In the marches, walkouts and debates over gun violence, young people claim to be victims. Some even say they are the only valid, even prophetic voice speaking out. However, one question goes unanswered: Why are young people killing other young people?
There is so much talk about the responsibility of bad politicians, National Rifle Association members and corrupt officials. However, none of these have ever killed young people.
Inside the youth culture, the mass murderers are mostly young men killing members of their own generation. There is something wrong inside a youth culture in which young people kill other young people.
Responsible for Their Acts
As all people are endowed with free will, these young people alone are also responsible for their acts. No one forced them to kill other young people. It was their decision.
However, those responsible for the killings can be influenced by others. Aside from family, the most important influence upon young people are usually other young people.
Indeed, youth culture is known for its rejection of outside “grown-up” influences. The fire of youth exalts in its incredible energy and desire to be independent of the older adult world. Thus, there must be some factors inside today’s youth culture that help explain why young people are killing young people.
Factors that Influence These Acts
The youth culture in question is the dominant pop culture as promoted by media and lived by youth idols and stars. It is the product of successive generations that have succumbed to the sexual revolution model introduced during the sixties. It is not necessarily how all young people live, but it does exert much influence on their lives.
It manifests itself in how youth think and express themselves, how they dress and what fads and fashions they follow. It is found in the music they listen to and the media they frequent.
There are three factors of this present youth culture that can be cited as influencing the violence.
A Self-Centered Culture
The first is that this popular youth culture is extremely self-centered. Everything is thought to exist in function of the individual. Persons can, for example, self-identify as whatever they wish to be. Individuals determine the terms of their own existence, behavior and values.
This creates an artificial and insecure world marked by self-gratification. In this culture, young people want everything instantly, effortlessly and regardless of the consequences. They have no patience with anything that stands in the way. They are easily offended by any certainty or moral standard that “micro-aggresses” them.
With the advent of social media, this self-centeredness is represented by an enormous pressure upon young people to project a self-image beyond reality. Social success is measured in validating texts, self-absorbing posts and impulsive likes. The selfie has become an expression of self-projection.
In such a climate, concern for others is diminished, and people can quickly become ostracized. Those who fail to live up to the image of their self-aggrandizement become depressed and resentful. With few moral restraints, it can give rise to situations when young people kill other young people.
A Dearth of Meaningful Relationships
The second factor in contemporary youth culture is a dearth of meaningful relationships. It is no secret that many youths come from homes broken by divorce. Others grow up lacking one parent. These essential family relationships are foundational for the development of a stable personality. The profile of the mass murderers almost always reveals the lack of a good father and other important role models.
Outside the family, this popular youth culture also tends toward superficial links. This is especially seen in the casual sexual relationships that are facilitated by certain linking up apps. Social media adds to the shallowness with its offer of friends and followers that add little to social life.
The instability of relationships is further reflected in a lack of community involvement that sociologists have noted among youth. They lack those community links that normally add an extra layer of stability to personal development. The troubled individuals involved in the killings are generally loners without significant integration in the community.
Despite an incredibly interconnected world, there are those feeling entirely isolated, tormented by apathy, boredom, and restlessness. Such a situation creates the lonely conditions for the appearance of young people that kill other young people.
Looking for Causes Beyond Self
Finally, a self-centered materialist culture is asphyxiating and shallow. It especially suppresses the spiritual desires of the youth that naturally looks for causes beyond self and ultimately toward God.
That is why successive generations of youth since the sixties have looked for increasingly abnormal outlets for their spiritual hunger: drugs, religious sects, and bizarre lifestyles that so destroy their lives. The present generation has taken this same impulse farther by embracing the occult. Some even enter the macabre world of Islamic radicalism—found among some young shooters.
When spiritual desires are absent, it can also give rise to emptiness. Saint Thomas Aquinas (Summa II-II, q. 35) calls this condition acedia, which he defines as the weariness for holy and spiritual things and a subsequent sadness of living. This tragic emptiness is often found among those young people killing other young people.
Return to Christian Order
The only way to fight today’s corrupted youth culture is to replace it with another culture. This other culture must be contrary to the present one. It must be powerful enough to inspire selflessness, embracing enough to engender community, lofty enough to arouse dedication. It must be a refreshing alternative to a sad and weary world.
This effort to find a culture does not involve a search but a return. Christian order had this inspiring effect upon decadent Rome and countless other barbarian cultures. It united peoples in charity and captured their imagination as they joined their hearts and mind to God. Nothing could have been more unlikely than this new culture in those morally devastated peoples. But if it happened once, it can happen again, even in these unlikely times when young people kill other young people.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.