“Kill ’em all. Let God sort ’em out.” Unofficial motto of US Special Forces
OK, so I’m about to piss a lot of people off. In particular, I’m about to piss off people who fancy themselves patriots and don’t like hearing their country criticized. But I really don’t care. It’s long past time that we took a cold, hard look at the Man in the Mirror and be honest about what we see there.
The latest mass murder in Roseburg, Oregon, brings into sharp focus a truth that no one seems willing to talk about: not opinion leaders, not elected leaders, not religious leaders. It’s the unspoken truth no one wants to examine or acknowledge, the white elephant in the room, the subject too awful or too weighty to discuss.
Simply put, ours is society that glorifies violence. We’ve created a psychopathic culture. Why should the psychopaths among us be any different from the rest of us? Why should social predators and the mentally imbalanced uphold a higher standard of conduct? Those who use gun violence to commit mass murder are only conforming to what they experience as social norms.
The problem is NOT that there are too many guns. Nearly 9 in 10 Americans own guns of some kind. Death by gun violence overall has been decreasing over the last decade or so. Americans have always kept guns in abundance and had free access to guns throughout our history. Besides, it only takes one assault rifle or a fast action automatic pistol with a high capacity magazine to commit mass murder. The problem is NOT that there are not enough gun laws. Neither new gun laws being proposed nor the gun laws we have now would have prevented any of the slaughters at Aurora, Charleston, Columbine, Newtown, Virginia Tech, or Roseburg. The problem is NOT that the mentally imbalanced among us have access to guns and we fail to restrict it, to report it, and to prevent it. The mentally imbalanced have been among us forever, but never before in our history as a nation have the unbalanced and the psychopathic committed acts of mass murder with such frequency and abandon.
No, the problem is that American culture glorifies violence. More to the point, our culture glorifies emotional gratification through violence. Those who commit mass murder through gun violence are only acting irrationally within an already irrational world of glorified violence. We fetishize guns, we fetishize gun violence, we fetishize perpetrators of violence, we fetishize revenge as a motive for violence, and we glory in the gratification of violence and death. We’ve done so for decades.
We fetishize violence in general, and gun violence in particular, as an acceptable form of emotional gratification. It’s in our movies and literature. It’s in our television shows and music. It’s in our video games. It’s in our politics. It’s in our sports. We reduce all disagreements and conflicts to Good Guys vs. Bad Guys, Black Hats vs. White Hats, Us vs. Them. We reduce the most complex international relations and foreign dealings to a simplistic America = Good, Everyone Else = Bad scenario. We always wear the White Hat because, of course, we’re always the Good Guys. In every Showdown at High Noon, we expect the winner be the quickest cowboy to slap leather. The killers among us who commit mass murder are simply acting in accord with the world they see all around them.
Our all-time best selling video games are all about emotional gratification through violence: Soldier of Fortune, Thrill Kill, God of War, Mortal Combat, Tour of Duty. Our best selling movies, particularly those that produce serial sequels, are all about gratification through violence: Rocky (x7), Rambo (x4), Die Hard (x5). The Death Wish (x5) movies added an element of vigilantism to the mix; one man acting alone outside the law to right the wrongs done him through emotional gratification by violence. Among our most popular TV shows, a zombie apocalypse or an infesting swarm of vampires provides an endless supply of dehumanized former human beings to cut down.
It’s in our sports. America’s true past-time is no longer the bucolic game of baseball, a slow ballet of skill and coordination. America’s favorite sport is now football, a continual clash of bruisers, a combat sport so violent that it requires extensive body armor to participate and has produced brain injury among some 96% of former NFL players. Baseball and hockey sometimes produce brawls between opposing teams making them an infrequent combat sport. Boxing has always been a combat sport where the ultimate act of dominance in the ring is to knock-out your opponent, to turn out the lights. We denounce cock-fighting and dog-fighting as inhumane, as we do confinement farming of poultry and livestock. But cage fighting that features both men and women in combat sport so brutal that it produces permanent severe injury, or maiming, is featured on cable television as pay-per-view entertainment without moral objection or censure. The evidence is clear that we value the well-being of our fellow human beings far less than the animals whose flesh we consume. Can blood sport in coliseums be far behind? Even motor sports are not immune from violent death: drivers die behind the wheels of ever faster and more powerful cars running on ancient, technically deficient racetracks. We call it a tragedy.
The emotional gratification of violence extends even to fans of opposing sports teams who are attacked and beaten by home-team thugs with increasing frequency and sense of impunity.
USA!!! USA!!! USA!!! USA!!!
Our society fetishizes emotional gratification through violence to such a degree that state legislators have to pass laws (after days of gut-wrenching testimony) to outlaw bullying in schools because — for some students — SIMPLY ATTENDING SCHOOL HAS BECOME A LIVING HELL. Bullying is no longer about one or two students with problems at home acting out in class or among classmates. It’s now about the intended emotional destruction of the weaker and more vulnerable among us as orchestrated by groups of students against individuals for the singular purpose of emotional gratification through violence. Today’s bullies use social media as weapons to mercilessly shame and humiliate others to the point of driving victims to desperate acts. That the violence is emotional battery makes it no less murderous.
School bullying far too often ends in suicide for some, while for others it ends in mass murder. And in the aftermath of mass murder in our schools we shake our heads and wonder why. WAKE UP!!! We socialize our children to compete with each other for honors and rewards, for scholarships, for praise and approbation, for a future place at the table. We teach them that the world is full of a few winners and lots of losers. We socialize them to win at all costs. “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing,” said revered football coach Vince Lombardi. We don’t socialize our children to cooperate with and support one another except as part of a competitive team. We don’t socialize them to live and let live, to respect the lives and customs of others. We adults do not model respect for others in our behaviors even within our own family and social groups, how can we expect our children to comport themselves differently? How can we hope or expect psychopaths and the criminally insane to behave better?
Can anyone rationally argue that what we see in schools is not reflective behavior of what the smaller society in school has learned from the larger society it models? The social order in schools reflects precisely what our children see in the society around them. The same is true of our prisons. And the same is true of our legislatures. Their failure is our failure.
We pass laws allowing citizens to conceal-carry personal weapons to protect themselves for fear of other citizens who might be carrying concealed weapons. Then businesses and public facilities have to post notices to alert citizens who carry concealed weapons that those weapons are banned in those places. By law, everyone who carries a concealed weapon must honor those bans. But no one has to honor any ban of firearms within the boundaries of any given community or legal jurisdiction. Any such ban has been outlawed by federal law. We live in a society that upholds the civil rights of any law-abiding citizen to hold the power of life and death over all others around them without restriction of any kind. Of course, no one thinks that giving the power of life and death to anyone who desires it, even law-abiding psychopaths, is unquestionably insane.
USA!!! USA!!! USA!!! USA!!!
We look with horror at scenes of suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, Madrid, Baghdad, Kabul and Mumbai. We swear eternal vigilance and eternal remembrance of the attack on 9/11. Then we laugh with derision at the Sunni-Shiite religious conflict of a thousand years duration, far more “eternal” than either our vigilance or remembrance of 9/11 will ever prove to be. Of that you can be quite sure: we can’t even be bothered to remember our honored dead on Memorial Day. There are too many Start of Summer sales events that take precedence.
Fetishized violence in America is A SUICIDE BOMB OF OUR OWN MAKING that we detonate in our own society every day. It is a suicide bomb that explodes slowly, in episodic slaughters, at different times and in different places as one or another psychopath we’ve trained to love violence as much as we love violence goes sideways and seeks emotional gratification through violence. According to the UK Guardian, the UCC shooting at Roseburg was the 994th mass gun attack in the US over the last three years. Think about that for a moment: 994 mass gun attacks in 1,094 days. That’s nearly one mass gun attack every day. No wonder Australian Prime Minister John Howard declared in 1996 after the mass murder of 35 people in that country by a “pathetic social misfit” using an assault rifle that, “We do not want the American disease imported into Australia.” Given that statistic, even if it’s only half right, how can anyone deny that ours is a psychopathic society, a society that psychopaths feel comfortable in and recognize as home.
USA!!! USA!!! USA!!! USA!!!
Prime Minister Howard only spoke the truth. Mass murder by gun violence is an American disease and one that we refuse to recognize, or to treat. Fetishized violence and emotional gratification through violence runs as deep in the American character as racism and bigotry. We took North America from the native peoples using guns. We took Texas and the southwest territories from Mexico using guns. We took the Phillipines from Spain using guns. What we didn’t take through violence and threats of violence we bought at fire sale prices from France and Russia whose treasuries were exhausted by external wars and internal rebellion.
Now the American treasury is exhausted by wars and we have political rebellion on both the left and the right. But “leaders” in our Capitol haven’t yet exhausted their supply of rhetoric calling for still more war. Senator John McCain: “Bomb, bomb Iran.” Senator Ted Cruz: [on ISIS] “We ought to bomb them back to the Stone Age.” A few days ago, self-styled tough guy Senator Marco Rubio called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a gangster and a thug” and vowed to take a hard line if elected president including “lethal military assistance” to Ukraine. That tough talk is intended to ensure that no one mistakes Senator Rubio for a punk, which is quite clearly the case.
But Rubio is not alone. In a major foreign policy speech last July, Senator Lindsey Graham said as president he would deploy 16,500 troops in Iraq and Syria, keep at least 9,800 in Afghanistan and bomb Iran’s nuclear and military infrastructure to prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapon. In other words, as Commander-in-Chief Graham would command the invasion of two sovereign nations who have not attacked us and would attack a third sovereign nation thereby initiating another war of choice. Presumably, all this would be done absent any declaration of war by the Congress, in violation of constitutional checks that were created for the very purpose of limiting the war powers of the Exective. But never mind.
Tough-talk extends to our elite miliary units, which glorify violence and death with unofficial slogans: “Mess with the Best, Die like the Rest” ~ US Rangers; “Swift – Silent – Deadly” ~ Marine Force Recon; “Death From Above” ~ US Army Airborne. Official military service motto’s, too often ignored, speak to a more benign purpose: “This We’ll Defend” ~ US Army; “De Oppresso Liber” (To Free the Oppressed) ~ US Special Forces; “Semper Fi” (Always Faithful) ~ US Marines. Of course, those motto’s were created in a different time when violence was not the fetishized object of a service unit’s existence, but a dire possibility that it had to prepare for. The motto on our currency says, ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ but perhaps a more accurate motto would be ‘Might Makes Right.’
How can we possibly expect the mentally imbalanced, the marginalized and the disaffected among us, to uphold a higher moral standard than the rest of us when it comes to emotional gratification through violence? Everything about our culture glorifies it.
Mass murder is indeed as American as baseball and apple pie and even a blind man can’t fail to see it.
From Dog Gone: I would disagree with you on only one point. We have inadequate, inconsistent, highly variable laws. We need gun control that is more stringent, and consistent nationwide, ideally overarching federal law, than what we have. Gun control does work. I would refer you to this story which documents gun control success abroad. We are not the only country with bullying, or glorification of violence in games and movies. We might be the most extreme in some respects – possibly. But I am not persuaded that is the biggest problem; rather a well funded right wing gun movement appears to be the biggest difference affecting government regulation, and to a degree, that gun culture.