We Are Sick

Surveying the news, journalism, and opinion landscape in the aftermath of the school shooting tragedy in Newtown, we are struck by a myopic, kneejerk inclination to demonize either the individual who did the shooting or the firearms he used to carry it out.

By and large, one side sees evil in the fact that firearms are legal and readily available. Their argument boils down to the belief that if people couldn’t get guns, then killings like this wouldn’t happen.

The other side sees evil in the shooter instead of the weapons. They express much anger toward the kid himself, his mental condition, his reported values and behavioral “differences,” coupled with an implicit or explicit preference to eliminate (one way or another) individuals that resemble him from society.

We think that both sides in this argument are tragically missing the real issue. Missing it by avoiding doing the one thing that nobody wants to do in a situation like this; looking in the mirror.

Aside from accidents, legitimate law enforcement, war, and self-defense, there are generally two categories of death by firearm: there is evil and there is sick. Assuming that the narrative we are reading about the Newtown shooting is accurate, this is as clear a case of sick as there is. Evil in this context is when someone kills someone else for gain; for example, to steal their belongings. Adam Lanza gained nothing from killing those kids. Adam Lanza was sick.

What both sides in the worn out and endless red-blue argument seem to be missing is that Adam Lanza is one of us. As a society, we are Adam Lanza and Adam Lanza is us. If we want to move in the direction of preventing, or at least reducing the frequency of tragedies like this, we must confront as a culture, as a society, that we are sick.

As a society, we produce individuals like Adam Lanza. We also produce individuals like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon who are willing to see the majority of Americans suffer increasing poverty so that they can enjoy increasing wealth. We also produce individuals like Ben Bernanke who is willing to in-debt generations of unborn Americans for decades and to create global food inflation which directly leads to increases in malnourishment and starvation for those who are already on the edge of their ability to purchase food, all in order to maintain a status quo that is grotesquely tilted in the favor of the few against the many. And we produce individuals like Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama, who seemed to be weeping during his statement on the Newtown shooting, whose global peace and cooperation rhetoric is beyond compare, and who authorizes remote, video-game-like assassination of countless innocent civilians by un-manned drone-fired missile strikes, while simultaneously doing everything he can to promote legislation that guts the Constitution, making it impossible for him to be held legally responsible for actions that are clearly terrorist in nature.

As a culture, we are sick. And when you are sick, you cannot expect to get well by masking the symptoms of illness. Leaving aside the practical impossibility of eliminating firearms, even if you could get rid of them all and make them impossible to get, you would not cure the ills that produced Adam Lanza. You would instead produce more unabombers, or increase the numbers of murder by automobile. Likewise, you cannot cure the illness by incarcerating people with social disorders, or people who prefer to wear black clothes. The sickness doesn’t go away when you focus on the symptoms; it just manifests itself in a different way.

The only way to begin to address this sickness is to be willing to look in the mirror and realize that we are ill; that we cannot point to something or someone else, out there, that needs to be eliminated. As bad as this massacre is — and it is horrific — it is clear that we are not yet ready, as a culture, to take that look in the mirror. As long as we are still fighting about who or what is to blame, we are still committed to looking anywhere and everywhere but the mirror. To put it in twelve-step terms, we have not yet hit rock bottom.

What will it take, America?