Move on. Move forward. Or get left behind. The world will not pick you up and carry you. The other groups of people above already knew that. I'm more than willing to help you down the path, but I will not walk it for you.

Damn, I'm rambley today...
vanishingbee 18th-Dec-2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
This article goes in all the wrong directions. There is, quite clearly, a problem with how white men are treated within society so that we keep ending up with mass murderers in this way. I think it basically boils down to cultural devices (entertainment + politics/policy) not reflecting the living world, where women & POC are coming in more and more. So much of what we're surrounded with tells white men that they are the best, the most significant, the most deserving, and then they go out into a world where that's not true. What we need to do is to stop sending white males that message: they are not better than anyone else. They don't deserve more.
tilmon 18th-Dec-2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
Violent young white men? This is nothing new. What's new is that their violence is no longer so blatantly used by old white men to preserve the status quo. When their violence was used to wipe out Native American communities, lynch black men, riot against the "yellow peril"...oh, that was different.

The fact of the matter is that, since at least the founding of Jamestown, the scheme of the powerful was to push young white men to the edge of society and promise them a re-entry only if they became agents of oppression and death. This is the truth of the frontier and of war. How do we expect young white men to be peaceful when the old men have so much invested in them being violent? The real wonder is that the majority of them don't succumb.
jenny_jenkins 18th-Dec-2012 07:04 pm (UTC)
A+ comment.
crossfire 18th-Dec-2012 06:24 pm (UTC)
The fuck did I just read?
sugargroupie 18th-Dec-2012 06:33 pm (UTC)
I would argue that maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline.

so... what's the problem?

And while those of us who are not male or white have enjoyed some benefits from their decline,

Waitttt a minute.

the sort of violence and murder that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary will continue to occur if we do not find a way to carry them along with us in our successes rather than leaving them behind.

I'm not feeling very charitable at the moment, so... *files nails*
kitanabychoice 18th-Dec-2012 06:36 pm (UTC)
For the young men, whose position is in some ways more difficult than that of their fathers and grandfathers, life seems at times to have stacked the cards against them.

ugh just shut up. shut the fuck up. what these men need are fucking COPING SKILLS, which my black ass had to learn early on because I didn't have lots of resources at my disposal. oh woe, your life is a LITTLE harder than it used to be. boo hoo, figure it out.


@ this whole fucking article
shortsweetcynic 18th-Dec-2012 06:46 pm (UTC)
I would argue that maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline. And while those of us who are not male or white have enjoyed some benefits from their decline, the sort of violence and murder that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary will continue to occur if we do not find a way to carry them along with us in our successes rather than leaving them behind.

and that was exactly as far as i got and comprehended.

the rest?

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