Novak (novak) wrote,

Personal: On The NIU School Shooting

As an historian, I'm used to hearing people complain about how things are getting more violent and depraved these days. And I'm very used to the people who then point out that you can see people all across history complaining this way, that the young are ruined compared to "how things used to be." As a rhetorical strategy this often suffices for dismissing the observation of "things are getting worse" as mere moaning and groaning by the stodgy and moralizing elders who just tend to complain, compared to us youth who actually understand things far more and can dismiss the instruction of those who came before us.

I'm beginning to wonder, though.

I remember Cole Hall, where the latest depraved school shooting has just occurred. A "school shooting." We have a term for it now. It's a Thing To Do. "I'm a dissatisfied person with problems: I'll stage a Sit-In, or a March; or a School Shooting." We fear "copycats" looking at these events as now attractive: as a way to go out while grabbing that elusive goal of Fame and TV time. (Though I note that the "news" channels, when I just went to check on this story, are all talking about the latest gossip in the case of the mysterious death/vanishing of Natalee Holloway in Aruba in 2005, and the latest gossip about how bad O.J. Simpson is.)

As I said, I remember Cole Hall. I remember it because it's where I conducted a shooting once: when "school shootings" were unthinkable, and some of us amused ourselves by playing the game "Assassin," featured in the long-forgotten Anthony Edward's movie Gotcha! I lurked in the back of that same lecture hall until my target's math class was over, merged into the crowd and shot him in the back with the blue rubber suction-cup dart from my cherry-red Luger pistol. I bet "Assassin" has long since been forbidden on college campuses. If I can remember a time of such relative innocence, then hasn't something really shifted over a few short years? I remember also openly wearing pocket knives on belt sheaths in middle school, and even playing games of "Stretch" – a variation of "Mumblety Peg" also called "Split" – with our knives during recess, and never once having it even cross my mind that I could use my knife as a weapon against a student I considered one of my "enemies." A knife was a tool, nothing more. My Mom got my many-bladed Swiss Army Knife for my 10th or 11th birthday present, perhaps the most useful present I've ever received, especially for having a pair of scissors in my pocket. It's in my pocket as I type. I cannot imagine a school that still allows this. Surely these memories I have of "what used to be" represent some kind of actual change in our moral climate, do they not?

I don't know why I'm typing all this, and I certainly am not advocating any "solution to the problem." I'm mostly freaked out, seeing this ritual horror in America now occurring in a place I actually know. But I can't help but think that there's a connection between a rise of such behaviours and the contrasting decline in public moral discourse in the United States over the last fifty years. Moral discourse in public has been out of favour for a long time. (Except of course for the moralizing that we personally approve of, be it of the specific causes of the political Left or Right.) "Moralizing" is a negative term in our culture, where perhaps it ought to be a neutral one, judged by whether or not it's done well, and not simply avoided entirely, which just deadens our critical capacities.

I don't think I'm romanticizing my past, or remembering things from the naive perspective of youth. I didn't grow up in a Norman Rockwell painting free of bullies and the like, but in my own ferocious temper of youth, it never crossed my mind or anyone's that I ever heard of to engage in such violence. There was simply a time when these things were not thought of, when they were truly unthinkable, but now they're clearly in the standard "vocabulary" of extreme temptations. And I'm wondering what's changed.
Tags: america, cultural, niu, old stories, personal

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