Could it be that the rampant violence in America is a sign of a massive existential crisis caused by the bleakness of our apparent future?
Some people want to blame guns for our increasing spiral into ultra-violence, but guns do not provide motivation. Shooting rampages do not happen just because somebody has access to guns, they happen because someone is driven to radical measures. Guns just make it more efficient than trying to stab a bunch of people before someone can stop you. Some will argue that access to guns makes the decision to spree kill easier, and whether or not that is the case it still misses an important point. Would we accept that our way of life drives people to that choice if it didn’t result in violence? Would we be okay with destroying the hearts and minds of individuals so long as they didn’t physically hurt anyone else?
Culprit number two in the public sphere of rhetoric is that increases in mass murder are the result of a mental health crisis. While there may be a mental health crisis, and while we may be failing to address it responsibly and compassionately, mental health issues are not what is causing the gun violence either, which has been thoroughly backed up by research. It is easy to believe that people who commit these atrocious acts are mentally ill after the fact, but an examination into their lives before they went spree-killer usually indicates otherwise.
This is not to say that the problem is not mental, just that it is not the kind of mental problem you can easily shove into a disease model. It is the kind of problem that we have been culturally conditioned to scoff at and dismiss, which is one of the reasons it got so out of control without us noticing it in the blind spot of our values and beliefs. The problem I am talking about is an existential crisis, the inability of an individual to resolve their selves and their lives with the world that they live in. This is the kind of problem that our hyper-masculine culture has taught us to perceive as being the exclusive domain of the weak and lazy. Those suffering from it are sent a clear message to suck it up and deal with it on their own – and now they are starting to break.
If the massive spike in violence is indeed a result of people being pushed through an existential crisis to their breaking point, then what is causing the crisis to begin with?
As developed and developing countries around the world begin to look towards a future that is radically different than the last three hundred years of industrialist capitalism, America seemingly has no plans to make any changes. Where other societies are looking beyond human labor, wage-dependency and closing up holes in their safety nets for their people, Americans seem to believe that we will just keep on working mostly unsatisfactory jobs forty hours (more or less) a week until the nukes fall, Jesus returns or the sun dies out. We are devoid of a teleology. We are not working towards anything, we are just working. Forever. No matter how much it sucks. Man up.
It was not always this way. During the middle of the 20th century Americans saw themselves working towards something, building something beyond what they knew. Something better. They worked hard not just for their own prosperity, but so that they could improve the lives of future generations and make it easier for them to live. This had been the spirit of Americans since our ancestors first showed up and began murderously evicting the prior residents, whom they justified destroying under the logic that these people had no vision for the future, but just an endless lust for very old traditions.
By the end of the 20th century our vision began to change to accommodate the economic forces that profited from the way things were. No longer was it acceptable to believe in the end of jobs and a fully automated society that provided for us. Instead we appeased ourselves with platitudes about work ethics and responsibility. We came to see work less and less as a means to an end, but as the end itself. Stoicism and perseverance replaced idealism and hope and we became attached to the narratives that subjected us to the greatest wealth inequality that the world has ever known.
It is a miracle at all that so many of us became so well-adjusted to this. Many people learned to accept it with a sort of graceful apathy and a blind eye, while many others became staunch defenders of the system of their enslavement, as some victims of abuse are wont to do. It is of little surprise (to me, at least) that living in this pressure tank of future dread, and the seething anger it produces all around, has caused people to completely lose their minds and explode in a hail of bullets.
This is not the sort of thing you can fix with new laws. Legal restrictions do nothing to prevent people from reaching a breaking point at which they succumb to violent impulses, even if every weapon is made illegal. When hopelessness is the problem there is only one solution, which is to give people something to hope for.
We should not be afraid of losing our jobs to machines. We should be rejoicing it. We should be looking forward to the day when every job is handled by automation and we are left to reap the rewards of the wealth it produces for us while exploring activities that appeal to our own interests and life goals.
In the meantime we should be exploring a path that will lead us there. We should be replacing compulsive schooling with self-directed lifelong learning centers, equipped with resources and individuals who can help people make and meet goals that improve their knowledge and lives. We should be exploring basic incomes that help us make the transition, while also addressing poverty and the social ills it creates. We should be providing no questions asked physical and mental healthcare, as well as ways to deal with existential issues that we cannot handle alone. Nobody left behind.
There is always someone to give you endless expert-approved reasons why none of these things can be done, but they are wrong. Where there is a will there is a way. That is the kind of attitude we used to have back in the day before schools and other public places became firing ranges for people who just cannot handle another day being told a better future is not possible. That nothing-is-impossible outlook is the kind of attitude we need to have once again. It is not just the success of these suggestions that would alleviate our existential issues, but just knowing that we were working towards something; that there is a greater goal that we are actively pursuing. We need hope, and to achieve that, we need to see that we are progressing towards something worth believing in.
Do not wait for the American government to do this. They are owned and operated by the very same ruling elite that want to see their paradigm exist in perpetuity, regardless of its human cost. They are not acting on necessity, but on small-minded and short-sighted selfishness. If you wait for them to do what needs to be done you will be inciting more violence through inaction.
Instead make plans within your community. Change starts at home. It is a bottom-up affair. Stop looking up and start looking around. This is the place and these are the people with whom you must work together to create something to believe in.