After the Newtown massacre last month — yes, remember Newtown? Twenty-six dead, twenty of them children? You’d be forgiven for forgetting. Our news media certainly have, now that the dead are buried and lawmakers moved on to arguing about money again — Sorry.
After the massacre I tried to use the — is it horror, or dread, or just the sinking feeling for a parent of all that time and effort and love robbed in a moment? Maybe we don’t have the word in English yet, like schadenfreude (though from what poor bastards would we borrow it?). But if you’re a parent and very likely if you weren’t, two weeks ago Friday you knew what it meant.
Again, sorry. As you can see, it’s hard to write about. It wasn’t just the walls of emotion that were hard to scale. There really seemed nothing to say. Easy enough to blame America’s culture of guns and the nonsense of the gun-show loophole, but the Newtown killer borrowed his mom’s guns and there’s absolutely no policy prescription for that. Short of banning automatic weapons, banning them and taking them away like I would a hot poker from my three year old — except gun people are addicts to a drug that can kill others. Just try to take away their fix by force and might of law. The insane hunting of first-responders will soon seem normal, the anarchy of The Dark Knight Rises as quaint and dreamy a social vision as Flash Gordon.
And that’s what unclenched my thinking. The problem is not guns or morals or video games. It’s deeper, far deeper for any single legal act to take on, for even the kind of cultural pressure that reduced smoking. It would involve a massive unwinding of thousands of years of human thought.
I believe it is going on as we speak. It is diffuse still, like too much sugar in boiling water, and needs a string to crystallize on. Maybe Newtown will be a thread in that string. I think it is the real new age that prompted all the ha-ha-funny Mayan chatter, the transformation that geek touchstones like Timewave Zero and the Singularity are supposed to be. I think it is a shift in consciousness like an Axial Age that will need a distance of thousands of years for some future Karen Armstrong to explain to us.
I think it is the end of patriarchy.
I don’t mean equality of the sexes. It’s not that women should have the right to do whatever men do — it’s that what people are allowed to do right now is manifestly male in its thinking and reward structure. Our society has been so skewed for 10,000 years by men exploiting their muscles’ superior value in agricultural and industrial societies, that I don’t think a single human alive would recognize, or initially accept, a world in which women really had half the say in determining what our culture was.
But it’s happening. Technology is finally uncoupling both labor and wealth from the work of biceps. All those zombie dystopias and machine-rise apocalypses pop culture keeps throwing at us, may be us finally starting to contemplate a world in which women can set the rules. We used to celebrate the frontier; now we can’t seriously hark back to a simpler time without showing how awful “simple” was.
I’m not going to say it is an unalloyed good. Fight Club‘s Tyler Durden had a point about how it’s bad to have too many words for “blanket.” We can all understand how The Hurt Locker‘s powerful hero could be utterly unmanned by the supermarket cereal aisle. But I think it’s time for femininity to make some mistakes for a change, to evolve through some bad ideas the way we men have had ten millennia to do.
I think we all need to do what we can, even if that just means sitting around thinking, to help it along. For me, I think, the next few posts on this blog will be my contribution.
But it won’t be easy. When I was a boy my dad and my uncle used to toast “the good old days” over the third martini. Little shit that I was, I would chime in, “Yes, before the polio vaccine.”
May I have such perspective in the decades to come. And unlike St Augustine, I won’t say “not yet.”
A quick apology for my recent absence to the readers who followed me last fall. My family spent the last four years commissioning and having built a new house. We moved in November, and far from a triumph it was a total disruption to our lives, akin to living on a film set. When I get some distance I will talk about it.
Happy New Year.