Through most of Western history in particular, we've seen a very broad, general trend. As a government becomes entrenched, it swings in favour of the type of people who make up the government and punishes those who are different. After all, as George W. Bush once proclaimed, we need bus drivers, too. And janitors. And plumbers. Coal workers. Salt of the land.
The founding fathers of the U.S. specifically designed a type of government that they hoped would interrupt that model. By disrupting who is in power every 2-4 years (depending on the governmental role), by developing checks and balances between Congress, President and Supreme Court, they thought they'd built something that could create little revolutions and thus avoid the need for a larger revolution.
Unfortunately, we've seen the rise of a political class instead of something like the English aristocracy, but it truly amounts to the same thing. Hence we have these families which keep popping up on both sides of the fence: Bush, Kennedy. It's not a Democrat or Republican issue at all: the ruling class of politicians has forgotten what it's like to not Have.
In the meantime, we have decades and decades of hearing Horatio Alger-like stories. We have this amazing mythical American pie where everyone can have a larger slice of the pie than everyone else. We have this disconnect from reality ... this belief that we are owed a large slice of the pie like those privileged families have — without working for it. And we also have this Puritan belief that idle hands are the devil's plaything — and we should work. Just look at any chart of world vacation time and while most U.S. employers offer 1-2 weeks as a benefit (and that may increase depending on years of service), it's not a requirement.
In the 1970s, we also began to see a rise in concern with children's self-esteem. This trend began spiraling out of control by the mid-80s and into a horrible pendulum swing away from anything rational from the 80s through the last few years. Children were fed a mixture of "you can be anything you want to be" along with an unhealthy dose of little to no consequences.
From Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (no, not the movie, the Hugo-winning novel):
He had singled me out again. "Suppose you merely scolded your puppy, never punished him, let him go on making messes in the house ... and occasionally locked him up in an outbuilding but soon let him back into the house with a warning not to do it again. Then one day you notice that he is now a grown dog and still not housebroken — whereupon you whip out a gun and shoot him dead. Comment, please?"
"Why ... that's the craziest way to raise a dog I ever heard of!"
Here Heinlein is talking about the "juvenile delinquents of the 20th century," and while I don't agree with all of his points, there is more than a grain of truth to this — this way that we've been raising children since at least the 70s*. When a child refuses to do schoolwork and a teacher is mandated to let him take as long as he wants with no punishment, we are performing this exact method of puppy raising. When you combine that with telling children they can be anything they want, that they deserve everything they want — without also teaching consequences and responsibility alongside, without emphasizing the amount of work it can take to achieve what they want ... we are setting our children up for failure.
When you combine the emphasis on independence (we can do anything we want to, we're Americans and that's in the Constitution ... somewhere) with being raised with a lack of consequences and with the expectation that we deserve a larger piece of the pie than anyone else with the very Western thought that "if they're different from us, they don't matter as much" and then combine that with the gun culture in the United States ....
Well. Then you get something like Columbine. The Murrah building. Sandy Hook.
And if you can stomach the six minute video from Elliot Rodger's "Retribution" video on YouTube** — if you can watch him and listen to his inflections, his posing ... you can see this ... his detachment from reality is where all of these American myths are leading. He deserved a girl. Affection. Sex. But as you listen to the overblown phrases that sound like a B-movie villain, you can also see that the line between reality and fantasy is mostly nonexistent. He thinks he's owed these things, not that he has to work for them. He thinks they're being willfully withheld from him. The most chilling thing to me in that video is the "evil chuckle" not because it's scary, but because it's so obviously taken from the movies and so obviously put on as if he's supposed to have that. He might have been 22 when he recorded it, but he sounds as if he's 12 and acting out a part. I'm not sure even he truly believed most of what he said. You could hear the hitch in his voice, see a look of doubt and then he'd almost shake himself and plow on again.
He killed six people the next day. And himself (regardless if he pulled the trigger to end his life or if you consider it suicide-by-cop). Seven others were wounded, some severely.
And it occurs to me that we are in the midst of the type revolution the founding fathers had tried to avoid. It's not the French Revolution, by any means. We have not organized and revolted, although with the upswing of the Occupy movement, there is a motion in that direction. But if you look at the rise of mass shootings, there is an unorganized guerrilla movement that's been in process in the U.S. for quite some time, it simply reflects the mantra that we've drilled into the mythos of America for decades: the individual is supreme; we deserve a bigger piece of the pie; "those people" are different; and violence is a time-honoured solution.
I don't know how we undo the damage this type of upbringing has caused. I do know, however, if we don't start listening to our children, start imposing reasonable consequences, start addressing the issue of violence, and start emphasizing responsibility and a balance of personal need and community need/responsibility and mental health ... we are only going to see more and more lone revolutions.
Pointless, destructive and ridiculously dramatic gestures which serve no purpose and only result in more pain and more anger.
* Heinlein, of course, would argue that this had been going on even longer — Starship Troopers was published in 1959.
** I'm not linking to it as I'm sure YouTube will be spending the next few weeks pulling it down. Repeatedly. As other folks continue to re-upload it.
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