It seems the same dark impulses that are driving an alarming number of men to kill themselves may very well be the same impulses driving many of them to turn on others in hatred and violence.
Just a cursory investigation into some of the many men who have committed or encouraged egregious acts of violence suggests a perilous search for acceptance, some desperate search for meaning among the increasing existential emptiness that has been hollowing out our great country over the last forty years.
Take one of these murderous extremists recently profiled in the Washington Post in 2017. The directionless 18-year-old, who fancied himself a neo-Nazi alongside his two roommates, eventually appeared to gravitate toward Islamic extremism in 2017, suddenly showing support for the likes of ISIS. He would go on to murder his two roommates for harboring the very same beliefs he once had:
“According to records, [the extremist] told officers that ‘all of them had been friends with a common neo-Nazi belief’ until [he] converted to Islam…It is unclear if and when [he] actually converted to Islam, was an observant Muslim or ever attended a mosque. ‘Allah Mohammad,’ which [he] exclaimed to police as he was being led to the patrol car, is not a Muslim phrase.”
To argue that the young man was simply deranged is patently unfair and dismissive of the complexities at hand. Desperation and an utter lack of direction are the more likely culprits. He played a hopelessly superficial game of hopscotch with beliefs and ideologies that lead to a tragic and senseless act of violence. He was, to put it simply, lost.
And there are plenty of men like the neo-Nazi-turned-ISIS fan out there. The notorious founder of the neo-Nazi site, The Daily Stormer, had a similar hapless and haphazard search for some semblance of meaning. He spent his formative years as an anti-racist vegan. With little to no guidance outside of impulse and whim, it led him to a savage kind of hatred as well.
To be sure, the narrative that somehow the desperate, chaotic violence that litters our newsfeeds is the result of some innate, toxic masculinity is as misleading as it is false. Rather, a dark, virulent nihilism has emerged amid the war on civility, virtue, and faith as fundamentally objective values. Our collective moral compass as a society is broken and it’s often evidenced by these mindless, terrible acts of violence.
We have traded fortitude and sacrifice — hallmarks of religious faith, particularly among men — for the solipsism of postmodernity and its consequent, seductive whispers of violence and suicide. It’s even reflected in the absurd, godless philosophies of the likes of Albert Camus that are more prevalent today than ever:
“There is only one really serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy.”
The desire to turn on oneself seems to be often intimately related to the desire to turn on others. Both are borne from a corrosive form of self-hatred compelled by an overwhelming need to forfeit life itself. That hatred is often extended to the world and to others. Jean-Paul Sartre, a compatriot of Camus in the philosophy of bleak, godless existentialism, famously quipped in his play, No Exit:
“Hell is other people.”
The landscape now teems with discarded, listless men fueled by nihilistic rage and woe. So many are as disconnected and directionless as they are disconsolate. Most will go about their lives in “quiet desperation.” Some will not. Before we condemn them out of hand though, we must first consider the existential roots of this maddening epidemic.