How very American for us to obsess over an object used to perpetrate a crime rather than examine the root causes and perpetrator of the crime. Millions of people are understandably upset over the Newtown, Connecticut massacre, but to presume that we have it within our power and authority to eradicate such evil and end crime is … well, narcissistic. I’m not terribly surprised that President Obama – an ultimate narcissist – believes “these tragedies must end” as if he can make that happen through executive decree. He does believe that. I’m not amazed that Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews have placed the blame for Adam Lanza’s behavior on the National Rifle Association. They appear to believe that America is one law, one legislative act, one executive order away from guaranteeing the end of violent tragedy.
We humans like to control our environment and when catastrophe and disaster strike, we seek to impose our will. Atrocities make us feel helpless; to regain autonomy, we feel and often act on the urge to “do something”. We don’t much care if the something we do is effective, so long as we act. As it is easier to control objects than it is people, the command to “do something” comes down to gun control.
Let’s leave aside for a moment that Adam Lanza’s mother legally purchased the guns used in the attack, all of which were legal when the “assault weapons” ban existed (by the way). Leave aside the Constitutional argument – our founders believed that everyone should own a gun for defense against the government. Also leave aside that our framers never envisioned semi-automatic rifles, because I would submit that had Thomas Jefferson been able to see what our military has currently, he’d have wanted us to have fully automatic weapons, not single-pull semi-autos. I don’t want to discuss the above because it’s already being discussed to death and it distracts from the very real issues we ought to be discussing. The media and liberal obsession with gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy reveals some unsavory truths about American culture that we really should look at.
In Man against Mass Society, Garbiel Marcel connected the loss of the individual in the face of assault from a mass society of conformity, institutionalization and socialization, and the increasing obsession with technique and technical solutions. Norman Mailer wrote, “Technology gives us greater control, but less pleasure.” Technology gives us the illusion of control while also dehumanizing us. Decades after Marcel, Neil Postman called the United States of America a “technopoly” in his book of the same name. A “technopoly”, according to Postman, is a society in which “the primary, if not the only, goal of human labor and thought is efficiency, that technical calculation is in all respects superior to human judgment.”
Naturally, in a technopoly, the citizenry worships technology. Please look around and acknowledge that we’re there. Millenials drool over their smart phones, we practically deified Steve Jobs, and most urban Americans believe they need a GPS to drive I-90 coast-to-coast. We reached the sorry state of technopoly a long time ago, and there’s no sign we’re recovering from it anytime soon.
As Americans worship the divinity of technology, we come to believe that every problem is solvable with technology. In the case of the mass shooting, the gun is the technological instrument, and if technology is always the solution to any problem, then in the rare cases that there is a problem involving technology, the instrument of technology must be the cause. A law regulating the purchase and use of that technology is the solution to the problem. Such a belief system makes life seem simple. It avoids confronting the reality that evil is always with us and will always be with us. It is the tiger prowling and stalking through the night (William Blake).
Secularism naively errs in believing that all problems are created by man, and therefore are solvable by man. Marcel would no doubt point out, should he be resurrected to appear on a panel for MSNBC, that politics cannot offer salvation, and that technique cannot offer security. Politics cannot offer redemption, though that doesn’t keep politicians from trying.
As America’s political discourse has become more secular, it has become more excitable over State-sponsored solutions. In the wake of Newtown, gun control has offered the opportunity for combining two seemingly separate, but related forms of idolatry – technopoly and governmental divinity. Americans, we would do well to remember that there is no technological solution to a human problem and human beings have been bizarrely absent from the Newtown discussion.
The progressive media immediately jumped on group-think, rather than looking at individuals. The National Rifle Association, the Southern “gun culture”, and the “culture of guns” have all been indicted on MSNBC for the Newtown incident. A culture that loves technique, worships technology, and prays to the expert must demonize anyone perceived as less educated, sophisticated, and advanced. The enemy, in this case, is the “superstitious” (religious), “bitter” (opposed to State-sponsored solutions), “hillbilly” (white and uneducated), gun “nut”. Unfortunately, for purveyors of the gun-control-will-solve-all-our-problems-and-gun-culture-is-evil narrative, Adam Lanza and his family were and are nothing like the typical Southerner with a gun rack.
Adam Lanza was the product of a broken home. His parents divorced years ago, and his father, Peter, had no presence in Adam’s life for the last several years. He paid Nancy Lanza $200,000 a year in alimony and child support, remarried, and said farewell – physically and apparently emotionally – to his family. Peter is the tax director at General Electric – rich, educated, and no doubt urbane. Far from a hick backwater, Newtown is a town of highly educated professionals. Lanza’s surroundings were likely insignificant to him, however. By all reports he was mentally disturbed; diagnosed with Aspergers, his problems seem to have gone far beyond that diagnosis. I worked for several years in community mental health and have known Asperger’s patients. Yes, there is a risk of violence when such clients are overstimulated, but I’ve never met one who, in my uncredentialed, but well-informed opinion, could or would carry out such a heinous act requiring the degree of planning evidenced. His problems seem more along the lines of paranoid schizophrenia. Friends report Nancy Lanza worried about some of his behaviors, but she took no immediate action. She also reportedly took mini-vacations, leaving her mentally ill son alone and unmonitored for days at a time. All of this was after she poisoned his mind with apocalyptic conspiracy theories, and explained why she was stockpiling food, water, and weapons as her way of preparing for the coming collapse of civilization. (There are some topics you discuss with your sane 20-year-old and there are others you don’t discuss with your mentally ill teen). She also trained her son to shoot the same guns he used to kill her, 20 school children, and six teachers (there are also activities you don’t do with your mentally ill kids that you can do with your mentally stable ones). Peter and Nancy Lanza played a role in their son’s behavior and she paid the ultimate price for being a less than adequate parent.
Make no mistake! The blame for Adam Lanza’s murder of 27 people lies first and foremost with Adam Lanza. His parents were negligent and neglectful and deserve part of the blame. Blaming a political interest group, a subculture of mostly law-abiding people or violent movies and video games seems silly and is another futile grasp for control in the face of the frightening. Thoughtful Americans should reflect on the tragedy in order to gain insight into our country. We should resist the shortsighted and simpleminded tendency to fixate on the gun and scrutinize “gun culture”, which had little or nothing to do with this tragedy.
Rather than focus on the problem, we focus on a symptom in the vain hope that if we control the symptom, we’ll somehow fix the problem that we’re afraid even to name. While we do that, what is afflicting us grows worse and we grow further away from the means to solve it. When we’ve locked up all the guns and the terror continues with fists, feet, knives and clubs, what will we blame then?