I have a friend who sincerely believes our current problems all began when the Supreme Court got rid of mandatory school prayer back in 1962. That's not how I remember it: my recollection is that despite the prayers, some kids still got into trouble. Agreed, it was a more formal culture, so being rude to a teacher or getting in a fight during recess had consequences. But the fact that people began the school day with a Bible reading didn't guarantee that kids would turn out to be saintly. In fact, as I recall, there were plenty of so-called "juvenile delinquents," and plenty of "experts" trying to figure out how supposedly good kids went astray.
The most common explanations back then were either bad parenting or falling in with bad company. Parents who didn't set the proper example were supposedly to blame for having bad kids. And kids who hung around with troublemakers tended to become troublemakers themselves. And if the parents had done all the right things but their kid still turned out wrong? Well, then, it must be too much television. Or too much radio. Or too much rock and roll music.There just had to be a simple answer. There just had to be one cause, and finding it seemed to make people feel better.
When I was in college in the 60s, I noticed the same reactions whenever serious crimes were committed: he (it was usually a he) must have had bad parents. He must have grown up in a godless home. He must have hung around with bad people. He must have been influenced by the media. And when all the other explanations didn't work, there were always stereotypes that could be applied to certain folks: "Well, what you can you expect from someone who was raised in that neighborhood?" Or, "That's so typical of those people." Again, the need to find a simple answer, even if the problem was complex.
Fast forward to 2019. Yesterday, a lone gunman murdered twelve people in the place
where he worked in Virginia. He was described by police as "disgruntled." I've sometimes felt disgruntled, but it never led to me to believe that
shooting my co-workers would make me feel any better. When I was growing
up, people were disgruntled too, but it seems everyone is angrier now
than they were back then. However, in the 60s, when people got angry, there were fewer ways they could take it out on a large group of people. Guns weren't as widely available, and there were no social media platforms yet.
But this isn't a blog post about guns (although it certainly could be, on any given day); nor is it about the impact of social media on our culture (I've blogged about that before). It would be easy to say "it's all because of guns," or "it's all because of social media." Agreed, both can be factors, but they don't explain why so many people seem to feel so aggrieved so much of the time; or why they automatically want to blame someone whenever there's a problem. Instead of trying to seek out solutions, I keep seeing people seek out some person or group they can point the finger at and say, "This is all your fault."
As if finding the right reason for the problem makes it go away... which it never does. Yet just like back in the 50s and 60s, many "experts" are offering the same old answers; except now they can tweet them out instead of just talking with a few like-minded friends. Some people insist we need a return to traditional religion; or they say there's a lack of good parenting; or we need more armed guards in schools and public buildings; or there's just too many immigrants; or there are too many kids playing violent video games; or there are too few kids who have good manners (I admit I'm guilty of complaining about that one myself).
Some people say our problems are political: When Barack Obama was president, Republicans said everything bad was his fault. Now that Donald Trump is president, Democrats say our problems are all because of him. Social media has exacerbated the tendency to finger-point and then go on to the next thing, having done nothing to fix (or even address) the problem other than complain. As recently as yesterday, I wondered on Twitter why "send death threats" seems to be the default position for all too many people, when confronted with an idea or a policy or a person they dislike.
I wish there were one simple answer to every problem we face, but there rarely is. Meanwhile, I find that writing these blog posts can be a great catharsis. I know I don't have millions of readers, but that's okay. When I blog, it forces me to sit and think carefully about what I want to say, rather than just blurting out on social media whatever emotion comes to mind. I'm told that blogging is becoming passé, but I still enjoy doing it. In fact, in these angry times, I'd rather see people doing more blogging and less blaming... it might be one small step towards having a more thoughtful society.