Shaken, Not StirredDecember 18th, 2012

The slaughter of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown should be seen as the quintessential expression of our national character. We feed ourselves and our children a diet of violence that ought to nauseate us, and we allow our leaders to push the rest of the world around with lethal force, and we’re surprised when this happens?

I don’t believe anybody is surprised. Life is so cheap for us now that our newsmongers discuss remote-controlled warfare and government assassinations as issues of public policy. To mark the birth of Jesus, countless teenagers will soon receive games that simulate almost unimaginable violence and bloodshed, and we see no irony there. All this mock sympathy for the latest round of mayhem might be a little hard for some of us to stomach.

My experience of the weekend, festive as December weekends are, was that people were able to put out of consciousness the vision of children being killed one-by-one in front of each other and party on. Baby-killing wasn’t discussed at any gathering I attended. Nothing surprising there.

What surprises me is the amount of dissonance people are able to tolerate. The news coverage–including so-called progressive news outlets–has so far censored out all discussion of the social forces that make this sort of atrocity inevitable, even as images of video-game-blooshed and dead Arab babies popped into our news-deprived heads.

Newsmen aren’t asking how Newtown’s dead babies are different from the ones our ordnance kills every day in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and the Gaza Strip, but we seem to be OK with that. Most of us seem able (with the help of the right drugs) to square a deep commitment to bombs and bullets with disapproval of violent crime. Seems as if logic and history should compel us to admit we’re a nation of vicious bullies who should expect this sort of thing from time to time.

I don’t need a police investigation to tell me what Adam Lanza’s motive was. It’s always revenge in cases like this. This killer wanted to exact retribution from everyone for whatever bullying he was subjected to. Bullying that he blamed on everyone, maybe with some justification. He did the worst thing he could think of, and we were all punished. He probably thought he was doing his victims a favor, as baby-killers often do, sparing them the suffering he had to go through, but he mainly wanted to ruin the lives of their survivors, his enemies. We can only guess what went through his mind, but we do know vengeance has become a sacrament of American culture. Couple that with a national craving for violence, and you’re going to suffer atrocities every so often.

Don’t hold your breath for a public discussion of the role of America’s malevolent streak in the crime that killed so many kids. People seem to be shaken by this event, but not stirred to abandon their love of violence.