Once again, America exercises its ritual mourning and utters its words of sorrow over the preventable massacre of nineteen children and two adults in a classroom, this time in Uvalde, Texas. The societal resignation that treats such insanity as now ‘normal’ matches the sadness that such ‘incidents’ provokes. But nothing could possibly be normal about an eighteen-year old boy firing an AR-15 or any firearm at a classroom of children.
Helplessness or Survival
One of the failures of the culture of industrial modernism is that it confuses the choices of humans and their complex consequences with ‘natural disasters.’ Nothing about modern warfare, invasions and genocide, terrorism, police murders, or mass executions of children is natural. Yes, they are all disasters, but they result from extreme hierarchy, imbalances of power among groups or nations, and derangement of persons and institutions—none of which are in our nature. These abominations result from human pathology and the institutions that provoke and enable it.
The industrial consumer is trained to depend upon the institutions that control her/his behavior and do so in part by cultivating a personal learned helplessness in response to lost agency of self. Things (to be bought) substitute for relationships, which in turn falter. We consume what are promoted and we are never satisfied; of course we feel helpless. We realize subliminally that our economic, social, and political survival depend on our institutional connections, and those grow increasingly tenuous. Families and the strength they provide barely exist in the larger institutional complex of political economy that drives individual consumer-worker behavior.
The gun manufacturers’ lobby offers propaganda to insure sales; their promotional campaigns intend to substitute firepower for social power. The January 6 insurrection is the collectively juvenile equivalent of the teenage shooter in Uvalde. Many people act out in diverse ways to the stress of white suburban working-class loss of status and income, to the anxiety of life in hopeless urban neighborhoods, and to the failing of health downwind from refineries, industrial effluents, and due to industrialized ‘food.’ The prospects for reasonable action in one’s own defense diminish day by day.
The culture of industrial-consumer economics requires its prey to chase happiness at the big-box store, despite the despair that follows the rush of buying that new ‘stuff.’ The loss of community and relations of respect and reciprocity that characterized pre-industrial societies, even warlike ones, continues to take a toll on the psyches of everyone, from the sub-subsistence wageworker to the Billionnaire riders of wasted phallic rockets to the edge of space.
The industrial consumer culture is one of compliance and evasion rather than reciprocity and gratitude. Some of us marvel at the people of the small Blue Zones around the world, where happiness has nothing to do with accumulation of products or wealth, and everything to do with human relationships. Yet, as a society we simply do not know how to get there from here. The global political economy of endless growth of extraction, manufacture, consumption, and waste, allows us no such option. That would disrupt the expansion of its ‘profit centers.’
We are trained to believe that we need all the trappings of fossil-fueled industrial economies. We are no more willing to give up the consequential if superficial ‘conveniences’ of excessive mobility, for example, than we are willing to give up our fantasies of firepower. The predation of the oil and gas corporations over-rides any concern for the health of the planet or its people. Our consequent mobility and product proliferation cause not only suffering, but fear and loathing all over the world.
Anger and hate emanate from fear. We fear for our lives because we find so little room in them for compassion, respect, and hope. All those shooters seek weapons because they have no other outlet for the hatred they feel for the world they fear because it has no place of meaning for them.
Primacy of Predation
The principle purpose of the global political economy and all its insatiable expressions, from compulsive shopping to military or schoolroom slaughter, and from exploitation to oppression, is predation—to overpower and take—to take wealth and to take life. To take and to accumulate, it matters not what. To take and accumulate wealth, to take and hold political power, to subordinate others to one’s will, whether neighbor, economic competitor, or ethnic or national group, is the primary value that drives predatory culture.
Let us assume for the moment that the people of the United States of America fervently desire to stop the violence of mass shootings in public places where schoolchildren, concertgoers, or other citizens gather, and are willing to do what it takes. We should be aware, however, that the spectacular mass shootings add up to a very small percentage of all gun deaths in the United States, most of which draw little or no media attention.
Despite the fact that we have a much deeper problem of fear, hatred and predation, the removal of military assault weapons from society and the institution of strict training and licensing for ownership and use of any firearm to a level that matches its lethal potential, could and has done the job elsewhere. In the hands of an untrained undisciplined person, an airplane is a lethal weapon—that is why we have pilot’s licenses and recurrent training and certification. Practice of procedures makes flying closer to perfect. It should be no different for firearms; and that would have no effect on the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, except in the eyes of the absolutists.
The prime minster of New Zealand explained to Steven Kolbert just last night how her nation saw a problem in gun violence and collectively determined that they needed to eliminate assault weapons from circulation. Being a practical people, as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put it, the “kiwis” simply took the sensible action of buying back the military weapons that citizens had purchased and owned. The level of gun violence dropped significantly.
New Zealand treated the COVID-19 pandemic in the same way. Because they saw what was happening around the world before the pandemic reached them, New Zealand took action not after the fact, but proactively. (The proliferation of armored vehicles and SWAT teams that swarm around a shooting scene somewhere in the U.S. after the shooter is dead or arrested always amazes me.) By strategically managing lockdowns and making adjustments according to conditions (not political posturing), New Zealanders were nearly able to eliminate the virus from their nation. Their death rate was extremely lower than that of the United States and most other countries, because they assessed the situation, determined a reasonable course of action and took it.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott called yesterday’s school shooting “incomprehensible,” an artless dodge at best. Such shootings are quite comprehensible, which is why we can stop them, if we have the will to do so. They are also quite intolerable. The question is whether the American people will finally stand up to the forces of predation and take the political action required. In that regard, the gun-violence emergency is just like the climate emergency.