Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Newtown School Massacre - Why?

What makes a young man feel so disconnected from others that walking into a school and killing a whole bunch of infants becomes a legitimate form of self expression?

Every time I hear of yet anther massacre like this in the US, I think back to my time living in Atlanta and the loneliness and disconnectedness  I felt whilst living in the centre of a beautiful and vibrant city.

My feeling is the people responsible for such massacres are an extreme manifestation of a wide spread desease that is affecting much of US society - disconnectedness.

I had no true friends in Atlanta, my only friend was the dollar. With dollars I could buy a smile at the coffee shop, or at the Mall, in fact anywhere where people were hoping for a tip. Atlanta is known for it's strip clubs where for a few dollars you can become Gods gift to women for the evening, and for a few more the girls will offer even more. Everything is on the menu for the right price.

Georgia's finest offering up their bodies in exchange for a down payment on a Louis Vuitton handbag. She gets to buy the handbag that makes her feel like somebody, and he gets to physically connect with someone, again to make him feel like somebody.

The other institution that had a roaring trade in Atlanta  is the Church. The dollar was central here too - 10% tithes please. No longer is it acceptable to place what you have into the collecting bowl. No, what was required was a cheque, or a direct debit mandate directly from your bank. Those who didn't offer up, were named and shamed.

During my time in Atlanta I spent time in both institutions, the Strip club and the Church, and whilst both on the surface offered some semblance of human connectedness, neither delivered what I would describe as a sense of belonging.

So what has this got to do with Massacres?  Well I never quite understood how people could live without feeling like they belonged to something. I longed back to my childhood growing up in Tottenham, North London where I had a strong sense of belonging. I started to feel more British then I ever had, I started actively supporting Spurs again, my local soccer team back home, trying to hold on to a sense of identity and place, something that wasn't on offer to me in Atlanta it felt.

Surely this sense of disconnectedness must manifest itself somehow, and sure enough I began to realise it does. The idea of lauding my relative wealth over poor young ladies who were trying to make the rent or buy that bag that would make them feel like someone didn't appeal to me. Instead I chose to talk to a few and befriend them.

Off with the make-up and the heals, they became mothers, sisters, daughters, just trying to get by. They didn't believe the hype themselves, yet they were caught in a system, where the only way they felt they could get on was by subjecting themselves to ritual humiliation. Connectedness to them meant making someone else feel big, whilst making themselves feel small, all in exchange for a dollar.

I began to see the internal world of Americans. Fear, insecurity, depression, and even mental illness.  My first response was, what about your families? Why can't they help? Then I began to realise that normal family ties had been stretched to breaking point. Everyone had it hard, and no one wanted to become a burden on anyone else, so the the most loving thing to do is to dig deep, muster all your mental reserves and do whatever it takes to stand on your own two feet.

As a Brit, coming from our over bloated welfare system, there was something admirable about these girls, standing on their own two feet and not relying on anyone. Yet it wasn't lost on me, that perhaps if the men throwing money at the club, spent that money in taxes instead, then these ladies could be provided with the help they need to get a decent education and not have to shake their arse for a living.

Likewise with the tithes at the Church. Couldn't that money be spent more purposely then building yet another extension to the Church itself?

For Americans,  collective action to address social problems is tabu it seems. America was built on rugged individualism, and as I say there is a lot to be admired about that. Taken to extreme though, what are the consequences of each individual being left to himself?

An expression of individualism is the teachings of Ayn Rand. Rand like no other modern philosopher I think, epitomises modern day America. Gone are the religious overtones and sense of community that have always held together small town America, and in it's place we have the worship of the self. I  as God. Individual will expressed through the power of the dollar; and the exaltation of selfish material gain, with scant regard for anyone or anything else.

Unlike others I won't be advocating gun control as a quick fix remedy. I think the problem goes much deeper. What can Americans do to tie in the loners, the people at the periphery to make them feel like they belong?  To bring back a sense of community, and avoid the kind of alienation that in extreme leads to the type of massacres that are occurring far too often?

Note: Following the debate on gun control over the weekend, I think I will add my voice to the call for greater controls. Young people the world over sometimes find it difficult to find their place in the world. Most however don't have access to their Mom's favourite toy, a semiautomatic Bushmaster Assault rifle. It really does beggar belief that there is a lobby that espouses that it is a good idea to have such a thing casually laying around the house.