The Hole At The Heart Of American Men

Well, it’s another day, and there has been another mass shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida. As per the predesigned script, we now have another round of blame placed on guns with the usual heroes and villains trotted out. The shooters are typically the same; male, white, young, disconnected from institutions of any kind. These are loners with a strong interest in guns.

The Parkland shooter is unique, as far as school shooters go, in that he had less of a will to die, and after the rampage, dropped his guns and fell in with the other fleeing students. He walked right past the cops who had assembled but never entered the building. So, now we’ll have a trial and a forensic analysis on how he came to be what he is.

At least, in theory that’s what we’ll see, but people describe pathologies in different ways. There are ever-evolving models of social dysfunction, and in the adversarial US legal system, what we’ll see at the trial to come will be the models that suit the goals of the lawyers. One model will surely follow the theory of evil; some people are possessed by it and therefore, must be put down or put away. The other will be the model of familial breakdown; the shooter as a victim of circumstances and missed opportunities to help him.

A model most likely not on legal display will be one that displays the shooter as the logical and natural outcome of where our culture has arrived, and what it produces in people, especially men.


Sebastian Jungar is a journalist and writer who, in 2009, embedded with a US Army unit in Afghanistan for several months. His unit was choppered to a lonely hilltop, miles from other units, and their dominate mission was to be shot at and respond. Victory was not in the offing.

He documents that time in his book Tribe and in the film Restepo and both are high-payoff projects. The dominate take-away is this; an Army unit in combat reproduces the basic social features that defined human societies for thousands of years, that of a closely knit group of humans struggling to survive, and when soldiers have this experience, they are loath to live without it. Upon returning home, the loss of the tribal unit, which triggered something deep inside them, becomes apparent and they discover they can’t replace it.

Jungar notes a curious phenomenon from the US frontier during the wars with the Native American tribes. White settlers, often kids, were taken in by the tribes on many occasions, typically by force. The fate of settlers seized was uncertain, because initially, the tribes would brutalize the new comers. The men were often tortured and killed, and the women raped. But, in time, if the captives survived, they would come to be integrated into the tribe and be afforded the rights and privileges of membership. Those people, if repatriated back to the white Christian society from where they came, would not stay. Many would flee back to the Indians, because having tasted that way of life, they did not want to lose it.

Our lifestyles of plenty, of individualism, of living our own dreams, of leaving our parents if they have not left us first, of drifting from job to job, in and out of relationships and various sex partners, of never knowing where our food came from or even how to prepare it, of consuming drugs, legal or not, of endless distraction… it does a very thorough job of destroying the healthy bonds of tribe that served men well for eons. The tribe provided shape and meaning, mentor-ship and accomplishment, and it is gone.

Our culture has been hostile to traditionally male occupations and pastimes for a generation now and the trend is accelerating. The loss of the social structures that bring up mentally and physically healthy men has a consequence; depression, suicide, obesity, alienation, building anger, and in some, homicidal rage. Those that are able to retain some sense of belonging through their family or church or civic group or through a job that gives them identity and satisfaction, or just get lucky and have a lot of friends, they find a way through. A girlfriend can provide a grounding point, but the rage-filled guys repel women. The ones that make the news have none of the above.

The longing for tribal affiliation and real time accomplishment can be detected in many ways in our culture; gangs of young men who turn themselves into a violent paramilitary organization with strong tests of loyalty (often gangs are black or Latino, which might explain fewer black or Latino mass shooters), in the resurgence of tribal tattooing and body adornment, and in the attraction to more muscular and virulent religious practices. All are seeking identity and cohesion in a dominant culture that isolates and seeks to turn us all into consumer units and government dependents. The final insult for men is to be told that our gender is simply an outdated social construct, and that “the future is female.”

Until such time as our culture reacquaints men with their core purposes, and the messaging changes, the unfortunate young men who have no older man to raise them up will seethe in anger and a few will strike out with whatever weapon they find at hand. Even adult men may be unable to stop some of the boys from exploding in a rage over what, in their heart of hearts, they know is a life with no purpose.

Rounding up the usual suspects
The men tell their own stories