Acquaintances described the gunman as a loner who showed signs of depression, had trouble relating to women and spent many hours playing violent video games. Although he was prone to vicious outbursts, the acquaintances said they didn’t think he’d really do anything, so they didn’t bother to alert authorities. Authorities said they were trying to verify the authenticity of threatening rants the gunman posted on social media sites against blacks/whites/Christians/Muslims/Jews/people.No blanks to fill in in that paragraph. Unfortunately, as a New York Times analysis concludes, “You can’t go out and round up all the alienated angry young men.” Nor, as Reason's Jacob Sullum elaborates, can more stringent screening of people be done in a way consistent with Constitutional principles. And if kicking eleven million illegal aliens out of the country is not feasible, confiscating firearms is likely to aggravate the rebellion.
Perhaps, instead, the difficulty is in the environment within which the angry young men stew in their alienation. Several years and distressingly many mass shootings ago, I suggested that Ralph Waldo Emerson had a better understanding of the tensions among individuality and community than the more trendy recent speculations. "Put [the recent social theories] together, and we have a flimsy, ad-hoc set of explanations why some disaffected people behave badly, and when it's all said and done, nothing available to make it better." Nor has anything changed since, although the shooting at a California sorority house brought the destructive consequences of the so-called sexual revolution to light. (I've been repeating this for twelve years. Now will you listen?)
Today the only victors in the sexual revolution are those men and women who are good-looking and clever enough to enjoy multiple partners with a minimum of emotional and financial commitment. The dowdy and the not-so-clever (or not-so-unscrupulous) are used by the well-endowed and find loneliness and frustration where, in a previous generation, they would probably have been able to start families.Sometimes the frustration boils over, and people, often young women, die. There's a trenchant observation from a different context that strikes me as relevant. "This is the bed Third Wave feminism has made."
But that's not the only possibility, nor even the strongest possibility. Rather, what we have is a cascade of error. The first of the public mass shootings, in most chronicles, is the 1966 Texas Tower event. That's early in the live television era, and early in the Consciousness Revolution. And what has that Consciousness Revolution brought us? There's more than "if it feels good, do it" and "do your own thing, man." Couple the Consciousness Revolution with post-Enlightenment social theory and what do you see?
A freakazoid is now transgressive, and that's something to affirm. Thus freakazoids get away with behaving badly.
A street thug is now authentic, and that's something to celebrate. Thus street thugs get away with behaving badly.
A nebbish is still a nebbish. But the post-Enlightenment social theorists offer no special affirmation.
And nowhere are there institutions or conventions strong enough to give the nebbish something to constructively push against (as Emerson would have it) or to encourage the nebbish to interact constructively with other people.
But it took a long march through the institutions to create the toxic common culture. Give the toxins an opportunity to leach out, and the common culture will improve. And perhaps there will be fewer angry nebbishes lashing out.