Junger on Mass Killings

This is another piece from the book Tribe On Homecoming and Belonging by award winning journalist Sebastian Junger:

The ultimate act of disaffiliation isn’t littering or fraud, of course, but violence against your own people. When the Navajo Nation … were rounded up and confined to a reservation in the 1860s, a terrifying phenomenon became more prominent in their culture. The warrior skills that had protected [them] for thousands of years were no longer relevant in this dismal new era, and people worried that those same skills would now be turned inward, against society. That strengthened their belief in what were known a skinwalkers, or yee naaldlooshii.

Skiinwalkers were almost always male and wore the pelt of a sacred animal so that they could subvert that animal’s powers to kill people in the community…. they were thought to attack remote homesteads at night and kill people and sometimes eat their bodies. People were still scared of skinwalkers when i lived on the Navajo Reservation in 1983, and frankly, by the time I let, I was too.

Virtually every culture in the world has its version of the skinwalker myth. In Europe … they are called werewolves… The myth addresses a fundamental fear in human society: that you can defend yourself against your enemies but still remain vulnerable to one lone madman in your midst. Anglo-American culture doesn’t recognise the skinwalker threat but it has its own version. Starting in the early 1980s the frequency of rampage shootings in the US began to rise more and more rapidly until it doubled around 2006. … these crimes conform almost exactly to the kind of threat that the Navajo seemed most to fear on the reservation: murder and mayhem by an individual who has rejected all social bonds and attacks people at their most vulnerable and unprepared. For modern society that would mean not in their hog hogans but in movie theatres, schools, shopping malls,places of worship or simply walking down the street. …

A rampage shooting has never happened in an urban ghetto… indiscriminate attacks at schools almost always occur in otherwise safe, predominantly white towns. … Almost by definition, rampage killers re deeply disturbed sociopaths, but that still begs the question why sociopaths in high crime urban neighbourhoods don’t turn their guns on other people the way they do in more affluent communities.

Gang shootings – as indiscriminate as they often are – still don’t have the nihilistic intent of rampages.Rather, they are rooted in an exceedingly strong sense of group loyalty and revenge… The first time the United States suffered a wave of rampage shootings was during the 1930s, when society had been severely stressed and fractured by the great Depression. Profoundly disturbed, violent individuals might not have felt inhibited by the social bond that restrained previous generations of potential killers.

Hmmm I don’t think today’s lone mass murderers can be compared with the gangland violence of the Depression, and the Depression hit a lot of countries; only the USA responded in this way. This is more about  the US attitude to guns.

There are also a few cases of men going on rampages because they want to die but cannot bear to kill themselves, so mass murder is a way to achieve their own execution, a truly perverse and callous way of thinking.

When George Kennedy was making the first Mad Max film, he drew parallels between the culture of Australia and the US, that the major source of death in his homeland was drink driving whereas in the States it was by guns. At the time drink driving was at epidemic proportions in Australia. The country has a lot of empty space, and Saturday night is a time to get hammered. At the time of the Vietnam War, this was such a problem it was safer for a young Australian to go to Vietnam than to stay home.

Drawing parallels between the US and the rest of the world in terms of violence is thus a hard call. In the US guns are too common, too normal. People have too little respect for them. Instead of shouting your anger at the world, too many can reach for a gun and act out their anger. The States is a very different place to the rest of the world, and making generalisations based on what happens there often tells us more about the country than of humanity at large.

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