We Heard Screaming

Let's assume there is nothing that hasn't been done before. Including multiple homicide. But that seems to be a modern phenomenon and one that is now common.

1966 was a banner year for murder sprees, a break-out year ahead of its time. Although Charles Starkweather killed eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming in 1958, it was '66 that introduced things to come.

In that year Richard Speck stabbed eight student nurses to death in their Chicago apartment; and Charles Whitman left a suicide note, climbed a tower at the University of Texas, and shot fourteen people to death.

After a few years' relative lull, in 1983 multiple shootings by post office workers engendered the term "going postal." Since that year there have been 35 homicides in eleven incidents involving postal employees. A slowly rising number of workplace killings included, for example, an Atlanta office shooting in 1999: thirteen dead.

It was in the late 1990s that the term “school shootings” entered common usage. In Springfield, Oregon in 1998, Kip Kinkel gunned down his parents, then shot 24 fellow Thurston High School students, two of them fatally. More famously, in 1999 two boys at Columbine High near Denver achieved a death toll of fifteen. Several more school rampages followed, along with shootings at shopping malls, such as the nine fatalities at an Omaha mall in 2007. There were 33 killed at Virginia Tech in 2007, and twelve dead at the Fort Hood army base in Texas in 2009, on and on, including the "Batman movie" horror at a Denver suburb this summer and now the CT elementary school body count.

An even more horrific trend in very recent years involves family slaughters by a parent.

And the silence about the now-chronic death sprees speaks loudly. The pathology is too close to the question of the very nature of modern mass society. U.S. data, by the way, is increasingly duplicated in other developed and developing countries. Evidently, the more technological the society, the more likely carnage will occur. And this cuts across cultural differences by and large, underlining the importance of the technological factor.

Technology can't be said to be the only factor, but it is very much related to what I think is the bottom-line reality behind these near-daily rampages: the disappearance of community--face-to-face community. When community is gone, or nearly so, anything can happen--and anything does happen. As community heads to a vanishing point, social ties and human solidarity are lost, of course. Nihilistic acts, including shootings, are symptoms of the isolating emptiness of mass society. How could it be otherwise?

The antidote lies in finding a basis for a renewal of community: moving away from the technified wasteland of ever more massified and dispersed society. Wemust not stumble on with what passes for political dialog, a discourse that addresses almost nothing of real consequence. The shocking scandal mounts and it is past time to look at what society is fast becoming and why.