Will America follow Obama’s bid to tackle the country’s insane gun laws? The signs are slightly more encouraging than in the wake of previous school massacres. Even the stone-hearts of the “right to bear arms” cannot face-down the butchery of so many little kids, right there in the face of the nation. We’d do well not to hold our breath though: any change is likely to be minimal, and long haggled over in ways that need not detain Heretic TOC.
Here the focus will instead be on how we look upon such events, whether as individual pathology or cultural malaise. It is both, of course. These aspects may be separated for convenience of discussion but, as the poet said, no man is an island. Actually, John Donne’s words were part of a prose meditation, but they are sometimes rendered as a poem:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Each child’s death diminishes us, as does the loss of their teachers. Nor can we detach ourselves from the killer as much as we might wish: he is the monstrous Other, but we cannot sensibly ignore the backdrop of the American culture that made him.
It is a culture in which children less “in the nation’s face” than those of an American primary school are routinely scrubbed out and no one turns a hair. I do not doubt the sincerity of Obama’s sorrow and his televised tears following the Sandy Hook school massacre, but it cannot pass in silence that the President of the United States has disappointingly become utterly at one with the most violent aspects of his country’s culture.
This is the man, lest we forget, on whose personal orders massacres are routinely conducted through drone strikes on Pakistan that wipe out children (64 on Obama’s watch alone) along with “terrorists”; this is the man who continues to support indefinite detention without trial and George W. Bush’s notorious extraordinary rendition programme, both of which policies amount to support for gross violation of human rights and torture; this is the man who has personally supported, without even the figleaf justification of national security necessity, the vindictively sustained ill-treatment, amounting to mental torture, of Wikileaks hero Bradley Manning.
This is the man who has become the very embodiment, at the highest level, of weapons-loving, military might-deploying, “kick ass” America – an America so much in love with the violent enforcement of its will that the Sandy Hook killer begins to look almost normal.
The American way, sadly, is to “make war not love”. If evidence supplied by neuropathologist James Prescott is right, there is a near inevitability to this state of affairs in the U.S., where it is widely considered proper for kids to destroy bodies for pleasure but not to pleasure their own or anyone else’s. Hunting and trashing animals for fun, not food, is somehow right in this warped culture, but harmless body pleasure is not.
Prescott focused his investigations on early upbringing. He suggested that sexual satisfaction early in life, and sensual – specifically, tactile – pleasuring in infancy, are a direct antidote to violence in adulthood. His theory was based on correlations between levels of violence in 49 pre-literate cultures and certain variables reflecting physical affection – such as the extent to which infants were cuddled, caressed and played with in each of the cultures, and the permitted levels of pre-marital and extramarital sex. Despite the enormous significance of these findings they have essentially been ignored for decades: research suggesting a positive approach to early sensual and sexual expression does not go down well in America.