Magazine article Tikkun

Killing Kids the New Culture of Destruction

Magazine article Tikkun

Killing Kids the New Culture of Destruction

Article excerpt

In a society with as much violence as our own, it is still hard not to be shocked by the recent killings in our public schools. These senseless murders of children by their peers have unnerved us; the scenes of weeping school friends, distraught teachers and parents, and bloody mayhem among the young cannot fail to move us. Pundits and psychological experts have worked overtime to explain these massacres in Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, but each time we still find ourselves without answers, confronting the horrific.

Indeed, in the shock and seeming inexplicableness of these events it is not hard to understand why so many of us, both in the stricken communities and outside of them, reach for evil as an explanation. Evil offers us the mystery of the human heart with its unfathomable but omnipresent potential for hate-filled destructiveness. Of course, the notion of evil also offers us the reassurance that these killings are the result of a malevolence outside of society, a force beyond our control.

When we do turn to our social world for an explanation, the media present us with a surfeit of professional ruminations on the developmental trials of adolescence. We are told that students erupt in violent behavior when they are treated as social outcasts, ridiculed or rejected by their peers. Such explanations do not account for the fact that many students are teased and yet are not driven to such an angry and destructive response; they do, however, point to a deeper problem teens face.

Adolescents have a powerful emotional need to find a sense of belonging among their peers, and that already competitive and judgmental ethos of youth is complicated by a marketplace that manipulates the wants of young people and sets the standards for appearance and success by linking products and peer acceptability. Failure to meet these standards can lead to a damaging sense of alienation from one's peers and a hostility that, turned inward, produces depression or suicide; turned outward, it produces anger and resentment towards classmates. The power of the marketplace to seduce youth into self-destructive behavior is all too nauseatingly evident in the campaigns run by the tobacco industry and in the epidemic cases of anorexia and bulimia among young women trying to achieve the standards sold to them by the fashion industry. For evidence of what happens when this hostility is directed at others, we need only remember all the kids killed on the street by other kids desperate to get their hands on a pair of Nike sneakers. Quite simply, we have created a culture which terrorizes the young.

This corporate exploitation of adolescent conformity, however, is only a symptom, and not the source, of the recent spasms of youth violence. Something more dangerous is occurring when homicide has become the third leading cause of death among children five to fourteen years old, and the second leading cause of death among youths and young adults; when twenty-five children (the size of a classroom) are killed by guns every two days in our nation. Zygmunt Bauman, perhaps our most acute observer of postmodern ethics, has put his finger on the problem by describing a phenomenon he terms "adiaphorization"-the erosion of a sense of moral sensitivity towards others. We are increasingly unlikely to see the Other as our flesh and blood neighbor, one for whom we are morally responsible. Instead, as the philosopher Emanuel Levinas suggests, we see the Other as an abstraction rather than as the "face" of one who is unique and irreplaceable and demanding of our care and responsiveness.

The manipulative commercialism that causes teens to kill each other over shoes is just one representative element of a universe in which the "ethic" of the marketplace becomes the only guide to moral concerns. We live in times in which selling and consuming are very nearly the sole regulators of our moral world. In such a world, citizens become little more than potential shoppers, and sensitivity to other human beings is much less valued than whether they are part of an economy of consumption. …

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