Extremist views cloud important issues

Friday, July 8, 2022

We had another tragedy in the Chicago suburbs on Monday and the news is too familiar. Another young, white, disaffected male has taken innocent lives and we are all asking, “why?” How could this happen? What’s going on with these kids?

The far-left knows the answer. It’s the guns. It’s only the guns. Never mind the fact that millions of law-abiding citizens own guns and don’t go around shooting people. Let’s also close our eyes and pretend not to notice that the left never liked guns in the first place. Recall that they pushed the “assault” weapons ban in 1994, but what’s the event that kicked off this death-cult epidemic? It was the shootings at Columbine High School that took place in 1999. That was five years into the ten-year span of that poorly written law, and it didn’t seem to help, did it?

Meanwhile, my friends on the far right are equally deluded. They are pretty sure that if we allowed prayer in the schools and brought back corporal punishment, none of this would have happened. It reminds me of the old adage, “When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Sorry folks, but ranting about morality doesn’t seem to be solving anything either.

Are these our only options? Of course not, but those are the discussions that monopolize our civil discourse. I find this absolutely baffling. It’s hard to imagine how we can help these kids and prevent further tragedies while the ideological extremes are suffering an intellectual breakdown, but that’s who gets the headlines. They make all of the noise and the news media are delighted to air those views without the slightest challenge.

Those of us who do not occupy the outer fringes of the political spectrum aren’t pretending to know the answers. If anything, we recognize that there are no easy answers. Yes, guns are a factor. That’s hard to deny. Sociological issues, the favorite rant of the right, are also a component. I’m not suggesting that any of these arguments are patently incorrect, but we’re missing the bigger picture.

The problem is much larger than any single, politically driven, nut-job agenda. There are many moving parts to our societal ills, and it’s beginning to look like we aren’t taking the issue seriously. I know those are harsh words when innocent people are being taken from us, but while we’re fiddling with partisan extremes, people are dying.

So what’s going on with these kids? I posed the question to a few friends of mine, and the results were at least somewhat informative. One of the more frequently cited factors was violent video games. As with the gun issue, millions of people play with those games and do not carry their shoot-em-up fantasies into the real world, but the games don’t strike me as being particularly healthy. Would the problem stop if violent video games were eliminated? Of course not, but many believe that it is a piece of the larger puzzle.

Drugs were also mentioned. The proliferation and, as many would argue, the over-prescription of attention-deficit drugs is mostly a 21st-century phenomenon. Many link those drugs to shootings anecdotally, but there are also several shooters who were known to have been using antidepressants. Formal studies that dispute those claims aren’t hard to find on the internet, but it would be interesting to find out who is paying for those studies.

Cannabis is also cited as a possible cause, and there are some fairly convincing arguments to support that theory. We know that the engineered varieties circulating today are substantially more potent than what was passed around at Woodstock. Clinicians are now seeing an increase in psychosis, suicide and violence associated with cannabis use that was not seen before with good, old-fashioned “pot.”

Another recurring theme I heard from friends in far-flung reaches of the country, was the apparent marginalization of white males. This isn’t the crazy, racially motivated replacement theory that we have recently heard about, but there seemed to be some rational thought behind it. Just look at the trend in male/female ratios in college graduates. Women are kicking men’s butts on the academic front. Why? That’s where it gets complicated.

A friend of mine from here in McCook (coincidently, a new father) sent me a video link of a conversation between Dr. Chris Warren, author of “The Boy Crisis,” and Jordan Peterson, who is a somewhat noted Clinical Psychologist. Whether they have all of the answers or not, these are serious people taking an informed approach to a life and death topic.

I must admit that I cringed a bit when they trotted out the old absent father trope. In my experience, I have never seen a family benefit from holding a bad marriage together, and I know that there are legions of single supermoms who are fantastic parents. My personal bias notwithstanding, Warren and Peterson made a well-considered, fact-based argument for the unique role that fathers play in the nuclear family. The discussion was refreshingly thoughtful, rational and serious. Why aren’t we seeing more of this? Why are we as citizens, consumers and voters putting up with nonsense from partisan outliers on such a critical issue?

I have always faulted news media for broadcasting names, photos and body counts. I can’t imagine that the promise of notoriety wouldn’t be a motivator for someone who is angry and has given up on life. What really disgusts me is that media outlets give the same disproportionate attention to the unconstructive ramblings of single-issue interest groups. Again, in what universe is this acceptable? How does this help anything?

There is also the law enforcement angle. I don’t know of anyone who wants to have guns in the hands of people who are unstable and prone to violence, but what is unstable? Who makes that decision? How do we protect “red flag” provisions from misuse by ex-wives, nasty neighbors and disgruntled employees? I’m at least a bit confident that our fourth amendment would require a hearing before permanent confiscation of arms, but the preemptive side of the equation is a bit more sticky. I don’t know that doors would necessarily be kicked down, but initial confiscation would most likely go through a process similar to that of a search warrant. The vast majority of judges, in my experience, are smart, decent, responsible people, but human fallibility being what it is, we also have a few judges with political agendas and axes to grind.

Social media also present a conundrum. We shouldn’t have to curtail our First Amendment rights to preserve the second and fourth, but let’s flip that around and look at the other side. How would you like to be in local law enforcement, a parent or a teacher of one of these troubled kids, and learn that they had clearly announced their intentions in a public forum prior to the act? It’s easy for us sitting on the sidelines to say that someone “dropped the ball,” but if Brin, Page, Zuckerberg and Dorsey, with all of their resources, struggle to sort fact from fiction on the net, what chance does your High School Principal have?

I don’t pretend to know the answers. I don’t think anyone does, but until we stop paying attention to the posturing of those who occupy the political extremes, nothing will change, and people will die. Our kids, our families, our friends and our neighbors deserve a more serious conversation. I know that this is a bit over the top (even for me), but as a nation, we need to find our tipping point and find it soon. Personally, I am approaching that point where, in the style of Peter Finch in the old movie, “Network,” I’m ready to open the window and yell, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

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