As you may or may not know, the New York Times is publishing a series of essays this week that purport to “examine the ethical, social and humanitarian implications of the use, possession and regulation of weapons.” It is only Tuesday, so the tide could turn, but let us note that we are not off to a great start. Yesterday’s essay was by Christy Wampole, an associate professor at Princeton whose interests include (among other things) “the extent to which the root metaphor becomes erroneously literalized and used as a justification for everything from ultra-conservative nationalism to claims of hereditary inferiority of certain class and ethnic groups.” (In other words, image or narrative that shapes a person’s worldview and how it is used to justify racism and classism.)
So it’s kind of surprising that her essay is SO TOTALLY STUPID, given that she supposedly has thought about ultra-right wing nationalism a lot, and written about it in academic publications, and got a job at Princeton for it.
And also, you’ll notice that the essay has nothing to do with the ethical implications of unrestrained access to firearms. Nothing. Her essay is on the “decline of white men,” and she argues that white men commit mass murder with automatic weapons because—seriously—women and people of color are insufficiently deferent to white men these days, and also too because white men now have to actually work for stuff they used to just get for free by virtue of being white men. Here, watch as we show you how easy it is, apparently, to get a tenured position at Princeton and get published in the New York Times.
There is something about life in the United States, it seems, that is conducive to young men planning and executing large-scale massacres. But the reasons elude us.
The first reaction to the horror and bloodshed of a mass killing like the one in Newtown, Conn., is a rekindling of the gun control debate. I happen to believe, along with many others, that the repeated mandate we give to the National Rifle Association and its lobby, and the complacency with which we allow our politicians to be subject to the will of gun manufacturers is odious.
OK, so far so good, right? But wait for it:
In the United States, the angry white man has usurped the angry black man.
We thought that the “angry black man” was a racist caricature unsupported by any evidence that black men were any more or less angry than non-black men, but no, apparently there really ARE black men who are angry, and the thing is, their anger is cute and all? But they’re just not doing a very good job of SHOWING how angry they are these days. White men are doing it MUCH MUCH better and more effectively, so we have the “angry white man.” So what happens if we limit their access to automatic weapons? Nothing, because they are so very very depressed, these white men.
Limiting access to weapons is certainly a pragmatic albeit incomplete solution to the United States’ propensity for murder. However, were the guns to vanish instantaneously, the specter that haunts our young men would still hover in silence, darkly.
What is it that touches them?
Sorry. Anyway, the premise of her argument is that white men are just so angry and messed up that taking away their guns isn’t going to solve the problem due to this dark specter that touches them in silence. Christy Wampole has a lot of credibility when it comes to assessing the anger specific to white men because she is from Texas, this is her source of authority on the matter. She is from Texas, and she can extrapolate from her experiences there that the white man as a social category is “having a hard time of it.”
I come from a small town near Fort Worth, Texas. In this region, like many others across the United States, young men are having a very hard time of it. When I consider how all of the people I knew there are faring, including my own family members, the women have come out considerably better than the men. While many of the women were pregnant in high school and have struggled with abusive relationships, financial hardships and addictions, they’ve often found ways to make their lives work, at least provisionally, and to live with their children if not provide for them in more substantial ways.
The same cannot be said for many young men in the region, who are often absent fathers of multiple children by multiple women, unemployed or underemployed, sullen and full of rage. While every woman in my family has done O.K. in the end, every man on one side of my family except for my grandfather has spent time in jail, abused drugs or alcohol, suffered from acute depression, or all of the above. Furthermore, pervasive methamphetamine use, alcoholism, physical and psychological abuse and severe depression have swept not only my hometown and my region but large segments of the United States. If this pattern is not familiar to you personally, I am certain it is the lived experience of someone you know.
And if this is the lived experience of someone you know that’s non-white or non-male, it doesn’t count, OK?
Also, where did she get this idea that women are any less likely than men to suffer from drug addiction, or that black men are any less likely than white men to “spend time in jail, abuse drugs or alcohol, suffer from acute depression, or all of the above”? We don’t know, probably from anecdotal experiences, which is not a substitute for data. She admits this in the next paragraph but decides that it is still a “root metaphor” (ahem) that should shape her worldview, and also ours.
This is merely anecdotal evidence, not social science, but I believe that it is indicative of a sort of infection spreading in our collective brain, one that whispers to the American subconscious: “The young men are in decline.” They were once our heroes, our young and shining fathers, our sweet brothers, our tireless athletes, our fearless warriors, the brains of our institutions, the makers of our wares, the movers of our world. In the Western imagination, the valiance of symbolically charged figures like Homer’s Ulysses or the Knights of the Round Table remained unquestioned since their conception. However, as centuries progressed and stable categories faltered, the hero figure faces increasing precarity. Even if we consider the 20th century alone, we see this shift from World War II, when the categories of good and evil were firm, to later conflicts like the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, involving a disparity between what the government believed to be right and what much of the civilian population did.
What the fuck is a “shining father”? Also, translation: “those dirty hippies ruined EVERYTHING for EVERYONE because they didn’t want to go to Viet Nam to be cannon fodder, how DARE they destabilize the notion that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are absolute categories?” This, ladies and gentleman, is from someone who is alleged to have read a lot of French philosophy and claims to write about nationalism, racism, and classism.
There are more paragraphs that are really stupid, let’s skip ahead to the most stupid paragraphs.
I would argue that maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline. And while those of us who are not male or white have enjoyed some benefits from their decline, the sort of violence and murder that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary will continue to occur if we do not find a way to carry them along with us in our successes rather than leaving them behind.
For women, things are looking up. We can vote, we can make more choices about our bodies than in decades past, we’ve made significant progress regarding fair pay, and more women are involved in American politics than ever before. The same can be said for minorities. However, because resources are limited, gains for women and minorities necessarily equal losses for white males. Even if this feels intuitively fair to many, including those white males who are happy to share resources for the greater benefit of the nation as a whole, it must feel absolutely distressing for those who are uncomfortable with change and who have a difficult time adjusting to the inevitable reordering of society.
The white man is in DECLINE, everyone. Pay no attention to the fact that women are less than 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs, that roughly 20% of tenured professors at four year universities are women, and that there are only 11 women of color serving as active Federal judges across the country. Also too, pay no mind to the fact that we have only had six black senators in the entire history of our country, and that mothers earn 14% less than other working women. Don’t worry about ANY of that stuff, because her family? In Texas? Is full of fuck-ups, but only the men are fuck-ups, so this means that all white men are in decline.
From the civil rights and feminist movements of the 1960s and onward, young men – and young white men in particular – have increasingly been asked to yield what they’d believed was securely theirs. This underlying fact, compounded by the backdrop of violent entertainment and easy access to weapons, creates the conditions for thousands of young men to consider their future prospects and decide they would rather destroy than create.
Can you imagine being in the shoes of the one who feels his power slipping away? Who can find nothing stable to believe in? Who feels himself becoming unnecessary? That powerlessness and fear ties a dark knot in his stomach. As this knot thickens, a centripetal hatred moves inward toward the self as a centrifugal hatred is cast outward at others: his parents, his girlfriend, his boss, his classmates, society, life.
CAN YOU IMAGINE?? Also this is really terrible writing: what is centripetal hatred? Who knows, but basically, the fact that one in four women will experience “severe” intimate partner violence can be attributed to the fact that white men are so very SAD that they have to share their toys with women and black people. But it’s cool, there’s a solution, and it is to engage in a “coordinated cultivation” of an “empathic habit.”
A partial solution to these toxic circumstances could be a coordinated cultivation of what might be called an empathic habit. Most people surely felt an impulsive empathy for the parents and survivors involved in the Sandy Hook massacre, as shown by the countless memorial services and candlelight vigils that took place after the murders. But empathy could help best if exercised before rather than after such tragedies.
Empathy could serve many of us: those who have not yet put themselves in the position of a person who is losing their power and those who can aim a gun at someone without imagining themselves on the other end of the barrel. For those of us who belong to a demographic that is doing increasingly better, a trained empathic reflex toward those we know to be losing for our gains could lead to a more deferential attitude on our part and could constitute an invitation for them to stay with us. To delight in their losses and aim at them the question, “How does it feel?” will only trigger a cycle of resentment and plant the seeds for vengeance. It is crucial to accommodate the pain of others….If students have no access to an empathic model at home, they would at least be exposed to it in the classroom. In the workplace, the C.E.O. must be able to put herself in the position of the lowest ranked employee and vice versa. Victims and victors must engage in the hypothetical practice that forces each to acknowledge the others’ fortunes and misfortunes.
What is this “misfortune” that afflicts white men but not women or people of color? Well, people are not sufficiently deferent to white men anymore. And we can fix these school massacres not by limiting access to guns or increasing the availability of mental health care, but by being a LITTLE MORE SENSITIVE to the plight of white men.
Can I remind you once again that this person is an ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR at Princeton? And has apparently thought a lot about nationalism, racism, classism, and fascism, given that it is on her faculty page as a core interest? And THIS is what she came up with. So aim higher guys, it’s apparently not that hard to be a professor at Princeton and to publish in the New York Times.
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