Columbine redux

Just wanted to share this ......

Hey, it was only a couple months ago that I posted the message down below. It was originally in response to a comment by the perfidious and bogus "Charline", but that is of no consequence. I thought about it a bunch, and wanted some kind of reality check on my thoughts, so I sent off the following to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich:

Dear Prof. Reich:

I am no one in particular, just a fellow Cambridge resident and a (very) part time professor at the Boston Architectural Center, where I teach Internet-related courses.

I also belong to a very extraordinary on line community, whose main manifestation is an Internet mailing list, but which extends far beyond that. We are called "websociology", but we practice it rather than study it, if that makes any kind of sense. This by way of background ...

In any event, the Colorado school shootings came up for discussion, inevitably. I have appended my contribution to the thread, in the hope that you might find a few moments to comment on it. I believe it is essentially accurate, but after writing and sending it, I thought "Gee, I wish I could run this by someone more knowledgeable, someone like Robert Reich, for instance." Today I looked at it again, and thought "Well, why not? The worst he can do is refuse!"

So-o-o, here it is, just as I posted it. If you can spare a minute or two, I'd greatly appreciate it!

Best regards,

Bill Phillips, Cambridge, MA

At 14:25 1999-04-22 -0700, Charline Fontaine wrote:
Thanks for the viewpoint tidbit, Lynn. And you wonder why some people long for a return to the 1950's. Granted, not everything was good about that era, but at least children didn't have to be afraid to go to school and be stabbed or shot dead, and kids were severely reprimanded >for behavior that brought shame upon the parents and him/herself. We are truly living the legacy of 1960's permissiveness. This is what it's all come to. Who would've thought things would get this bad. Sad. Just sad.

I dunno about all that, Charline. I was there for the '50s, and I can tell you it was basically the pits, in many respects. For one thing, it was dangerous to express yourself politically, unless you were a very party-line adherent of one of the two major parties, or to the right of them. Any behavior that could be interpreted as leaning towards the left, even just a little bit, could get not only you, but your whole family in trouble.

We lived in a ground-floor apartment in a two-family house in central Queens; the front was flush to the sidewalk. One summer evening in the '50s, the following was heard through the open window:

"Jeez, would ya look at all them books!" (My father had a wall of books in our living room. That's a portion of it in my baby pic.)

"Yeah! He must be a Commie!"

I suspect that was what prompted my father to buy an early (and expensive) air conditioner! He was a civilian Air Force employee at the time, and accusations like that could have ruined him.

It *is* true, however, that there were many fewer "broken homes" in those days. I don't personally know of any cases of spousal abuse or child abuse among the families of my school friends, though I am sure they existed. A few kids I knew did go in deep fear of their fathers, I seem to recall.

The "bad" kids in the neighborhood, incidentally, were by and large the ones who went to Catholic school. Perhaps the ruler-wielding nuns had inured them to violence, I don't know. But they had the nastiest attitudes, for sure. Maybe that's why the public schools I attended were relatively (only relatively) free from bullies. An interesting notion, anyway.

I've been pondering this whole issue, and I think I begin to see some things that might underlie our present sad state of affairs.

One is the erosion of what I might call the extended infrastructure. Back then, local and federal governments, and probably state governments in some places, did a lot more for their citizens. Believe it or not. For instance, public transportation was much more heavily subsidized (in real terms) than it is today. Many museums were free, or charged very nominal fees and had free days or evenings. I can't really afford to go to a museum these days! Child health care was subsidized. While our schoolbooks were often kind of old and ratty, it wasn't necessary to hold fundraisers for school supplies. Simply put, there were many more essentially free public facilities of all kinds than there are now.

In most homes, both parents did not have to hold full time paying jobs.

By the time I was married, 1965, it was barely possible to live like that. And in case you aren't aware of it, "The Sixties" that those of us who were there lived through started roughly in 1963-64, not 1960. Some even say that most of "The Sixties" took place in the '70s. There is some truth to this.

So what happened? In my analysis (giving a grand name to my musings), there were several factors. Just to pursue one, however ... the Vietnam fiasco diverted lots of social services funds to the military. Taxes were high back then, much higher than now (but I rarely heard complaints -- the citizenry got value for the money!), so it would have been impolitic to raise them. Thus, social services and other "non-essential" (meaning non-military) funding got cut, re-cut, and then cut some more, a trend continuing to this day. When the nonsense was finally over, instead of restoring these services with the funds now available, politicians eager to ingratiate themselves to the middle class and the wealthy (after all, who paid for their campaigns?) voted for tax cuts. Somewhere along the way, governments everywhere started to cave in to corporate interests and deregulate industries.

In short, greed became the creed.

We devolved from a (relatively) responsible, if somewhat impersonal, society, a society in any case of *all* the people, to an irresponsible, uncaring mob. Every man for himself, and the Devil take the hindmost!

When I call this a society of all the people, I am not ignoring the fact that there were a lot of people whose basic human rights were being denied. However, I think that in most places they were generally considered *part* of society and deserving of being taken care of. Paradoxically, today many people who would at one time have been in that stratum of society by reason of ancestry feel no responsibility to those who are now considered not even part of society, but outsiders.

(My grandmother, who refused an invitation to join the DAR because of what they did to Marian Anderson, was a big fan of Amos'n'Andy. She had a good friend, Caroline, who was black, whom she once brought to visit us in our (then) lily-white Queens neighborhood -- that must have had the neighbors going nuts! Nevertheless, I blush to admit that she was (very rarely, perhaps only once) heard (by me) to utter the "N" word.)

Anyway. I am heartsick and ashamed at what our "society" has become, and thoroughly bummed out because, as far as I can see, it can not be fixed.

You see, all the experts are talking about how to fix *one particular problem*, such as school shootings. You can't fix that outside of the context of the whole society. Why do you think that the "War on Drugs" is such a fiasco? I could name any number of other piecemeal attempts to "fix" something that are doomed to failure, because nobody is willing to treat the disease, only the symptoms! (insert your own metaphor here, I'm tired!)

OK, I've sputtered enough ...

Obviously a busy man, Prof. Reich finally replied as follows:

X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Light Version 1.5.4 (32)
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 12:50:58 -0400
From: Robert Reich

Dear Bill Phillips:

Many thanks for sharing with me your interesting comments about the Colorado shootings. Basically, I agree with you.


Robert B. Reich

© copyright, 1999, Bill Phillips
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