Newtown: Family drama as national tragedy
We may never come to understand exactly what was on the crazed mind of Adam Lanza, the man identified as the Connecticut gunman who set out from his home with murder in his heart. All we know, based on reports, is that this troubled young man had an issue with his mother, a schoolteacher in Newtown, Connecticut, that so enraged him he drove with a .223-caliber assault rifle and at least two other guns to attack in cold blood an elementary school where she taught.
By mid-morning break at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, a reported 20 children and six adults were also dead,* pointlessly killed as they went about their peaceful business of teaching and being taught. As a nation, all we are left with are chilling pictures of frightened schoolchildren clutching each other in a crocodile line, weeping in fear and in horror at what they have just witnessed.
We are left wondering, what was Lanza thinking? Why should so many suffer for his agitated state? Why does a possible family quarrel end in a massacre of unrelated innocents? What price must we continue to pay in human lives to protect the Constitution’s apparent guarantee for us to bear arms?
In America, we rightly elevate the place of the individual in society. We are repeatedly told we are all created equal and that each of us is important. It is this belief, that each of us matters, and what we think and feel is worthwhile and significant, that has drawn millions of people from around the world to live in America. Compared to the Old World, where individual rights have so often been routinely trammeled, America offers every one of us a special consideration that puts our singular personalities above communal demands.
That individualism is essential to who we are as a nation. It is non-negotiable.
As Ayn Rand starkly said in her typically uncompromising homage to heroic individualism, The Virtue of Selfishness, “For every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive — of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, un-coerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights.”
In the case of the Newtown shooter, “his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, un-coerced choice” over-rode the essential corollary, “to abstain from violating” the right of 20 children and six adults to continue living their lives.
The America of the Founding Fathers was a wide open place where individuals could forge their own futures in a virgin continent. Today, however, we are interdependent like never before. You can almost hear the world shrinking as we connect wirelessly with each other while walking alone down the street.
The borders of our individual freedoms have become more permeable than they were more than two centuries ago. Social media and cell phones bind us ever closer together. Technology has magnified our presence and extended our influence. That is all to the good – except when individuals lose the plot and start spreading their anger around.
Modern life allowed Lanza to draw thousands of bystanders into his private grief. A young man, he had had little chance to leave his mark on the world. Likely frustrated and angry, he appears to have been intent on ending his mother’s and his own young life in a blood-bath that would grab the headlines. In that he succeeded.
It is our uncompromising right to unfettered individualism that has tarnished what was once an enviable paradise on earth. It is why the Norman Rockwell innocence of Sandy Hook Elementary was long ago besmirched by the need to put a buzzer on the front door and a security camera in the hall.
“If our office staff does not recognize you, you will be required to show identification with a picture ID,” read the mundane letter the school’s principal sent to parents. She might have added, “Crazy people do crazy things in this country. We are locking you out in case you mean us harm.”
In this media-obsessed world, where becoming famous seems far more important than achieving real goals or finding genuine happiness, to go out in a welter of bullets and blood, like Bonnie and Clyde, has somehow become an acceptable second best. Thanks to high technology, a family drama can quickly turn into a national tragedy and a psychological upset can trigger a murder spree.
Just as troubling, mass murder in places of education has become so commonplace that the news cycle quickly moves on.
Finding a solution to the slaughter of children in a kindergarten is not a priority for those who put themselves forward as legislators. A presidential election can take place with three televised debates, and gun control does not warrant a single question.
We may soon have forgotten the name Adam Lanza, but we should never forget his victims who had so little time to express themselves in life.
And we should never forgive those who shrug their shoulders and hide behind vague words by long-dead men to excuse their cowardly inaction.
PHOTO: A child reacts to police and fireman staged nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School where a gunman opened fire on school children and staff in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
*Note: The piece was updated to reflected news reports.