The statistics are staggering. From Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook, the United States, according to a recent study, leads the world in mass shootings. This year alone there have been 294 such incidents. It should be noted that it does not take into account gang related gun violence or family slayings through the use of firearms. But the response is equally mind numbing. After each incident there is feigned outrage from the mainstream media and meaningless platitudes from politicians. Nothing is done to stem this epidemic in any meaningful way, shape or form. Some make claims that a dearth of morality and the removal of religious references in the public arena are the root causes, and that more guns are the answer. While others focus on a lack of mental health services and lax gun regulations. But in truth, the United States was founded on gun violence and it continues to underpin every one of its institutions.
Early on, illegal settlers of mostly European origin cleared the land of its indigenous population, and maintained centuries of slavery largely through the use of guns. And while the Empire expanded on this continent, it entered into wars for over 200 of its 239 years of existence. Indeed, violence has always been exalted in the culture of this country, from a military that is impervious to reproach or criticism, to a popular obsession with punitive and draconian law and order. It is a culture that can take a mass murderer like the late Chris Kyle and re-cast him as a national and cinematic hero.
In this atmosphere dissenting from the modern, reactionary interpretation of the sacrosanct Second Amendment might find you getting death threats which, in the current climate, can never be dismissed as merely rhetorical. As in any fundamentalist ideology, questioning the foundational belief system is viewed as a threat to be dealt with harshly or eliminated completely. But unless this historic reality is faced, the current situation will only continue and grow more brutal and terrifying.
The American way of life, by its very nature, is incapable of responding coherently to mass shootings since practically all of its communication and transactions are based upon the currency of violence. This permits the powerful to exist within a bubble of hypocrisy, where a sitting President can chide the nation on its gun obsession while not grappling with the irony of his ‘kill list,’ or his justifications for using the ultimate, modern firearm, the combat drone, to bomb wedding parties, hospitals and grandmothers picking ocra in their fields abroad.
At home, the powerful have steadily armed a corrupt police force with military grade weaponry. These forces serve as occupying armies in cities across the country, protecting the property of the ownership class, and preserving the status quo. And as the empire crumbles and ecosystems begin to crash they are not about to dismantle the very institutions that will provide them cover in the impending social unrest.
The arms industry, too, will stop at nothing to maintain a certain level of rage and paranoia for the sake of their bottom line. It drives the American economy; and, with the help of Hollywood, has deftly stoked racist and misogynistic hatred to convince countless young, white men that their way of life is threatened by lawless minorities, powerful women or foreign terrorists with Arabic sounding names. Fear is the industry’s profit maker, and in a nation where income disparities are growing and opportunities for meaningful advancement are shrinking, their business is booming.
All of this has contributed to turning the United States into a wasteland of alienation and emptiness for millions of people. And for many young, white, straight males, whose agency to control their lives is fast slipping away, this desolate landscape unhinges them. They are disenfranchised from their own lives, raised on the liturgy of cut throat capitalism and the oxymoronic “free market,” and fed a steady diet of jingoism and military conformity. They are conditioned to respond to all things with the language of aggression, and view competition as the only legitimate way of life. If you are poor, damaged or incapable of participating in this theater of cruelty you are mocked and ridiculed or, worse, rendered invisible.
Tragically, there are bound to be more mass shootings. Within the hypermasculine climate of modern American culture, cooperation and empathy are viewed as character flaws and fatal weaknesses. This, combined with the losing game of neoliberal capitalism, has become a recipe for rage among huge swaths of young people who, no matter how hard they may try, can never hope to succeed within a rigged system.
The United States is a nation that is awash in guns and filled with angry, mostly white, young men. It has been this way since its inception. It is its character and how it defines itself. But now gun technology is far more accurate and lethal. And the US, along with the rest of industrial civilization, is teetering on the verge of economic and ecological collapse. Hoping that the powers that be will take reasonable and responsible actions to address this will only guarantee disappointment. If there is any solution it would be in the American people’s courage to reflect and recognize the true face of aggression and its endemic nature. But time is fast running out for that. And the mirror is beginning to crack.
Kenn Orphan 2015