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"Jack and Jill went down the Hill to fetch a Pail of Blood ..."
on September 7, 2008
This well-meaning book deserves two stars for offering much sage advice to parents dealing with kids already on the downside of the spiral headed towards the teenage abyss. But despite the author's really helpful advice, the book still uses a flawed model that espouses what can only in retrospect be recognized as the "standard model" for "explaining away," rather than explaining, violence in the U.S. -- whether by children or by adults.
According to this un-critiqued and unimpeachable standard model, violence in America is always an entirely situational affair, and therefore is always sui generis, that is to say, effectively cut-off from and detached from the larger historical frame of a nation that worships violence at every level of its national culture and society. The "standard model" regurgitated here explains that while these "child murderers" may to some very limited extent be the by-products of bullying, poor parenting, lack of setting boundaries, gangs, inadequate love and self-esteem, and to a somewhat even larger extent a product of exposure to the implements of violence (whether symbolic or real) such as guns, violence oriented toys, music and movies, in the main, these kids are just the fruit of "their own violent (and evil) natures." To use the author's own carefully chosen words, these kids are "at risk," with a "disease of violence that poisons [them] with [thoughts of self-destruction] and death?" (The "best case exhibit" of this phenomenon was of course, the Colombine killers.)
From the vantage point of this author however, none of the string of carefully researched causes in his list has a thing to do with the culture of hatred and violence that our nation has come to represent. Every one of his causes is seen as a free-floating existential epiphenomenon, situated in the family or in the mind of a deranged individual. That is to say, not just detached from the general hatred and violence in the society at large, but totally disassociated from it. This is true despite the embarrassing and otherwise unexplainable fact that the U.S. annual rate for producing child murderers, just as is true for murders in general, is an order of magnitude larger than the cumulative totals for the next 35 Western nations?
The author's advice amounts to a virtual "declaration of societal detachment:" Each family must tend his own private garden in isolation to all others. It is an avowedly "tunnel vision" view of the way even extremely alienated societies operate and certainly unlike the way complex social problems are solved in any self-respecting society.
Murder in America is "a systemic fact" whether we wish to recognize it as a cultural sickness or not, and whether we incorporate it into our thinking and our theoretical models or not. A nation does not get to achieve an average of 25, 000 murders per year with 2.3 million of its citizens in prison and a suicide rate rivaled by only two other nations in the world, without that nation being a profoundly sick society.
Unfortunately, one has to read between the lines of this carefully prepared "societal script" to uncover the truth of the rash of teenage murderers: When striped of their novella like qualities, what these interviews really tell us is that when widespread alienation, pent up racial hatred and fear, is let loose and turns quickly to individual pain and social uncertainty, then inchoate anger and abuse follows as the night follows day. Unfocused anger and abuse turns to pain, self-hatred and thoughts and fantasies of violence and revenge (either against individuals or against the society). By now, the wheels of this "runaway psychological train" have already come off. Systemic pain, fear, self-hatred, and isolation have nowhere to go but down hill -- towards violence where it inevitably gets resolved by harming others or oneself; i.e. towards America's number one, number two and number three statistics: murder, suicide or prison.
Who are we kidding here but ourselves?
Our society will continue to be only as strong as its weakest links. The disease of hatred, alienation, fear and false religiosity and morality so clearly endemic to our culture, is the creator of the violence that sets loose the wheels of psychological self-destruction that affects the weakest psychological links the most. There is no way to parse or rationalize these facts except to admit that our culture is the carrier of a disease to which violence and murder have become the preferred answers. It is statistics of murder, mayhem and violence more than anything else that defines American culture, and has defined it throughout our history.
Respectfully, these isolated interviews, while instructive in and of themselves, are views of the problem from the wrong end of the societal telescope. As Bill Cosby has put it so nicely, the specimen we want to study is American society itself, not just the bugs running around in the Petrie dish. We already know their stories all too well. They fill our streets and our jails and have given our nation its black eye, undermined its moral foundation and caused us all great embarrassment, costs and pain.
When are our experts going to accept the fact that the disease of child murderers is just another of many symptoms of, the larger systemic and historical process of American internally generated hatred and violence?