The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

What will it take to stop asking why are there school shootings? By Marcus Gardner

By Marcus Gardner (not by Ian)

There was a time in my life when I believed with certainty that I was going to raise my child in a small village of other parents, single people, elders, and children. The toddlers would look up to the older boys and girls, and they to the teenagers, and they to the young singles, and so on and so forth. The kids would mostly watch each other, learning in the daily ebb and flow of successes and failures, play and conflict, that is – from my observation and experience – a far richer learning environment than any human-created institution. And, because these kids would be at home in their community nearly 24/7, they’d see what their parents did – woodwork, gardening, harvesting, fishing, and hunting wild foods, fixing technology, auto repair, counseling one another, and raising their children – these kids would naturally gravitate to what their role is, and not just in the sense of what they wanted to “be” when they grew up, but who they “are.”

Today, my wife and I are raising a toddler as nuclear parents and are trying, with no little effort, to put off sending her to school. We’re looking for the right community, or at the very least, the right kind of free school/forest kindergarten that won’t break our little girl’s spirit. While we, ourselves, try not to break her spirit, which is pretty fucking hard if you’ve ever spent much of your day with a toddler, day after day. My moral compass with regard to children is rock solid, but I can still understand how tempting it must seem – especially when you haven’t had the right training and experience – to result to shaming, to indoctrination, and, ultimately, to institutionalizing your kid, all under the guise of “it’s for their own good.” When it’s really just your own cope.

I saw a quote in Reddit the other day saying something to the effect that children are the largest oppressed class. Their concerns are not taken seriously. They’re given no meaningful way to contribute. And they get shuffled between institutions, kept occupied with busy work. I couldn’t agree more.

What I learned from all my time with kids is that you’ve got to trust them. They can’t really help but tell the truth (even if they’re lying.) Children, especially young children, don’t have the artifice that we adults have. They’re not satisfied to simply rationalize their hurt and pain – they actually want to stop it, quell it. So I listen to them, and extend myself not just beyond my own assumptions and personal convenience, but beyond our culture’s. Because this culture was not designed for the needs of children (nor for the real needs of adults, of course.) And to hear a child – to really hear them – I’ve got to question this whole crazy superstructure that we’re trying to cram our lives into.

So when my two year old daughter is giving us hell, or just being a pain in the butt and I can’t get x, y, or z done, I ask myself: why is this happening? Because, despite the “wisdom” of my baby-boomer parents (“let her cry it out,” “put her in a crib in the other room,” “teach her manners,” “stop nursing already”) I actually trust this little girl more than anyone else. She’s telling me something’s wrong.

Is it because we’re too isolated right now? Does she need more older kids to show her how to do things? People she wants to follow around and copy, instead of her parents correcting her, yet again? Does she need my wife and I to be have more integrated lives, rather than juggling work schedules and “blowing off steam” and/or working on our own projects, (projects we hide from our daughter so she doesn’t mess them up?) Does she need something more real than another day in the house with her books and toys, or another playdate at a playground designed to keep her busy?

And it’s hard. Because of course she needs all of those things, and we fall short in so many ways, even though we do, at least, take her seriously. But our abilities to trust and include her as much as possible is limited, because we’re largely nuclear, isolated individuals. Our lack of a real social support net leaves a lot out.

When I think of sending my daughter to school, either so my wife and I can have more “adult time” to get work and get stuff done, or so our daughter can get more time around other kids, or simply to get away from needing to deal with her, I’m terrified at how fast the change might happen.

Right now, with the acceptance and love she receives from my wife and I, she’s maybe half full. Maybe a bit less, as she went through chemotherapy and was given a potentially lifelong disability as a result of spinal surgery at 1.5 years old.

But take her away from mom and dad’s acceptance, put her in a room (or even outside,) watched over by another adult as that adult tries to corral another ten kids. I know what it’s like; I was a Montessori pre-school teacher for a while. With so many same aged peers, the power struggles will quickly ensued, and, despite however well-intentioned the teachers are, a pecking order will be established. Even if (and that’s a big if) the teacher doesn’t resort to shame, the children, in their desperate situations, will. And many if not most of them will have become adept at shame even at the tender age of pre-school.

Tell her it’s going to be like this for fifteen years.

How long would it take to empty the bottle of my daughter’s soul in this way? Six months? A year? And how long until it’s filled with the fuming poison of shame, competition, needing to be “good” to be loved – by teacher, by friends, by Instagram?

How long – and I’m not just finger-pointing at school here, but at our whole cultural package – until she’s a Molotov cocktail? Because without an engendering community to grow up in, to get to know herself in, to get to know healthy relationship within, how could she ever become anything else? Long before she throws her graduation hat in the air, she’ll have learned – with the help of her school, her peers, experts, and the media – that to be a good participant in our zero sum society she not only has to win, but she has to learn to manage the pain. Being “good” only means that you’re good at procuring something to sooth the poison inside you. That’s the goal: functional addiction. Inner Pepto Bismol. And all the better if you can multitask and make noise about how you’re the one with the answers to other people’s and/or the world’s problems, while ignoring and medicating your own.

And despite our hand wringing about gun control, mental health, or how we’re giving our kids the “right” values, some of these Molotov cocktails run low on their Pepto Bismol. When they look around, they see everyone clamoring for the limelight, to make a statement, to be known and seen and given a place, and they think: “Better to be an anti-hero than a nobody.” But their poison and emptiness is the same as yours and mine.


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – May 29, 2022


Collins Five Principles Of The Expansion And Collapse of Nations


  1. Rob Waterman

    That was great.

  2. Anthony Cooper

    Functional addict indeed. Thank you

  3. anon y'mouse

    something like this was what i was getting at in the other thread here about “recovery from what we are” before we try to form a functional community. this society is an endless grasp at trying to form something around our mutual lack (of everything, including humanity, community, beauty), and that’s why it is empty. homo-economicus preaches that scarcity must be dealt with, paradoxically growing scarcity until it becomes the Jungian shadow side ruling the entire society and all of its members.

    but i could not put it in such profound words.

    best of luck. at least you’re on her side. this was more than some of us could say about our own families of origin.

  4. Willy

    Well, there were those clownish cowards from that so-called “good guys with guns” categorization, unable to protect and serve, even after all the training, from just one inexperienced bad guy with a gun. Not sure what kind of functional addiction they were protecting. Coffee shop donuts?

    I do see a lot of others with “the answers” to this problem, which I agree is more of a symptom of some deeper social rot cause. I think of that social media circle which blamed Uvalde on the stolen pictures of a trans-person, even after the person who owned the pictures told them to stop using their pictures.

    This comes from somebody who chose not to not have kids. I assumed my many nieces and nephews would fill whatever needs it is that makes people want to have kids, only to find them maturing into an unexpectedly alien species which seems to have been accurately described here.

    I don’t know the answers though I really wish I did. Maybe somebody older and wiser does.

  5. DMC

    Treat guns like cars. The bigger the threat, the more hoops you have to jump through. You need an advanced license to drive an 18 wheeler, so should you have to get an advanced license and training for a semi-automatic firearm. We currently require a federal license to own full automatic weapons and nobody I’ve heard of is advocating for machine guns for duck hunting or the general public. Say you can get a “learner’s permit” that lets you have .22’s and .410 shotguns, then a license that lets you have anything not a self loader,that is revolvers,bolt or lever action rifles an pump shotguns. To move up to semi-automatics, you’d need additional additional training and probably some kind of insurance. Then licenced firearm dealer for full automatics, just like now. One would want to have increasing background checks along the way. A situation like this would have prevented Uvalde, if not every mass shooting.

  6. Joan

    Beautiful essay. I think one major factor in all of this is how crowded the school is. Human nature will still exist at a closer teacher-to-student ratio, of course, but so much of the pressure that leads to blow-up behavior comes from being crabs in a bucket. My middle school and high school were very crowded. Addressing that one factor wouldn’t fix everything but I think it would cover a lot of ground.

  7. Glenn

    Just finished reading your article. And while I probably see the same thing a little differently, I see the same thing. So yeah, I agree. The question isn’t why school and mass shootings…in some ways I’m surprised there aren’t even more of them. Society seems to be coming apart at the seams, and existential frustration/despair is bound to cause some to lash out. Kids most of all.

    The causes of violence are pretty well studied by the social sciences, and the causes aren’t the tools.

    You only go after the tools when you want to maintain the cause (ie for instance, the US military went after Afghan arms and confiscated them in large amounts because they were unwilling to remove the cause of the violence, which was them being there as an occupying army).

  8. Purple Library Guy

    This is a bit overdone. Sure, modern nuclear-family, capitalist culture with modern big-class formal schooling is somewhat sick. But that in itself does not cause mass shootings, because lots of countries have all that stuff but don’t have mass shootings. If most of the time you can have A but not B, A does not (by itself) cause B.

    And even when it comes to modern formal schooling, there’s a really wide range of how hard on kids it is, of whether it encourages bullying or empathy, of whether it fosters rote learning or creativity or analytical skills. This varies not just between countries–for instance, within the US it varies hugely by social class. The details matter. Going all angsty and saying “Oooh, it’s just totally poisonous” is kinda BS.

    So for instance, when and where I went to school, bullying was a massive fact of life that blighted my landscape; teachers, principals, parents, theoretically deplored it but in practice had no idea what to do about it and for practical purposes basically threw up their hands and gave up. They, and in turn I, assumed it was eternal and unvarying. Then when my daughter went to school, I was astonished. Even though she was a rather sensitive soul she not only experienced no bullying but assured us that there wasn’t any. Any time someone started doing something a little along those lines, even in a small way, the teachers would talk to them about why, and encourage more empathetic responses, and stuff . . . and it just never got a chance to take hold. When she got to high school, it was the same–there were cliques, kind of, different kids with different interests and styles, but they didn’t get on each other’s cases. She told us though that, visiting friends at another high school she might have gone to but didn’t, it was different–she was shocked, it felt to her like she was watching a watered down version of some high school movie, with the jock groups and fashionable groups kind of putting down the nerd groups or whatever, something she’d never experienced in real life.

    I mean, I personally want to see some sort of libertarian socialist revolution, or ideally more a sea change than an actual revolution-revolution. I’m far from romanticizing our existing institutions–they need fundamental change. But even so, there’s a huge range of how things can work even under contemporary conditions and our existing system; tinkering with our existing institutions won’t get us where we need to go, but that doesn’t mean it’s useless. They don’t have to be all that bad, and they CERTAINLY don’t have to be bad enough to lead to mass shootings all over the place.

    Americans, even the good ones, never seem to think there’s any modernity outside their country, so it never occurs to them to notice that other places have the same basic economic system and technology set and still don’t suck as bad as the US, meaning they could make things better if they were willing to set aside some of the totally unnecessary specifics of how the US does things.

  9. Eureka Springs

    I’m in my fifties and we used to take our guns directly from a morning hunt to school. Most times they hung in the window of pickup trucks throughout the student parking lot. If someone got a new gun for x-mas or some such they would bring it to show friends and smiling teachers. This was a public middle through high school. At least half of youngest kids (eighth grade) drove to school whether they had a learners permit to drive or not..
    The school had far to much redneck violence for my taste, but there was never a single incident of someone so much as pulling a gun out to point at another human being.
    We have a society who doesn’t give a fk about each other. Our police resemble third world countries far more than not. School are prisons. Prisons are for profit. Health not care too. The quality of any human interactions are mostly dictated by computers/code. Every “customer service” interaction ends in hours long futility. The USSR had it better just standing in lines. At least they got to look their slow mofo service people dead in the eye.
    Had I had children I would have to have taught them that though it’s horribly wrong they will have to lie, cheat and con to get along in this world. And I damn sure would teach them how to handle their guns in a very safe yet prepared for defensive manners.

  10. “The toddlers would look up to the older boys and girls, and they to the teenagers, and they to the young singles, and so on and so forth. ”

    But that’s not how our factory schools work, grading students like aging meat, and replacing community wisdom with peer pressure, advertising, and propaganda.

    We should see what such schools have wrought. The destruction is before our eyes, but wage slaves “educated” in this manner will obediently do what they are told.

  11. Eric F

    Thanks Marcus for an excellent essay.

    I feel your pain. Have felt your pain.
    I see in the comments above where people are talking about the relative quality of schools. I’m 64. I went to some of the best public schools available in southern California in the 1960s and 1970s. Leafy suburban, well funded, and everyone nice and rich (and white). This didn’t prevent any of the anti-social behavior that was seen in the urban schools that my cross-town friends went to. In the ‘nice’ schools, the overt behavior is milder, but the power and shame aspects are very similar.

    As an aside, there weren’t any school shootings that I was aware of anywhere in southern California in the 1960s, for whatever that is worth.

    I was lucky. I was a nerdy boy with no social skills, but I was large for my age and liked to run around outside. Consequently, I had almost no friends, but nobody bullied me, except for some of the popular girls in junior high school.
    I was also smart enough to see very quickly that school wasn’t about learning, but social control. I learned to give the answer the teacher wanted, even if I knew it was wrong.
    Do you remember what they said about Columbus in elementary school? I didn’t find out they were lying about him until much later, but some other things were really obviously wrong.

    I have a vivid memory of when I was 6 and learning arithmetic, that I had a math problem to solve: how old would I be when they finally let me out of school?
    You get the idea.

    And as you say, the competition in the student pecking order was/is fierce. Again, I was lucky. It was clear from almost the beginning that I had no chance in that social fight. So I didn’t fight. Consequently, my friends were losers, or gentle souls who refused to compete, or new kids who hadn’t had time to get a grip on the rungs of the social ladder. That was fine with me.

    And what I learned was how wasteful our society is. There are vast resources for anyone to pick up for free, if only they opt out of the standardized set of values.
    Ignore (as much as possible) money and social standing, and the whole world opens up.

    Of course, I don’t expect that anyone can duplicate my lucky set of experiences, but maybe they can serve as ideas for other options.

    Thanks again & good luck.

  12. Chuck Mire

    I suggest a close reading (or rereading)of “Future Shock” by Alvin Toffler. It’s online as a PDF here:

  13. Ché Pasa

    And think some about this: how essential, fundamental in a way, massacres are to the origin and settlement of the United States and Canada and the Caribbean and Latin America as Euro-nationalist states.

    Initially a genocidal replacement of the indigenous inhabitants with Europeans and their African slaves it came to include out of favor (“Othered”) European and Asian immigrants.

    Massacres have happened over and over and over again here and throughout the Americas, and they always seem to feature victims who have been “Othered” by their killers.

    That it happens in schools (and shopping malls and movie theaters and churches and mosques and synagogues) follows on a history and a habit of massacres in so many other places with so many other victims of all kinds from postal workers, fedex workers, Chinese shopkeepers, Mexican American farm workers, African Americans going about their business or simply existing and of course Natives endlessly.

    The massacre is ingrained in the subconscious of settlers to the Americas and their descendants. Schools are but one locus.

  14. StewartM

    Many good points in this article and in the comments. Yes, children are the most oppressed class. The oppression is cloaked as “protection”; but protecting a kid from adverse consequences by inserting them into an artificial peer-age segregated environment, where they learn to “win” acclaim from their peers by behaviors that won’t help them in their adult lives, just means that you don’t end up with 21 or 25-year old adults, you end up with 25-year old kids. As someone who “worked” a lot as a kid, I now see that kind of apprenticeship as more helpful in teaching kids why what they learn is important and what behaviors you will need as adults.

    But I also think the Purple Library Guy is correct; or as the famous Onion article puts it “No Way to Prevent This”, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens”. Guns have become more than recreation, a collector’s hobby, or a rational means of self-protection. They have become symbolic of a political stance, and “getting your manhood card re-issued”. This is not by accident; as guns are items that, with proper care, last decades, the only way to prop up sales for a product that most don’t objectively need (especially those who have guns already) is to sell them as symbols. The gun industry follows the tobacco, alcohol, and opioid pharmaceutical industries in knowingly marketing a product they know causes harm, in a fashion that will sure to cause harm. Maybe time to pull the plug on their advertising, eh?

    Lastly, as Eureka Springs notes, there is a social component of this. When I was a kid, in the more egalitarian 1960s, there was little bullying in school. Someone taking advantage of a little kid would often attract the attention of bigger kids with the admonition of “pick on someone your own size”. This was also part of popular culture at the time; witness the self-effacing interview of star athletes after winning championships. We had more the behavior sets of a hunter-gatherer community back then.

    Bullying seemed to take off in the 1980s, with Reagan, when the “if you got it, flaunt it”. This also was reflected in popular culture; athletes and stars “trash-talking” each other, and anyone aware of any anthropology realizes that when the leaders don’t feel they will ever need the support of the nobodies in society, they don’t fear any consequences of making their lives more miserable. Insofar as bullying, I saw in the 1980s an instance where someone who openly taunted, mocked, and (being a big kid) physically intimidated his fellows once resulted in one of those who he constantly tormented going home and get a gun to threaten back.

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