The Most Revolutionary Act

Diverse Ramblings of an American Refugee

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall
New Plymouth, New Zealand
December 02
Retired psychiatrist, activist and author of 2 young adult novels - Battle for Tomorrow and A Rebel Comes of Age - and a free ebook 21st Century Revolution. My 2010 memoir The Most Revolutionary Act: Memoir of an American Refugee describes the circumstances that led me to leave the US in 2002. More information about my books (and me) at

DECEMBER 22, 2012 7:58PM

Was the Sandy Hook Massacre a Failed Rebellion?

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Going Postal by Mark Ames

Going Postal by Mark Ames

The best analysis I’ve read about the root cause of the rage massacre in Connecticut last week comes from Michael Rechenwald, founder of Citizens for Legitimate Government in Seeking Definitive Causes and Solution for Rage Massacres. Rechenwald agrees with Mark Ames’ premise in Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion — From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond. Ames argues that rage massacres are committed by self-identified rebels seriously disenchanted by some aspect of American life who are lacking both support and a viable plan for change. As Rechenwald and Ames point out, they are not psychotic because they have a clear rationale and a clear set of targets for their rage, which is largely reality based. Schools are often a target because, as Rechenwald points out, this is where Americans are fed most of the crap ideology that induces them to buy into a political and economic system that exploits and oppresses them.

Borrowing from political scientist Benjamin Barber (in Jihad vs McWorld), Rechenwald describes them as jihadists (in tending to embrace tradition, nationalism and religious extremism) who terrorize and kill those they view as responsible for their failure to achieve the American dream they were promised.

Rechenwald argues that neither gun control nor any other short term measures will end these horrible tragedies: “Nothing short of changing everything — the capitalist system, the imperialist agenda, the poor to (for many) non-existent health care system, the greater incidences of mental illness and their aggravation in an agonistic social order, the ideological basis of capitalist triumphalism — will suffice.”

I agree.

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That this terrible situation is used by Michael Rechenwald to advance his (provided by Mark Ames) position regarding changing the entire American system is not surprising. I do not find fault with doing this. One uses what is at hand in the struggle for major social change.

BUT..... calling for Social Change is totally fruitless without stating what the society will look like after such a change, and offers at least a hint as to how to initiate that change.

The population is not going to get behind any vague calls for "change." The people, quite rightfully, want to know where you intend them to go; and they want to know how you intend them to get there. Just demanding that things "change" is not enough.

What assurance do people have that you're not leading them to jump from the frying pan into the fire?

There will be no change - whether by evolution or by revolution - until these questions have clear and precise answers.

The premise that "rage massacres are committed by self-identified rebels seriously disenchanted by some aspect of American life who are lacking both support and a viable plan for change" seems a little far-fetched to me. For one thing many perpetrators of so called rage massacres are mentally ill; for another, many of them are young, too young to "buy into a political and economic system that exploits and oppresses them." And a lot of them come from stable, middle or upper-middle class backgrounds.

You'd think if what Ames says is true, the profile of the average shooter would be a marginalized middle-aged or older man, likely a minority and unemployed and that his target would be corporate or government personnel.

Americans may have the right to bear arms but for some there seems to be the unstated implication that we also have the right to use them whenever and for whatever reason we choose. Just a thought as I try to make sense of the senseless.

My first thought was to agree with you about middle-aged men of a badly treated minority being likely to be shooters. But then it occurred to me that middle-aged men only got to be middle-aged by having come to terms with the crap the country hands them.

The youth, however, are going through that transition from childhood to adulthood. This is the time in their lives when they are discovering that their parents and teachers - indeed the whole of society, has lied to them since they were born.

They are discovering that they CANNOT, in fact, "be anything they want to be" and that honesty is NOT always the most effective policy. They are finding out that being nice to others does NOT always get you the same treatment in return and that some others will step on your face if it means that they will get a nickel more than you.

They are discovering that, if there is any such thing as a god, it doesn't give a damn about them - or likely about the whole world - either. In short, they're going from the Mary Poppins "It's a wonderful life" childhood reality to a VERY different, "grown up" reality.

And it sucks.

It is NOT what was promised to them. It is NOT what they firmly believed they would get. It is NOT fair or just or even marginally acceptable. And they have to accept it as it really is because "that's the way things are."

Most make the transition - a bit of trouble - but they make it. Some, however, break up on the rocks of a reality so very very different than the one they were taught to believe in.

Those who crash and burn need to be recognized by our society at the first signs of this and provided with the appropriate psychological help to deal with this stunningly nasty eye-opening at this time in their young lives.

I haven't studied this; I just remember, so very clearly, my own awakening, and how it affected me.
To continue:

I wonder if the thought process of such young men who do things like shooting up a school full of kids isn't motivated by a desire to "teach the kids that they're being lied to and that the world is a really rotten place - and here - bang, bang, bang, is what it's REALY all about."

He would not miss the fact that those he kills could never learn the lesson he wants to impart but he knows that a great many others will learn that lesson.

I think it possible that he might also be trying to "teach the teachers" to stop telling the kids stupid lies that will be found out in a few years.

This might account for the many times that these massacres are aimed at schools.
Sky, from what I've read about mass shootings in the US in the last 30 years, the average age of the killer is 35. Source:

Also more than half of these incidents didn't occur in schools. I don't know about the youth in transition theory and I haven't heard or read anything conclusive about why these things happen. Unfortunately many of the killers also kill themselves so we never find out what the motivation was. But one thing does seem certain:

"The Harvard Injury Control Research Center assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders. This holds true whether you’re looking at different countries or different states." Found here:

I echo your sentiment wholeheartedly though: It sucks. I don't know if stricter gun control laws are the answer (for the record I support them and don't like guns but I'm pessimistic about any real change) but the most unexpected and disturbing findings for me, from what I've read, is that the vast majority of these incidents couldn't have been predicted or prevented. Contrary to what I assumed, most of the people who committed these crimes were not mentally ill, weren't anti-social loners and didn't raise any red flags around the people closest to them. What's most surprising to me is that, like serial killers, the vast majority of them were what you and I would probably consider normal.

So how do we prevent something like this from happening again? Because that's what everyone really wants to know. And depressingly, I've come to the conclusion that the answer is: Most of the time, we can't. And they will continue to occur regularly and we'll continue to wring our hands and beat our breasts and wail.

I suppose the good news is, in the scheme of things, it's still exceedingly rare. You and yours are far more likely to die in a car accident for example than in a random shooting event. Of course that's cold comfort to victims and their families. But statistically, it's true.
The best discussion yet of Sandy Hook, including the post, if only because it avoids the near hysteria I've seen in most of the others.
My musings were more speculation than hard fact with solid research behind it. That the average age of the shooters is about 35 doesn't change things as far as the US is concerned. The average 35 year old in the US is at about the same maturity level as a 20 year old in the rest of the world. And yeah, I know that Americans can't face that reality.

You are right that there are no easy answers but I think that two things should be kept firmly in mind; 1) the more stressful the society is, the more likely it is that perfectly normal people can suddenly snap, and 2) in any large population the odds are that there are more people holding on to their sanity by their fingernails at any given time.

The US has some of the highest stress levels in the world and it now has what can only be classed as a 'large' population.

Incidents of this sort are likely to happen more and more frequently as the economic situation worsens for the average people. It is especially galling to most of us that while the rich are getting obscenely richer, the average working person - those who create all that wealth in the first place - is finding mere survival to be problematic.

When I was a boy it was highly unpopular to "blame society" for anything. People these days seem to understand that there are things we, as individuals are responsible for and there are also things that "society" is on the wrong track with.

I, personally, am of the school of thought that lays a great deal of responsibility on the society. How it is organized and operated dictates how most of us earn our living, accomplish our goals, and see ourselves.

It stuns me that few, if any, people ever ask where we, as a society, - or as a nation - want to go. What is our goal? Surely there must be something other to life than "more, more, more."

I recently read an article in Scientific American or in Business Insider that published the gun prevalence vs number of killings. Only when suicide is figured in does the per capita number of guns in a nation, correlate with deaths. leave out suicides and out goes any such claim. Switzerland is a good example. One hundred percent of all males serve a time in the military and when they leave that compulsory service they take their gun with them. ALL adult men in that country have a gun. A modern military, rapid-fire gun at that! Yet when suicides are not counted in, Switzerland has a much, much lower rate of firearm killings than the US.

I have a problem with removing guns from citizens. The original reason for citizens having guns was to ensure that the government did not run rough-shod over the people. That reason holds now as much - perhaps even more - than it did at that time. We are fools if we don't recognize how things are going these days. You may be sure that thee is a solid reason why the government is arming the cops with military tanks, automatic weapons, and even drones. We, after all, are not the only ones who expect that when people are pushed too far down they'll revolt. The elite may be greedy bastards but they're also smart bastards. They know what's coming, and they'd like nothing better than for all citizens to be without any means of defending themselves.

Now....... if you want to talk about EVERYBODY being disarmed, that's another conversation. But disarming honest, average citizens while leaving guns in the hands of crooks, government, and cops (all of which easily fall into the category of "bad guys"), seems less than wise. There is no balance of power in that.
Sky; well here I am thinking about massacres and baking Christmas cookies; I wonder what that says about me?  I’m enjoying this dialogue because it’s forcing me to look at this issue from a lot of different angles.

I agree that perfectly normal people can and do suddenly snap. And there are always going to be a certain percentage of individuals holding on to their sanity at any given time. But if you’re saying those two things are the main ingredients resulting in someone who commits a massacre, I’d have to disagree. There are a lot of people on any given day who find themselves at the bottom of a hole they can’t climb out of. They find other ways to cope. Maybe they seek professional help; they talk to loved ones; they turn to their faith. In other cases, they lash out at their families or turn on themselves in some self-destructive way. But they don’t deal with it by going on murderous rampages.

Sure there are high stress levels here but to say it’s the exclusive domain of American society doesn’t make any sense. Where there are people living together, competing for jobs, resources, etc., there’s going to be stress. And I’m no psychologist but I believe most stress is self-generated and most healthy well-adjusted people develop mechanisms to deal with it.

Not sure if you’re implying that if society dictates how we see ourselves, then it’s also the place to lay the blame every time there’s another Columbine or Sandy Hook. “Society” is such a nebulous concept especially in a country like the United States. Even compared to your Canada but particularly when compared to other countries where society is more cohesive and easily defined. The diversity and multi-culturalism and personal freedom that exists here, such coveted things, also make it difficult to define “society” and claim to know what goals “society” has.

I think when you start blaming society for problems like mass shootings there’s the risk of minimizing the concept of personal responsibility. Free will. Being able to define right and wrong. And the unwillingness to dig deeper for root causes.

I wonder if Dr. Bramhall might weigh in on this because I may be completely off-base

Regarding guns specifically, I favor strict gun control but I think it'll take a lot more Sandy Hooks for this to happen. But the argument I hear so frequently, that citizens need to arm themselves just in case they may have to defend themselves against the government - I don't buy it; it's absurd. Even if something catastrophic happened, do you really think armed US citizens are any match for the most heavily armed, sophisticated military in the world? It's preposterous and a silly excuse for owning weapons. Unless it becomes legal to own nuclear weapons.
I too am enjoying this discussion immensely.

However I think that you are twisting my words just a tad......

1) The fact that some - many - others deal with the stresses of life in a grossly competitive society by means of therapy, religion, family and a hundred other ways, does NOT mean that some don't or won't just snap and go on a shooting spree.

In a high population, high stress nation, it is quite likely that even the most outrageous "solutions" will be considered by some small number of people; and a few of them will act out any of those outrageous scenarios.

2) Nowhere did I say, or imply, that stress is exclusively an American trait. But the attitude of "if you're not a winner then you're a loser" IS almost exclusively an American attitude.

The American insistence that everyone CAN be successful - financially - if they work hard and put their mind to it, is ridiculous. People have many different talents. Few people really have the talent of acquiring wealth. It is often the case that people have a talent that just doesn't lead to riches. Yet almost the only measure of "success" in modern America is one's "net worth."

People are under pressure to become financially successful more in America than in any other nation. Perhaps as much as 80% of Americans rate success solely by financial criteria. There is, of course, that other 20% who are more balanced in their outlook and have adopted other criteria of success, such as satisfaction and contentment, giving to their communities in substantial, though not monetary, ways, treating their land, their animals, and other people with respect.

But these people ARE only a small proportion of the society as a whole and are more often to be found in rural settings than in urban ones.

Stress, whether "self generated" or externally generated, acts upon people in the same way. How it is generated is secondary - though important - to the fact that it is.

That "most people develop mechanisms for handling such high levels of stress" in the US does not take away from the fact that SOME people do not find themselves able to handle stress beyond a certain point. A person who has, so far, handled stress without apparent difficulty may reach a break point at any time. Not everyone can handle such stress levels indefinitely.

3) Canada not only has greater multiculturalism than the US, the very concept is our official stance. The Official stance of the US is the "melting pot" position. We have no difficulty defining our society as multicultural and actively promoting that concept.

4) Society has a large role to play in how we see ourselves and in the opportunities to achieve those goals that both we, and society, set as desirable. When all goals pale beside one - in the US, the acquiring of money - then the society is ill balanced. That twisted balance is reflected in how the individuals in the society treat both the society itself and other individuals within the society.

Given that, yes indeed we CAN look to our society's effects on individuals for clues to "what the hell happened" when an individual goes off the rails.

True there is a strong element of individual responsibility involved; but it is not the major element. If it were the major element then the US would have no greater incidence of horrendous homicides than any other nation. People is people.

I've seen much blather here and on other sites where a strong connection is made between the number of guns in the hands of the citizens and the number of killings in that society. I see few looking at other causative possibilities, such as societal norms, which differ greatly between nations.

Us citizens tend to shy away from accepting shared responsibility for incidents like the school killings in Connecticut. They'd far rather put it down to "individual" responsibility. I suspect that this is a serious error. Individuals are moulded, in large part, by their society. I suggest that, if any solution to this sort of thing is ever found, it will entail a great deal of societal involvement and acceptance of responsibility.

5) I think it is rather obvious that any person who will do what that young man did is in a mental frame of mind where his ability to judge "right from wrong" is seriously impaired.

To expect the individual who suffers from such psychological impairment to keep his impulses in check may be fine from a purely judgemental point of view. But it does nothing to protect the vulnerable who are his victims.

This clearly puts the onus on society, as protector of innocent, vulnerable children (and other citizens also) to work hard at recognizing those who are on the edge of crashing and burning mentally. It is necessary that society take on this responsibility since the perp CANNOT do so and the individuals in the society do not have that ability, by and large.

6) As to it being "preposterous" to think that citizens armed with light guns could ever take on the mighty American military, may I remind you that prior to 1776 it was thought preposterous that a rag-tag band of ignorant colonials could take on the mighty British military.

More than that. You must keep in mind that nearly every person in the military has friends and family in the population that would be resisting authoritarian control. I strongly suspect that those civilian resisters would soon be joined by well armed break-away units of the military. It's damned hard to get soldiers to obey orders to shoot their relatives.

The small amount of resistance the population could offer would provide a bit of time for that to happen. It would also mean that "big guns" would be used against the civilian population and that also would disgust the regular soldier greatly.

A governing body that truly represents the population need not fear the citizens. It is only when that government is actively working against the best interests of the people it is charged with caring for that it needs to protect itself with weapons.
Sky, points well-taken. Happy holidays to you!

And thanks to Dr. Bramhall for this post that led to such a lively in-depth discussion.
I'm not buyin' it. Or, the American school system really does suck. You can't win a revolution when the 1st target is a place that houses 22 martyrs-to-be.

You lose that one before it even begins.

The 1st act of a revolution should be bold, and it should make a definitive statement. - "I'm a fucking coward" is not that statement.
rated for the excellent discussion this inspired between Sky and Margaret.