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Some Thoughts on How Mass Shootings Became Normalized in USA

August 3, 2019 16 comments

Over the past two decades, occasional mass shootings have become one of more unique features of the american social and media landscape. To be clear, many countries with “strict gun control laws” and low civilian firearm ownership such as Brazil and Mexico, do have much higher rates of homicide by gun than USA. However american mass shootings, while far less frequent than most people imagine, stand out for a peculiar reason. See.. in other countries, the person who commits homicide almost always knows the victim/s. In contrast, mass shooters in USA seldom know their victims beforehand. In other words, there is often no previous connection between the killer and his victims. And it is almost always a ‘he’ who is white and between 16-50.

As many of you might have heard by now, earlier today some guy went on a shooting spree in a Walmart at the Cielo Vista mall in El Paso and killed 20 people and injured about 26. The shooter, Patrick Crusius was 21 yrs old and from Allen, Texas. Which is odd, because he likely drive about a thousand km to get to that particular mall in El Paso. It seems that he also posted a manifesto of some sort on 8chan in which he railed against Hispanics displacing whites- among other things. As you will soon see, the reasons given by him to explain his behavior are far less relevant that what pressitutes working for large media outlets would like to pretend. As I have written in many posts on this topic over the years, mass shooters are driven by a combination of social alienation, poor prospects for jobs or decent sex life and a general dislike for society.

In other words, the reasons found in the manifestos of most mass shooters are merely attempts to rationalize their pre-existing severe and prolonged disconnect with contemporary society. In reality, many features of contemporary western society (especially its north american variant) such as profound social atomization, loss of jobs through financialization of economy, side-effects of 3rd and 4th wave feminism and the general neoliberalization of society are what drives these people to go on mass shooting and killing sprees. Some of you might wonder why such incidents do not occur with any regularity in other developed countries. Well.. the short answer is that USA is a rich third-world country, which is a nice way of saying that it (for historical reasons) does not have a decent social safety net or pathways for non-rich people to eke out a basic, but still meaningful and socially connected existence. Now let us move on to the main topic of this post.

Have you ever wondered about how, over the past 2-3 decades, mass shootings have become a normal part of the american cultural landscape. While I am sure that some of you (MikeCA?) will argue that it is all due to the big bad NRA, the mysterious “gun lobby” or some other boogeyman giving millions of dollars in campaign contributions to legislators, the real reasons are far simpler, if unpleasant to accept. And make no mistake, they are far harder to accept for most people because of the light they cast on contemporary society and humanity in general. So let us go through them, one by one, As you will see, there is considerable synergy between them.

1] Remember how establishment democrats and partisan voters kept telling everyone else that Trump’s election and his subsequent unstable behavior would cause economic depression, WW3 or some other catastrophe within a year? Well.. did anything like that happen? Why not? As it turned out, Trump ended up behaving just like your typical Republican president (except on a couple of issues), but without the ability to politely dog-whistle racism like his predecessors. The fact that he has a 40-45% approval ratings after everything democrats and the media threw at him tells you how little most people trust institutions in post-2008 USA.

But the relevant part is that his bizarre tweetstorms and behavior have become so commonplace that only the “news” media seems to care about them. As far as most people are concerned, his tweets and behavior do not affect his ability to do his job (whatever the fuck it is). Similarly, the vast majority of people in USA have gone through over two decades of almost monthly mass shootings without any significant impact on their life, one way or the other. They, therefore, simply discount each new instance as something unfortunate, but which nevertheless keeps happening to a few unfortunate people. You know.. like tornadoes in certain parts of USA.

2] It does not help that successive american governments in the neoliberal age have been unable and unwilling to do anything about the major problems faced by their voters. We still don’t have anything even remotely approaching universal healthcare coverage, the cost of attending university keeps increasing by multiples of inflation every year, houses keep becoming more expensive as do rents while paychecks either stagnate or disappear. Jobs are precarious and poorly compensated, and social atomization means that there is no real community or fulfilling relationships. It is therefore not surprising that the vast majority of people do not see mass shootings as something worth caring about. If anything, these incidents inject a bit or drama in their otherwise miserable lives.

On the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, it is worth noting that the Apollo program was probably the last time most people in USA believed that government could accomplish something big and important. Some of you might recall that many of the other great things achieved by the government (new deal, social security, electrification of rural america, medicare etc) occurred between 1933 and 1973. But how does this matter in a post about public acceptance of routine mass shootings in post-2000 USA? Well.. to put it bluntly, the majority of Americans simply do not believe that the government is capable of doing something which would improve their lives.

3] Which brings us to the issue of social safety nets in USA, or more precisely their lack. People in countries such as Germany, Japan, France etc will go along with some of the stupid ideas of their political class because the overall system (social safety net, infrastructure, healthcare, education, housing etc) seem to work for them and have not been totally financialized. Contrast that to the situation in USA, where being not-rich is costly and criminal. We do not have decent social safety nets, new infrastructure, universal healthcare, taxpayer funded education or affordable housing. No wonder, people who own guns have no incentive to play along with the stupid ideas of the political class aka the ‘ruling’ class has no credibility.

To make matters worse, many segments of the population lack interest in any gun control. For example, black people in USA are far more concerned about being shot during some random act of small crime because they have been forced to live in deliberately impoverished neighborhoods. Also they are routinely targeted for by extrajudicial executions by (mostly white) cops. As some of you might know, cops in USA kill at least a thousand unarmed and often mentally ill suspects (many of them non-white) each year. Why would you expect black people to care about mass shootings by white guys who target mostly white people? The same is true, albeit to a lesser extent, for Hispanics (especially those with significant non-white ancestry) in USA. They have far bigger problems in their lives than occasional mass shootings which usually target white people.

So.. do most whites care about mass shootings? The simple answer is- no! Even though most victims of mass shootings tend to be white, the number of deaths in mass shootings is so small (as a percentage of population) that most can go through their entire lives without having known even one person killed or injured in them. Furthermore, they too have much bigger and more immediate problems in their lives ranging from poor health insurance, shitty job security, massive student loans, inability to service personal debt and many more that are emblematic of being part of the rapidly disappearing middle-class.

To summarize, mass shootings and their aftermath in USA are largely media-driven spectacles. These events are a source of temporary distraction and entertainment for most people who have far bigger problems in their own lives. The vast majority do not believe that the government is trustworthy or capable of fixing this small problem, and they are just fine with it- even if they won’t say so openly. And that is why mass shooting after mass shooting has no worthwhile effect on public policy or attitudes, regardless of their hilariously stupid gun control campaigns run by discredited corporate media outlets. I never said that reality was pleasant or capable of restoring your faith in humanity. But the world is what it is, regardless of what you want to believe.

What do you think? Comments?