Sunday, November 3, 2013

Going Postal & The American Dream

Another mass shooting this week …. several actually. And, as Colorado prepares for the trial of James Holmes' of the Dark Night shooting, and the town of Sandy Hook levels the elementary school where its shooting took place, and Los Angeles tries to figure out why a guy from New Jersey targeted TSA agents at LAX, we continue to question and wonder, "Why?" What the heck is going on? And, for those versed in mass shooting lore as writer Michael Kimmel is, "Why Is It Always a White Guy?"

Michael Kimmel, a distinguished sociologist, attempts to answer his own question in a new book, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. And, he has some fascinating ideas - and data - about the "roots of modern violent rage."  Certainly, people have heard the eerie background of serial killers in American history - most, if not all, are middle class suburban white males. Generally, though, there is a common history of abuse in the families, or at least something that may have instigated the development of a sociopath. Mass shooters, Kimmel posits, also have common backgrounds, and he believes it has much to do with the contemporary age economics of America.

Interestingly, mass shootings were pretty rare - even non-existent - up until the 1980s. And now they happen with frightening regularity.  Even the phrase, "going postal," associated with such mass violence has historical precedence.  As Kimmel notes, Between 1986 and 1997, forty people were murdered in at least twenty incidents involving postal workers. Before 1986—nary a one.  So what happened? According to Kimmel, it has everything to do with economics and the frustrating myth of the American dream:
No, they were driven crazy by the sense that the world had spun so far off its axs that there was no hope of righting it. Underneath that sense of victimhood, that sense that the corporations and the government were coconspirators in perpetrating the great fleecing of the American common man, lay a defining despair in making things right. And under that despair lay their tragic flaw, a deep and abiding faith in America, in its institutions and its ideals. Like Willy Loman, perhaps the quintessential true believer in the ideology of self-made American masculinity, they believed that if they worked hard and lived right, they, too, could share in the American Dream. When it is revealed that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, that dreams are for Disneyland, then they morph into a tragic American Everymen, defeated by circumstances instead of rising above them.
Stack and Sherrill believed in that America. They believed that there was a contract between themselves, and guys like them, and the government “of the people” that is supposed to represent us. They believed in the corporations that they worked for, confident in the knowledge that they could support a family, enjoy a secure retirement, and provide for their families. That contract was the stable foundation for several generations of America’s working men—an implied but inviolable understanding between businesses and workers, between government and employers. They had kept the faith, fulfilled their part of the bargain. And somehow their share had been snatched away by faceless, feckless hands. They had played by all the rules, only to find the game was rigged from the start.
It is disturbing to say the least. And with the current state - and direction - of the American economy, it may appear we should expect more, not less, carnage.

No comments: