I visited my Dad a couple nights ago. He just turned ninety-three, and he lives during the summer months in the little cottage he built in the early 1960’s on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Sign Painters could do such things, back when America had hugely-broad shoulders, and had the cultural confidence to let men do what they wanted with property they purchased, using money they earned and saved doing tasks like… painting signs.
You know: back when Individuals were rugged, admired, nearly iconic. We weren’t “Stronger Together”. Rather, we were “Individual Members of the American Family”, as John Kennedy once called us.
Now we are faceless, nameless members of this grievance group, or that demographic. We are Progressives, or we are Nationalists. We are Black, or we are White. We are Urban, or we are Rural. We listen to Country, or we listen to Rap. We voted for Trump, or we were Never Trump. We are not even faces in a crowd anymore. We are just a simply… The Mass of This or That.
I asked Dad: “Do you ever remember mass-shootings ever happening in the Twenties, or the Thirties; –or Forties or Fifties?”
“No,” he said, “There was the Bath School Disaster, or course. And Capone, and the rum-runners. But the first time I remember a mass shooting like this was the Austin, Texas Bell Tower shooter. That was what, ’65? 66? It was unheard of.”
When Stephen Paddock looked down at the crowd in front of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, he didn’t see Individuals. He saw a Mass. He saw a Collective.
They weren’t human beings, like himself. They weren’t guys like him, with his own exhausted brokeness. They were a Sea of Faceless oozing humanity. He didn’t see sisters, or daughters, or brothers, or cousins, or wives, or mothers, or fathers, or fiances, or husbands, or friends, or neighbors. Paddock didn’t see simple, individual human beings, trying to make a go of life, taking the same slings and arrows he’s taking, having the same despond, the same sorrows and joys, the same tragedies, and triumphs.
What’s changed? A simple example: The James Montgomery Flagg “I Want YOU” poster resonated with early 20th-century Americans. You will note it didn’t say “I Want EVERYONE”. America used to be a place populated by God-scented individuals, who knew (KNEW!) who lit the spark of their lives, and to whom they would ultimately answer.
Now we are but facesless, souless Groups, accountable only to the wisps of popular winds– and even then, the grip is tenuous and fickle.
There were nearly 23,000 precious, individual human beings at that festival in Las Vegas. Each had a story, a divine light and inspired heart. Each had a Mom. Each had a Grandfather. Each knew love, and loss, and pain, and contentment.
Paddock, though, saw only Targets: All the same, cookie-cutter, collectively, as lifeless as balloons. All he wanted was to pop them.
THAT’S what’s changed. And no amount of additional Laws will change it back. In our once-glorious past, we as Americans were encouraged to celebrate the individual. Now we only see Masses. Demographics. Zip Codes.
Nothing dehumanizes individuals faster than stuffing them into Groups.
As a nation, when these unspeakable, horrific slaughter of innocents happen, we are like iron fragments around a horseshoe magnet: We each immediately head for the comfort of our familiar ideological pathways– Progressive Liberal? Gun Control. Republican Conservative? Second Amendment. And the bodies pile up…
Our cultural institutions put great virtue today in the perception that each American is less valuable as an individual than as a member of a group: “Stronger Together”. It encourages –nay, nearly demands– we stick to our tribes. Gay? Straight? Private Sector? Union Member? Black? White?
Add now simply: Dead or Alive.
God knew the very hairs on the heads of each simple, individual person in Las Vegas last Sunday.
Paddock couldn’t even see their faces.