Our American Dream being a nightmare

I’m listening to a late night CBS news broadcast try to make sense of Vester Flanagan’s shooting of three people in Virginia. To hear them tell it he was a dangerous man on a quest for fame. In his fax to ABC news Vester confessed admiration for notorious mass shooters, therefore that’s got to be the problem. LiveScience makes the argument:

Early this morning (Aug. 26), a former employee at a local news station in Virginia allegedly killed a reporter and a cameraman on-air, while filming the shooting with a GoPro camera. He later posted the film to social media. …the apparent desire to broadcast the crime places the killer in the same company as many notorious mass shooters of the past decade.

“Especially some of the younger ones — they want attention,” said Mary Muscari, a forensic nurse at Binghamton University in New York who has studied revenge-driven mass killers. “That’s why you see them wanting to have a bigger head count, a bigger body count, to try to outdo the last one…”

To that I politely reply ‘bullshit.’ My understanding of this brutal phenomenon isn’t that these killers want to be famous as much as they want to be consequential. In fact, they almost all seem to believe they’re a goddamn big deal while the rest of the world has been conspiring to knock them down. Like a basketball player who puts up 50 points a night while the fans are chanting “you suck.” Or like the guy who writes the Great American Novel but big-name publishers keep throwing it in the trash.

These people are fully convinced of their eminence while everybody else is unaware. It’s as if the entire world could only see right through them. That’s a situation that makes for dangerous frustration.

A recent study on the prevalence of mass shootings in certain countries touched on this briefly. There were two essential reasons why America has only 1/20th the world’s population but 1/3 of its mass shootings. One:

“My study provides empirical evidence, based on my quantitative assessment of 171 countries, that a nation’s civilian firearm ownership rate is the strongest predictor of its number of public mass shooters,” commented Adam Lankford, associate criminal justice professor at the University of Alabama. “Until now, everyone was simply speculating about the relationship between firearms and public mass shootings. My study provides empirical evidence of a positive association between the two.”

And Two:

“In the United States, where many individuals are socialised to assume that they will reach great levels of success and achieve ‘the American Dream,’ there may be particularly high levels of strain among those who encounter blocked goals or have negative social interactions with their peers, coworkers, or bosses,” he said.

“When we add depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, or narcissism into the mix, this could explain why the US has such a disproportionate number of public mass shooters. Other countries certainly have their share of people who struggle with these problems, but they may be less likely to indulge in the delusions of grandeur that are common among these offenders in the US, and, of course, less likely to get their hands on the guns necessary for such attacks.”

The American Dream is a big problem. The toxic idea that you, or this Vester character, will be rewarded with enormous power very soon is laughable. Though the miraculous event happens rarely to any of us, that fact must not be mentioned because the lurid fantasy is our national religion. You must believe that you’ll be fabulously wealthy and well-respected in the future. Heck, it’s practically the reason many of us go on living day after day. In a world where the Kardashians exist, there must be a few million dollars and an insider biography on the way for me too, right?

The idea is so prevalent and pervasive that marginal personalities with massive self-obsessions can gorge themselves upon it without reservation. That makes for a dangerous game with enormous stakes. If the little people around you can’t even see what a Big Deal you are, how will you ever be ceded the stunning influence and privilege you’re owed?

The other instances involved Flanagan pressuring his accompanying photographer to record an interview in a certain way, forcefully repeating his demands in a way that made both the photographer and the interviewee uncomfortable.

“I’m not trying to be an asshole but the shaky video isn’t going to work,” he purportedly told the photographer before demanding that they redo the interview.

They just couldn’t see how great Flanagan was.

His last day at work was recorded in exhaustive detail in another series of memos. Flanagan met with Dennison and another boss in his office. There Flanagan was informed he would be terminated. When he was presented with the severance package, Flanagan reportedly became angry and called it “bullshit”.

A second memo detailing his termination records Flanagan as yelling: “I’m not leaving, you’re going to have to call the f###ing police [sic],” Flanagan reportedly said, according to the memo. “Call the police. I’m not leaving. I’m going to make a stink and it’s going to be in the headlines.”

You can imagine reading the New York Times’ the next day: FLANAGAN REFUSES TO BE FIRED. His seeing himself as larger than life is palpable.

Flanagan then suggests that, after leaving WDBJ-7, he was offered a job at a station in Pennsylvania, but WDBJ-7 persuaded the Pennsylvania station to rescind the offer.

“I got to the point, this time around, where I wasn’t even looking for a job. I don’t need to deal with workplace bullies anymore. THAT is what lawmakers need to focus on,” he adds…

“The church shooting was the tipping point…but my anger has been building steadily…I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”

He chronicles the “tough times” he’s faced, including some “financial crashes.” He says he used to work as a male escort but, “I am proud of it” because he “made thousands.”

He never did anything wrong, but somehow his old station managed to scotch his new job. If that isn’t a call for lawmakers to tackle the bullying problem, I don’t know what is. Then there was the Charleston shooting, which was so horrible that it was necessary for Vester to go out and conduct one of his own. And, no, he doesn’t regret being a male escort because it made him a lot of money. BOOM, as the kids say. It’s hard to understand why nobody could appreciate him.

A final point to be made here: These strangely impotent people are not necessarily American. They’re everywhere. The problems only occur after America convinces one of them – as it often does the rest of us – that they’re destined for greatness. That they are uniquely un-qualified for it and will never be rich, powerful or universally worshiped are truths that must be rejected, to the point of violence. To them, it’s the people who would say as much that are the losers. Which must make their lives like something of a cruel joke, as if they were asked to join a Christian church and then told that no one – least of all Jesus Christ – could ever love them.

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