Did Society’s Devaluation of Life Cause Newtown?

Two weeks ago, I wrote about our declining value system in regard to the Sandy Hook shooting. I received a lot of hostile emails and letters from the gun control crowd. “How can you argue for less control in the wake of those shootings?” were most of the responses, while others more positive said, “Yes me need more God in our school” when I said nothing of the sort.

Let me clarify the argument.

Thomas Purcell is a contributor to The Brenner Brief. Twitter: @LotusTom

Thomas Purcell is a contributor to The Brenner Brief. Twitter: @LotusTom

This Christmas, many people shared with me through Facebook and other means, photos of their families getting their Christmas presents, along with photos of them spending the holiday together. I saw smiling faces, kids playing with their toys and various holiday foods and kids in pajamas.

What I didn’t see, and I see less of every year, are kids playing with parents, or people spending time with their family. I saw fewer photos than ever of smiling faces and lots of photos of backs of heads in front of the TV. Pictures of the fancy tree were prevalent; photos of Grandma in her new sweater with the reindeer were scarce.

Almost every picture I saw was of kids and parents with faces buried in new iPads and iPods and electronic whiz-bang toys and little to no interaction with each other. When I was a kid, I remember mom taking us to see the families, and being mad that I was pulled away from my toys. We spent the day talking with about life, love and politics, leaving our gifts behind as we celebrated the holiday.

I distinctly remember mom telling us that the gifts would be there all year, but that this was time for family. Oh, we would have the new clothes to wear, and maybe we would bring the new GI Joe to Grandma’s, but there was far more interaction in those days than there is today.

Christmas was a day to celebrate the love we have for each other, not for the new Atari. Aunts and uncles, grandfathers and sons spent the day talking with each other and discussing life, not playing the Xbox.

This is what I mean by value system. We have placed an emphasis on gifts and material goods far more than it deserves and less emphasis on family and less emphasis on the human condition. By elevating the importance of fame, fortune and material goods, we have inadvertently placed the value of human life further down in the ladder.

It’s easy to kill or to injure others when they have been reduced in stature and importance.

The most violent societies are one where the value of a single human life is reduced. In places like some of the countries in Southeast Asia and Africa, life is very cheap, and as such, murder rates are sky-high. It doesn’t matter if they have access to guns or not — where the role of individual human life is reduced, death occurs more often.

More importantly, as the role of government reduces the role of the individual, and emphasizes the role of society as more important than individual rights, it becomes more violent.  Some of the least violent cultures are ones where the value of the individual is elevated beyond that of society. Karl Marx wrote that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. As a result, communist nations such as Soviet Russia and China are able to exterminate mass amounts of population easier than turning off a light. America, a less violent society historically, believes in the opposite — that the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many — and as we become a society less interested in the rights of individuals, we become more violent.

In a society as wealthy as America’s, it is easy for us to forget the importance of love, charity and goodwill toward men. It’s easy to outsource those values to government rather than doing them ourselves. But it’s important that we don’t — that we don’t isolate and insulate ourselves from others through a video screen. When we do that, it’s easy for video games to reduce life to mere pixels, to be hostile to one another, and treat each other badly. As we get to know one another, it’s harder to commit crimes against our fellow-man. It is why as the internet becomes more involved in our lives, people become more angry and vicious to one another. The other person is just a picture on a screen, dehumanized to the point where they are merely a stand up cardboard cutout to throw darts at.

The problem is not video games, access to guns, or God in our lives. These are merely symptoms of much larger problem.

It’s the problem of human values, and the emphasis we place on material goods and superficial things like fame and fortune — and not each other.




  1. Absolutely point on analysis. The more a wealthy a nation the less emphasis on individuals and easier to dehumanize. Great column. I have two children 3 and 1. My wife and I make an incredibly conscious during the holidays to emphasize the real importance. Toys are not babysitters and Christmas is not about gifts. Will share this story.

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