On America, nihilism, and activism in the status quo (Opinion)
Thoughts on Parkland shooting
February 26, 2018
There have been 18 school shootings in the 31 school days of 2018.
As that number grows larger, the importance of each one becomes lesser. John Oliver described a similar phenomenon with Donald Trump’s statements – they’re like a bed of nails – it hurts, but you can never pick out an individual nail, and each one just begins to disappear. It’s a perverse cycle of violence that feeds on itself. Each shooting further detaches me from the last one, and the next from the one before that, and so on. But something about the shooting in Florida was different. I cannot understand it. Something ticked within me. The shooting edged the very precipitous line between detachment and despair. I finally felt something. Maybe it was the parents crying, maybe it was the children. Maybe it was the fact that the next one could be at my brother’s school. The line was crossed, and with it, apathy turned to anger.
There have been 18 school shootings, and yet GOP lawmakers sit quietly on Capitol Hill, shoveling money from the NRA down their mouths, as removed from the material world as physically possible. And so, I feel angry. Angry at this country, angry at lawmakers, angry at myself for having been blind to every instance of violence in the last few months. Anger, however, spurs passion, and that passion creates a desire for activism. My anger turned into a desire to create change. And so I looked, thought of ways to change something. Maybe save my brother from dying one day. But this search is meaningless. It’s a search for answers in a system that will not even let you ask questions. I am 16 years old – physically and mentally capable, one would say – but I have absolutely zero means to create change. There is not a single mechanism by which I can even put a dent in the system. There is no way to reach the lawmakers. Times have changed. Perhaps the civil rights movement once provided a blueprint, but I hesitate being optimistic in the face of a system that dominates the status quo.
The militarism that grounds American society has given way to a sort of nihilism. It’s a chokehold. And thus, the system wins again. It takes me and squeezes the hope out of me. Every last drop. What the Hell am I supposed to do? As Chuck D once asked – how do you give soul to a soulless person? How do you change a gun culture that throws money at every shooting and hopes it goes away? It’s like the age old band-aid metaphor – the NRA will keep throwing a band-aid on the violence that pervades our society until at last the wound becomes too large and society simply drops its head and dies. And this is, finally, where America’s political system will win. When the collective will of society becomes zero, there is nobody, nothing left to challenge the institution. Nothing left to take down the structure of violence that seems inescapable.
And then I stop to think – 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. By the most recent counts, nearly 6,000 people have died in the Civil War in Yemen. Did you know that? Of course not! (Hint: nobody cares anymore.) Here, I risk falling into one of the great pitfalls of high school debate – comparing suffering. You cannot compare the grieving of 17 families and friends with those of 6,000. But I feel it is not a comparison. It is simply an eye-opener. Around the world, people die. People suffer. And nothing happens. Life goes on, I go to school in the bubble of American suburbia, and I have occasional moments of clarity like this one. But this is all a great exercise in cynicism. Where the system truly wins is here. Cynicism takes society’s collective will – soon to be zero – and turns it negative. This destroys any chance for future change. It will be over if, and when, all of society lapses into cynicism. And I’m dangerously, dangerously close. Thus, the cycle comes to an end. Detachment turns to despair, despair turns to anger, anger turns to drive, drive turns to nihilism, and nihilism toes the line ultimately to cynicism. Rather than adopt the idea that everything is going to the ground and that the only way we can change it is by burning everything to the ground, the cynicist merely sees the inevitable and moves on. And I pray that I do not reach this line, but I am very close.
Perhaps lawmakers know what they’re doing. Perhaps they don’t. Regardless, it will take someone truly special to break the cycle, to strike down the beast that is American politics when it rears its ugly, disfigured head. I wish it could be me, but I sincerely think there is no potential for change where I am. To even think about creating change, I’d have to go into the minefield of politics – another 20 years and possibly 1,000 mass shootings later. So I’m not really sure what to do. I have no hope that David will emerge to slay Goliath, but there is always a chance. Here, in the wake of my growing nihilism, I plead that someone emerges from the rubble to challenge the political order. I started writing just to vent, but I think I’ve reached the point where I will conclude with this plea. Someone desperately needs to stop this madness. And it needs to happen now, before all of us just reach the end.