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der Tagesspiegel, Germany

The Newtown Massacre
Makes You Think



By Caroline Fetscher

A society that clings to stereotypes and simple explanations isn't trying hard enough.

Translated By Ron Argentati

16 December 2012

Edited by Lau­rence Bouvard


Germany - der Tagesspiegel - Original Article (German)

Experts, experts, experts. Security experts, weapons experts, experts from the CIA and NASA—a nation looks for answers to the unimaginable in endless stereotypes. America is in shock in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Technical questions are analyzed for hours on end, but there seems to be some sort of invisible prohibition on certain questions and their answers.

American television reporters try to reassure shaken viewers, seldom mentioning the shooter's name as if to deny Adam Lanza any posthumous notoriety his peers may have gotten – as if the shooter can be exorcised like a demon and as if the repetitive reporting of the incident hasn't already given certain perpetrators a good deal of satisfaction.

All this fits in with two regressive trends current in Western society: Biologicization and desecularization prohibit the ability of societies to take an honest look at themselves. Both are used as a self-protective reflex where people escape into supposed solutions and thus avoid having to reflect on the bigger picture. The biological approach depends on treating the incomprehensible with neuorphysiological data and medication as soon as children begin displaying noticeably different psychic behavior. The idea behind it appears to be: it must be mechanically treatable. In the case of the Newtown massacre, if the shooter had only taken enough of the right pills he wouldn't have done what he did.

Because of this view of complex questions, hundreds of thousands of healthy children in Germany today are “on Ritalin.” Instead of communicating with them to discover the symbolism behind their behavior and then offering them explanations, the conspicuous is encapsulated in the literal sense. Religious or esoteric adversaries of social enlightenment are quick to call deeds like Adam Lanza's “evil,” thus bringing Satan into what is essentially a criminal equation.

Statistical metrics, controlling and medicating are the routine on the one side, demonization and prohibition on the other. Proponents of both schools fear recognizing the dynamics of a society that is ruled neither by neurons nor spirits but to which everyone belongs, because the bottom line is we are all responsible. It avoids the need for the hard work necessary to understand what the acts and those that commit them symbolize, what they mean to a society and what they say about it. It would require, for example, understanding to what extent widespread private ownership of weapons is an expression of the technical illusion of having control over one’s own life.

With the Newtown massacre of little children, however, it appears a limit has been reached; it would seem to be an opportunity to get closer to an empathetic as well as an analytical meaning that also has a social dimension clearly in sight. CNN, for example, interviewed Princeton professor Katherine Newman, author of a book on the social causes of school massacres in apparently idyllic small towns – a good description of Newtown prior to the shootings on Friday. People like Newman provide responsible answers and their time has now come.



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