Last Thursday was business as usual in America; that is, there was another school shooting. This one was about ninety minutes away from me, in Roswell, New Mexico. A twelve-year-old boy shot two of his classmates with a sawed off shotgun; a teacher stepped in and the shooter handed him the gun, then sort of crumpled against the wall. The boy had recently written about wanting to bring the weapon to school in his English class journal, and had also confided in several of his friends.
“Evil visited Roswell today,” proclaimed a local official.
I’d have to agree: a desperate child in a violent national culture was ignored by a community of adults beyond his ability to endure it – while provided with unlimited access to lethel weapons
We will run out of everything else in rural New Mexico before we run out of guns. They are everywhere, seeming almost to be underfoot, and everyone over the age of ten knows how to use them. They are as close as your father’s pick-up truck, which is where I am 90 percent certain the Roswell shooter got his weapon.
As the two wounded middle schoolers were flown to a Texas hospital, a fifeen-year-old boy lay dying of a heart attack in El Paso, alone in a U.S. border patrol detention room. He had risked swallowing a hopelessly deadly amount of liquid methamphetamine right in front of the agents, insisting it was only tea. They had relied upon the delusional judgement of a young adolescent whose cognition was insufficiently developed to grasp cause, effect and mortality – and left him to his death .
Earlier last week, not far from the checkpoint where the teenager would soon die, one young man shot another to death over a $75 debt — along with his target’s two young children
And today, a twenty-two year-old conveience store clerk I have come to know over the past year remarked cheerfully that he planned to put a bullet through his temple on his 30th birthday.
“I just know I don’t want to live any longer than that,” he said. “That’s when the things that make life bearable start to get outweighed by the things that make life unbearable. I’ve watched the same thing happen over and over. Guys like me, all we have is youth – we can work hard all day and drink every night. But we get old fast – old drunks with fucked up backs and knees and feet. I’m checking out before that starts to happen”
There’s a huge toxic discrepency between what Americans say and what we experience: everyone responds to it. It isn’t that young men occupy some inexplicable separate sphere; rather, they respond like young men to the impossible contradictions that choke the rest of us.
We tell 18-year-old boys they are men, and that a man stands on his own – without providing millions of them any skills to support themselves. Just when their need for support in making a huge social transition is greatest, we leave them to themselves at a point when most families are simply unable to fill gap.
We send them into armed combat before they are old enough to drink a beer, and incarcerate them as adult at 16 and 17, even though we are well aware that key areas of their brains (not involving intellect, but impulse control, judgement, and a full concept of the future) are years away from full development. There’s simply nothing for it but to stop wailing about individual pathology ( anti-social, crazy young white men) and hinting at cultural pathology (gang-related violence/young Black and Latino men) and focus on social policies that reflect our actual experience – by meeting our actual needs.
Our foreign policy makes our military crazy with the kind of wars that give an army PTSD. Our Congress acts out the chilling contradictions of our domestic policies in a kind of grotesque and surreal vaudeville show. Working-class people are middle class and poor people are invisible: yes, this is class war – and not so nakedly revealed since the turn of the 20th century. National “Conversations on Race” are obscene charades functioning to obscure the desparate trap to which white Baby Boomers abandoned a massive African-American underclass over 30 years ago.
Gay rights somehow became a new issue 43 years after those sissies at Stonewell astonished their tormenters with a fist in the face. Disability rights have essentially disappeared from the conversation. Without the constant pressure historically required of them, Liberals have reverted to appropriating social and political inequities into a cottage industry, buttressing their traditional self-interest.
And what was that incredibly weird Year of the Woman ABOUT? News flash: we won those gains 30 years ago. When did we agree to legitimize the fiction of a reasonable discussion by participating in it – and on such a simplistic level How did we even get drawn into a conversation about working mothers in the first place? From there it was a slippery slope to reproductive rights – straight down to “legitimate rape”.
What’s wrong with young American men? Let’s diagnose and fix this crazy nation, and re-visit that question in ten years.