Letter: Gun violence, victimhood and the abject failure of American masculinity

To predicate, our normative conception of masculinity to the outdated moors of hegemonic tradition, and specifically male-dominated patriarchy, is to instantiate the tragedies at Thousand Oaks and Tree of Life and Las Vegas and Sandy Hook and Santa Barbara over and over again, with terrifying regularity and frequency.

An overwhelming majority of mass shootings have been perpetrated by men; it would be remiss to attribute this disparity to immutable biological proclivity, especially if we take seriously that social and moral progress is indeed a possibility.

Our inelastic and unsophisticated caricature of what makes a man so is producing a fragile, entitled, self-aggrandizing creature, ill-suited to wield the agency he is institutionally afforded or cope productively with inevitable failures inherent in the hierarchical power structures that men themselves have rendered orthodoxy.

It is useful to distinguish that strength, courage and self-reliance (all virtues usually ascribed to the domain of traditional Western masculinity) are by and large productive. It is dangerous, however, to embrace a normative account of manhood that does not provision for emotional or practical complexity, or one that prescribes a brutish, hyper-masculine caricature as the standard for social valuation.

Our relationship to the Second Amendment partially exemplifies how absurd and arbitrary some of our ideas about masculine identity are. Sensible gun control appears to be anathema to an indignant portion of the country (mostly white, rural, non college-educated men) who either collectively conceive that their pastoral identity and masculinity is inexorably wedded with the ownership of firearms, or cannot delineate with any nuance that an axiological balancing act between personal liberty and collective security forms the substrate for every regulation in an ordered society. This foolishness is complicit in the problem of violence when masculinity harbors itself to aggression, entitlement and dominance, which are infinitely more sinister than arbitrary material attachments.

Elliot Rodgers, who killed six in a 2014 rampage, was galvanized by the perceived injustice of repeated sexual rejection. To this day, he is a martyr and paragon for an online community of incels (involuntary celibates) who justify misogyny, misanthropy and nihilism as appropriate responses for sexual failure.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's infantile, paroxysmal Senate testimony reeks of the same fundamental aggression borne of entitlement; his defense was as much an implicit appeal to the hegemonic order that has characterized all of Western civilization thus far as it was personal.

Powerful men (like Kavanaugh, Clinton, Trump and any number of disgraced Catholic pederasts) ascend and are insulated by social dominance hierarchies, which are by nature exclusively structured, and those that are not fortuitous or competent enough to do so (like Rodgers and almost every other mass murderer) are left bereft, disgruntled and apt to externalize their failure in a defiant, final performance of the subjugation they were so previously ineffectual at actualizing.

The problem of violence is a problem with masculinity, one we cannot afford to continue to ignore, and one where dogmatic adherence to an unsophisticated and boorish tradition will be ruinous to the safety and freedom of all.