The Pope thinks that a cell with two newly united genomes in a double helix, whether it’s in a glass dish of agar-agar on a lab bench or in a human uterus, is a child. He dodges the problem of where to draw the line by making it as inclusive as possible. The problem is that he has so little regard for the physical body once it has left the uterus and needs more than prayers for its soul.
In earlier and more practical times the line was simply whether a baby, in or out of the mother, looked like a baby. If it still had gills and webbed hands, it was not a baby. For the mother the line came at what was called “quickening” -- when the baby was big enough and moved enough for her to feel it. There are many other angles to consider but I consider ALL of them to be more important than obsessing about guns.
This boy shooter, judging from his photo, had some kind of genetic challenge. From the outside it looks as though this family defined one boy as the father’s and one boy as the mother’s. The mother took the deficient child, probably feeling that he needed her and that sufficient nurture might somehow heal him, but instead the broken boundary between the two of them meant that when he decided to kill himself, he took her along. He used a separate gun, a .22, that he didn’t use on the children, little kids who may have stood for the last happy times he could remember. He was like a king taking all his attendants and lovers with him. Or maybe he thought he was saving them from a painful future -- more than one teenager has told me that growing up was a terrible curse. The adults appear to be collateral damage -- they just got in the way. It’s the reverse of ghetto children accidentally shot in the course of gang wars -- “shrooms” they’re called. Mushrooms sprouted fungally out of the dark, unhuman.
As a friend of mine -- a mother devoted to her sons -- remarked, this woman evidently just couldn’t bear to put her boy in an institution because of her fantasy that she could at least control him, which was futile, a product of her own childishness. A child is, first of all, an extension of ourselves so the way we treat them reflects who we think we are. Secretly we all think “our” children are different from everyone else’s: more precious, more important, more dearly cherished. So Obama (and I AM an Obama supporter) wipes away a tear over Connecticut kids, but (not in public anyway) not Afghani kids killed by Predator strikes. ‘Shrooms.
Every time there’s one of these incidents I do some reading. Someplace I read that the period of American history in which there were the most child massacres was the Dust Bowl Thirties in mid-western rural America, the very place considered the heart of honor and decent families. Isolated families with year-after-year of crop failures began to starve to death. The fathers of some could not find a solution. No transportation out, too far to walk to town, no telephones, no outreach from other places, and not even weeds and gophers to eat. So they took their families into the storm cellars, killed the children while the mothers held them, then killed the mothers and themselves. No one noticed for a long time.
In essence children are economic units. At one time farm success depended on having enough children to do the work and there was plenty to eat regardless of money because it was all produced right there. This is still the case in much of the world. But as the shift to technology meant that education was key to economic success, fewer children was a better strategy. Luckily, the technology provided contraception and morning-after pills. But this meant that the culture began to infantilize sex and disconnect it from parenthood.
So children become sexual objects. Something that could be sold, either as slave labor or for sexual use. The formal psych categories of children as sex objects divide into infants and toddlers, the primary school years (6 to 9), and adolescents. In actuality the categories are more like Third World kids who are kidnapped or sold; exceptionally attractive children; victims of family abuse; damaged and therefore vulnerable children; and abandoned children who have learned to survive by using sex. There are probably other categories like emotionally needy children or children of parents who think they are possessions advertising status and wealth.
If you are a teacher or health care worker who has learned to recognize any of these kids, you are required by law to call in law enforcement. The mantra of all law enforcement is to get rid of the immediate problem -- clear the books. (Deportation might work.) Principals and hospital managers do the same -- by firing the person who turned in the problem. Thus, we know a lot more than we admit. The media colludes.
People are confused (and the Pope offers no guidance, though individual priests have their own ideas) about the “old” end of the child spectrum. If kids make trouble, we shove them towards adult, making them vulnerable to incarceration and even capital punishment. By adolescence the children have formed identities and are looking for affiliation, either with groups or with individual friends and lovers. By now the kids are various and the groups they join make them more various, as they find resources that might be quite different, varying from universities to gangs. Gangs and military service are rigorously structured and provide weapons. Universities these days tend to be pretty loose, even in the sexual sense. Few families feel someone should be home for teenagers. Few talk to them. Except on the Internet.
So, a child is an accident, a child is a precious possession, a child is a burden, a child is the future, a child carries on the family, someone else’s child is less deserving than our own children, a child is just a little adult, a child is never really adult, a child is the business only of parents, a child should be protected by the government, and so on.
As to the question of whether traumatized survivors of massacres can cope, ask the Blackfeet. Many have great-grandmothers who as children witnessed the shooting deaths of their families and playmates. They’ve gone on and succeeded, but not unscathed. And since all children belong to all of us, we all pay for it in terms of callousness, selfishness, abandonment, sexual abuse, violence, and continuing trauma in communities. Surely we could do better.