Maybe Think a Little More About Your Thinkpiece

[Content Note: Mass shootings; toxic masculinity.]

In the wake of every mass shooting, there are always a bunch of thinkpieces about how such things could be avoided. They've become as much a part of the grotesque routine as grim presidential statements, media narratives about the shooters, paranoia about gun criminalization, and the uptick in gun and ammo sales.

One of the more popular thinkpiece themes, rooted in and in response to the narrative that mass shooters are socially isolated, is that it is our collective responsibility to reach out to one another.

Here's a perfect example, which I read this morning, in which the writer urges the reader to assume personal responsibility for reaching out to the people around us, because that's the only thing that will work, since mass shootings are as unstoppable as natural disasters: "You'd have as much luck passing regulation against tornadoes. It would be equally as effective."
I know what you're thinking. That's never going to work because no one is going to make the effort to connect with the strange kid sitting by himself at lunch each day. No one is going to reach out to the gawky, awkward guy at work and ask him about his weekend. You're probably right and that's an absolute shame.

...No entity can do anything meaningful (more than is presently being done) to thwart a disaffected person hell-bent on committing such an act.

But you can.

You can talk to your co-worker for a few minutes. You can talk to the kid in your Physics class that appears to be all alone. You can teach your children to do the same, to make sure no one is left to feel totally isolated. Because that's the breeding ground. That's where the seeds are planted.

...Community is easy to take for granted. Most of us have strong family connections and healthy friendships. Most feel as though they're part of a group, be it community, religious, or work related. But it's increasingly easy for people on the edges to withdraw and it's easy for us to forget them.

No, it's comfortable to forget them. It's preferred to forget them. It's highly desired to forget them. And we have to change that.
The idea that community is important profoundly resonates with me, as anyone who has spent more than five seconds in this space certainly already knows. But this argument elides a couple of key points about many US mass shooters.

The first is that they're typically not as socially isolated as reports based on observations from neighbors or other people who didn't know them well would have us believe. Many of these shooters had family and friends with whom they had active relationships, and most of them had an online community of some sort to which they belonged. It may well have been a toxic, hateful internet community, but only if we concede an erroneous narrative that online community isn't real community (ahem) can we argue that these men were truly socially isolated. To the contrary, some of them had social involvement with people who fueled their vengeful rage.

The second is that many of them are motivated by violent patriarchal entitlement. Which gets euphemistically (and dishonestly) repackaged as "social isolation" and "he didn't have a girlfriend," which are not the same things as "he felt entitled to be fucked by a beautiful woman and went on a violent rampage because he wasn't getting what he felt he was owed."

That's a fundamentally different thing than social isolation—although we can see here how the author of this thinkpiece is subtly conflating the two, with reference to "the gawky, awkward guy at work."

That conflation is why we also get post-massacre thinkpieces about guys who can't get laid and girls who are out of one's league.

In the wake of men picking up guns and killing people because they aren't getting fucked by a woman of sufficient social status, men rush to write thinkpieces that sympathize with those men, rather than the women who are their primary targets, urging us to teach them how to get laid and to reach out to them and make sure they don't feel socially isolated.

But these guys don't want more pals. They want women to fuck them on demand.

I doubt that the author intended to offer advice that, at its essence, is an admonition to women to make themselves more sexually available to dangerous men. But he's only avoiding that by ignoring that the issue isn't "social isolation" but the violent entitlement of toxic masculinity.

His broader advice—reach out to socially isolated people who might be inclined to pick up a gun and start shooting—is dangerous advice for women. Because a woman who extends kindness to a rageful man who feels entitled to her body and (deliberately) mistakes her kindness for something more, is a woman who is in grave peril. Entitled men who believe women owe them sex get very angry and very dangerous when a woman offers friendship and draws an entirely reasonable boundary there.

Telling women to befriend these sorts of men out of compassion or pity is urging her to put herself at risk.

This is dangerous advice for women, and it's pointless advice for men. Because it utterly ignores what the real problem is.

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