With yet another senseless school shooting hit the US, I started to think about my own youth. Granted I am not from North America, nor do I live there now, but I do think I know a little bit about being an outsider as a kid and I have felt the bitterness of feeling like I was left out of things. Now that did not mean that I walked around thinking about killing everyone, but the odd revenge fantasy has crossed my mind and I have seen my shadow on several occasions. In today’s world with several hundred people in the same school, it is easy to feel like you are not part of anything, that you have no tribe of your own. You might feel lost and not part of something and that can bring you into despair, especially at an age when belonging to something is very important.
The psychologist Jordan B Peterson, who my friends now probably are a little tired of me quoting or talking about, talks about how adolescence is the time for young people to be part of a tribe. It is the time to learn the rules of the tribe. Young men do that by pushing the boundaries, getting into trouble and watching their elders. I am not saying that women do not do the same thing, but right now I am addressing the young men I might have in my tiny audience.
From now on I am going to think out loud and if I get something wrong, please leave a comment, because I might not have all the facts in this and I want to evolve this idea into something greater. I think that if you fall outside of the tribe, either by design of others or by your own choices, you grow bitter and angry at the world. I have observed this in myself and others I know that are so-called outsiders. Granted not all of them have grown up to become school shooters. In fact, I am glad none of the people that I know have done something like that, but some of them have expressed understanding for why the school shooters or extremists have done what they have done. A close friend of mine, who was severely bullied as a kid and fell outside of society, once told me that the planet would be better off without humans on it. He also spends a lot of time complaining about society in general and every time I have tried to get him engage in something positive, he says that there is no time for it, even though he has no job and very little other things to do. Some people might blame gaming and other hobbies for this. It is a very common trick to point to the out group for any ill. It has happened so many times that I think listing every instance would take the rest of my life, so I’ll take on the one I know the best.
Gaming has been a refuge for me and a lot of other outsiders for several decades now and it has also been favorite scapegoat of both the left and the right in various settings. The right blamed gaming for violence during the 90s with the figurehead Jack Thompson and the left blamed it for sexism and violence against women during the last decade, which culminated in the dreaded Gamergate in August 2014. Gaming has however always been accepting of different type of people. The only thing that counted in the gaming community, is if you are any good or you actually play games at all.
You might ask yourself what this has to do with the title of the piece. My point is that people have always had a need to feel like part of a group and that group needs a way to ensure that the person who is being accepted is really part of the group. You can see this rite of passage still being practiced in the West in Bar Mitzvas and Confirmations. In these rituals you would be tested, for instance you could be made to read a text to show that you know the rules of the group, and if you pass you are now part of the group. The problem is that these rites have lost their significance. They are now seen as a way for young people to get some easy money. The money is all well and good as it will help the young guy or girl get a starting fund to get a license or something similar to ensure that they can continue to build their life. I am not saying that they are without purpose, but it feels like the idea of taking a part of the tribe has been lost at some point.
All cultures have some sort of rite of passage, and I do think that especially young men need this to feel like they are part of something, that they are picking a tradition and taking part in something greater. In the West we now have this in a pseudo form through subcultures having gates of entry. You need to know certain filmmakers to be a film buff, you need to know certain authors and love certain books to be accepted by the Goths for example, but there isn’t really a test of character that gives young men something to aim at. Something to reach for.
I have been thinking about this for some time and I have seen some men’s group actually have started to employ rites of passage. I do not always agree with their politics or their actions, but the Proud Boys and other societies like them have rites before you become a member. They may seem silly to an outsider, and even to the group members themselves, but they do matter. They give you a sense of belonging, being part of something greater. Now that greater may be aimed for something evil, but that is a post for another day.
I should also mention that introducing a rite of passage, or strengthening the ones we have now, should not be the only solution for a generation of broken males, but it might make less people feel alone in an increasingly larger world. I do not have all the answers, but I hope this post got you thinking. If you found anything you thought I am wrong about, please leave a polite rebuttal and I will happily talk to you about it.