Bowling Alone for Columbine

The world hasn’t ended yet, it just sometimes feels like it has.

In reading about the terrible massacre in Newtown Connecticut, and the responses to it by various political actors, it struck me that the gun culture in this country has a direct relation to the neo-feudalism I discuss regularly here at Camelotkidd.

When I grew up here in America, it was common for one parent, usually a father, to have a good job that paid the bills, provided a pension and healthcare, and allowed the other parent to stay home and raise the kids. There was also enough time to volunteer for church or school, coach Little League or be a Cub Scout den-mother. No longer. These days, Americans are under tremendous economic stress with both parents having to work, leaving little time for child rearing let alone community activities. They have to labor in a workplace that doesn’t provide nearly enough jobs, deal with horrible bosses who treat them like shit, and a corporate employer  who is realizing all their gains in productivity. The neo-liberal solution has been to take on more and more debt, which adds to the stress. Consequently, we have a “pressure cooker society awash in guns.

Mark Ames trenchant tome about workplace shootings, Going Postal, makes the argument that these sort of mass shootings are a recent phenomenon. According to Ames, these sorts of massacres have only been occurring since the Reagan administration and the adoption of neo-liberal economic policies. These sorts of economic policies have hit white working-class males especially hard. And, no surprise, white males are the ones pulling the trigger in these, all too frequent, mass murders.

That is why I find it more than ironic that the father of Newtown killer Adam Lanza, was a highly paid executive at General Electric. General Electric, under former CEO Jack Welsh, led the way in the sorts of “downsizing” and “off-shoring” that has decimated the jobs of these white working class males. Welch was known as “Neutron Jack” for his propensity for firing workers and leaving behind the factories. Welch often spoke about how given the choice, all his factories would be located on barges, so they could be moved to wherever the most desperate, cheapest labor existed.

These economic policies that Jack Welsh and GE  pioneered have been extremely detrimental to the majority of Americans. Policies that were largely enacted by using the oldest trick in the ruling elite playbook–divide and rule. Americans have been pitted against each other by race, class, ethnicity, gender and political identity.

Books such as Bowling Alone, have missed the real ramifications of such an atomization in the larger political-economy–deliberate policies of control by our new class of neo-feudal rulers. Also ignored is the elite intellectual embrace of the sort of Randian hyper-individualism where everyone is responsible for their outcome in life. We got a glimpse of this sort of thinking in the recent presidential campaign, where Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan made infamous remarks before donors about how they really feel about their fellow citizens. With the sort of elimination rhetoric like moocher and parasite bandied about, it’s no wonder that Americans view each other with suspicion and fear.

Firmin Debrubander, in his article entitled The Freedom of an Armed Society, argues that guns increase this polorazation and make us less free. “…nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism…political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.”

According to Debrubander, “our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. And as the Occupy movement makes clear, also the demonstrators that precipitated regime change in Egypt and Myanmar last year, assembled masses don’t require guns to exercise and secure their freedom, and wield world-changing political force.”

As we have deconstructed America, we have created an armed, fearful society. Quite the opposite of  the “land of the free–home of the brave.”

What can we do about our gun culture? Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism offers some thoughts.

And, Charles Pierce has an excellent idea on how to hold gun manufacturers accountable for the damage their products do.

Update: The NRA just called for more guns in schools to protect us from guns in schools. Who could have predicted–an organization that exists to lobby for the gun industry coming up with a plan to sell more guns?

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