Two months ago my brothers and I reconnected with our 17-year-old half-brother via Facebook. None of us have seen him since he was a little baby.
He's in high school in Idaho and he plans on going into the military and then to be a police officer after that. Recent FB posts of his scare THE CRAP OUT OF ME. He's started posting pictures of drawings he's done of people and animals with bloody eye sockets. Drawings of children with bloody stumps and eye sockets. Pictures of himself holding a shotgun and an assault rifle that apparently his mom or his stepdad bought for him. A picture of a police officer beating somebody with a caption saying, "I will protect and serve THE SHIT OUT OF YOU," and him saying that's the cop he wants to be.
At first I wanted to comment about how I'm a liberal activist and police brutality and blah-blah-blah. Then I just felt fear, and I stopped and didn't write anything. I haven't blocked him yet because I want to talk it over with my full brothers, and I don't want to call attention to myself just yet. UGH. SO SCARY. What if he's one of those kids who's going to shoot up his school? What if he's going to be a creepy cop who abuses his power? What do I do? Take screen caps and send them to his school? So scary. So, so scary.
Dear Terrified Sibling,
In some cases it would be surprising to find a young man who feels like this. But let us consider the world as it is today.
Is our culture so advanced, are the services we provide to all youth so uncompromisingly brilliant, are our free mental health services so pervasive and easy to use that this young man's behavior is truly a surprise? Are our public airwaves and the Internet so saturated with wisdom attuned to the minds of children that they cannot escape it? Are our cultural institutions so deeply based in ethical thought and yet at the same time so fun and interesting and intelligent that most all youth are naturally drawn to celebrate them? Are our typical family structures so strong and yet flexible that youths can invariably find safe outlets for their anger and frustration, and are those forms of expression celebrated by adults, who feel safe and confident watching youths work out their struggles, who recognize and remember that youth is a time of violent emotional swings and frightening physical changes and challenging mental growth? Is our nation known the world over for the way it balances the excesses of capitalism with a program of care for its weaker citizens? Are our public libraries filled with resources that any young man or woman can easily borrow to better understand himself, and are those services linked to other social forms of youth support? Are free yoga classes nearly universal now, so that most youths know that when trouble comes they can always do more meditation and use certain poses? Have we eliminated the threat of gun violence to the point that youths actually feel much safer in school and on the streets now than even in the 1950s? Do youths growing up generally know that no matter what path they choose in life they will find support and encouragement from the business community and also the government? Have we so handily solved the problem of homelessness that no one need ever fear living on the street and sleeping on urine-stained cardboard? Has our military so brilliantly analyzed and solved the problem of soldier suicide that it is only a rare and aberrant act? Are our soldiers uniformly confident that upon arriving home, no matter what shape they are in, they will get all the care they need to reenter society and be useful, productive veterans? Has the problem of rape in the military been solved by a combination of feminist training, sensitivity sessions and psychotherapy for all young men? Is there no longer a threat of future environmental devastation hanging over the heads of today's graduating classes? Do all college graduates have a clear idea of the many occupational options available to them, and is there sufficient employment opportunity such that no one needs to worry about being poor upon high school graduation? Is our television a marvel of down-home culture both high and low? Have television executives finally figured out how to present challenging, powerful classic literature in ways that find broad popular appeal? Are abstruse and difficult ideas, the kind that used to be mainly the province of advanced students at elite universities, now publicly discussed in a way that average and even below-average students and common people can grasp? Are our universities so welcoming and so free that no one need ever fear he will miss out on a fantastic education solely because of money? Have we so intelligently solved the student debt crisis that the vast majority of students now are satisfied that the loans they took out were worth it and confident with the good jobs they're getting that they will be fully paid off in only a few short years? Are areas of nature for recreation adequately available in all cities large and small? Have we solved our national transportation problem so that anyone may travel easily and safely to our largest cities to view priceless works of art? Are our cities now uniformly safe to visit, clean and affordable? Have we solved the problem of racism? Do black people largely express admiration for how white society has changed, how white people have sacrificed beyond what was strictly necessary, out of generosity and a sense of personal moral responsibility for the acts of their ancestors? Has America taken formal, official, moral responsibility for the crime of slavery to the satisfaction of those affected by it? Do Latinos and Asians and other minorities express admiration for how white American society continues to open and evolve, for how generously it welcomes change, for how enlightened its leaders are, and how hard its members work to embrace new ideas and new citizens? Is domestic violence a thing of the past due to massive studies, treatment and intervention? Have drugs been legalized and the problem of addiction mainly solved by a society that is balanced culturally, emotionally and spiritually? Have we solved global warming? Are most people happy? Has Dr. Phil taken a vow of silence?
If all the above were true, you'd wonder why this young man draws bloody eyeballs and wants to stomp heads. But in our world, his anger makes a certain amount of sense. That's not to say his ideas are great. But the sources for those ideas and the frustration and anger behind them may perhaps be found in the culture that created him.