Following the recent tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, a volume of disparate things have been said. People have condemned American culture as wholly violent. Politicians have highlighted the shooting as evidence to enact “meaningful policy” against gun control. There has been a cacophony of voices expressing outrage and sadness. People have attempted to construct some sort of meaning from this – in order to understand and so these lives weren’t taken for nothing. This a wholly natural reaction to something of this order. People are looking to make sense of this. However, regardless of the virtue or moral of whatever consequent each one of us finds, it remains that the action itself was senseless. The man killed children. There is no excuse for his actions. People, in effect, are trying to make sense out of something wholly senseless. There is no logic in these supposed gains. People want to, in a sense, capitalize on this moment so it will mean something. That or else return to their routine and pretend this never happened.
I have felt compelled to write about the tragedy for a number of reasons. What bothered me, was that I felt that I needed to write something quickly. I wondered why this was. I realized that I needed to write about this quickly because, with great sorrow, people will forget about this soon. It will become another stepping stone in a much larger path, a path that I will get into shortly. The Newton tragedy will be grouped with the tragedy in Aurora, with the tragedy in Norway, with the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. It has already been grouped with Columbine. We like to think that this particular one will be the “tipping point”, will be the one that finally enacts real change in our policy and possibly our culture (as if the two are somehow related in a meaningful sense), and so again, that these lives will have not been taken in vain. However, this is not the end of these types of violent actions. The fact is, that there will be continue to be actions just like this one, and the scale and method of the violence will get worse.
I spent a good amount of time in college focusing on war theory, and more specifically future war. We studied patterns of contemporary violence and insurgencies. We spent a great deal analyzing fourth-generation-warfare and finished our study by contemplating what would come next. What we, and other war analysts, have dreaded is the rise of domestic terror, specifically in America. We have arrived at a new paradigm. We will not be attacked by faceless groups. We will be attacked by individuals. The reasoning goes as follows: before, we saw violence between established nation-states in the form of conventional warfare. There were relatively few rules regarding how to contain, restrain and/or destroy these nation-states. Eventually, there came the rise of entities that were not nations, such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. They were able to organize, arm and use violence as means of accomplishing their goals. They were not hodge-podge insurgencies, but stateless, multinational organizations. They blurred the lines between civilians and soldiers. These groups are harder to deal with – you cannot sanction them, it is hard to identify who is a member, and you cannot isolate them as they function in cells. There are fewer measures to combat their violence, the most effective being to get members to give up information and giving them a pass. The next step in large-scale violence is the rise of the very thing we saw on December 14th, and what we will continue to see; the acts of super-empowered individuals. They are lone agents acquiring weapons and accomplishing violent goals, however deranged or selfish. They have no peers dissuade irrational violence or give them up. There is no network to identify or parse them into. They are in all practicality, nearly impossible to combat, as they are difficult to identify until it is too late. Their goals and methods are non-traditional and extremely difficult to stop, as shown on Friday and shown before. They are people with greater resources and understanding on how to take advantage of technology and material within their environment, causing irreparable damage. And it would not be difficult to say that the damage caused by Adam Lanza was irreparable. The damage Timothy McVeigh caused was irreparable.
I have always felt the most important, and least understood tenet of warfare has been this – for every measure, there is a counter-measure. Violent agents have a particular goal. They have a known variety means of accomplishing that goal. When those means are taken away, new means are found. When car bombs were identified as a problem, they started searching cars that were entering likely target-areas for bombings. So, the insurgency began using bicycle bombs as they weren’t getting stopped. When measures were taken against bicycle bombs, they started using body bombs. When young men were identified as likely body-bombers, and measures were taken, they started using young women. When this was identified, they found a new means, this flowing into perpetuity, until they felt their goal was achieved and violence could stop. Implementing strict policy on gun control isn’t necessarily going to stop gun violence, although I do think that there is no explainable reason to have assault rifles by legally purchased. But just as drug users will find drugs regardless of their legality, and just as people seeking abortions will get them in unsafe environments, and subsequently endanger themselves when abortion is illegal, people who seek guns will find them. Illegality of a weapon will not act as a deterrent. We cannot simply get rid of all guns, but we can make access more difficult. We should not function under the illusion that policy will lead to changes in human behavior. In a country where guns are extremely difficult to get, on the same day that the Newton tragedy occurred, a comparable event took place in China with a knife attack. I don’t imagine legislators in China are seeking to enact knife-control policy. And since the goals we are concerned about involve murder and end in suicide for the individual, you cannot cater to these types of goals.
I feel if we are going to do justice for the lives that were lost in Newton, we should not be reactionary. We should not operate under the illusion that a somehow violent culture produced this type of tragedy. What produced this type of tragedy is the evolving production of large-scale violence. This country is no more violent than it was before. It is simply a new kind of violence – something we are not adjusted to, something we do not comprehend that seems maniacal and crazy, and something we need an explanation for to help us get to bed. It seems more violent because it is so incomprehensible that the news choose to highlight it. It is legitimately newsworthy, as it is new. The world is changing. This is going to continue to happen. This is what living with fifth-generation-warfare is going to be like. It is not a reason to move to a foreign country (where this will start to happen, and has been happening) or to pull your kids out of school. We have to recognize the situation for what it is. We should not become apathetic due to a false perception of our society. With the benefits of globalization, easy access to information and connecting with people anonymously there are considerable dangers. There are huge dangers with America’s terrifying rise in mental illness. And this, in all likelihood, and what I deeply fear, will actually get much worse, as eventually there will be a rise of dirty bomb detonations and chemical warfare attacks perpetuated by super-empowered-individuals. Soon, we may have to adjust from mass shootings, as incomprehensible as that seems.
This is a reality of living in our current world. That things like this will “just happen”, as comparable acts of savagery and senseless have “just happened”, time and time again throughout history. They have always existed and they will continue to exist. Our contemporary culture is not immoral and destructive and producing people capable of these types of actions. Anyone pushing that idea is just pushing a poorly-conceived solution to keep you insulated in a culture of fear and get you to read more of their ideas and not think for yourself. These people are simply behaving in different, and more violent methods due to the means they have been presented with. We do more of our shopping online, because it is a means of accomplishing our shopping goals we have been presented with. If we change their available means, they will find new ones, just as if we took away the internet you would start shopping more in stores again. We should not operate under the illusion that the world is falling apart. It isn’t. Our biggest cities, which have historically produced the most amount of violence have actually seen a dramatic decrease in violence.
One thing we must do for the victims of Newton is that we should try to examine our world soberly. We should try desperately to see reality for just exactly how it is. We need to understand history and patterns and try to gauge how the world around us is going to become before something clambers up behind us and surprises us yet again. So we get sent back ten paces, unable to comprehend, stuck in a cycle of our own making.