No devil in these details


Why? As the nation attempts to process the horrible events of Newtown, this is the single most important, yet, elusive quarry. Chasing “why” is often referred to as etiology — the study of causes.

Extending the term, Micha F. Lindemans, the editor of the Encyclopedia Mythica, discusses the formation of “etiological myths.” As he states, “These are stories which provide a mythological explanation for peculiar things in nature or certain events and customs of which the origin has long been forgotten.”

The media is rife with etiological myths about the Newtown tragedy. Many of them demonstrate just how narrow-minded and naïve people can be. Writing for Salon.com, Prachi Gupta’s editorial, Five crazy right-wing theories about why the Newtown shootings happened, discusses a few standouts.

The first example comes from National Review writer Charlotte Allen. She argues that the over-feminization of elementary schools is at the root of it: “Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.”

They would have died. This is victim blaming and it’s morally reprehensible.

Then there’s Gupta’s quote from evangelist Sam Morris. Morris is guilty of conflation because he attributes the killing to teaching “this junk about evolution” and schools teaching children how to be a “homo.”

My home state’s erstwhile governor, Mike Huckabee, espoused his own dubious theory on Fox News: “We ask why there is violence in our schools… we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”

A quality that all three of these “explanations” share can also be found in the contention that Adam Lanza was “evil” or a “monster.” Lanza certainly did things that were evil and monstrous. Nobody disputes that, but he, himself was not evil or a monster. He was a very sick kid who was failed by society.

When we argue that ‘the devil made him do it’ or even worse, as the Westboro Baptist Church does that ‘this is God’s wrath,’ we subconsciously detach ourselves from the fact that we collectively failed to prevent it. This isn’t God punishing us. It’s us punishing us.

We punish ourselves because we continue to tolerate a political system based on money instead of ethics, reason and common sense. Two of the central issues of the Newtown massacre — mental health care and gun control — provide the most egregious examples.

During the 1960s, the national move to shutter mental hospitals transformed America. Instead of being made to reform in-patient care, the health care industry turned thousands of profoundly sick individuals out onto the streets. Concomitantly, we permitted the health care industry to artificially overprice treatment, while allowing them to propagate the lie that mental health is somehow distinct from physical health. This only serves to reinforce the pointless shame and stigma of having a mental illness.

As to the gun lobby, they use hyper-masculine fear-mongering to convince atavistic reactionaries that gun idolatry in preparation from some great populist revolution or Mad Max apocalypse is the only way to be truly American.

I own guns. They are my possessions. They do not define me. I am just as much a man without a gun as I am with one. Gandhi was even more of a man. As was Jesus.

If we want to prevent this from happening again, we have to start by un-defining corporations as people. They aren’t human and they don’t deserve human rights.

We then need comprehensive campaign finance reform. Only once we unyoke Congress from the talons of lobby groups will our “representatives” be obliged to vote their intellect and conscience instead of their campaign accounts.

Lastly, any solution to problems of this scale starts by asking what we individually should be prepared to sacrifice in service to a greater good. I don’t get to yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater because my right of free speech is less important than the rights of the other people to be safe in public. I don’t get to force my religion down your heretical throat even though I’d be doing it for your own good — because your right to go to hell trumps my right to stop you.

What might happen if we applied that same logic to violence, health care and gun idolatry?

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Matthew Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice, is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany. He may be contacted via pate.matthew@gmail.com