Living and Dying in The Age of the Inadequate and Angry Young White Man

A friend of mine posted this article today. The headline reads,

“The men behind the US’s deadliest mass shootings have domestic violence — not mental illness — in common.”

I would make an argument that the issue goes beyond simply detecting and documenting a history of domestic violence. Just as all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares, not all those who commit domestic violence escalate to mass murder and not all mass murderers have a history of domestic violence. Wow, that was dangerously close to saying, “Not all men.” Let me explain.

Domestic violence is one part of a cluster of male behaviors, like a tumor is cluster of cells gone malignant. These behaviors include: rape (or other forms of sexual assault); diminishing/dismissing the value of others based on gender, race, or sexual orientation; domestic violence; creating kill lists, or lists which rate women as sexual objects (how Facebook began, if you did not know); accumulating grievances; and actual mass shootings.

All share the common predictor of raging (and often toxic) white male inadequacy.

Men don’t rape women for sexual reasons. They rape women because they feel powerless and inadequate and the act of forcing themselves into the woman’s body as she resists is a way for the rapist to try to take control of her at the most basic level, to establish dominance. Only the weak ask permission when they want things; the strong just take. As Donald Trump said during the Access Hollywood tape, “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

The same is often true of child molesters. The men feel inadequate. Maybe they are unable to perform? Maybe feel they would not satisfy an adult partner? Maybe, like a rapist, they are tired of their fragile egos being shattered by rejection or disappointment? But a child can be intimidated, controlled through threats, and the molester (like the rapist) is not primarily concerned with sexual pleasure. It is about being strong by controlling the weak, about taking what they can from someone who cannot stop them from doing so.

Really, this applies to domestic violence as well. The abusive husband does not punch his wife’s face to MAKE her shut up. He does it because he TOLD her to shut up and she did not. She defied him. This resulted in his loss of control and authority, a loss that he needed to rectify (through physical violence) as a way of (at least, in his mind) re-establishing his dominance over her.

The men involved in these abusive situations truly believe that these acts prove they are not inadequate, and in their mind, establishes a direct correlation between physically or psychologically hurting someone (force, violence, rape, child abuse) and leaving a scared and often shattered victim cowering in fear. The victim of their aggression and abuse is now complaint to their demands, even if only so the hurt will not begin again.

Violence is established and repeatedly reinforced in their minds as the path from inadequate loser to Alpha male.

On a side note, while I do not believe violent video games fuel mass shootings, I do believe (much like the squares/rectangles example) that many of these inadequate men enjoy playing violent video games as the games allow for dominance and killing and revenge even if only digitally. They play as an outlet for the rage and insecurity much the way someone incapable of a healthy sexual relationship might obsessively and addictively turn to pornography. But most people who play Call of Duty do not slaughter their schoolmates and most people who watch pornography do not rape the women who turn them down for a date. Those (especially, politicians) predisposed to dislike non-wholesome video games and pornography mistake a commonality for a cause and seek to censor both, often for religious reasons, when the games/pornography often provide a release which prevents (albeit, sometimes temporarily) real-world bad behavior. For some of these angry young men, playing these games online with other gamers is one of the few non-threatening social interactions they have. 

Yes, some of these mass shootings (like say, the theater in Aurora) seemingly involve random victims. But most mass shootings involve family, friends, coworkers, people from their church, or (like say, Luby’s Luncheonette) the women in a certain town who the shooter referred to a “vipers.” Most, obviously, not all. The Pulse nightclub was deliberately selected for attack to target gay men. Dylann Roof chose that South Carolina church to target African-Americans. Patrick Crusius chose that El Paso Walmart to target Hispanics and other immigrants.

It is one thing to have feelings of inadequacy, or even to perceive one’s self as inadequate. But when there is a pattern of that perception being validated (at least in the shooter’s mind, even if the intended victims committed no actual slights), any of those who “judged” or “ignored” or “bullied” become targets.

So was Aurora really random, or was it a case where James Holmes saw a theater full of the “cool kids” attending a midnight screening of Batman, The Dark Knight Rises, the sort of “in-crowd” event an outcast like the shooter would never be invited to and would never show up to without an invitation for fear of being mocked? He did not target people he knew (and wanted to victimize for personal grievances) so much as he targeted a representative sample typifying the people he knew.

All that said, it is far easier to diagnose the problem than to cure it.

There is a huge problem with toxic masculinity in America, yes, and toxic masculinity seems to be getting most of the attention lately fueled by the #MeToo movement and the surge in mass shootings perpetrated by young men. But that toxic masculinity, in large part, stems from male inadequacy. THAT is the root of the evil.

The older white males across the once-blue Great Lakes states (Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin) or Appalachian states (West Virginia, Kentucky) who voted for Trump did not REALLY do so because he was going to bring back auto jobs or coal jobs, or because they really believed the southern border was being invaded by hordes of Mexican rapists with pockets stuffed with drugs, or any of the other rhetoric. It took me a long time, even as someone who writes about politics all the time, to finally understand these people. Yes, it is easy to paint them as racists, and some probably are, but that is not what was at the root of their uprising in the 2016 election and which keeps them loyal to Trump even now.

They are scared.

They have no jobs, or low-wage ones, and no future.

Most are uneducated beyond high school and ill-equipped for rejoining the modern workforce.

They were once the providers, with great union factory jobs, great benefits (people joked GM really stood for Generous Motors), nice cars, and family vacations in those cars with kids who admired them.

They equated money, or their job, or the admiration of their family and their community as a measure of self-worth. We all do, right?

Now, they are 60+ and working for minimum wage as door greeters at Walmart or on disability and they are wondering how they can keep the lights on another month let alone take a vacation.

The kids have moved away.

Their town is dying, and with it, the value of their home. The equity in it, which they once saw as their retirement nest-egg (along with the pension they no longer have) has evaporated.

Their inadequacy lead to votes for Trump, not because they believed the hateful rhetoric he spouts, but because he provides explanations (true or not) of who is to blame for their lot in life AND he provides examples of people these downtrodden can hate.

Read this quote:

“This is a country made up of people with hard jobs that they’re terrified of losing. The roots of freedom are of little or no interest to them at the moment. We are a nation afraid to go out at night. We’re a society that has assigned low priority to education and has looked the other way while our public schools have been decimated. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious men to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: Making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.”

You may be wondering who Bob Rumson is? This quote was from The American President, an Aaron Sorkin film from 1995, more than 20 years before Donald Trump came down that escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for President of the United States by targeting Mexicans as criminals who rape our women and who bring the drugs which kill our children. Clearly, the tactic works of targeting downtrodden workers and handing them scapegoats works outside the fictional political arena, which is why Donald Trump is in the White House now while Hillary Clinton is in retirement.

Believing in Trump absolves THEM of their inadequacy and sense of failure. It allows their thinking to transition from, “I am failure” to “Those people stole all  I worked so hard for.”

On a side note, while I have not endorsed a candidate for 2020 yet, it is concerning to hear so many people speak of Vice President Biden as the “most electable” or the guy who “can relate to the blue-collar folks” and “win back the blue-wall states.” Biden campaigned long and hard in those states in 2016 for Hillary Clinton and a host of Senate and Congressional candidates. Hillary lost every one of those states to Trump. Senator Pat Toomey held off Democratic challenger Katie McGinty despite Biden campaigning for her all through the blue collar mill and factory towns in central Pennsylvania. Republican Ron Johnson held off Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. Republican Rob Portman romped former Governor Ted Strickland in Ohio. To think Biden, once the most blue collar Senator but now a multi-millionaire can win back these Trump voters simply by paying attention to them or by unbuttoning his shirt and giving a Bill Clinton-esque, ” I feel your pain” is a recipe for defeat. Hillary Clinton did not lose these states because her message was bad, or because people did not like her, or because people wanted to punish the establishment. These people in these states never heard the message. They tuned it out, ignoring it no matter if the candidate or a surrogate was delivering it. Once they heard Trump at his rallies, and finally had answers to WHY they were suffering, they were not going to listen to Hillary or Biden or anyone else about job training or whether Obamacare was helping them. 

Effectively, these Trump voters went from one of the top rungs of the socio-economic  ladder (the comfortable, upper-middle class with a pension waiting) to the bottom rung (no job, no pension, failing health).

Donald Trump came along and gave them hope.

Sure, deep inside they know that, best case, maybe they climb back up a single rung, but even false hope is better than no hope.

And Trump gave them something else: a way to channel their anger.

Yes, they may be on the bottom rung now, but THOSE people Trump identifies in his rallies and tweets are not even on the ladder yet.

Those blacks in big, crime-infested cities like Chicago and Baltimore.

Those immigrants pouring across the border.

Those Muslims, all terrorists.

Those uppity women who do not know their place. This works especially well with older men who for 40 years were the sole provider and with men who live by the biblical notion of a patriarchal society.

These men may be on the bottom rung now, but “those people” are still on the ground, still beneath them. “Those people” are trying to finish what they started decades ago, pulling these men off the ladder completely so they can take their rung and start climbing until THEY are at the top of the ladder.

Trump gave these people someone to blame, someone to fight against, someone they could use their tactics of abuse against as a means to re-establish their feelings of power and authority and control.

If voting for Trump and wearing MAGA hats is how the boomer generation is dealing with these feelings of inadequacy, that limited self-control is not restraining Generation Z.

What terrifies me is that these conditions (and the frequency of shooters in their early 20’s) are escalating.

America is still speeding towards being a majority-minority nation.

The factory jobs are not coming back, and the few that do pay $15 per hour instead of $50.

Women are ascendant, as well they should be.

Look at the Dayton shooter. He was a mediocre student who struggled in high school. He was attending, on and off, the local community college.

A generation ago, he might have packed his bags and moved a few hours north. He could have taken a job at the massive Lordstown GM plant, bought a house in Cleveland or Akron, maybe a boat. and still had enough left over to put a few kids through college.

But really, what are his prospects now?

My daughter has a Master’s degree, as does my wife. My niece who was here visiting this weekend has two. The daughter of my friend who posted the article I mentioned earlier is off to the Ivy League this fall (and HUGE congrats on that). Decades ago, my brother and I both worked as managers in retail as we began our careers.  Now, guys like the Dayton shooter cannot even do that as even the ATT kiosk and the Enterprise rental counter require a Bachelor’s degree AND the retail apocalypse has wiped out much of the retail industry. And when someone like Connor Betts tries to better himself, the cost of college (or of the student loans which will some day come due) diminish his already limited finances and deepen his already negative view of his future.

For generations, the value of a man was predicated on his ability to provide for his family. That was how one attracted a wife, how one purchased and furnished a nice home, and how one provided an education to ensure the children leapfrogged the parents on the socio-economic scale. It did not matter if that meant working in a coal mine, even if that meant a death likely before grandchildren. There existed opportunities to provide, maybe unhealthy and backbreaking, but that only reinforced the notion that a good man, a respectable man, found a way to provide no matter what.

Work = dignity, self-worth, and “being a man.”

Now, these young men have no job prospects. They cannot afford to date, and even if they can, often cannot afford what society says are required: nice clothes; nice car to pick her up in; going to the right club; and the right circle of friends who also have nice cars and nice clothes to share these experiences with.

My parents generation came of age in the 1950’s and dating meant a 5-cent movie and maybe a milkshake after. My mother did not marry my father for money, or his clothes, and they sure never went on fancy dates. A man was measured by his character, not the limit on the credit card in his wallet, and that character was what attracted a mate as it was the best predictor of future success.

These young men today see themselves as worthless.

They will never get a real education.

They will never get a high-paying job.

They will never attract a mate, and even if they do, will not be able to afford children and/or will constantly be insecure she will leave him for someone better.

Effectively, we are raising (or, have raised) a generation of young men who are told every day what the measure of a man is…and why THEY do not now and never will measure up.

Many decide it is better to be dead than to be a loser.

They see suicide though as the ultimate act of cowardice, the final admission of how big a loser they were and how worthless their existence was.

Going out as an avenger though, that is a different story. That “I will show them” mentality is at the heart of so many of these mass killings.

“All those people who thought they were better than me, all those people in their nice clothes at the exclusive events, laughing and in love and happy, I will SHOW them.”

More than rape.

More than domestic violence.

More than child sexual abuse.

Mass murder is the ultimate exercise in enforcing dominance.

Not just taking your control of your body by forcing sex, or enforcing physical dominance through a barrage of fists, mass murder IS playing God for many of these young men.

THEY decide who lives and who dies, and most critically, THEY get to make that determination on behalf of all the people who thought they were better than the shooter, who society thought were superior to the shooter, and who were the ones who would someday see themselves on the society page of the newspaper but who are now in the obituaries instead.

Yes, we need better gun control.

Yes, we need better mental health services.

But what we need most is a cure for the hopelessness, and the rage, for the demonization.

We have raised a generation of young men with no money, no women, and no friends.

They are frustrated, furious, and feeling hopeless. Then our politicians (and this began long before Trump) told them who was to blame and worse, added a level of near-paralyzing fear that these people were coming to finish what they started.

Blacks (crack, guns, welfare queens, gangs, ghettos, Willie Horton).

Muslims (terrorists).

Mexicans (drugs, rapists, invaders, MS-13).

Women.

Gays.

Liberal elites.

Those who don’t pray enough.

Those who DO pray enough but are not Christians, which means that are as bad as those who do not pray enough, maybe worse.

All their lives these young men have been told who to hate and who to blame. They have constantly measured themselves against a standard society (TV, advertisers, social media, schoolmates) established, a standard where the only two outcomes are “successful” and “loser.”

Now, the enemies are everywhere, and the walls are closing in. But the can still go down to the corner and buy an AR-15 and a few 100-round magazines. They can still make one last stand. So they do, and so does the next one, and the one after that.

How the hell do we fix this?

 

 

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