Some of it is physical, but there’s more than muscle and mass to consider. Men seem to perceive, process, and react differently than women. A biological base to our differences is obvious, as is the likely interplay of socialization. It’s not necessarily a negative: male specialization has been integral to the survival of our species. Physical strength, aggression, and audacious behavior have enabled males to nurture and protect tribal identity, while concurrently spreading their half of the genetic seed. But it’s not always a positive either: male aggression and perilous behavior can also be lethal to tribe, family, and self, especially in today’s world where masculinity is combined with modern technology.
Male boldness is visible and well documented. 4,833 people have climbed to the top of Mt. Everest (thru 2018). 288 have died in the attempt. 89% of the climbers were male and they comprised 96% of all deaths. In 2017, Alex Honnold scaled the 3,000 foot shear face of Yosemite’s El Capitan alone, without aid of ropes or safety gear. He’s made similar vertical climbs at other imposing cliff sites (as of this writing, he’s still alive). At least 31 wingsuit BASE jumpers plummeted to their deaths in 2016; apparently all were male. These risk takers are (or were) all brave, though not necessarily heroic individuals. Their feats were performed not to escape or disable danger, but to experience it. Such flirtations with death pose immense self risk, but little danger to others. The same cannot be said for all male inclination towards audacious behavior.
We (males) capriciously put lives at risk, including our own, for no apparent survival benefit. Often our displays are acts of aggression, and they’re not always just angry reactions. Sometimes our behavior is planned; sometimes it’s simply bizarre and beyond rational explanation. It’s not quite monopolized; females too, are seen to exhibit such behavior, but not nearly to the extent observed in males.
Males commit 70% to 90% of all murders. Men perpetrate about 98% of all mass killings and constitute at least 90% of all modern day serial killers. In domestic settings, 80% of spousal murders are committed by men, and in the workplace, males account for 97% of all rampage style killings. The propensity towards violence and instability is clearly evident. Less visible are some underlying neurological conditions that might give biological evidence to male associated instability. Men are three times more likely to be born with ADHD. There are also several neurological diseases that display earlier and more severely in males: OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder are three following that pattern. Later in life, males are twice as likely to exhibit symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. None of these conditions are twined to a misanthropic nature, but they do indicate the presence of neurological instabilities that are closely associated with males. That these recognized expressions exist provides reason to suspect the existence of other less conspicuous volatilities; predispositions that trigger some of our male associated acts of violence.
What Lies Beneath?
Brain Wave (by Poul Anderson) was a 1953 science fiction novel that posited the earth finally passing out of a stellar radiation field that had dampened cognitive function for eons. Suddenly, every earthly animal with neurological activity became five times more conscious. Humans, along with all animal species, were no longer cognitively suppressed (leading to human/non-human ethical complications). Could something in that fiction be relevant to our nonfictional reality? We like to think of ourselves as being completely aware, with an unimpeded rational thought process. Maybe we’re not really so free and unimpeded. Maybe evolution (rather than cosmic radiation) has bent us towards behavior patterns of which we take little notice. We (males) have a shown proclivity to exhibit risky, bizarre, and violent behavior, yet are inclined to see ourselves as being completely cool and rational: “I’m totally okay” (even when it’s clear that some of us aren’t).
It might be comparable to alcohol. In the history of the world, has any man in any bar, ever felt unable to drive home safely after two drinks? We look around and observe others who are clearly inebriated and pose danger on the road, but see ourselves as completely unimpaired. We might shake our head when another with five or eight drinks loudly declares himself still fit to drive; we ourselves have had two, yet clearly have it all together. We’re under the influence, but don’t admit or even feel it. We might drive home a thousand times without a mishap, but the two drinks have sent alcohol to our brain and have made our travel less certain.
Our male propensity for risk and violence is like that: we’re all at least “two drinks” along, but feel sober (and those further along than just two are equally confident). Individually we think we pose no danger, but in fact have always been under the influence. We’ve never known sobriety; two drinks minimum is our only plane of reference; our condition feels normal and unimpaired. It’s not always a fixed plane; our level of impairment is multiplied by external events: humiliation, a terminated relationship, substance abuse, loss of employment, financial setback, etc. From whatever baseline, we jump ahead and are suddenly more than just two drinks under and are no longer even close to “okay”. We’re in a heightened state of flux and not quite predictable. After an eruption, it’s not uncommon to hear: “He didn’t seem like the type.” or “I didn’t see it coming.”
So there’s a biological “drunkenness” that leaves males more inclined to exhibit risky, aggressive, and even misanthropic behavior with little pause for reflection. It’s not the boldness, but various expressions of violence that arouse concern, especially in this era of lethal weaponry when an individual gone amok can reek havoc on so many. When it happens, the easily available weapon of choice is usually a gun.
It took sober minded mothers (MADD) to arouse awareness and activate meaningful DUI regulation. Recently, it’s activist children (Parkside) trying to motivate the nation to meaningful confrontation of another glaring danger: the proliferation of guns. There’s something telling in that it took our mothers to awaken us to the drinking/driving/death reality, and it’s now taking children to shake us from the stupor of a nation’s infatuation with guns.
So Many Guns
We’ve a long history with guns. They’ve been present through all of U.S. history and the prior European conquest of America. In some form or another, hand held guns have killed for more than 500 years. That’s a lot of years, but just a blip on the historical time line of humans killing one another; guns have simply made the process more efficient and impersonal. As with other human innovations, firearm refinements have come incrementally. Bit by bit, they’ve morphed into incredible deadly machines. Guns of today have visual resemblance (triggers and barrels) to early predecessors; beyond that, the similarities fade. It’s now “rate of fire” per second rather than “rate of fire” per minute. While the lethal power of our weaponry has continuously advanced, human nature hasn’t. Our mental/emotional soundness is as fragile (or inebriated) today as it was ten thousand years ago; we’ve armed our Stone Age mindset with 21st century killing machines.
Throw a dart at the calendar. The gun statistics (U.S.) for that one single day will likely include the following: 135 gun related incidents, 37 murders (7 children), and 63 injuries. Mention of a particular mass shooting will probably be old news, because one happens about every 30 hours. Nearly everyone of these gun related acts of violence will be perpetrated by a male.
Gun ownership appears ubiquitous and nearly religious (“a god-given right”). The U.S. adult population (15 & above) is roughly 265 million. There are approximately 310 million civilian owned firearms in the USA. That’s more than enough to arm every adult (except that 3% of all gun owners own 50% of the guns). At least 39% of adult males claim to own guns, while female gun ownership is pegged at 22%. About 42% of all homes have at least one gun present.
So Little Need
It’s a bizarre reality: so many guns and so little need. Law enforcement has a need (much of it to deal with the 310 million civilian guns in circulation). Some ranchers, farmers, and rural dwellers can claim a legitimate need for livestock protection and pest control. Far on the fringes, there might still be some for whom a gun is needed to provide food and protection. For the vast majority, though, that time has long past. We have no survival need to hunt; shooting animals has become little more than a traditional exercise or an entertainment venue. Most gun ownership for protection is delusional; the presence of a gun actually increases the likelihood of both personal and household victimization. Why then, the infatuation? At least a few reasons present themselves: tradition, machismo, fear, and NRA/weapons industry marketing. We (especially males) have been targeted by gun makers, and our BUI mentality provides an easy mark. The NRA’s marketing campaigns have always nurtured ego enhancement through conflation of gun ownership and ideals of strength, independence, and patriotism. Invariably, the Second Amendment is called upon to portray weapon ownership as an expression of patriotic fervor. Posing private gun ownership as protection from tyranny or foreign invasion is obsolete by about a century. It’s now little more than a “two drink” fantasy; a passionate hustle aimed at those of us under the influence.
The birth of our nation occurred in the flint-lock musket era of small arms development. It was state of the art technology that required 20 seconds of practiced reloading time. A skilled and calm soldier (or civilian) could fire up to three rounds a minute, if aiming time was minimal. Armies were without airplanes, tanks, helicopters, missiles, etc. Aside from rather bulky cannons, soldiers armed with muskets provided the essence of battlefield might. Anyone with tradable goods or financial means could acquire a musket and be as well armed as any soldier in any army. The Second Amendment of 1791 provided the authorization for a state to reach an armed equivalency to federal or foreign armies (protection from tyranny): “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In 1791, “well-regulated Militias” were today’s National Guards, and armed equivalency required only muskets.
Second Amendment Fog
The Second Amendment is now cited as providing the Constitutional right of all citizens to own virtually any type of hand weapon. They’re no longer “three shots per minute” muskets; with today’s modern machines, a semi-automatic rifle enthusiast can easily fire 60 deadly bullets in a minute (without aid of a “bump stock”). However incredible the fire power, our armed citizens lack equivalency to National Guard troops, the U.S. military, or supposed foreign invaders. In whatever imagined standoff, automated rifles would provide but token resistance to the array of weaponry available to state supported military forces. Citizens armed with modern rifles afford no significant protection from tyranny; they have meaningful significance only to the non-military victims they’ve come to target.
The NRA and arms industry is undeterred by that reality; they continue to market weaponry as the patriotic expression of constitutional rights. The ad campaigns have evolved and spiraled into themselves: guns for patriotism, guns for sport, guns for self enhancement, and guns to protect against people with guns. The circle of death is complete: with a population already saturated with weapons, gun ownership is now promoted as necessary protection against the success of previous marketing campaigns (imagine the tobacco industry promoting active cigarette consumption as protection against second hand smoke).
Our situation needs acknowledgement: born under the influence and guns all around. The statistics are undeniable; we (males) are prone to acts of audacious behavior that are often violent and even misanthropic. It’s obvious we need some separation from the weapons that magnify the repercussions of our instability. It’s a need resisted; we’re under the influence, yet sure of our clarity. We look about and all is normal.
It’s normal; we accept forty thousand gun deaths a year through murder and suicide. It’s normal; we accept the marketing and political manipulation. It’s normal because we provide the votes. It’s normal because we purchase the guns. It’s normal because we’re under the influence.
A Passage Through
If meaningful regulation is ever to occur, it will likely come through those least under the influence: female activists and legislators. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) did it in 1980 (but faced less resistance). Perhaps the recent influx of female representation in the legislative body will be the catalyst to sustained effort. There are some positive signs: the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), revival of industry accountability, the curbing of bump stocks. To be meaningful and lasting, true gun regulation will necessitate actual reduction of weapons in circulation; both number and type. True regulation will remove the most egregious weapons that make mass killings easy, and will attempt to keep guns from the hands of those demonstrably under the influence.
The industry, its political sycophants, and those most under the influence will howl about loss of freedom, liberty, and constitutional rights. It’s obfuscation; the only thing truly lost will be a quick and easy route to murder and mass killings. Even if erring on the side of caution, nothing more than this will occur: accessibility to a machine whose sole function is to kill will be lost to one deemed most likely to use it. The “loss” is really a freedom gained. It would allow for passage through a dangerous period of instability: someone under the influence will not become a murderer, and those who might have died will still be alive. Regulation means only that and nothing more (when under the influence, it’s easy to feel otherwise).
• Photo can be viewed here