A Different Take

Michael Metzger

In last week’s post, I looked at the recent spate of mass shootings and asked what might explain them. My friend Kent Dahlberg has a different take on the issue. I invited him to reply.

Extensive research has surfaced a theory that there are two kinds of people in the world:

  1. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people.
  2. Those who do not.

In last week’s post, Mike looked at the recent spate of mass shootings and asked what might explain them. He echoed work by historian Paul Johnson and others suggesting that there are “two Americas” in our midst. The background and peculiarities of one group is the source of these horrific problems.

“First America” traces their roots to English common law and the colonists who founded our nation through their virtues of obstinate individualism. “Second America” traces their roots to the moving frontier of westward expansion, surviving by their wits and rugged individualism. British historian Paul Johnson describes this latter group as “constitutionally violent.” (Ouch!)

Alternatively, Second America might be characterized as roughneck “pioneers.” They explore uncharted terrain and defend what they believe is right, doing battle against the chaos found in Darwinian settings. First America are the more civilized “settlers.” Settlers move in behind the pioneers, after the wilderness is tamed, deadly opposition is routed, and boundaries are clear.

Mike cited evidence that: (1) Since 1790, mass shootings have been common in America. (2) This phenomenon is unique to our nation. (3) The violence is at least partly attributable to high levels of gun ownership. (4) Most mass shooters come from “Second America.” One solution in Mike’s post—widely advocated today—is to reduce and more tightly control guns in America.

Neatly dividing the world into “two kinds of people” has its uses, but most of the time life is more complicated than that. Some of us think mass shootings might be one of them.

For example, if these heinous crimes have been common in America for 228 years, why the sudden concern about them now? Aren’t the latest outrages simply continuing a long American tradition? If outlying Second America is to blame for most mass shootings, why do most of the gun crimes and homicides occur in First America cities? Perhaps the causes are more complex.

What other roots of such unfathomable rage might we consider?

Here’s an interesting pattern: As reported on CNN in February 26 of America’s 27 worst mass shooters have one thing in common. They are fatherless. Of course, biologically, each one has a father. But growing up, that father was either irrelevant to—or absent from—the son’s life.

Statistics 101 teaches that correlation is not causation. It could be just a coincidence that 96% of mass shooters share fatherlessness in common. Even so, such a startling statistic demands attention. As a thought experiment, let’s compare that 96% figure with the percentage of mass shooters who belonged to the NRA. Or whose fathers took them to an NRA gun safety course.

My guess is that the answer to both questions is: roughly 0%. So, maybe the NRA crowd is not the problem—even in “Second America.” I say this as someone with no particular interest in guns.

So, how do we undo the bitter fruit of America’s 50-year, multi-trillion dollar social experiment in accepting and bankrolling a culture of fatherlessness? Mike can answer that in a future post.

What other causes might we consider beyond the “First America / Second America” binary?

How about modernity’s race to the bottom in our entertainment, media and computer worlds, where ever intensifying levels of graphic violence are portrayed as interesting, exciting, erotic, and the solution to whatever ails you: Feeling a little alienated and unnoticed as a teenager? Go shoot up a school and you’ll be famous (infamous) in no time. All it takes is real guns and bullets rather than the virtual ones you have spent years wreaking havoc with on your screens.

Or how about social media? I happen to work in campus ministry at Dartmouth College (one of America’s eight Ivy League schools). Over the past decade, student demand for mental and emotional health services has exploded four- or five-fold. To what might we attribute that? Most of these incredibly accomplished young people hail from “First America” with countless advantages and (for the most part) supportive parents. Why are they struggling so much more?

One theory among professionals is that living so much of one’s life virtually—through social media—is undermining adolescents’ capacities for resilience. Though highly sophisticated in many ways, they are less able to deal with their actual lives in a demanding, messy, gritty world.

Overall, American suicide rates are up 25% since the turn of the 21st century, amidst the most advanced and enviable living situation human history has ever known. Suicides now occur at twice the rate of murders. Drug abuse is skyrocketing, with more than 60,000 deaths last year. And all this occurring in a culture where more anti-depressants are being prescribed than ever.

We are right to be concerned about all this. Evidence of mankind’s fall from grace is ever present. As Jiddu Krishnamurti reminds us, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” The solutions lay beyond First America calling out Second America.

Guest columnist Kent Dahlberg serves with Integrare (http://integrare.us/) at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and enjoys giving his longtime ministry colleague Mike a hard time from the comfort of the Peanut Gallery.  Mike finally called his bluff, asking Kent to write this week’s response.






















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  1. I’m glad that Kent took up my question inn my comment from last week: “anyone asked about the parenting received by the youth who are shooters? Anyone examine the relationship choices of the adult shooters? If we found these broad poverties in the shooters we could make politically-charged but accurate assessments that THESE people are likely shooters.” Thanks for doing the work Kent! But now I must ask: suicides are up – but isn’t the dramatic rise among baby-boomers? How’s that a connection to typically younger fatherless mass-murders? Dahlberg’s last line was great (!) but changing two words sends a correlative message: “It is A measure of health to be well-adjusted IN a profoundly sick society.” I’d like to think that’s me, but “them are us” as we grow sick or grow better together.

  2. Here is a a simple observation that begs a thorough review: The chosen absence of the biological father is the greatest social evil in history. Abraham wanted to be a present father to Ishmael, but the initial brokenness of the marriage covenant precluded it, and it only goes downhill from there to the present. Abraham chose by accepting Sarah’s advice re: concubinary, disbelieving Yahweh’s promise in the moment, and handicapping the good choices he would have otherwise made. And look at the fruit in Ishmael’s life, and his lineage. In today’s culture, where elitist politicians have destroyed marriage since the “Great Society” of LBJ, the chosen absence now has entrenched reality, and injures the most vulnerable.

  3. As a follow-up to both posts, while fatherlessness, violent media and social media use certainly matter, we should take pause to ask ourselves why American mass shooting statistics are so much higher than other Western countries where the same factors are at play. I’ve currently been living in the UK for the last four years and I can confirm that fatherlessness, violent media (if nothing else easily exported and shared across the English speaking world) and social media are leading to similar a mental health crisis among young people including drug abuse. However, with many of the same factors, there are not mass school shootings and the main difference I can see between the US and the UK is the availability of guns, particularly automatic weapons which can kill large numbers quickly.

  4. Had to add a response to “student demand for mental and emotional health services has exploded…these incredibly accomplished young people hail…with countless advantages and (for the most part) supportive parents. Why are they struggling so much more?” Fatherless homes aren’t far removed from hollow two-parent parenting. A generation trained in dependence on therapies and not trained in relationship to “God and man” ruins even more lives than shootings do. I’m sure I’ll get flack for being so pointed but therapeutic dependency is soullessness. When kids turn to such health services it’s out of habit in the home, not as a replacement for parenting – therapeutic dependency replaced their parents much earlier.

  5. There is much to consider in this thoughtful post and thread. The term fatherless is an interesting one. It sets the focus on the absence, physically and or mentally on the missing father. That is a real and important concern.

    At the same time for the most (at least as I am remembering it today) it takes both a male and a female to create a new child. Of course there is now the option for the anonymous test tube interactions!

    There are prior choices being made whether in conception, divorce or in a number of other ways that either the mother or father are making that set up the scenarios we are discussing here.

    So while we do need to consider the fatherless aspect of this, which I think is a key driver, there is a broader parenting issue that I think important to consider prior to conception, divorce,etc that is playing into this conversation and the results we are observing.

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