Guest Post by Ramsha Afridi
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Once again the world struggles to comprehend the possibility of such evil in the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which left at least 21 children dead. The shooter was eighteen-year-old high school student Salvador Ramos, who reportedly had a history of anti-social behavior.
Despite the shock, agony and anger that we collectively feel, one cannot say that anybody is surprised. Mass shootings, especially school shootings, are now a phenomenon that is commonplace in the United States, compared to other nations that allow legal gun ownership.
On his 18th birthday, Ramos legally purchased two AR-15-style rifles—one of which he used during the massacre after posing with the weapon on social media in an ominous insinuation as to what he was about to do. Once again, people from across the political spectrum fervently debated America’s ‘flawed’ gun laws, with some even calling to repeal the Second Amendment altogether.
However, in my view, people are now looking for simple solutions to a problem which likely has more complicated answers. Not many have acknowledged that perhaps such tragedies are in part due to problems much deeper rooted in modern-day America.
Since the post-modern takeover of American society, we have witnessed family breakdown at an unprecedented rate. According to the Pew Research Center, two-parent households have been on the decline, while divorce filings have been steadily increasing.
This means that more than ever, there is an immense lack of stable familial and community support in American society for which Generation Z seems to be paying a heavy price by being the age group most likely to have been brought up in a single-parent setting compared to previous generations.
Nearly one quarter of American children now reside in a single-parent living arrangement. It seemed that the Texas school shooter, Salvador Ramos, was one of such children. He did not reside with his father; in fact, he had not met his father since the pandemic began in 2020.
This shift from an established family structure to a more atomized way of living is now an unavoidable part of life for many young people. Various studies have consistently revealed consequences manifesting in the most devastating ways.
Generation Z, despite being born in an era of technological and social advancement, is the loneliest generation in history. Up to a staggering 56% of generation Z have stated they have felt lonely multiple times during their childhood, according to the Pew Research Center.
According to evolutionary psychologists this malady of loneliness felt in childhood is reported known to follow through to adulthood, where such individuals are likely to report feeling more socially disconnected and alienated than those who did not report feeling lonely as children.
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Humans are social creatures, and we have an evolutionary imperative to connect and function in accordance with a solidarity that stretches back for as long as Homo Sapiens have existed as a species.
Since time immemorial, we humans have hunted, farmed and established social cohesion as a way of averting threats and looking after one another. This biological imprint has not vanished, establishing a social order without community spirit has negative foreseen and unforeseen consequences.
Ultimately, the new age culture of individualism is manifesting in young people who have no sense of purpose nor core values—only the latest technology, television program or consumer product to worship or yearn for.
Therefore it’s no surprise that Generation Z is also the most depressed. According to the APA’s 2020 Stress in America Survey, Generation Z were most likely to report signs of depression and psychological distress.
Paradoxically, despite a time where mental health is championed by celebrities and social media personalities, we are more aware of it than ever. However, the younger generation is ironically suffering an epidemic of a mental health crisis.
The decline of the American family, collapsing marriage rates and the dissolution of traditional two-parent households, heinous economic conditions, and an empty culture of brand and commodity-worship could be contributing towards cultural decay and the isolation of youth.
Young people more than ever are growing up in a culture which lacks true sentimental value.
It appears Salvador Ramos may have also felt he lacked an adequate amount of love, care and support. His father after speaking to the Daily Beast revealed, “My mom tells me he probably would have shot me too because he would always say I didn’t love him.”
Despite this widespread crisis, no institution has yet adequately focused on the decay of familial and communal integrity—or acknowledged its long-term impact.
Could it be possible that by not addressing this issue, the problem is metastasizing into random acts of violence, like we saw this week in Texas, committed by easily-influenced individuals with no moral formation and guidance?
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Similarly, Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, had grown up in a broken home. Lanza’s parents had divorced when he was a teenager and he soon had ended all contact with his father, at least three years before he carried out the deadly act of violence, which took the lives of 28 children.
These isolated and catastrophic events of extreme violence cannot be explained by one single cause, and behind them there are likely a maelstrom of reasons for their occurrence.
The truth is that the growing complexities in modern day America are dismantling the cultural foundations of what its society was once built upon. It is undeniable that American culture is in decay.
We may not know the real motivations of the shooter, but what we do know is that we must address the deep-seated cultural breakdown lingering in Twenty-First Century post-modern America before it’s too late.
And as America continues to decline and its core institutions collapse, the more its youth will pay the price by descending into a nihilistic, meaningless culture.
Ramsha Afridi is a writer in London. She has written for various publications on culture, society, and politics.