Tragedy & Statistics

Moments like these exist as an occasional cosmic middle finger to those who complain of repetition on the news…

Last Friday morning in Connecticut, someone flipped out, shot their mother to death, then entered an elementary school & started shooting. He then killed himself, after having killed 27 people, most of whom were children. Each victim was shot multiple times.

Needless to say, this is terrible. Beyond the bare facts of the matter, such rampages stand as indictments of civil society itself. As social animals, it’s not possible to ask what set the particular shooter off while completely avoiding the question of what in our society creates people that even want to do this. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Naturally, rather than address that complex issue, political discourse has gone for the weapons. Some are calling for a new ban on “assault weapons”, based on a set of assumptions about firearms that suggest an understanding of them akin to my understanding of Sanskrit (that is, zilch):

  • Fully automatic guns, known as “machine guns” fire several bullets with a single trigger pull. “Semi-auto” is if anything a misnomer, as all it means is you don’t have to manually chamber a round between shots, & “semi-auto” guns require an individual trigger pull for each bullet. Thus, the picture of rampage shooters simply spraying indiscriminately is based on a falsehood that All Guns Are Machine Guns. I suspect this comes from a psychological block: the image of such violence is bad enough, but it’s somehow more difficult to take as someone pulling the trigger over and over and over and over…
  • I’ve seen calls for outright bans of general classes of guns. The shooter actually had a .223 rifle (some actually use this for hunting) & 9 and 10mm handguns. A description for legal purposes that’d cover those, if honestly pursued rather than based on the irrelevant factor of how a gun looks, would amount to a ban on pretty much anything other than bolt-action rifles & shotguns, which one could still commit such atrocities with.
  • Stricter rules on who can get a gun have also been proposed. Problem: the guns belonged to his mother, legally. The only standard that would’ve disarmed the gunman would also disarm plenty of people who aren’t a danger to anybody. Responses to this realization I’ve seen have largely boiled down to “people with guns are crazy by my own definition”.

Also, while there are reports the shooter’s mother was a survivalist, are we really to disarm people based on their political views? Who do you think will get disqualified from firearm ownership first? Left-wingers, labor activists & minorities, that’s who.

Meanwhile, others entertain curious hypothetical of the teachers doubling as armed guards — as if we don’t have too many government employees with weapons walking around to begin with. I would’ve thought a society where teachers who aren’t armed at all times are considered courting death would give pause to such people, but I guess not.

Anyway, given this became a political issue, as it inevitably would, Obama came out to fulfill his role within the nationalist religion as consoler in chief, tearing up at the thought of innocent children being killed. This was to be expected, as the religion demands a leader, but pull back and it is also highly hypocritical. There is as we speak a campaign of violence overseas that also results in the deaths of innocents, many of them children. Though unlike one of these rampage killers the wicked deed is generally not done face to face, there is no comfort in such for those who mourn. Dead is dead. Yet pointing this out draws boos, as if it’s inherently offensive to apply a basic moral principle (killing children is wrong) consistently. Oddly for the claimed view on other subjects the ones providing this reaction tend towards, this huge chunk of nationalism-based relativism sticks out, floating like an ugly nasty bit in what was supposed to be a simple soup.

In the course of argument about the above on Twitter, Jim Henley reached the following in response to Kevin Carson (I paraphrase because it took up multiple tweets):

An argument starting from “We care too little about children our government kills all over the world” … would be an inarguably true starting point. Then we could ask how to get people to care more. I submit the answer is unlikely to be, get them to care less about massacred school children in the USA.

Mentioning the irony in the president of the U.S. simultaneously crying over dead children while maintaining a policy that results in dead children appears to draw condemnation because it’s interpreted as dismissing children here in favor of Other children. If this is what we’re conveying then I admit we’re doing something wrong here in messaging. That said, the inverse of this is the status quo, which says lives Over There are comparatively worthless next to lives here. Nationalism requires this distinction, indeed war would be impossible without it.

Problem is, a systemic impulse never stays at a single level. Attitudes that are part of what keeps a social structure going filter among those living within it, bouncing off the context they bring to it & shifting, evolving. For some, “who cares, they’re foreigners” becomes “who cares, I don’t know them”. For a smaller set, this further becomes simply “who cares”. Eventually, a disturbed individual answers with “nobody does”, interpreting the entirety of society as being Other.

…and that’s when the shooting starts.

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3 Responses to Tragedy & Statistics

  1. CK MacLeod says:

    If we decide we are revolted by gun violence, then the social stigma around possession of firearms might do most of the work (and might harm sales of certain entertainment products, too), but in our political culture would almost certainly be accompanied by legislation. Such a change would imply a re-weaving of closer social connections, a transformation that may not be merely horizontal – as in “stronger communities” – but which sooner or later would tend to involve a stronger state or sense of the state or nation-state, from top to bottom.

    Such a change does not, however, necessarily imply a less violent foreign policy. Under some circumstances, it might go hand in hand with a much more violent foreign policy. The great socialization of American culture occurred during WW2, and our contemporary gun culture arose alongside the the crisis of post-war liberalism in the wake of Vietnam, and the rise of neo-liberalism/conservatism, an in many respects a de-socializing movement.

    My point is that, though, as I mentioned in my own post on the subject, I agree that a a life-negating consciousness connects our warmaking and our social ills, or even particular anti-social individuals, we could “socialize” this particular gun problem away, and thus reduce the incidence of Sandy Hooks, without necessarily producing any positive effect on the absolute levels of violence associated with our political culture in the world.

    • B Psycho says:

      If the revulsion were there, the legislation would be redundant wouldn’t it? Otherwise it’s an imposition rather than a reflection.

      Interesting angle on the internal/external violence. I could see a route to such outcome if instead of seeing it as a matter of The Other the increasingly impersonal nature of the weapons used abroad provided a seal against realizing what was being done.

  2. Atticus says:

    With every bit of suggested legislation that tightens gun control I cringe. The irony of the largest arms dealer in history advocating strict control over weapons is too much.

    It seems to me to have any impact on gun related crime/violence we need a cultual shift from top to bottom – not additional legislation.

    As you said:

    “Needless to say, this is terrible. Beyond the bare facts of the matter, such rampages stand as indictments of civil society itself. As social animals, it’s not possible to ask what set the particular shooter off while completely avoiding the question of what in our society creates people that even want to do this. Nothing happens in a vacuum.”

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