Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Of course, many things have changed in the past 50 years that could have contributed.
Some claim that video games are partly responsible because they're more interactive than are TV shows. But kids have been playing with toy guns since toys were invented yet it wasn't until the late '60s when school and workplace shootings started proliferating.
Others argue that the dissolution of the two-parent family is contributory. But most of the school and workplace shooters have come from two-parent families.
Still others blame the greater pressure that teens and young adults face. Possibly.
But one senses that the core causality doesn't fully reside there.
Then there's this more controversial question: Why have most such massacres been committed by white men when non-white men have a much higher violent-crime rate?
I believe an answer to both of those questions lies in an undiscussed important partial cause: Since the civil rights/feminist movement began in the late 60s, white men have been subjected to an unrelenting, indeed accelerating, message that they are bad. In sitcoms, commercials, and movies, the white male is disproportionately portrayed as evil, sleazy, or foolish, shown up by a wise women and/or minority. That unfairness extends to news media coverage and even school curriculum, where the accomplishments of women and minorities and the failings of white males are accentuated. And the schools, colleges, and media diminish white men's contributions by insisting they're heavily the result of white male privilege, the legacy of slavery, and institutional racism.
Previous generations of poorly adjusted, unsuccessful white males were comforted by the world's telling them that people of their race and gender are okay. That started changing in the '60s and is accelerating through today.
So here, I propose a model for explaining the causes of massacres such as the Newtown shootings, and, in turn, a new idea for reducing their proliferation:
1. The person is unbalanced
2. The person has experienced much painful failure.
3. He sees the world pervasively denigrate his sex and race. No comfort here.
That's a perfect storm for his lashing out.
4. When he experiences a particularly angering event, he's pushed over the edge.
The new piece in this formula, of course, is #3: failed white men being made to feel their race and gender are inferior. How to address it? When Blacks and women were sometimes portrayed negatively in the media, activists screamed that those portrayals had unfair negative effects on women's and minorities' self-esteem and behavior. As a result, the schools, colleges, and media dramatically changed. Yet when the opposite is true, that white males, for decades now, are treated unfairly, we don't hear a peep. In the many articles and TV segments on the Newtown shootings that I've reviewed, I've never once heard that mentioned as one of the causes. Rather, we hear only politically correct explanations:
There are calls to ban automatic weapons. Yet following the sunset of the assault weapons ban, contrary to gun control advocates' fears, the violent crime rate has declined. I fear that even if all private ownership of guns were banned, it would not deter those planful, often intelligent assailants. The Internet is rife with a panoply of frighteningly easy ways to wreak havoc.
There are calls for increased mental health services. Alas, the psychology profession does not offer a magic pill. Already, because of the Mental Health Parity Act, people are covered for mental health to the same extent as for physical health and the schools and workplaces have long been on high-alert for incipient mental problems. But the fields of psychodiagnosis, psychotherapy, and psychopharmacology are, alas, still in their relative infancy and suffer from failure rates too high to place sufficient confidence that the solution will heavily reside there.
Until we view problems in full dimension, not censoring ideas that are politically incorrect, we are unlikely to develop the best solutions not just to mass shootings, but to most societal problems.