Saturday, July 21, 2012

All we have to fear is ourselves!

Well, here we are. Again. Another mass shooting in the United States. The person is clearly psychologically diseased. But it's another mass shooting on a long list. In the last 30 years, we've had Killeen, Texas. Columbine. Binghamton, NY. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. And more are bound to happen. Is it because Americans any more insane than any other country? Not likely given the massacre in Norway in 2011 by Anders Breivik. Nor the multiple school shootings that have happened in Germany. No, mass killings are not that unique to the US. But they do seem to be the purview of advanced developed countries. And they are increasing over time in the US.

What does seem to be unique about the US is our complete inability or unwillingness to do anything about it. A rather moving and prescient piece was just penned by Roger Ebert. In it, he identifies quite well the cycle we go through in this country when it comes to mass killings and shootings. We'll have armchair psychologists. We'll point out all of the holes in our gun laws. The right-wing we will say, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." Some helpful suggestions for reducing the easy accessibility to guns will be recommended, which Mayor Bloomberg has taken the uncharacteristically brave lead on, but then the NRA will mobilize, accuse anyone of making the tiniest effort at improving our gun safety systems as anti-consitutional and pro-tyranny, our government representatives become silenced by the power of special interests, and, as Ebert writes, it all happens again.

But we can't just stop there. Clearly the status quo is not tolerable. But, aside from the special interest groups seeking to advance their agendas, why else do Americans simply tolerate the idea that it is theoretically possible someone will walk into a movie theater and start shooting at you? I've been struggling to think of a convincing explanation besides, "The NRA just won't let you have gun control; that's why we live in fear." Interest group politics is great, but does it get to the heart of the matter? After all, it seems on the surface that more gun control does not lead to less crime or mass killings, as our good friend John Lott would argue [one of the best manipulators of statistics around]. But, then again, gun control is set at such a minimal level in this country, it's probably hard to know for sure. But, I'm pretty certain minimal changes in our gun laws in this country would NOT bring down crime in this country substantially.

No, there are plenty of other reasons why we are such a violent country. One is inequality. There is simply more crime in unequal societies.  South Africa, Brazil and the United States all have extraordinary levels of inequality and high levels of crime. Why? There is so little chance of social and economic mobility, why not resort to crime to get what you want? In highly unequal societies, the ruling social order and authority is perceived as less legitimate. Why not break the law? It's been against me for so long in the first place, see South Africa. That probably needs to be unpacked some more.

But I'm thinking of a different reason. And that is our basic fear of each other as Americans. I started thinking hard about this a lot more after seeing Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. Say what you will about his work and knee-jerk, political hyperbole, he asked a great question at the end of his movie. Canada has so many more guns then we do, especially per capita, but why are there so many fewer shootings? Why do they keep their doors unlocked? And he turns to Charlton Heston, who famously said, "We are a country with a history of violence...and mixed ethnicity." That's why we kill each other. Because we fear the rise of hostile groups. We fear those groups who are going to take away our power.

And then I listen to idiot-Congressman-of-the-day-Louis Gohmert, who says that the shooting resulted from Judeo-Christian values (which are a contradiction) coming under attack. And why didn't anyone shoot back? Aside from the pure stupidity of his comments, what he is subconsciously  trying to say, assuming he doesn't only have an id?  And they're out to get us. And that we're all on our own. And we should be ready to shoot them when "they" are. This is how the NRA succeeds in telling its members that Obama is out to take your guns, a completely irrational position. The UN is out to get us with its back helicopters. We need to have LOADED guns in our home, despite the clear danger that poses. Why increase the level of danger in your home by having a loaded gun? Because there must be something out there that is even MORE dangerous! And why are we so afraid?

We're afraid of everyone else. We are extremely fearful of our fellow Americans. We really believe the guy next to us (usually a guy) is locked and loaded and ready to take us down. And Charlton Heston was right on track. It's because we don't get along in this country...as groups, contrary to what Rodney King wished. "We need our guns to feel safe." From what? From each other. Someone could break into my home. Someone could rape me. Someone could take my property! And, most likely of all, they're likely to be a different skin color (now, religion) than me. That's what people are afraid of. Why else are there people in rural areas of this country owning more guns than people in cities, where there is there MORE crime per capita?!?! Because they're afraid of each other out there! Sure, it's hard to call on the police when you live more than 50 miles from the nearest police station. But, historically, what was the greatest fear? Sure, some people who wanted to take your property. But, white man, you were also taking it away from someone else already! Are you surprised that some Native Americans in the 19th century fought violently to keep their land? That's why you had to have a gun on the farm..not just to protect you from the nearest mountain lion or wolf.

This is why conspiracy theories are so powerful in this country...maybe a bit more effective than elsewhere. And I'll more to say on those in a bit [I've been told successful blog posts should be shorter]. But, underneath all of the interest group politics and feckless politicians who say nothing about it, especially in an election year, it's just our deep-seeded fear of everyone else in this country that leads to the easy accessibility of guns and the successful efforts of interest groups to use propaganda to prevent rational gun control policy. What could be more successful in this country than to tell a bunch of middle-aged, rural and suburban white men that a black man, who's in charge AND illegitimate by the way, is coming to take away your guns? That's why there's no real gun control in this country. Someday we'll overcome all of this, sober up as a country, and enter the 20th century.

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