On the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting

I think the most relevant cause of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting has relatively little do with guns or mental health.

I think it’s because our society is seriously ill–not mentally, but morally–and many of us are in denial about it. We rarely talk unironically about honor, morality, or shame, or otherwise give signs that we take seriously an objective morality and a commitment to freedom and personal responsibility. Our society’s elites simply don’t think that way anymore, preferring to think of incidents like this as sociological phenomena with collective solutions, rather than individual/ethical issues with individual solutions.

The very tendency we have to ignore issues of personal responsibility and morality, to regard events like this as merely pathological and not under anyone’s control, allows people to feel free to act without conscience. It’s as if they say, “What I do is not under my control. I’ve had it, I’ve snapped, I can’t stop myself…” and then they proceed to act out as if they really couldn’t stop themselves and there’s no need to.

Guns are not going to be banned. More mental health care will not stop people from acting out. The only solution to this sort of thing, in this country, is to reinvigorate our sense of personal responsibility, and to shut down the idiots who say we have no free will, who think that there are no problems for individual morality but only for psychology and sociology.

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About the author

Larry Sanger had written 163 articles for Larry Sanger Blog

I call myself an "Internet Knowledge Organizer." I started Wikipedia.org, Citizendium.org, WatchKnowLearn.org, ReadingBear.org, and Infobitt. I write about education and the Internet from a broadly philosophical point of view.

7 Responses to "On the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting"
  1. Reply brian t December 15, 2012 05:50 am

    We already have Mike Huckabee and other religious types blaming this on a lack of religion in Public schools – as if that translates automatically in to a “moral vacuum”. When all you have is a hammer (religion), everything looks like a nail ..

    • Reply Larry Sanger December 15, 2012 08:35 am

      I’m an agnostic. I can defend my views on strictly irreligious grounds.

  2. Reply Thomas E. Nuzum January 8, 2013 09:38 am

    How do you propose to reinvigorate a persons sense of personal responsibility or teach morals?
    Isn’t the way a person thinks a part of psychology? You are confusing society with sociology as well.
    That kid was clearly isolated for many years and really needed mental health.

    • Reply Larry Sanger January 8, 2013 10:31 am

      I indeed think we need to teach morals–probably not in schools, as they don’t understand moral theory and need to be educated on the subject themselves. But as a society we need to reinvigorate our understanding and use of moral categories such as virtue, obligation, and the good (well-lived) life. In educated, business, and other “elite” circles we rarely hear this sort of talk; it sounds old-fashioned and gauche. On popular and news media such talk is limited to pro forma legalistic discussions, e.g., of political and business leaders.

      As a society most adults do not understand ethics as a subject. If you were to ask most people, even many college-educated people, “Why shouldn’t I just steal from stores? Why shouldn’t I lie?” you would elicit bland platitudes in most cases, along with quite a bit of cynicism–which I think is rooted as much in ignorance as it is in anything else.

      These sorts of issues should be understood well by children by the time they graduate from high school. They used to be part of religious education, and as we have become increasingly secular, nothing–or, nothing that teaches some classic principles of ethics–has filled the gap.

      There is a difference between morality and psychology. Too many people think that psychologists are the experts about morality. But they aren’t.

    • Reply Dick Navidad January 18, 2013 04:16 am

      “Intelligence is the only moral guide.” — Robert Green Ingersoll


      Thank you ^_^

      • Reply Larry Sanger January 18, 2013 08:30 am

        Considering the large number of utterly amoral but highly intelligent people in the world, intelligence alone can’t be the only moral guide. The history of ethics will tell you the same: ethics is not purely an intellectual matter. It concerns emotions and values, which are not strictly matters of our intellectual faculties.

  3. Reply Laragene Williams January 12, 2013 01:51 am

    Perhaps it is not so much teaching a child to be moral or ethical, but doing the more difficult task of modeling it in all of life’s most challenging circumstances. Children are always watching, they pay attention. Do we notice to what they are paying attention?

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