Old and in the way, that's what I heard them say
They used to heed the words he said, but that was yesterday
Gold will turn to gray and youth will fade away
They'll never care about you, call you old and in the way.
Old and in the Way
lyrics by David Grisman
Sung by the Grateful Dead
Americans are accustomed to serial killers. According to the New York Times, mass shootings have occurred in the United States at the rate of more than one a day over the last 477 days.
We can sort these killers into discrete categories. Some are religious extremists--the Boston Marathon bombers, the Orlando shooter, the San Bernardino murderers. Some are disaffected young men: the killers at Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the Charleston, SC church.
And there is at least one more category: disaffected, older white men. Stephen Paddock,an affluent 64-year-old man, who killed or wounded more than 500 people in Las Vegas a few days ago, is the latest old white guy to commit mass murder. Before Paddock, there was James Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old geezer from Illinois who shot a group of Republican congressmen while they were practicing for a charity baseball game. And don't forget John Russell Houser. Houser, a 59-year-old loner, opened fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, killing two people and injuring nine others before shooting himself.
What did these men have in common? All were older white men, all killed complete strangers, and all committed suicide (or allowed themselves to be killed by the police). And I think it is fair to say that these three men had lost all sense of purpose as they entered old age.
Let's face it. Growing old is no fun. As we grow older, we realize that we did not achieve all our dreams and that our time on earth is drawing to a close. We feel our strength and vigor ebb away as we hunker down for the last stage of life. Our regrets and mistakes loom larger and larger in our minds while our meager triumphs and happy times grow dim in our memories.
And as death approaches, we find we are not afraid. At times we almost long for death. This movie lasted too long; we want to see "The End" appear on our movie screens. And we don't give a damn who shows up at our funerals.
In a healthy culture, old people derive meaning and purpose from their families--especially their grandchildren. If they are fortunate, they are respected for their wisdom and are sought out for wise counsel. Some of us belong to civic organizations or take comfort from religious faith.
But in postmodern America, a lot of old white guys don't have any of that. They lost the families they started when they were young. Their jobs, which were obsessions when they were in their twenties and thirties, now reveal themselves to be meaningless and boring. They've lost all interest in religion and find religious people excruciatingly tedious.
And some of these old guys turn to nihilism; and some of them have guns.
I wish I believed the Stephen Paddocks of the world are the rarest of aberrations, that we will not see the likes of him again in our lifetime.
But I know differently. Our culture does not honor the old; it offers no solace to the elderly. The indignity of our approaching death reveals itself, the meaninglessness of existence becomes apparent; and some old men express their disappointment in murder.
|Stephen Paddock, mass murderer|
477 Days. 521 Mass Shootings. Zero Action From Congress. New York Times, October 3, 2017.