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The kids are alright, except for the ones that aren’t.
Back in 2000, a book hit the shelves entitled “Bowling Alone.” The thesis of the book was that our community fabric — the American tapestry — was fraying. Involvement in civic groups was plummeting.
This was true for everything from unions and the Knights of Columbus to Lions Clubs, the American Legion, and Boy Scouts, with numerous others in between. The author, Robert Putnam, used the term “social capital” for this interconnectedness.
Several Washington-based authors pulled this thread in 2017 with their spin on the same story, provocatively naming their book “One Nation After Trump.” The story of polarization and disaffectedness are correlated.
Independence Day celebrations in Highland Park, Illinois, turned horrific when a shooter opened fire on the town parade. Seven people have died so far, with dozens more physically injured.
We had a smaller shooting in Maine. Around 11 p.m. on the Fourth of July, Bashir Hassan was shot in Portland. Police responded and rendered aid. However, a crowd near the incident turned hostile and began firing fireworks at the officers attempting to render medical assistance.
People have speculated, time and again, about what causes someone to reach a point where shooting other human beings sounds like a good idea. But are we now in a place where some think it’s a good idea to shoot fireworks at police trying to help a gunshot victim?
The 21-year-old Highland Park shooter — his name isn’t worth saying — attempted to take his own life back in 2019. He fancied himself a rapper. He posted violent imagery online. And, in a common refrain, he is described by family as a “loney, quiet person.”
The 18-year-old Buffalo shooter, who killed 10 people on May 14, did school projects on murder-suicides. He fancied himself a racial warrior. He posted violent musings online. His high school classmates considered him “a loner” and “odd.”
The 18-year-old Uvalde shooter killed 21 people — including 19 children — at an elementary school on May 24. He had cut his own face up. He “loved hurting animals.” His family said he spent most of his time alone and was very quiet.
These kids are not alright.
None of this excuses their actions. Collectively, they have killed 38 people, lives snuffed out. The horror and pain of those who lost loved ones cannot be understood.
Yet there are threads of commonality among them. Isolation. Young men. Some type of misplaced feeling of machismo that comes with firearms. Self harm. Violent ideation.
It is a similar profile as those who are attracted to Jihadist ideology.
The recent spate of shooters — all young men — highlight something in our society and culture. The percentage of firearms ownership hasn’t materially changed over the past five decades. But mass shootings are trending upward, in number and victims.
People need purpose. We are social creatures; a sense of belonging is key to our well-being. As the opportunities for belonging — social groups — decrease as outlined in “Bowling Alone” and other tomes, people necessarily search elsewhere.
Often the “elsewhere” is the internet. There are plenty of dark chasms online where hate and delusional grandeur flourish. Lonely young men are adept at finding them.
It is easy to lament “kids these days.” Every generation has griped about the next since at least Socrates. But there is something different afoot. Social media — with all its capacity for connection — has increased feelings of isolation. And from isolation, bad things spring forth.
So, this summer, go find a social group to join. Become a Lion or a Rotarian. Join 4-H or a bowling league. Model the way forward for the next generation. Help get kids, especially young men, engaged with something bigger than themselves.
It is a step toward rebuilding a society where people don’t think it’s a good idea to shoot fireworks at police trying to help a gunshot victim. Regardless of your politics, that is something we should all want to achieve.