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The nihilism that threatens America

A boy firing a machine gun at the Pennsylvania “Rod of Iron Freedom Festival”. Spencer Platt/Getty

The primary school shooting in Texas tells you one big thing about America, says Bari Weiss in her Substack newsletter, Common Sense. It has gone mad. The attack – which killed 19 children and two adults – is the country’s 212th mass shooting this year and the 27th in a school. It’s also America’s deadliest mass shooting in 2022 so far, “which says something because it happened just 10 days after 10 people were killed in a Buffalo, NY, supermarket”. I read the endless headlines and I realise how we “grow accustomed to horrific things”. Not so long ago people watched other people get drawn and quartered in the public square; they watched beheadings; they participated in honour killings. We looked at them from our “civilised perch” and cast judgement: “How did they witness such barbarism and still have the appetite for dinner?” My question is, how do we?

Part of the problem is our “addiction to guns” and the fact that we’ve become “numb” to violence. Armed robberies are up; road deaths are up; car break-ins are so common in some cities that people leave notes on their windows to thieves saying there’s nothing inside. But the scariest thing is “the social rot that’s come over America”. Our nihilism and hatred of each other; the dissolution of our social ties, and with them the accountability that an actual community demands. Philip Roth famously called it “the indigenous American beserk”. It’s everywhere now, “and it is impossible to unsee”.