Causes and Remedies.
That’s what we want. A nation addicted to fast food and fast answers, where the police solve the crime in one hour on TV (less if we factor in the commercials). The difficulty with real life is that the answers are often elusive. That’s frustrating when calamities on the scale of Sandy Hook are visited on us, because humans cannot bear the chaos of random evil. We need to understand the internal logic of the evil so we can seek to remedy such evil.
“Never Again!” is the mantra.
But it happens again, and again. Each time we ask why, but are left unsatisfied.
Last night the President, speaking in Newtown, asked, “What else can we do?” and then stated that in the coming weeks he would use all the powers of his office in dealing with law enforcement around the nation to address the problem. The talking heads immediately indicated that he was broadly hinting at renewed gun control. Coming from the same administration mired in the Fast and Furious scandal, where licensed guns were allowed to be sold to drug cartels in Mexico, it rings a little hollow.
It also falls into the trap of cheap and easy solutions that are at once illusory and palliative. In the end, the reality is that Sandy Hook and the related tragedies are extremely multifaceted, with no one facet bearing the preponderance of causality. These atrocities occur with the frequency that they do when the very concept of society and civilization breaks down.
They are the symptoms, not the disease.
That’s frightening. But how many are willing to look all about us and recognize the many facets of this disintegration?
A good place to begin is with 19th Century pioneer sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who popularized and redefined the term anomie in his classic 1897 book, Suicide.
The term, anomie means to be without norms. In his book, Durkheim was addressing the societal causes of suicide rather than the personal causes. It was Durkheim’s view that people commit suicide when societal values change rapidly, leaving the individual feeling alienated. These changes can happen when societies either become too rigid, or when they lose their moral foundations. A nice little explanation from Wiki:
The nineteenth century French pioneer sociologist Émile Durkheim borrowed the word from French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau and used it in his influential book Suicide (1897), outlining the social (and not individual) causes of suicide, characterized by a rapid change of the standards or values of societies (often erroneously referred to as normlessness, and an associated feeling of alienation and purposelessness. He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for good or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life. This is contrary to previous theories on suicide which generally maintained that suicide was precipitated by negative events in a person’s life and their subsequent depression.
In Durkheim’s view, traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. Furthermore, he argued that the division of labor that had been prevalent in economic life since the Industrial Revolution led individuals to pursue egoistic ends rather than seeking the good of a larger community. Robert King Merton also adopted the idea of anomie to develop Strain Theory, defining it as the discrepancy between common social goals and the legitimate means to attain those goals. In other words, an individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately because of the structural limitations in society. As a result the individual would exhibit deviant behavior.
Against the concept of anomie it isn’t difficult to see that as societal values have changed drastically over the past half-century there has been a concomitant rise in violent crime, sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, abortion (56 million in 40 years), incarceration, etc. At the same time, our students have plummeted from first place in every educational category among the industrialized nations to last place, or next-to-last in every category among the industrialized nations.
Educational and career anomie
According to CDC, 1 in 4 American girls will have an STD by age 19. For African Americans, that number rises to 48%. Factor in illegitimacy rates that rise to the mid-70’s in percentage for African Americans, the recent release of data indicating that for the first time more people are choosing to cohabit than to marry, and the writing is on the wall.
Articles and discussions abound over how fewer and fewer young men are going to college, how women are increasingly frustrated by the lack of maturity and commitment in men in their 20’s and early 30’s. We are now beginning to hear open discussion on the war on boys and the war on men, as evidenced by the spate of TV ads that almost universally portray men as the clueless individual, the butt of the joke. See, too, the portrayal of men in sitcoms and network TV programming. In all of this it is primarily women who are pointing this out.
In divorce, fathers are frequently absent from the lives of their children, who are raised without the unique guiding role of the father, and deprived of an authentic masculinity for girls to seek in a mate and for boys to emulate. Mothers are often stuck trying to eke out a living with two jobs because of deadbeat ex’s.
In many marriages that don’t end in divorce, internet pornography has corroded any sense of authentic sexuality and expression between spouses. Airbrushed babes make real wives seem like bad porn. Worse yet, women represent an increasing percentage of the market share in porn.
The list goes on and on. A forensic analysis of the anomie of any one individual is usually comprised of many constituent anomie components. Just as the person of integrity has integrated several responsibilities and virtues into one virtuous life, the person manifesting disintegration has suffered the collapse of several constituent components in their life leading to an alienation, isolation, and despair that results in either crime, addictions, depression, maladaptive behaviors, suicide, or some combination.
A macro vision of America reveals a radically different country today than the America of 1960. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said “No man steps into the same river twice.” Indeed, because the river flows and the waters constituting the river are ever changing. But many rivers have fairly fixed shores that persist over long periods of time.
The past half-century has seen not only new waters, but a radically redirected route of the American river. If we are serious about making “Never Again!!” a reality, then in the weeks and months ahead we will have to move beyond the allure of quick solutions such as gun control, which do not address the anomie which causes the gunman to contemplate such behavior.
In the case of Sandy Hook, the guns were stolen by the son from their lawful owner, his mother. No amount of new legislation will keep socially alienated people from obtaining weapons. There will always be a black market.
The true answer to this mess resides in a recognition that Western Civilization has imploded, and what that means for us. It means an honest look in the mirror and cleaning up the roots of anomie in each of our lives. That means prayer and reconciliation, both with God and with our estranged relationships.
It means looking outward at our struggling neighbors and doing what we can to ease their burdens.
It means addressing the plight of the mentally ill, and of special education students who do not receive adequate resources to ameliorate their anomie.
It means long hard work at rebuilding a Culture of Life and a Civilization of Love.
It will mean ending the holocaust of abortion and all policies that coarsen our sensitivities and dull our appreciation for the value of every single human life, regardless of what developmental stage.
The anomie is the symptom. The question is whether the horror of Sandy Hook will motivate us to do the painful work each of us must do to ensure that this never happens again.
Time will tell.