a creative failure

If the American Dream is unattainable, it seems to me it should be seen for what it is: an illusion. If the battle cannot be won on conventional terms, you’ve got to redefine the battlefield so that the struggle becomes something that can be won. This advice comes from no less a strategist than Napoleon.

What we have here is the result of a culture that gives everyone an award for just showing up, a culture that does not teach our boys to learn the lessons that failure has to teach. That if you can’t succeed at one thing, you try another. Instead, we set up our kids for mediocrity and failure, and fail to teach them to imagine and try other possibilities where they can shine.

Some of these guys are (or were) just so off-the-chart crazy, some anti-social act was inevitable. But how did they get that way? Could we have offered more positive outlets for their extreme emotions? Might they have taken them instead?



Men and mass murder: What gender tells us about America’s epidemic of gun violence

by Damon Linker, The Week

October 6, 2015

Another week (or day) in America, another mass shooting.

Another mass shooting, another flood of liberal attacks on gun culture, the Second Amendment, and the NRA. And another round of conservative pushback asserting some version of “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” And another Barack Obama press conference railing at our failure to “do something” to stop the violence. And another Nicholas Kristof column about how we need to regulate guns like cars. And another flurry of calls to do a better job of responding to mental health problems.

And on and on and on. The specific victims and perpetrators change, of course, but the actions and reactions recur endlessly, as if all Americans were condemned to relive a single horrific trauma over and over again, with each faction in our national debate about gun violence playing their parts, never deviating from their scripts.

Not long ago, I made my own contribution to the conversation, expressing despair that anything can significantly change this horrifying facet of our national life and culture. There are already hundreds of millions of guns in circulation, and a program of mass confiscation would never be enacted. A not-insubstantial portion of the population ends up driven to use these deadly weapons to murder their fellow citizens, and it’s not at all clear how anything can be done to keep someone from acting out in a homicidal-suicidal orgy of violence if he is hell-bent on doing so.

But realism (or fatalism) doesn’t preclude trying to understand why it keeps happening. And as far as I’m concerned, the most disturbing (and also least discussed) aspect of America’s epidemic of mass shootings is the fact that they are almost invariably committed by men.

Murder is an overwhelmingly male act, with the offender proving to be a man 90 percent of the time the person’s gender is known. When it comes to mass shootings, the gender disparity is even greater, with something like 98 percent of them perpetrated by men.

We don’t lack for explanations. To cite just a few: There’s good, old-fashioned male aggression; the emotional immaturity of boys in comparison to girls; cultural norms that lead men to consider it unacceptable to ask for help, especially about mental and emotional problems; and the pervasiveness of graphically violent forms of entertainment, including video games that place the player in the position of the “shooter.”

All of these and other factors probably contribute in various ways to many shootings, with the decisive ones varying from case to case.

But there is an additional factor that doesn’t get discussed as much as it should: the role of a distorted (but also extremely common) form of moral thinking in the psychology of men who commit mass murder.

I’m talking about the tendency of mass shooters to fixate on perceived injustices ranging from racial and sexual slights to various interpersonal and career-related failures. Shooters are murderously angry—and they’re angry because they feel like the world has failed to give them the rewards they deserve.

The notion of desert stands close to the core of moral experience and belief. Most of us feel that those who are good deserve to triumph (or be rewarded) and those who are bad deserve to fail (or be punished). The American Dream of upward economic mobility, along with the postwar culture of meritocracy, presumes that our country is organized to make it happen: those who work hard will rise and those who do not will fall.

There’s been a lot of recent talk about the breakdown of the American Dream, with leading public figures claiming that upward mobility has slowed considerably. Studies, meanwhile, appear to show that things may not be getting significantly worse, after all—although they also show that mobility in the U.S. lags behind what many other countries enjoy.

But the focus on change over time and international comparisons obscures the fact that to a considerable extent the American Dream has always been more of a myth than reality. Some people start off the race of life with enormous (natural and conventional) advantages over others. And for the biggest leaps up the economic ladder, luck always plays an indeterminate but substantial role.

Which means that deserving has very little, if anything, to do with the outcome.

It would be one thing if discovering this fact were an occasion for temporary disappointment or sadness. But that’s not how many of us respond to evidence of the world’s imperfect justice. We respond with anger. And when the injustices pile up, the anger can curdle into righteous indignation—into the conviction that the world itself is broken, that it’s not merely failing to function as we’ve been taught it should, but that it’s actually operating backwards, by systematically punishing those (like oneself) who deserve to succeed and rewarding those who deserve to fail.

Men and women both experience righteous indignation, of course. But there may be something specific about masculinity—perhaps its deep ties to irrational pride—that leads some men to experience a perceived injustice (and especially a string of them) as an excruciating personal humiliation that cries out not just for redress but for revenge. In this way, wounded pride provokes some men to lash out in a violent fury at their fellow human beings as a way of striking back at the intolerable injustice of the world.

By all means, let’s continue to push for intelligent restrictions on guns. And for better ways to protect ourselves from them. And for better health services for the mentally ill.

But along with these well-intentioned efforts, it couldn’t hurt to try and do a better job of teaching our kids—and especially our boys—that the world owes and guarantees them absolutely nothing. Setbacks and failures will always be painful. But they needn’t be viewed as a sign that an existential promise has been betrayed—or treated as moral justification for a testosterone-fueled homicidal temper tantrum.


Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also a consulting editor at the University of Pennsylvania Press, a former contributing editor at The New Republic, and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.



2 Responses to “a creative failure”

  1. 1 Hat Bailey
    October 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    In my opinion this author leaves out a number of important factors in the rise of the occurrence of mass shootings in our modern era in schools, malls and theaters. Personally I am a man of peace and own no guns. I don’t hunt and hate violence. Yet I am a very fervent supporter of the right to own firearms, and I do believe it is a right. If anyone is permitted to carry deadly weapons then the fact that “all men are created equal” means that no one has the right to tell another adult person that they cannot carry one. I am of the persuasion that it is not the tool that is the problem. Before guns people killed mainly with blades or blunt force trauma. Yet guns have been with us for many decades now, and it is noticeable that mass shootings, other than those instituted by so called “governments” or government agents were very rare during the early years of the twentieth century. In fact there are very seldom reports of mass or multiple school shootings during the first three decades of the 20th Century, with the three most violent attacks on schools involving either arson or explosions. You can determine this yourself with a little research. In my own lifetime I don’t remember any mass shootings up until the Kent State massacre which was why it was so shocking to me. Yet it was not in the pattern of the more recent shootings. One interesting fact about these are that nearly every mass shooting incident in the last twenty years, and multiple other instances of suicide and isolated shootings all share one thing in common, and it’s not the weapons used.

    The overwhelming evidence points to the signal largest common factor in all of these incidents is the fact that all of the perpetrators were either actively taking powerful psychotropic drugs or had been at some point in the immediate past before they committed their crimes:


    However to me there is something even more sinister about most of these shootings and this is something that I would be hard pressed to try and prove. I know that there has been a group of people who follow an ancient plan to subject the mass of humanity to total domination and control. Sometimes referred to as the “Illuminati” the “New World Order” the “Global Elite” the “Bilderbergers” the thirteen bloodline families, etc.

    These people have an agenda and it does not include the ability of the ordinary person to have access to effective means of self defense. These people also control the mass media, most educational facilities and can publicize and spin the news to suit their purposes and agenda. I have noticed more than once when gun legislation was stalled or an important gun issue was up for debate one of these mass shooting events just happened to occur. There is no doubt that these self styled elites have gotten control of the shadow government that operates behind the scenes including many of the clandestine organizations that operate virtually without accountability and have carried out experiments including MKUltra that have perfected the art of splitting the human personality and create killers who upon receiving a trigger word or tone over the phone will go out and do whatever they have been programmed to carry out and then have no trace of memory afterwards about what they did. They can be programmed to commit suicide if there is any chance they will be caught or captured. This is often the case with many of these supposed crazed lone gunmen.


    As I mentioned before it is not the tool that is the problem, it is the mind that uses it and for what it is used.
    Being one who believes that death is an illusion and nothing to justifiably fear I am willing to give up a certain amount of seeming security for greater liberty and personal freedom. This is a high value for me as it is for many others. Then there are those who willingly trade freedom for security. Many of them are comfortable with a form of slavery as long as the chains do no rest too heavily upon them. This to me would be a form of living death, for which the literal death would be a relief. Those who feel as I do may be willing to delegate their own right to self defense, but this delegation does not and cannot be thought to deprive them of the right itself.

    I enjoy the convenience of motorized transport, cars, trucks, ATVs, even though I know that there is a certain risk of death or serious injury. I enjoy the thought that there are many who are armed effectively and willing to defend their liberty with violence if necessary. If all were armed then the few psychopaths and criminals, though they would also be armed, would be hopelessly outnumbered. It seems to me that most of these shootings were in gun free zones, and even those that weren’t were in a society where very few carry because of the hassles and difficulties they face. An armed society, it is said, is a civil society. There will be some accidental deaths and injuries, and some who act in the storm of emotions and regret it afterwards. Some stupid people will be removed from the gene pool.

    I am one who believes in karma and destiny, I don’t think that anyone is killed who doesn’t on a soul level agree that this experience is part of their reality. I believe in Divine Providence and protection, and that sometimes facing death is a very educational and beneficial experience. We will all die sometime, it is how you live that really matters. I would prefer very much not to live as a slave in the Gnu Whirled Odor.

  2. 2 Willow54
    October 9, 2015 at 9:55 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the concept of the “American Dream” being part of the problem. Those reading this blog in countries other than the US must be asking the same question as me – what is it about Americans that gives them some inalienable right to have bigger and better aspirations than other people, and to feel so entitled that, when the “dream” doesn’t materialise, they need to have someone to blame for that, and exact deadly revenge or punishment on those they suspect of being responsible for denying them what they feel is their right to expect?

    The author writes that he feels the American Dream is a myth and needs to be addressed as such, and as quickly as possible, if the US is to avoid future mass shootings in its’ name. I couldn’t agree more.

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