We must rebuild our social networks to save ourselves


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The children are fine, except those who are not.

In 2000, a book hit the shelves titled “Bowling alone.“The thesis of the book was that our fabric of community – the American tapestry – was unraveling. Involvement in civic groups was in free fall.

This was true for everything from unions and the Knights of Columbus to Lions Clubs, the American Legion and the Boy Scouts, with many more in between. The author, Robert Putnam, used the term “share capitalfor this interdependence.

Several Washington-based authors pulled this thread in 2017 with their version of the same story, provocatively naming their book “A nation after Trump.” The history of polarization and disaffection are correlated.

The pandemic has made the situation worse.

Independence Day celebrations in Highland Park, Illinois turned horrific when a gunman opened fire on the town’s parade. Seven people have died so far, with dozens more physically injured.

We had a little shoot in Maine. At around 11 p.m. on July 4, Bashir Hassan was shot dead in Portland. The police intervened and provided assistance. However, a crowd near the incident turned hostile and began firing fireworks at officers trying to provide medical assistance.

People have speculated, time and time again, about what causes someone to reach a point where shooting other humans seems like a good idea. But are we now in a place where some think it’s a good idea to shoot fireworks at police trying to help a gunshot victim?

The 21-year-old Highland Park shooter — his name isn’t worth saying — attempted suicide in 2019. He thought he was a rapper. He posted violent images online. And, in a common refrain, he is described by his family as a “lonely, quiet person”.

The 18-year-old Buffalo shooter, who killed 10 people on May 14, did school projects on murder-suicides. He believed himself to be a racial warrior. He posted violent thoughts online. His high school classmates considered him “a loner” and “strange”.

The 18-year-old Uvalde shooter killed 21 people – including 19 children – at a primary school on May 24. He had cut his face. He “liked to hurt animals”. His family said he spent most of his time alone and was very calm.

These children are not well.

None of this excuses their actions. Collectively they killed 38 people, snuffed out lives. The horror and pain of those who have lost loved ones cannot be understood.

However, there are commonalities between them. Insulation. Young men. A kind of misplaced sense of machismo that accompanies guns. Self-harm. Violent ideation.

It is a profile similar to those who are attracted by the jihadist ideology.

The recent wave of shooters – all young men – highlights something about our society and our culture. Percentage of gun ownership has not changed significantly over the past five decades. But the mass shootings are on the rise, in number and in casualties.

people need objective. We are social creatures; a sense of belonging is key to our well-being. As the possibilities of belonging – social groups – diminish, as shown in “Bowling Alone” and other tomes, people necessarily look elsewhere.

Often, “elsewhere” is the Internet. There are many dark chasms online where hatred and delusional grandeur flourish. Lonely young men are adept at finding them.

It’s easy to lament “kids these days.” Each generation leaned on the next since at least Socrates. But something different is brewing. Social media — with all its connecting power — has increased sense of isolation. And from isolation, bad things arise.

So this summer go find a social group to join. Become a Lion or a Rotarian. Join 4-H or a bowling league. Lead the way for the next generation. Help children, especially young men, commit to something bigger than themselves.

It’s a step towards rebuilding a society where people don’t think it’s a good idea to shoot fireworks at police trying to help a gunshot victim. Whatever your policy, it’s something we should all want to achieve.


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