Once again, there was a mass-shooting in America. This time in Las Vegas, where a 64 year old man sprayed bullets down onto concert-goers, killing 58 people and wounding 489.
The statistics paint a horrible picture of gun violence in the U.S. There is now one mass shooting, with more than four victims, per day:
First 9 months of 2017:
-11,572 gun deaths
-23,365 gun injuries
-271 mass shootings
-1,508 unintentional shootings
-2,971 kids/teens shot
Coincidentally, the Federal Reserve just released the 2016 version of the Survey of Consumer Finances. Overall, the new data presents a bleak reality. Wealth inequality is higher than ever. The overwhelming majority of Americans have less wealth now than they did one decade ago.
Maybe there’s a relationship?
Since the imposition of neoliberalism in the late 1970’s these two trends have moved together–more inequality results in more mass murder.
Neoliberalism has played a central role in reshaping the American economy and what it means to be a worker in the United States. Marrying a long tradition of individualism in American political thought to a policy program of deregulation and a globalizing world economy, these ideas have played a substantial role in stagnating wages, degrading working conditions, and cuts in the sorts of New Deal programs that made for a vibrant American community and culture.
After 40 years of neoliberalism the results are not pretty. Many of our cities are in ruins. Our public transportation system is a shambles. Our educational system is in steep decline and being privatized. Opioid addiction, suicide, mass shootings, depression and morbid obesity plague a population that has fallen into profound despair. Half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Ever-rising medical costs and loophole-filled insurance policies mean a costly medical problem will also lead to stressed finances and potentially a bankruptcy. Job tenures are short and if it takes more than 6 months to land a new job, you may be permanently unemployed. Most of the jobs created since the Wall Street crash were part-time. And those in part-time jobs are subject to depression at a 50% higher rate than those in full-time jobs.
Going further, neoliberalism has led to atomization in America; a sort of Randian hyper-individualism where everyone is responsible for their outcome in life and there is no such thing as a community. Shit! Everyone is walking around staring at their cell-phones. It’s no wonder that Americans view each other with suspicion and fear. High levels of inequality in and of themselves impair health and longevity, even for wealthy people. Indeed, highly stratified societies have weak social ties, which is a negative for health.
Add all this together with high rates of gun ownership and an American culture soaked in violence and it’s a recipe for disaster.
In, Going Postal, Mark Ames says that 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 neoliberal economic policies. These economic policies have hit white working-class males especially hard. Unsurprisingly, white males are the ones pulling the trigger in these, all too frequent, mass murders.
This being America, there is a historical amnesia about the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms. Conservatives, in thrall to the NRA, go so far as to claim that the Founders, as revolutionaries themselves, wanted an armed population so the people could rebel against the Republic, when, in fact, the goal of the 2nd Amendment was to establish state militias to maintain order in the time of armed uprisings, like Shay’s Rebellion, and potential slave revolts.
On the other side of the political spectrum there has been the predicable response. Since the shooting, there has been plea after plea for gun control as a way of putting an end to violence in America. While these sorts of appeals are certainly reasonable, there is something else at work here in America–a kind of dark sickness–that I believe is related to how we organize our society.
Humans have used markets to organize economic activity for thousands of years. It’s only been in the last 40 years, under the auspices of neoliberalism, that we’ve subsumed our whole world to markets. The corporate state, that’s been created and nurtured during this period, celebrates the loss of community brought about by this development. After all, it’s not possible to have both massive inequality, and a caring community.
Lambert at Naked Capitalism came up with 2 rules to describe neoliberalism–Rule #1: Because markets, Rule #2: Go die!
Unpacking Lambert’s rules: Neoliberals insist that the market is the most rational and efficient way to organize society. Social welfare programs designed to ameliorate the savagery of the market are immoral and distort the magical information processor that is the market. Therefore, if you are unable to parlay your human capital into a winning hand at the market/casino–go die. Of course, these rules do not apply to neoliberals or the banks and corporations they advise.
It should not be a surprise that in an angry, heavily armed country, where market forces have replaced community, there will be some individuals who refuse to go-die when they can go-kill.