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The nihilistic roots of our culture bear fruit

By Matt Delaney

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV.

To understand how two young men could do something as heinous as what we saw in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday or in Buffalo, New York, last week, why don’t you look at how the grown ups are handling these atrocities?

Corporate media used the white supremacist shooter in Buffalo to smear all Republicans, and in particular Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, for their role in supposedly promoting the Great Replacement Theory.

The lone wolf shooter in Uvalde prompted Congressional Democrats to berate their Republican colleagues for being weak on gun control, including political wannabe Beto O’Rourke, who interrupted Gov. Greg Abbott’s press conference on the shooting to grandstand about how Abbott and other GOP party members played a part in this outcome.

Does it seem like the people who create the standards we live by — whether it’s their ideas about sexual orientation and race, or their sensibilities about what’s offensive and what isn’t important — are creating an example worth following?

Not in the slightest.

But it’d be disingenuous for me to say these awful events are the result of our political kabuki theater. There is no one reason why someone chooses to kill so many people in cold blood. 

As this Twitter thread lays out, a lot of factors seem to converge and often break young men in particular: removed from friends, compounding mental health issues, troublesome behavior, and a stressful home life that typically has one parent missing — usually dad.

All those seem to apply to Salvador Ramos, the Uvalde shooter. He turned 18 on May 16, and immediately embraced his legal adult status to buy the guns he would use to shoot his grandmother in the face. Afterwards, and he carried out the rampage at an elementary school that killed 19 children and two adults. 

However, that rationale doesn’t work for Payton Gendron, the Buffalo shooter who killed 10 people at a supermarket he targeted because it was frequented by black patrons. From what we know, Gendron had a stable family life and plenty of advantages. 

On May 5, roughly a week before the attack, he seemed to play on his parents’ good graces when he wrote “I lied to them for months now…I’ve been lucky at manipulating their emotions to blame themselves for my strange behavior. If only they knew.”

One thing they both share in common is that the Covid-19 pandemic was their gateway into more antisocial behaviors. 

It was during the Spring 2020 lockdowns that Gendron ventured onto 4chan and began reading about the Great Replacement Theory, giving a teen who had reportedly shown some racial animosity in his youth more bite. He said as much in his 180-page manifesto.

The initial pandemic school closures gave Ramos a chance to never return to campus. The kid who was bullied for wearing makeup and got into fights became even more of a loner. From that point on, he became even more isolated.

When people divorce themselves from the real world, they become subjects of our amorphous culture. In the U.S., our culture is one increasingly defined by what it wants to destroy, rather than create.

This isn’t some conservative or even centrist thought — check out this quote from avowed socialist Freddie deBoer’s Substack:

“In recent decades it’s felt like everything has been undermined and nothing has been built. We churn out college graduates who can critique everything yet create nothing. Even the most dedicated partisans seem to have a jaundiced view of their own side, saving all of their passion and energy for excoriating the other.”

Entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan mocked our nation’s flaccid capacity for building when San Francisco held a ribbon cutting for new — drumroll, please — public bathrooms after 20 years

Meanwhile, we’ve come up with tons of new ways to eviscerate each other. Look at the various cancel culture campaigns that go after old tweets or old (and settled) incidents for not being sanctimonious disciples of the racial equity movement. It also manifests in the country’s extreme violence, like the Chinese loyalist who carried out the Taiwanese church shooting, the black nationalist who shot up the subway car in Brooklyn, or Gendron’s white supremacist beliefs that motivated his shooting in Buffalo. 

Any bit of influence we wish to have on the world, we dedicate it to destroying some kind of Other™. We are as sadistic as the Japanese empire was at the end of World War II — everyone’s just kamikaze-ing one another over some fiction of honor. 

But we don’t even buy into the honor of the American promise we’re trying to defend. 

The Iraq War, Great Recession, and poltergeist of systemic racism killed it for liberals, and the failed potential of Obama’s presidency, the open contempt of liberal corporate media, and the shady way our intelligence community treated Trump killed it for conservatives. We just have a reflexive need to stay locked in battle with The Other, because if it ends, we lose the identities we have constructed around that never-ending conflict.

We’re committed to a nihilism that makes ugly behavior from the media, wannabe political superstars, and even ourselves appear inconsequential. In fact, it may be worse. We’ve tricked ourselves into thinking that, by feeding this destructive belief, we are actually creating something. It’s practically righteous to act on it.

What we’re creating is easy to see. Just look at the faces of anyone who lost a friend or family member in the recent mass shootings to find it.

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Matthew Delaney


Matthew Delaney is a local journalist based in Washington, D.C. When he’s not questioning why he joined the media, he’s doing his part to restore some of its credibility with quality work

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