The freshman had just a few hours earlier killed both his parents before going to Thurston High School where he opened fire on classmates in the school cafeteria killing two and injuring 22. The trench coat he wore that day to hide his weapons became the inspiration for the two killers at Columbine High School who called themselves the Trench Coat Mafia.
Kip, and the scores of school shooters that followed after him, believed that killing was their only option. Do you know what all the school shooters of the 90’s and early 2,000's had in common?
In addition to the fact they were mostly all white, suburban, males from middle class families, these young murderers all shared three experiences. 1. They all obsessively played violent video games and were immersed in fantasy culture, 2. They were all outcast at their schools (many even bullied), 3. and none of them were a part of, or attended church.
These were not poor, inner-city minorities from single parent homes strung out on drugs. Their family structure mirrored the rest of the society with about half coming from divorced or never married parents. Drug use was a minor issue in about the same proportion. What captured the nation’s horrified imagination at that time was that all these school shooters could be described as victims of prosperity rather than victims of poverty. Not only was the form and place of violence so unusual, but the perpetrators did not fit any of the usual sociological stereotypes.
What was the underlying cause or motivating factor?
Fallen cultures produce broken families and weak communities which in turn produce vulnerable children. Vulnerable children are easily overcome by the evils of humanity and become abused, neglected, abandoned, addicted, and maladjusted. Kip and the other school shooters should have enjoyed the protections afforded their social class and prosperous neighborhoods but they too became vulnerable to the ills of their culture. The thought of this panicked the nation.
For the past several decades, our one country has become evermore divided into two nations. Sociologist James Q. Wilson best describes these two nations in an article Human Remedies for Social Disorders.
In one nation, a child, raised by two parents, acquires an education, a job, a spouse, and a home kept separate from crime and disorder by distance, fences, or guards. In the other nation, a child is raised by an unwed girl, lives in a neighborhood filled with many sexual men but few committed fathers, and finds gang life to be necessary for self-protection and valuable for self-advancement. In the first nation, children look to the future and believe they control what place they will occupy in it; in the second, they live for the moment and think that fate, not plans, will shape their lives. In both nations, harms occur, but in the second they proliferate-- child abuse and drug abuse, gang violence and personal criminality, economic dependency and continued illegitimacy.
You see, for the longest time the second nation that Mr. Wilson so aptly describes, has been the main breeding ground for vulnerable, distressed, and at-risk children. It’s been the second nation that has performed the lion’s share of harm to children. And those children, of course, grow up only to continue the destructive cycle. The surprising thing is that the first nation is quickly catching up to the second. We are witnessing today, the unprecedented undoing of the first nation.
While I believe Kip is responsible for his crimes, he is in my opinion, one of the first causalities of a culture that has become very sick. This sickness, I believe,is terminal unless we can somehow manage to turn things around.
Some would pin all the blame for the sad state of the second nation on systematic bigotry and/or social inequality: in other words, race and class. I soundly reject that notion as being politically convenient but not theoretically or factually sound.
Long before the second nation was identified by urban based minorities there was white Appalachia with it’s deep rural poverty and culturally backward ways. Social elites no longer are interested in the plight of poor mountain people because they do not fit their narrative. And since they do not have cities to burn down, the media would rather give its attention to the hip hop culture setting fire to their own neighbors, than to the hillbilly culture rotting in theirs.
The point is this. Poor Appalachian whites have long experienced the same socio-economic struggles as their poor black counterparts in the heart of our largest cities. Those struggles have little to do with race or class but a lot to do with culture. White Appalachia has a lot more in common with Urban Blacks than they do with white suburbia.
Now we are witnessing the same destructive forces found in both places overtaking the more prosperous areas of our country that were once immune to such things. The first nation, with all of it’s advantages of wealth and power, can no longer prevent the profound corrosion of it’s cultural soul.
For several decades, our society has tried to make one nation from the two. We have tried changing everything in the equation except the family. We have transferred wealth from the rich to the poor to make poverty more bearable. That is still a favorite tactic of many. The government has devised affirmative-action programs to ensure not only equal opportunities but equal outcomes for minorities. Through our taxes we have built public housing, distributed food stamps, provided Day Care, and supported countless job training initiatives, but still we are two disparagingly different nations.
I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Wilson that the family problem lies at the heart of the emergence of these two nations. The one clear distinction between the two over the years has been the family. Let’s review the fundamentals. Once again I’ll quote Wilson,
Children are not raised by programs, governments, or villages; they are raised by two parents who are fervently, even irrationally, devoted to their children’s well-being. Though the benefits of two parents are beyond dispute, many children - in some communities, most children - are raised by one parent.
Governments are good at transferring money but not so good at transforming people. This happens largely because they peddle a self-esteem that never seems to translate into self-respect. They naturally stir up a sense of entitlement and dampen the flames of personal character. They can build solid bureaucracies but they can’t build strong families. They can subsidize a family, but they have yet to find a good substitute for it.
Our goal should not be to enlarge the welfare state. The wreckage of this ill conceived idea is strewn all around us. What was designed to be a safety net has become a trap. What was intended to support children family has decimated the family, especially the role of the father. Of course, good intention aren’t good enough. We should always esteem results higher than intentions.
The first nation is now experiencing the same ratio of broken families as the second, but up to more recent times, their prosperity has largely shielded them from the same consequences of the second nation. What is now overwhelming the advantages of their prosperity is the corrosive influence of our fallen Culture. In fact, their affluence may be speeding it along because their prosperity provides more access to the poisonous pop culture.
There is an old saying in the African American community, “When white folks catch a cold, blacks folks get pneumonia.” That is typically used in reference to the economy. When their is an economic downturn it might cause hardships for whites but will be devastating to a majority of blacks already mired in poverty.
I think it also appropriately describes what happens when the culture turns corrosive. When the wealthy and middle class get sick, it is the poor who die from the virus. Things like divorce, out-of wedlock-births, drug use, and delinquency have fewer negative consequences on the rich than it does the poor. You see, the poor don’t have the hedge of protection that money, influence, and power affords for those with resources. A wealthy single mom will naturally be faced with some challenges to be sure but a poor single mom with fewer resources will have battles that she most likely will not be able to overcome.
Children of affluence are generally presumed to be at low risk. However, recent studies have suggested problems in several domains—notably, substance use, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. In fact, studies show have shown that Middle and Upper class youth have higher rates of drug use than their poorer counterparts.
In Conclusion: Our society is in trouble. The breakup of the family and a poisonous pop culture are unraveling the basic cultural foundations of our country.
Cultures change for better or worse out of the countless small choices of millions of people. Every citizen matters and it matters what every citizen decides. We will only restore this culture one decision at a time. It has to be done retail, not wholesale; person by person, family by family, community by community. More tax money for more government programs will not do it. Congress can not pass a law, no matter how comprehensive, that will fix it. While leadership is important, it will not matter what party is in power or the name of the person occupying in the Oval Office.