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After Sandy Hook: Seeking the Definitive Cause and Solution for Rage Massacres

After Sandy Hook: Seeking the Definitive Cause and Solution for Rage Massacres by Michael Rectenwald 18 Dec 2012

Since the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, numerous and sundry explanations have been given for the shooting and prevalence of such rage massacres in recent US history. The most commonplace explanation, of course, is the lack of gun control and/or the commonness of guns. Psychoactive pharmaceuticals run a close second. Behind these causal antecedents comes poor mental health services, an abiding stigma adhering to mental illness, violence in the media (especially video games), a culture of rightwing gun fanaticism, the homicidal history of the United States, the frontier mentality, the fact that Civil War soldiers were allowed to keep their guns after the war -- the list goes on and on.

One of the most interesting and problematic causal antecedents that has been blamed for this and other massacres is something like "a culture of violence," putatively some general tendency in United States citizens for resorting to violence in order to solve everyday problems. According to this theory, something is wrong with Americans: we are a road-raging, violent people. However, most people that I know, and I'd suggest that this is true of the vast majority, do not regularly resort to violence to solve their problems.

Yet, if indeed there is a violent tendency that may be successfully repressed in connection with the majority and that cannot or has not been successfully suppressed in cases of a disturbed few, the question still remains: Why, why does this tendency prevail? Most of the reasons to account for this "culture of violence" are those given above. Thus, we have a tautology: the causes and the effects have become inextricably imbricated.

To make matters even more difficult, another explanation must be considered, perhaps the most compelling and no doubt controversial explanation that I've run across to date. In his book, Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond, Mark Ames argues that rage massacres in American schools and workplaces are, in short, "failed rebellions." These lone shooters, or in some cases small bands of assailants, are, in effect, rebels with a cause but without a viable plan and certainly without a significant contingent of support. They are not psychotic or delusional. They do have a rationale and a set of targets for their rage that are in large measure reality-based. One might say, following Benjamin Barber, that they are effectively jihadists who terrorize and kill those symbolically connected to the sources of their utter disaffection, humiliation and defeat.

Ames’s point is that especially white, middle-class males, based on a cognitive dissonance between reality and the dominant ideology, are likely to be perpetrators. Those promised the fruits of the system are more likely to buy into the lies, then, as if suddenly, to see through the lies, resulting in a kind of break; they snap. The disjunction between what the dominant ideology purveys about the social order and the way that the social order actually operates suddenly dawns on these erstwhile believers, and they respond violently. African Americans and others raised with no illusions are less likely to believe the lies in the first place.

Ames ascribes the onset of ideological rupture to the Reagan-era triumphalism of the financial parasite class and the way that such triumphalism was sold to "suckers" who succumbed to the ideology, despite its incongruity with their own social positioning. He suggests that instead of attempting to profile shooters that we concentrate on profiling schools. Those schools attended by mostly white middle-class students are the most likely targets.

One might question just what this dominant ideology purveys and how it differs from reality. The current economic crisis -- not the fictitious "fiscal cliff," but the real immediate material conditions for the majority -- as compared to "the American Dream" sold by advertising and other ideological state apparatuses, should make this clear. But consider also other official, political lies.

Our political leaders regularly tell us that violence never solves anything. Yet, we live under a government that, in service to the ruling elite, resorts to violence to pursue its imperialist agenda, on a daily basis. What a great irony, hearing Barack Obama declaim against "senseless" violence that kills innocent children, even while he orders drone bombings in several countries that do just that. This is to say nothing of the vast war on the poor that continues unabated in the US -- including the mass incarceration of millions whose crimes can be traced to the fault of having no future, or the violence done to a growing population of children living in poverty.

Further, if we do live in a culture of violence, capitalists, who profit from selling weapons into specific markets, including not only the domestic ones, but also the markets of foreign resistance fighters, and the mass market of the US government, profit from and help to produce it.

Thus we have technological, ideological, economic, political and social causes  -- all of which constitute the conditions and none of which can be discounted when attempting to solve the problem. That is, our violence is over-determined; the causal connections and mediations are multiple and inextricable.

Therefore, nothing can guarantee an end to this violence; no immediate half-measures, no easy expedients, no laws or policies alone, will be sufficient. Nothing short of changing everything -- the capitalist system, the imperialist agenda, the poor to (for many) non-existent health care system, the greater incidences of mental illness and their aggravation in an agonistic social order, the ideological basis of capitalist triumphalism -- will suffice.

Everything, not one thing, but everything in our social order must change in order to prevent these rage murders. We need an end to a system that mass-produces death-inducing technology and markets it to the alienated and disturbed loner, the raging jihadist, as well as to the dominant world-historical power that lords it over the planet. And we must end all of the causal forces that help to generate the rage of the jihadist and the militant loner, alike.

We need to end a system based entirely on exploitation of workers worldwide, and the continual drive for lower wages by the capitalist class. We need an end to a system based on US imperialist war, which continues unabated and in fact continually expands, no matter what party is in power. We need an end to a system that rewards the criminality of the financial class while subjecting the majority to the baleful economic and social consequences of its criminality. We need to end a system that subjects the vast majority to the aleatory conditions of a blind profit system under which they inevitably lose.

In short, the social, cultural, political and economic orders need to be completely revolutionized. Nothing short of this will stop our steady decline into barbarism.


Reagan - Obama

The Rec Report --Commentary by Michael Rectenwald, CLG Founder and Editorialist