Monday, October 02, 2006



The news continues to roll in about the Amish school shootings. As a father of two young girls, I find it particularly disturbing. Without much surprise, I predict in the coming hours and days much punditry regarding gun control, psychology/psychiatry, the importance of valuing and supporting boys, the dangers of anti-depressants, etc. The fact is, however, we really don’t know anything other than WHAT happened at this point, and perhaps we will never know WHY. Nonetheless (you knew this was coming), I’ll offer a little bit of social commentary that might help explain the WHY.

In short, I blame the Hippies. But seriously, though – think about the cultural changes that occurred from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.

The 1950’s was the time where most U.S. citizens were acutely aware of the real possibility of threats to the nation’s survival. The threat-conscious communities of WWII and the Cold War caused communities, and especially parents and other civil authority figures (in general) to demand “acceptable” behavior from their children and their citizens, lest any non-acceptable behavior begin to dissolve and/or fracture their communities, or the nation as a whole. Communities were *mostly* idyllic; any transgressions were either immediately publicized in order to reinforce the shamefulness of the act (such as theft, vandalism, etc.), or they were secrets kept closely-guarded in order to avoid such shame (such as teen pregnancy, etc.).

With this rigidity also came the overzealousness brought on by fear, whether it be in expressions of horror regarding the evils of Rock ‘n Roll, or in racially-motivated prejudice and tyranny. But the oppressiveness, brought about by the sacrifices whose intent was to maintain societal comfort and stability, had to be confronted at some point. Free-thinking and rebellious Americans, especially teenagers, would not stand for such lack of Liberty.

So we come to the explosion of unbounded Liberty of the 60’s and 70’s, which has since been taken for granted as the natural “progression” of our society. Without a threat to its survival, America could afford to reap the fruits of liberty and forget what it had taken to sow the seeds.

Perhaps the best representation of these changes is the 1998 Reese Witherspoon/Tobey Maguire movie Pleasantville. The plot goes something like this [SPOILER ALERT]: a brother and sister, teenagers of the 1990’s, are transported back to a magical, black-and-white TV world of the 50’s. Their post-modern, post-1960’s ideas about freedom immediately bring about profound changes in the idyllic society they encounter. Some citizens of Pleasantville, as a metaphor for their freedom-inspired transformation of enlightenment, begin appearing in color to those around them. While they are elated with their liberation, they also feel guilty and ostracized because they appear differently than most everybody else in the community. Ultimately, and after a great deal of stress to the community, this notion of unbridled emotion and freedom takes over the whole town, and it becomes a kaleidoscope of color in metaphor.

IMO, the filmmakers’ lesson is that the 50’s were bad and that we should never go back. That’s all well and good, because there were things about the 50's that we shouldn't return to. But we shouldn't forget, as parents of subsequent generations, to teach our children the good values of community that were taught to those who lived before us.

But American societal values always change, so we don’t necessarily teach our children the things that were important to our parents and grandparents. We cycle from having borderline-tyrannical social norms to a live-and-let-live overload and back. What was once a cherished value of citizenship – keeping track of your neighbors, making sure that they’re okay (both that they are safe and that they are complying with the rules of society) - somehow became a violation of privacy and a repression of freedom.

Would a more rigid society have prevented the tragedy at the Amish schoolhouse? Perhaps. Perhaps “keeping an eye on each other” does really have some value. From our privacy-conscious contemporary times, it is easy to say that it would be an infringement upon this truck-driver’s civil liberties to monitor his supposed anti-social behavior. But what if we had concentrated on the more supportive side of “keeping an eye on each other?” What if there was a community in place where people actively cared about the safety of others and considered the thoughts and feelings of others in their everyday acts? Would that have helped?

Perhaps . . .


Major Mike said...

Stand by for the full purple-faced rant.

Dr. Helen Smith's opinions is my take on where these morons come from.

Poor parenting. When the only skill it takes to be a parent is to respond to one of the two most base human instincts, then the quality of the parenting we can expect is random at best. And when combined with some of the institutional and moral collapses we have sustained over the past few decades (as Dueler aptly points out) we have end up with a high percentage of parents that barely have the skill set to raise hamsters, let alone children.

This lack of parenting skill will have its greatest impact as immature parents are unable to understand or guide their children through the often devasting issues that children face in their adolesence. Mature parenting can ease the pain and keep marginal behaviors from becoming sociopathic.

Bottom line...we have a high percentage of parents who are incapable of raising it any wonder many wander into adulthood with few or no social skills, with only failed or incomplete role models at home? Start with the parents.

Next...continue with the parents. The by-product of the hippie/me generation is that many still feel that they are entitled to live their lives as they choose...regardless of whether they have children. This "me first" form of parenting places the maturation, growth, and well-being of their children behind their personal wants. Single parents leaving children alone at home to date. Single mothers moving in with multiple "boyfriends" over the course of their children's impressionable lives. Men abandoning their responsibilities in favor of a few good times with the boys. Parenting is a FULL TIME job, and gaps are easily filled by scar tissue and deep emotional damage that can remain hidden until years later.

Children KNOW when they are being poorly parented,and this fact alone is deeply scarring on the young psyche, and it goes completely unobserved by self-centered and inattentive parents.

Quit blaming the schools. Leadership and decision making are often not the strong suits of school administrators, but they are not the parents. All of the poor behaviors that are rampant in our schools are the lack of poor and disinterested parenting...ALL of them. Attempting to correct individual behaviors in the midst of hundreds is a fools game. The behaviors need to be corrected at home...unfortunately, most won't...see above.

Listen to experts less. With all due respect to Dr. Smith. Our virtually all matters...suck. Health "experts" are often completely REVERSED in mere years after making "groundbreaking discoveries." Our penal systems, flooded with "experts," are failing miserably. Educational "experts" are all over the maps with new "programs," learning strategies and developmental strategies...with no coherent correlation between these programs and measurable results.

Sometimes we overlook our good, human instincts, and defer to "experts" who are merely statistical analysts and educated guessers. Public punishment and community scorn went a long way to deter the deluge of scoiopathic behavior we have experienced over the last four decades of self-centered "individualism," and over compensation protecting everyone's sense of self-worth and "dignity." Sometimes people deserve our ire and our scorn.

Punish more. The line needs to be connected between the crime and the punishment. There are some very successful prison exposure programs to juvenile offenders...these should be continued and expanded. But we need to begin real punishment when real crimes are committed. Modest, or no punishment, for first offenders only re-inforces to the borderline personalities, that there is no "price" for operating outside the norms of the law. Our incremental approach ensures that we "build" criminals rather than break them. If nothing else...get those who have proven that they cannot live within the bounds of the law, off the streets. Regardless of what the "experts" say, few get "better," most get worse, and do worse things.

I believe in the negative impact of constant, violent messaging via video games, TV, and movies. If these media were not effective in changing behaviors (positively or negatively) why does the MSM try so hard to slant their messaging left?...Why are there "media campaigns?"...Why are there marketing strategies? Of course the constant bombardment of violent messaging, reinforced by a wholesale lack of consequence, is having a negative effect on those marginal personalities, or those with personality disorders.

I have no conclusion to this comment...just the idea that these events are "made"...mostly by a huge, incremental slide in societal expectations for normative behavior, and that a monumental effort, some supportive, some punitive, must be made to curb these behaviors. And those that can't be curbed...need to be isolated from society...permanently. MM

dueler88 said...

thanks mike for the great rant. I'll take it as an indication of agreement. : )

I had another idea about the story this morning. Here's how the news media portrayal can be summarized:

"Boy isn't this a horrible tragedy. Lots of people are hurting as a result of some crazed lunatic's actions. What we really mean to say is that none of your children are safe. Because we say it's a big story that is of direct importance to you, we will give you some of our ideas about what needs to be done to prevent this tragedy from happenening again. Even though this story has no direct bearing on you and your family, we're going to continue to cover it because it'll keep you watching and it will give us a chance to tell you what we think you should do to protect your family - because we're journalists, and we care, and therefore we know what's best.

Oh and because we're devoting so much coverage to it, your kids are seeing this, getting scared, so you'll probably need to have to chat with your kids about how there are some bad people out there with guns but it's okay because the chances of that happening are very small but guns are still really bad. But there's still a chance it could happen to you, so you'd better over-react and do everything we tell you to do so that you can protect your kids.

And don't touch that dial."