America’s Paranoia Problem

A year ago I wrote a post called American Crack-up, in which I argued that a good bit of the country had become completely divorced from Reality. It began with these lines.

When did it start?

When did America’s mass consensual hallucination begin? When did the boundaries between truth and fiction dissolve?

In these Post Newtown days, I am even more convinced that the American Crack up is like a continuing set of mass paranoid delusions. Here is the Mayo Clinic definition of the delusions associated with Paranoid Schizophrenia.

In paranoid schizophrenia, a common delusion is that you’re being singled out for harm. For instance, you may believe that the government is monitoring every move you make or that a co-worker is poisoning your lunch. You may also have delusions of grandeur — the belief that you can fly, that you’re famous or that you have a relationship with a famous person, for example. You hold on to these false beliefs despite evidence to the contrary. Delusions can result in aggression or violence if you believe you must act in self-defense against those who want to harm you.

Sound familiar?

Now it’s fairly clear that many of the Mass Gun Murderers were suffering from Paranoid Schizophrenia and even Adam Lanza’s mother seemed to be somewhat paranoid. But what concerns me equally is the number of seriously delusional people who are in positions of power or influence. Take for instance Larry Pratt, President of Gun Owners of America.

During the interview on Hardball, Pratt argued that guns are necessary to “control the government.” When Matthews asked for an example, Pratt pointed to 1946, in Athens, Tenn., when townsmen took up arms against corrupt government officials.

Why is this guy walking into the TV studios of Washington rather than being treated for his paranoid delusions that he needs assault rifles to defend himself from the government? The problem is that since the FCC banned the Fairness Doctrine, paranoid loons like Glenn Beck can fill our airwaves with delusional crap that is accepted by imbeciles like Larry Pratt. People can live their whole lives with an alternative set of facts as if they were in a Twilight Zone episode. Climate Change is a Hoax, the Government has already been taken over by Communists who will enslave God Fearing, Gun Toting Americans, Women’s bodies reject the sperm of a rape.

I really feel like 30% of Americans are living in an alternative universe where they slowly get dumber every day. It is truly scary.

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55 Responses to America’s Paranoia Problem

  1. Woodnsoul says:

    You really think its only 30%? I think it’s more like 40%, sadly.

  2. Woodnsoul says:

    There probably at least 10% of liberals who are pretty out there too.

  3. Tapsichord says:

    The American Civil War reverberates on and on…

  4. Woodnsoul says:

    You didn’t mention Fox News … How can that be in a post about cognitive dissonance?

  5. len says:

    Driving this AM, the Rick and Bubba Show droned on the radio about the 2nd Ammendment not being about hunting but about the right of the American people to bear arms to defend themselves from the government and overthrow it if necessary. Rick Turner contends this is impossible even if it were necessary.

    Put delusion aside for a moment and ask, if that is indeed impossible, of what use is the second ammendment?

  6. Kevin Werbach says:

    I believe it’s actually 47%.

  7. Fear sells, which makes paranoia a demand driver for many businesses.

  8. Hugo St. Victor says:

    …and also for many politicians of both parties. Except that for them it’s not fear that sells, it’s fear that does the selling of their knee-jerk bromides. Owing to my heartbreaking years spent as an idealist laboring in gutter politics I have absolutely zero confidence in the willingness or even the capacity of national officials to discover and address the social pathologies behind this recent infanticide in Connecticut. I see no rational course of action for Washington other than for the President to empanel a study commission of variously sophisticated persons and for him to take that body’s recommendations damned seriously. Pronto.

    Jon’s 2011 essay, “American Crack-up”, moves me deeply, partly because it shows the depth of his love for this country and its citizens. In a sense he’s asking, in his sophisticated postmod way, whether we haven’t arrived at Orwell’s ending: “He loved Big Brother”. America’s Pavlov was of course B.F. Skinner, a man who reduced beautiful Education to banal training, and adjustment; Humanism to the recorded observations of superficial behaviors; and every department of society to an exercise in external manipulation, the métier of marketers, media moguls and political hacks. Due in large part to soulless bastards like him we are now living in dystopia.

    A great dystopian, Aldous Huxley, during his time in California, wrote an impeccable rebuttal to Behaviorist bullshit. “Human beings,” Huxley wrote, “are multiple amphibians, living simultaneously in half a dozen radically dissimilar universes–the molecular and the ethical, the physiological and the symbolic, the world of incommunicably subjective experience and the public worlds of language and culture, of social organization and the sciences. Because they can talk and think and pass on accumulated knowledge from one generation to the next, human beings are incomparably cleverer than the cleverest of animals. But because they often talk foolishly, think illogically and reverence pseudo-knowledge as though it were revealed truth, they can also be incomparably more stupid, more unhappy, more cruel and rapacious than the most mindlessly savage of dumb beasts. Brutes are merely brutal; men and women are capable of being devils and lunatics. They are no less capable of being fully human–even, occasionally, of being a bit more than fully human, of being saints, heroes and geniuses.”

    I don’t know whether we can understand the sickness of our present society without a clinical diagnosis of the metastasizing pathologies in the very systems of American education. I do know, however, that Positivist Behaviorism cannot shed light on the terrible illness of Adam Lanza, his mother, or others like them. And if we fail to understand such tortured persons our society will die a gruesome death. AGNUS VICRIX ET ARS VICTRIX, O New Jerusalem! Salaam and Selah~~~

  9. Woodnsoul says:

    It is unlikely, I think, that we will ever understand someone like Lanza. You can’t unless you’re crazy like him. We may reach some acceptance of his condition, but never a real understanding, IMO.

  10. Hugo St. Victor says:

    I don’t give a damn for empathizing with that demoniac. Since he’s dead, even Freud–or, better in this case–Jung could not possibly diagnose him. But we’ve got others like him, living in prisons, and alas we’ll see more such twisted critters. A ready supply of human subjects subjected to our remaing Justice System, thank God. Plenty of good clinicians are capable of a rational understanding of such maniacs. It of course takes a toll on a good person even to make the attempt, but the love of country, of innocents and of humanity at large can impel and sustain an expert clinician who takes on such a challenge, provided the scientist is of the benighted Humanist tradition of Psychology, the tenuously victorious enemies of which tradition are Behaviorists bearing clipboards. If no civilian will take the challenge the President commands many qualified clinicians. I’m not presuming that anybody can take a “Fantastic Voyage” through the diseased brains and hearts of these fiends, am only saying that Americans probably can learn something close to what forces caused the baddies’ psychotic breaks and understand patterns and possibly some of the causal factors. Look, as conditions of my degrees I had to spend seven years studying the field of Psychology but frankly I yawned most of the time and occasionally puked. Developmental Psych I love, though I’ve never had a thing to offer that field, and the other branch that caught my eye was Abnormal Psych. But none of this is my bag, really. I do macro, when I’m not teaching frontline. So I dunno but like most folks off Capitol Hill I sure as hell want to find out. We should, as Ike would say, “put our best people on it”.

  11. Jeff says:

    I think of Kurosawa’s great movie, “Rashomon”, in which the subjectivity of perception allowed different observers to view a situation in substantially different ways and come away with extremely different views of that situation. When purveyors of opinion masked as fact (Fox News, et al.) prey upon and amplify paranoia, a very dangerous schism is created and you have this world of parallel universes that pit neighbor against neighbor. I’m getting paranoid myself, just thinking about this.

  12. Hugo St. Victor says:

    It seems that what you’re describing is a major part of Jon’s post last year. He said that the forces vulgarizing our society and culture deliberately confuse us beyond our capacity to construe truth. And even you attest to a mental fugue in the face of such a blitz and blizzard. It’s a headache, I know Jeff, even for as considerable a noggin as yours. We need counterfoil work, if you dig what I’m saying, to dispel what Ashley Montagu called “The Prevalence of Nonsense”. It’s idiotic to look to D.C. for clarification of fuck-all anything. Even those baboons should aim their sights elsewhere. Thankfully, some of them do so. Jefferson once or twice referred to the Capital as “the Nation’s observatory”, and Horace Mann, the U.S. Commissioner of Education, United States Department of Interior, called it “America’s Laboratory”. Today, Oy Vey, we should be so scientific!

  13. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Jeff, Behaviorists ironically disbelieve in the existence of any universal truth; rather, they believe in Statistics, the craft of numerical approximation. Humanist psychologists, on the other hand, strive for a Human Science, a discovery of universal truth. Freud, a pseudo-scientific quack and a very great Anthropologist, so strove, and so did Carl Jung do. Behaviorists abhor that tradition, but I think we need survivors of it now. There’s no point in trying to explain Art or the human heart to a Positivist. Hence Jon’s angst over “The Systems Thinking”. For an intellectual worries such as these take real grit man.

  14. Alex Bowles says:

    We’ve discussed Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory, and the idea that Liberals and Conservatives use very different moral filters when considering the world around them. I think there’s a lot to this, but the bit I’ve struggled with is his idea the liberals see limited moral value in authority while Conservatives value it highly.

    This may be the case in the more superficial sense of human authority, but it’s become monstrously clear that “conservatives” have developed a profound aversion to the authority of the truth. Haidt seems unconcerned by this. His view holds that each “tribe” invents its own truth, and gives it little thought beyond that. How each tribe views the truth concocted by the other side is what really interests him. But by leaving out a more objective, non-relativistic concept of the truth, he misses the central problem with American Conservatism today, which is that its members are no longer part of the “reality-based community” (to use their own term of abuse).

    This is a huge mistake on Haidt’s part, since it’s not like this non-relativistic sense of the truth (i.e. The truth) is some endlessly debatable concept with no concrete value. Every court in America expects people to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” while threatening heavy punishment for those who refuse to comply. It was this threat exactly that reduced the proponents of CA Prop 8 to silence. The campaign against gay people had opened a sewer of intolerance, lying, and hate, flooding California mediaspace with the most vile onslaught of bigotry and mendacity. And the people paying for it knew they were being deeply, deeply dishonest. That’s why they all had the good sense to repeat none of their well-worn claims about the “dangers” of gay marriage and child rearing in court, under oath, when asked to supply the judge with reasons for their opposition to gay marriage. Their slander was so complete that not a single argument that they had spent millions broadcasting in public could meet the basic standard of evidence-based justice.

    Unfortunately, the rest of our public sphere lacks suitable arbiters. The news establishment, in thrall to The View From Nowhere, considers calling a lie a lie to be a dereliction of professional duty. Though reporters are deeply hurt when dismissed as stenographers, they know that the criticism is valid. Indeed, that’s why it stings. Nevertheless, the institutional insistence on “balance” demands the deliberate construction of an utterly false reality that invents equivalence between poles, even when no such equivalence exists. So having put themselves in the market for at least one completely fictional account of whatever they’re covering, is it any wonder that at least one party took them up on the offer, and supplied a complete parallel universe?

    And it’s not just the obvious suspects. Here’s Alex Pareene on the Beltway cocoons that are the Sunday Talk Shows, from which a sizable portion of the electorate still get their very muddled views. The extent to which the press and the politicians feel they’re part of the same governing club tracks very closely to how badly they’re each doing their jobs.

    Meanwhile, when News Corp. recently split itself into two companies, it separated News from Entertainment. FOX “News” was lumped in with the latter. What’s unsettling is that its audience has no idea that they’re watching a puppet show. They’re like people cheering the ups and downs of pro wrestling without knowing it’s all completely fake. And the Internet isn’t helping as much as the utopians thought it would. Yes, it’s making the smart people smarter and better informed. But it’s also making the dumb people more delusional than ever.

    All that’s why the last election came as such a relief. It demonstrated that the adults are holding onto a slim, but real majority. At the most basic level, America retains the capacity to support a functioning democracy. By eliminating gerrymandering in the House and the need for super-majorities in the Senate, we’d recover a representative government that is actually representative, at which points the Idiotocracy would enter rapid, and dare I say permanent decline.

    I realize that political reform of this caliber is truly daunting, but it’s a lot more feasible than reaching a hundred million people completely lost to reason and adverse to reality. The next President, whoever he or she may be, needs to recognize that our Congress has become the nation’s Heart of Darkness, and that the power to check and balance that’s central to the Presidency is in desperate need of exercise. This is not something the President can do directly. Only the people can amass the power to push this through. But without a President to lead them, they’ll never achieve the focus or critical mass to make support for a coherent reform agenda the non-negotiable basis for admission to the legislative chambers.

    This is the promise Obama ran on in 2008, and abandoned the moment he got to DC. Indeed, the speed with which he became a creature of the establishment is a marvel. And while he certainly kept a number of promises, he has shied away from the biggest, which is supplying this country with a legislature capable of tackling dangers like the international banking cartels, the existential threats of acidifying oceans and global climate change, and the ruinous costs of unwanted Empire.

    When Bob Gates described America as the world’s only indispensable nation, he was absolutely right. No one else can address these problems, and presently, nor can we. The catastrophically awful state of our news media is a big part of the problem. But on that front, we may be reaching an inflection point. Writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab, Dan Gilmore has just published this take on evidence-based journalism, and why it’s poised for a major uptick in 2013. And the NYT has just published the rest of its Snow Fall series, which provides an astonishing look at what journalism can be. So on that cherry thought, Merry Christmas. May the New Year be brighter and lighter for everyone.

  15. len says:

    Behaviorists don’t disbelieve in the existence of universal truth. They narrow the study to the observable and testable behaviors. I know behaviorists who can also use cognitive theories quite well, but if you have to test you have to measure and get repeatable results. Behaviorism is therefore a black box system.

    And it provably works as a means to modify behaviors for some n of “works”.

    The statistical aspects are interesting for observations of mass behaviors but the tests get murky as to what they prove because it is quite difficult to design a credible S-R chain for mass behavior. That is where behaviorism becomes spooky. Again for some “n” of works.

  16. Hugo St. Victor says:

    I detest disagreeing with you, Len–you know that–but you know as well as I that when miseducated Behaviorists don their absurd lab coats they cease to be humans and Humanists, and they search for “reality”, not for the weird, mystically unique curry that makes a given individual tick or else lose his watch’d winder and fly out the clockwork as presumably Lanza did do. Not all Positivists are Behaviorists but all Behaviorists are Positivists. Man, I loved an experimental psychologist, always will do (we were in fact engaged until her Persian mother swooped in to forbid any Christianity in the family), and she has been torn all her life betwixt those two antipodes of Human Psychology, Behaviorism and Humanism. So I’m not trying to dehumanize the Behaviorists. I’m sure they have their place. But for God’s sake “Gnothi Souton”, Know Thy Place. Not you, them. You I know as a wonderful blend of Positivism and Arts (the very expression of intense Humanism). But Len you’re not a Behaviorist and you shouldn’t defend their exceedingly pinched, dour ways. They’re beneath you. Each of them is a poster child for the Peter Principle, and each suffers from Munchausen’s Syndrome. They both impersonate true physicians and model hypochondria. If Jon is not saying it in his twin posts–and I think he is saying it, in part–then I will do, though not summatively: we’ve become a hypochondriacal society. Behaviorists are of no help. Indeed they exacerbate the condition. Just look at the evolution of their absurd and eery diagnostic manual. Pharma, anyone? Jesus.

  17. Nick Hoff says:

    I agree completely Jon. I frequent a number of gun shops in New Hampshire, and Obama’s presidency has been a boon to them. The common refrain among the customers at these shops is that “Obama is going to take our guns away”. When I pointed out to one gun buyer that in the last few years not only has gun ownership spiked, but the Supreme Court has codified gun ownership by individuals and many states have liberalized concealed carry laws, his response was “Yeah, but Obama’s going to take our guns away”. Paranoia indeed.

  18. Hugo St. Victor says:

    The guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, the tintinabulation of the guns. The mending and amending of the guns. What cynical reductionism. Disgracefully, transparently facile and opportunistic. As unforgettable as it is unforgivable. A wee good idea steamrolling all others? We’re screwed.

  19. len says:

    It is a complex problem and the finger pointing is in every direction. At least Morning Joe Scarborough is stepping up to the realities. Good for the Crimson Tide grad.

    How many here are willing to admit that the last four decades of increasingly ultra violent entertainment from Sam Peckenpah to Flint Dille are contributors to the violence? Now the gaming culture and the movie culture are cross pollinating. How can the extremes of the First and Second Ammendments by which the gore crazies and the gun crazies justify their rights to coarsen and kill be considered progressive?

    Tap, are you willing to step up to the conversation about Hollywood’s contributions to the problem or will it be excorciate the NRA and wink wink nudge nudge at the Chronicles of Riddick?

    @hugo: Behaviorism is a provable method, a tool. That some behaviorists use it unwisely is almost precisely the same problem as the guns. Yes, it is a lack of humanity. This is where the Huckaby’s get to claim a small but significant point: as long as we continue to sneer at the resources for teaching the young the value of spirittual morals, as long as our cultural mavens thrive by cynicism, the violence will continue. There is a range of violence from the extremes of the kid who kills his mother and babies to the desperate mother stealing christmas ornaments from the lawns of the better off and they have two things in common: the will and the means.

  20. Jon Taplin says:

    @Roger McNamee “Doomsday Preppers” is one of the highest rated cable shows!

  21. Jon Taplin says:

    @Alex Bowles I think “The View from Nowhere” is a perfect encapsulation of the media complicity in this whole Paranoia scam. If Roger is right that paranoia sells, then including including Limbaugh’s or Alex Jones’ ideas for balance is near criminal.

  22. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Exactly. Ya just might need a trained Policy nerd for this policy problem. Slow. Work through it. It’s your draft, not mine. But sure as hell I can speed it to formation quicker than anybody or else most of my adult life was misspent in some godawful way. Horrid thought. Get real: most of you (certainly excepting len) aren’t really equipped to think Macro. Please don’t think that I’m showing off somehow or acting superior or something, it’s just that–how should I say this without it sounding like a stupid put-down–it’s just that some of us are trained in the brain to see panoramically to the exclusion of other lenses, other foci. I have no idea who’s superior to whom and really that’s an….whatever. But we’ve got some serious code-cracking to do if we want to read this devil’s skull and it’s useless if not a cooperative effort. Seriously.

  23. Alex Bowles says:

    @len The “violent entertainment did it” trope falls apart the moment it crosses the 49th parallel. After all, Canadians enjoy the all same games and movies that Americans do, however the most violent thing to happen there on a regular basis is hockey.

    @Jon Taplin I’m less concerned with the lunatic fringe, which is irredeemable. The far more insidious effect comes from mainstream outlets that insist they’re avoiding partisanship in favor of “objectivity” while constructing false impressions of parity between partisan positions that simply does not exist. Fact checkers, for instance, still feel compelled to find one falsehood to “balance” each lie they trace to the opposing side. This is based on the demonstrably false presumption is that both parties lie at equal rates. Savvy journalists will tell you that they know this isn’t true, but that they have to pretend otherwise for fear of attracting mysteriously irrefutable charges of “bias”. So there you have it: a deliberate and conscious construction of a patently false report that clearly benefits whichever side is willing to lie more than the other. It it the absolute antithesis of the “without fear or favor” ethos that defines good journalism.

    I mean, my god, it’s as though we were dealing with engineers who design their structures to collapse, surgeons who compete for higher death rates, firemen running arson clubs on evenings and weekends, and teachers who take pride in the lowest possible test scores. And if you don’t think the analogues that produce actual deaths aren’t a fair comparison, consider the millions who have been hurt or killed as a result of unchallenged GOP insanity in the arenas of pollution control, health insurance reform, minority policing, and so on.

    Yes, Dems can argue against these positions, but if everything they say has to go through filter that produces an illusion of parity where no such parity exists, they’re doomed to have every contest declared a tie, in which case victory is handed, by default, to the incumbent. The dead hand of the past has few tools more effective than this.

  24. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Len, thank for instructing me that Behaviorists are useful tools. I thought I’d made that point but I guess you’re right to have made it clear. One point I myself made is that I love one of those Psychologic bean counters and that I long to have her back. Cease instructing me man. I swam in that self-contradictory cesspool for the best, most crucial of my years. That way of thinking spells our doom. I’m not too paltry a scientist to escape its notice. You definitely are barking up the wrong tree. I’m sorry. And don’t upbraid me, Len. It hurts.

  25. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Alex, an elegant effort and thank you. For my feeble mind it’ll take several hours to sort. Tomorrow if I can do it succinctly I’ll opine & conjecture in response. That NYT piece you appended to Jon’s post, in 2011, went deep into where I literally spent my last two years of grad school. Impossible to discuss man. Just not possible.

  26. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Chrissakes, Len, “a complex problem… ”

    What’re you, a dean now?

  27. Hugo St. Victor says:

    What’re doing, Bullard, protecting your clearances? Well so am I doing, for peniary reasons, but that rigmarole is no reason for your abject answer. Wow. Some anger there….

  28. len says:

    That bullshit, Alex. Entertainment didn’t do it. A person did. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Everyone can duck and run, cover and feint. The NRA did today. The games and entertainment folks have done it. It’s pure utter bullshit. Feed them the images, make the guns easy to get, and the sick get sicker.

    In 1963, the 16th Street church was bombed and four children were killed. Acts of violence don’t have a bright side. They do have a response. After the bombing, people in Alabama who had stood by while violent acts were committed began to stand up to those who committed them regardless of the outcome. Enough was enough and when children are slaughtered, even the most apathetic notice and act. It’s long past time but finally past reason to tell the NRA to STFU and change our laws and our culture. We’ve done it before. Take Dille’s work off of Spike by turning the channel. That’s easy. It’s not that good anyway. Quit making out like these things don’t matter or aren’t connected. That may affect your jobs or your social status, but you know, when the women in Alabama stood up to their husbands, that wasn’t exactly a day at church.

    No, actually, it was.

  29. Rick Turner says:

    While you guys are academically debating social psychology and philosophy, here’s what’s really going on:

    Get out of your fucking ivory towers and open your eyes. Crazy people with guns are running rampant. That is two problems: 1) Crazy people, and 2) Guns.

    Ever since Reagan started the modern way to deal with crazies…turning them out onto the streets, essentially, things have gotten worse. The homeless issue has gone clear out of control, and the self-satisfied of states where living on the streets means freezing to death at night don’t give a shit about dumping their human refuse on the warmer states. Hence the overpopulation of homeless in California, for instance.

    And, as I’ve said elsewhere here, with teachers taking nearly the sole blame for under-performing students and disadvantaged schools being penalized when they clearly need more resources, not less, and school class sized going well into the forties, the harried teachers cannot be expected to ID the problem kids and the schools don’t have the resources to deal with them. I think it’s primarily a parenting problem, but we as a society seem to pay the price for kids gone bad. Schools need smaller class sizes and more psychologists on staff, NOT gun toting Rambo wannabes just itching to shoot it out with a suicidal maniac.

    The NRA wants to turn every school into the OK Corral. The claim is that good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns. Didn’t work at Columbine, and the first person murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre had guns, plural, including a gun that then took out 27 more people. Seems to me that a would-be shooter is always going to have the drop on some poor sucker with a gun in his holster, or are we going to turn every school into a fortified armed camp just so a bunch of paranoids can own more and more guns? So then it’s more movie theaters or subway stations or football stadiums or kid’s soccer games. The crazies will always have access to crowds of people for target practice and death.

    Jon’s point is that insanity reigns here now. And it reigns in some of the highest halls in America…the US Senate and Congress. Time to get real and slow down the culture of death before the US becomes like the opening scene from No Country for Old Men…which now seems tame compared to what is really going on.

    There is simply no real and reasoned excuse for civilians to own assault rifles or any hand guns with more than seven rounds in the clip or, for that matter, a cylinder. There is no excuse for citizens NOT to have to be licensed for any and all firearms, and that licensing procedure to involve psychological evaluation and good proof of firearm safety training. There is no valid reason NOT to require every gun (and I mean every single one…rifle, shotgun, or pistol) to be registered and those registrations to be renewed annually by make, model, and serial number, just like with automobiles. And along with that should go the requirement that gun owners post bonds to help ensure that they maintain control over their guns. All sales or trades of guns should be registered and tracked…once again, no different from owning motor vehicles or boats, for that matter. Violators should have to turn in their guns, period, and perhaps there should be further penalties.

    I don’t have a solution to the mind-numbing and disassociative influence of violent entertainment…everything from Grand Theft Auto to cage fighting to, for that matter, hockey and football. Bread and circuses, folks, that’s what it is.

    So for all the bickering about Skinner and behaviorism, how about some practical solutions to tighten things up?

  30. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Right on man. Of course. But in Newtown we’re not dealing with bombs. You perhaps weren’t cubbed but I reckon you take my meaning: there are five “W’s” and one Aitch. We’ve got half that from Connecticut, yet here we go again, off half-cocked. Screw the NRA, and Mrs. Feinstein and her crack-shot staff can have my 1911 and my Sigg P232, but there’s no way Congress can take people’s AR’s. It’s a good rifle and ubiquitous too. Boo Hoo. And boo! I don’t own one but my neighbors either side do. (Granted, this is Gingrich country, but the guy next door did naughty things from Tegucigalpa in the ’80s and probably he can take down and reassemble that piece of American machinery before washing for breakfast and donning his green beret). I think firearms should be unconcealable, though. I’ll leave it at that.

    Senator Feinstein is a fine lady. Competent, serious, and charmingly pretty besides. In fact I once worked toward her gubernatorial election, albeit on orders from Willie L. Brown, and it was a bit controversial of me to have done so as, after all, I’m a heterosexual WASP Republican from Orange County who happens to shoot a tight cluster and hit 25 x 25 with clays besides. But Sen. Feinstein’s personal staff–her inherited experts at Senate Intel notwithstanding–cannot tell a Barrett rifle from a squirrel gun. And still I don’t care what Washington does about guns. That’s got little to do with the backstory of this horrible infanticide.

    We simply have got to get to the bottom of it. Alex clearly suspects that it has something to do with general turpitude, and I somewhat fearfully agree. I can’t see why Jon’s table isn’t a good place for fools to go where politicians fear to tread. I think that’s what you all did in Alabama, 1963, and the world’s palpably better off for it. Something like that can happen now, but it’ll have to be ugly, precise, forensic sledding.

  31. Hugo St. Victor says:

    I fear we’ll have to anatomize not only Lanza but our social institutions, Len. Unsafe work. That’s what keeps Taplin edgy, but there it is.

  32. Alex Bowles says:

    @len Happily, my place in the world doesn’t depend on the arms industry or the glorification of its products. I’m not selling any of this stuff. But I’m not buying any of the “context” related arguments that omit any mention of what the context surrounds.

    The essence of it is this: the NRA isn’t a sportsman’s rights lobby and hasn’t been for at least a generation. It is the militant wing of the Republican Party. They’re the ones who coined the phrase “Second Amendment Solutions” to describe the nasty end of the political response spectrum. And the really awful part of all this is that the politics – horrible as they are – are simply the extension of a marketing strategy that has nothing to do with anything except expanding the market for guns. The logic of the strategy is a simple as it is grim; guns (which we made) are scary, dangerous, and they’re out there (thanks to us), which is why you need your own guns (plural – because one is never enough).

    Writing for the AtlanticTa-Nehisi Coates draws a very astute parallel between small arms makers and the people who promoted American slavery.

    I suspect most Americans today who don’t own guns have somewhat the same stance towards gun ownership. So long as guns stay on shooting ranges, or in the hands of hunters, or those who can make a good case that they need protection, few of us will make a stink, however much we disapprove. But forces like the Slave Power and Gun Power know no limits.

    Emboldened by success, and imbued with a fanatical and paranoid world-view, they see enemies everywhere and regard any hint of compromise as betrayal. As New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley wrote in 1854, slavery “loves aggression, for when it ceases to be aggressive it stagnates and decays. It is the leper of modern civilization, but a leper whom no cry of ‘unclean’ will keep from intrusion into uninfected company.” Much the same applies to the NRA and its insatiable appetite for new territory to allow arms in, and new ways to allow those guns to be used–such as putting armed guards in our elementary schools, as the NRA today suggested.

    One could argue that all profit driven enterprises display an element of aggression. Most companies want to grow their markets, the upsell is ubiquitous, and Madison Ave. has a long history of telling people their teeth aren’t white enough, that their whites aren’t clean enough, and that their idea of clean could small a lot better. Preying on insecurities is the name of the game, especially when you’re selling stuff like soap, which is an inch away from commodity.

    But unlike soap or cars or flatter TVs there’s little demand for firearms in a society free from the kind of profound, gnawing, fear known by those with no real physical safety. And without an actual underlying need, the advertisers old game of making you feel that you can “do better” hasn’t got a leg to stand on. That’s why it’s important to manufacture an underlying sense of fear and dread (or better yet, bank on one that already exists) so that the purchase of a .357 for self-defense suddenly seems reasonable.

    But once you’ve tapped into this dread, you’re no longer being commercially aggressive on your own. You’re channeling the deeper and more dangerous kind of aggression Greenly described, directing it ever outwards, changing the environment to accommodate its perpetuation. This goes way beyond traditional marketing. Here, you find yourself asking “what good is a handgun you’re unable to carry?” then responding by re-branding “gun-free zones” as “mass-murder empowerment zones”. Amplifying threats is also part of the deal. Given that foreign invasion is 100% not happening, the source of the threat needs to be localized in one’s fellow citizens, preferably the brown and black ones. All this is done simply to grow a market, but unlike expanding the market for air freshener, these efforts have excruciatingly dangerous side-effects. To find a suitably destructive analogy, you have to consider the addictions that are a vital part of the tobacco and heroin trades. The difference is that it’s the people around the customers who suffer the most.

    After all, when you describe the militant wing of a party that is conspicuously and uniformly, white, who else do you think “the enemy” really is? And whether you’re dealing with immigration reform, ending the Drug War, or extending health care what you find is the same wall of resistance from the same deeply bigoted people who are vehemently opposed to any acknowledgement of human dignity and equality outside the Caucasian race. If a policy can be counted on to harm non-whites you can be quite sure that Republicans will be in favor of it. And you can be equally sure that they will go out of their minds if any attempt is made to deprive them of the cudgels they use to beat minorities into submission.

    Prior to the election of Obama, you’d have been hard pressed to convince me that American racism was so deeply engrained. Having lived my entire life in deep blue bubbles on either coast, I’d simply never encountered these attitudes in the wild, except as rare and peculiar freaks of nature. Not until I saw the performance of the GOP under Obama’s first term did the true depth of the problem dawn on me. “Yeah,” said brown friends, “now you get it”.

    None of this is to say that gun ownership is a proxy for nativist bigotry. Indeed, 90% of gun owners aren’t members of the NRA. But the horrible 10% who are determine 100% of the politics. And again, the fear and hate that motivates them spans every aspect of their political identities, tying together a broad range of deeply inhumane policies, and defining the core values of a major party in a two party system. This is a major issue.

    A world in which every scrap of media was rated PG-13 wouldn’t make a dent in this problem. And further restricting all media to what is safe for children and the deeply impressionable just to accommodate the presence of a dangerous and toxic political party seems like the exact wrong response, even if it did make some small difference. Faced with people whose only interest in government relates to making out-groups miserable, peripheral harm-reduction is an exercise in ignoring the elephant. There’s no relief in that.

    I know I go on and on about proportional representation, but cases like this show why it’s such a big deal. For all its awfulness, the racist right has become a minority. Its power is slipping and demographics promise to accelerate their demise. As the political opportunists abandon the core of this monstrosity to wither and die, the only people promoting racially antagonistic policies would be those content to live on the losing side. This is not a formula for preserving the institutional pillars of racism. Eliminating the official sources of fear while driving this toxic culture into the political wilderness would allow the rest of the country to breathe a tremendous sigh of relief.

    Indeed, it’s the kind of relief that underpins a genuine economic recovery.

  33. len says:

    It seems LaPierre’s missile found the target. The reactions are the usual mix of dissmissive arrogance and anger, a recipe for the very fuel that feeds the fracture. Unless we can dilute that recipe, the maddening culture will continue to grow without respect to any regulations passed now or ever.

    We require a culture of responsibility. The entertainment culture believes they have no role in creating that. The minute after I saw the first news of the slaughter in Sandy Hook, the next images were a commercial for an automatic drill in the hands of a beautiful woman handling it and displaying it as a Glock because the maker of that commercial knows what is popular and what will sell. The irony couldn’t be more clear. Or the tragedies to come.

  34. Alex Bowles says:

    @len Not sure sure about that, Len. Connecticut is a defense state. The arms industry has deep roots there (everything from Colt .45s to Trident submarines). Yes, it’s Blue, but it isn’t Berkeley. And the reaction from the local papers has been uniformly appalled.

    And I’m sorry, but if you want to talk about a “culture of responsibility” you need to acknowledge the standards that already exist. LaPierre cast blame everywhere he could – everywhere – save for his own organization and the agenda is pushes. This is the antithesis of responsibility. And his failure to take even one ounce of responsibility, or to be conciliatory in any way was widely noticed.

    They had their chance to behave like grown adults and responsible citizens. They blew it on the global stage (the BBC had to note not once, but twice that this was the actual President of the NRA, and not an actor in a spoof). People, having see them for what they are, are turning against them sharp and hard, and with very good reason.

    “Oh, but you’ll never get rid of all the guns” some say. “Confiscation is out of the question.” But who says that’s the only way to go? Far better to insist that ever gun be treated like every car – uniquely identified, traced to a single owner, licensed, insured, and re-registered ever year. Possession of unregistered guns results in a 10 year prison sentence.

    I’m not talking about taking anything away, though I do approve of the assault rifle and large magazine bans. But I am talking about seeing the cost of ownership go up. And I expect folks who don’t want to follow the rules established by a culture that insists on responsibility (which is what a system like this enforces), to face serious consequences. After all, that’s what responsibility is all about, isn’t it?

    Obviously, there will be enormous stocks of unregistered guns piled up all over the place. But once these become legally radioactive, the risk of maintaining them goes up. Every disgruntled employee, spiteful lover or spouse, and business partner gone bad can, with a single call, destroy the life of anyone operating outside the law. Amnesty for those who self-report and rewards for those who report others will drive the registration process quite far.

    This won’t get rid of them all, nor will it stop every shooting. But study after study has demonstrated that all crime comes down to opportunity. The fewer opportunities there are, the less crime there is, and even small increases in the barriers preventing crime can produce huge reductions in actual crime. By making gun ownership an expensive chore, you can safely expect it to drop substantially. And with that drop, comes the much much lower likelihood that gun-related violence will occur.

  35. Rick Turner says:

    I like it, Alex…

  36. Hugo St. Victor says:

    We’ll reenact Feinstein’s laws aimed at preventing the conversion of rifles into assault weapons, handheld blitzkrieg. That’s a fine course of legislative action. Got no problem with it. Shove a nubby AR up LaPierre’s alimentary canal. I don’t care.

    But neither President Obama nor any other serious person, within or without Academe or the gun range, should be satisfied with such a quick fix. Look, “disgruntled employees” have massacred co-workers in post offices and soldiers and “Class Four” (meaning institutionally averse) alumni have locked and loaded, suited up and sucked it up enough to brave a final return to their places of greatest pain–institutions we own and pay for. A USPS break room, a military mess, a First Grade classroom is, in the experience of the indefensable assailant ready to check out in bloody rage, the exact opposite of a sanctuary.

    Nobody shoots up a library. We’d better think hard about that.

  37. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Alex, in peak form, writes of the absurd conservative mindbenders who all but strive to convince paranoid consumers of a world constructed by professionals bent on undoing their own professions. He mentions the bogeys of notional anti-engineers, anti-firefighters, anti-surgeons and anti-teachers. Well, engineering and firefighting are not social institutions, but Medicine and Education are; they are both of them instituted by our culture, as arms of our body whole. They’re important limbs of our substance, our assertion and expression as a People. Yet our hospitals sicken and our schools stupefy. Take away Lanza’s mama’s guns. It still won’t be over. As the New Yorker’s best selling cartoonist, the Freudian clinician Oscar Thomsen famously wrote, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us!”

  38. Rick Turner says:

    Ummm, err…that so-called Freudian clinician quote would be better attributed to Walt Kelly:

    “Probably the most famous Pogo quotation is “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Perhaps more than any other words written by Kelly, it perfectly sums up his attitude towards the foibles of mankind and the nature of the human condition.

    The quote was a parody of a message sent in 1813 from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Army General William Henry Harrison after his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie, stating, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” It first appeared in a lengthier form in “A Word to the Fore”, the foreword of the book The Pogo Papers, first published in 1953.” etc. from WikiPedia

    But only the older among us might know that or the other great wisdom brought forward from the Okefenokee Swamp.

    As in the tradition, the Court Fool was able to see and tell the truth…just as we now have Colbert and John Stewart. And the wisest in the Senate seems to be Al Franken…

  39. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Walt Kelly! You’re so right! Oh dear, and I even misquoted! Thanks for sparing me the erratum, Rick, really. We hate blowing stuff like that. Mea Culpa Maxima. (I do believe that the late Dr. Thomsen’s reprints are indeed a cash cow for The New Yorker).

    Compared to the national Fever Swamp the Okefenokee is a fount of wisdom Seminole and paleface. And Al Franken’s a good Member, I agree! Ironically, for an ironist, he brings a bit of dignity to the August Body. It’s great that he kept his powder dry and started slow. Smart.

    My cartoonish flub notwithstanding, my own aging bones hint that we need another revival. One’s under way, pretty evidently, yet I was late to catch the “set”. (Steamer Lane, The Wedge, and The Trestles talking). The trouble with revivals in America is that we’ve had three Protestant ones and one Hippie one. The Protestant Impulse no longer is practicably generalizable, and our Youth Movement produced no universalizable concept other than the originary one: Love.

    What we’ve got with our current soulgut is, as Jon and all of us say, incredible fraction combined with terrible confusion, as though we were an enemy exquistedly divided and confounded. “The corruption of the best is the worst”, as my friend used to say. How do we transmit a consensually, authentically, discernibly American ethic to young learners and to recent immigrants? Alex is right, the NRA is a pulpit, and a deadly one. And there’s not much sense in cramming Calvinism down people’s throats again (though that could begin again to happen, as soon as 25 months from now). And then you’ve got Hippiedom. Over. Imbedded, but over.

    So how do we pass on a shared moral sense of love and prohibition, totem and taboo? In hospitals whose surgeons abjure the archaic Hippocratic Oath? In schools actually built to profit the NEA? In councils of government run by officials who plainly want our incumbent President dead?

    Some foresighted feminists, professional ethicists every one, foresaw this pass 25 years ago. Their work, from Harvard, Stanford, Columbia and the lay sectors, is summed in and furthered by Nel Noddings in the form of her ethic of Care, caring, caregiving, Caritas. JTM is aware that such work is as immediately relevant to hospitals as it is to schools. In my estimation it goes about as far as we can go right now in agnostically combing the great religious traditions, without pissing on their precepts, whilst marrying metaphysical morality to basic American, secular convictions as to how we treat one another. The point isn’t to council more Yahweh or Allah or Adam Smith or Smith&Wesson, it’s to teach Us, The Americans, with all the stuff we’ve learned kindly and cruelly is better to do and better not to do. What’s best in fact, and what’s simply unforgivable.

    After the pro forma gun control rigmarole maybe we can head in the other, feminist direction. For, like, the fifth time this country’s done so, to its everlasting betterment. Wiser counsels, once again. There. I’ve bet my chips. Best of Christmases to you and yours. I hope this year’s festivities are filled with art and artfulness.

  40. T Bone Burnett says:

    Gun Violence, by the Numbers


    10 Minutes – Length of time Adam Lanza was shooting

    90 (more than) – Number of bullets shot

    38 – Number of mass shootings in 2012

    $50,000 – Average cost of medical treatment per homicide shooting victim

    $2.3 Billion – Total lifetime medical costs for gunshot injuries (as of 1999)

    $6 Million – Those medical costs per day

    49 Percent – Amount of those lifetime medical costs paid by taxpayers

    20 Percent – Number of gun owners with 65 percent of the firearms in the U.S.

    36,000 – Number of guns thrown away each year

    16,808,538 – Number of applications to purchase guns in the U.S. from January – November 2012 from legal dealers (does not include gun shows or private sales)

    5X – Amount this could arm every NATO member state’s armed forces

    88.8 – Number of firearms per 100 people in the U.S.

    80 – Percentage of firearms deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world that are in the U.S.

    86 – Percentage of firearms deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries that are U.S. women

    87 – Percentage of firearms deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries that are U.S. children under the age of 14

    1 Percent – Number of gun dealers that account for almost 60 percent of guns used in crimes and recovered by police

    30,000 – Average number of guns lost annually by gun dealers

    22X – Likelihood a gun in the home will be used for a suicide than for self defense

    7X – Chance a gun in the home will be used in a criminal assault rather than self-defense

    200 – Number of annual legally justified self-defense homicides

    90 Percent – Number of successful suicide attempts with a gun

    3 Percent – Number of successful suicide attempts with drugs or knives

    44,500 – Number of annual gun injuries from assaults treated in emergency rooms

    94 – Percentage of police chiefs who favor requiring criminal background checks for all handgun sales

    87 – Percentage of non-NRA gun owners supporting background checks of gun purchasers

    4,100 – Average number of women killed annually with guns

    4.6 – Percentage increase in suicide risk for women in a house with a gun

    3.4 Percent – Amount the homicide risk increases for women

    $0.2998 – Cost of a 9mm pistol cartridge at Cabela’s per bullet (sold in a box of 50)

    314,968,962 – Population of the U.S.

    310,000,000 – Number of non military guns in the U.S.

    67 – Percentage of gun owners who claim gun ownership for self-protection

    58 – Percentage who have a gun for hunting

    60 Million – Number of guns in Yemen, the country with the next highest gun ownership rate behind the U.S.

    2004 – Year the law banning magazines with more than 10 rounds expired

    2008 – Year legislation passed to prevent sales of guns to the mentally ill

    26 – Percentage of Americans wanting a handgun ban in 2011 according to Gallup

    60 – Percentage supporting a ban in 1959

    70 – Percentage of Florida defendants invoking “stand your ground” who go free

    73 – Percentage of Florida “stand your ground” defendants killing a black person to go free

    59 – Percentage of Florida “stand your ground” defendants killing a white person to go free

    23 – Number of states where people who have lost their rights to firearms for mental health reasons can petition to reinstate them

    1 – Number of members of my family killed at point blank range

    2 – Number of his adult children who witnessed the shooting

    4 – Number of semiautomatic handguns used in his murder

    5 Years and 8 Months – Length of time from his death until I called it “gun violence”

    2 – Days ago I started to use that term

    4 – Number of guns I have fired this year

  41. woodnsoul says:

    I wonder, looking again at the well viewed picture on Jon’s blog in the previous post showing the youngsters from Sandy Hook escaping with their teachers; as well as several articles about the number of people being killed since Sandy Hook, how many of us [Americans] were moved so much because these were white children being killed.

    I have looked at the stats on the number of people killed since Sandy Hook on other websites and one factor is not readily available – the race of those killed. My guess, and it is a guess, is that most of those killed on a regular basis live on the “other side of the tracks”, as we used to say. Yes, there are white people who kill white people, a lot of them in domestic violence acts of mayhem, but I think the stats would show that most killings are among people of color, sad to say. What this means is that for most Caucasians, the killings seem more remote and less real – which is a pathetic comment on us as a society, IMO. Nonetheless, I think the stats would bear this out. The media is having a feeding frenzy with all the beautiful young white kids being buried and all of the horror of the aftermath.

    I don’t mean this to have any racist sentiments, to the contrary, I wish we had all been a bit more sensitive to it, before Sandy Hook.

  42. Alex Bowles says:

    I have no doubt that locating the horror at Sandy Hook, which sits at Acela Corridor’s midpoint, made a substantial difference to the reaction – not unlike the way the response to Sandy (“OMFG climate change is real!”) differed from the response to Katrina (“Christ, what an awful tragedy”).

  43. Alex Bowles says:

    The blazing glow of the Northeast at night as seen is photos of Earth from space tells the story in a single frame.

  44. Hugo St. Victor says:

    The politicians will botch it with veneer and off-the-shelf “solutions”. What good will that do? How would we know how to plan against the next tragedy except by learning from tragedies extant? And what is the bridge betwixt a natural disaster and a moral evil? The Army Corps of Engineers? We can pull the J’Accuzzi till the next Mayan doomsday, there are mightier forces at work here than ballistics, gun commerce, meteorology, bureaucratic lacklove and political suborning&importuning. Take guns off the table–good idea–but it’s Step 1, and Congress can’t even play Twister right now except as crowd-pleaser. Nobody who cares about black children or white ones either would settle for external care, over-the-counter non-prescriptives. The history of Western infanticide runs very deep, and was generally sanctioned in this country until shockingly recent days.

  45. Hugo St. Victor says:

    The politicians will botch it with veneer and off-the-shelf “solutions”. What good will that do? How would we know how to plan against the next tragedy except by learning from tragedies extant? And what is the bridge betwixt a natural disaster and a moral evil? The Army Corps of Engineers? We can pull the J’Accuzzi till the next Mayan doomsday, there are mightier forces at work here than ballistics, gun commerce, meteorology, bureaucratic lacklove and political suborning&importuning. Take guns off the table–good idea–but it’s Step 1, and Congress can’t even play Twister right now except as crowd-pleaser. Nobody who cares about black children or white ones either would settle for external care, over-the-counter non-prescriptives. The practice of Western infanticide runs very deep, and was generally sanctioned in this country until shockingly recent days.

  46. JTMcPhee says:

    Question to all us smart humans, with all our broad experience and deep knowledge and precise perceptions and illuminating insights and bulls-eye-ing of problems, and glimpses of solutions, or certainties about solutions, or policy-partitioned solutions, all modulated by the language of reification, and our liberal educations and writing and communication skills, and love of fine meals and wines and the views out our window walls:

    What are we supposed to be?

    No, two questions, this too: What are we supposed to be like?

    Freedom, liberty, license, licentiousness. The fist is made, the arm (and the hammer) is cocked, and what’s to stop the amygdala from unloading that energy stored in the musculature and the cartridge? Rationality? Empathy? Insight? Greed? Fear?

    Where’s the catalyst, the last crystal added to the supersaturated solution, that will precipitate the change? Jesus? Which one?

    We’re too frikkin’ smart for our own good. Anything and everything is rationalize-able, or get-around-able, or re-re-categorizable. The heat death of the planet, long before the heat death of the universe (which might actually not happen, maybe). Feinstein’s bill is coming due. So what? The armories are full, the bunkers are crammed, God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with the world…


  47. Rick Turner says:

    What if all the money poured by civilians into buying assault rifles in one year went into better schools and mental health support? I bet that would make us all a hell of a lot safer…

    And armed guards on campuses? Gimme a fucking break. You’d have to have six of them on my kid’s high school campus, and still some suicidal maniac could walk up to a classroom window and start shooting and take out twenty kids before a guard came anywhere near. And if the shooter has body armor, what then? And does the guard shoot at the shooter with kids right there in the line of fire? And what about hostage situations? How many kids are going to get killed by “friendly fire”? This is bat shit crazy talk. And…Columbine…there was an armed guard. OK, make it twenty per campus, and just offset the cost by raising class sizes to sixty kids per teacher. Lecture classes for seven year olds…that’s it! No unarmed parents allowed on campus! Yeah, way to go! Marksmanship teams and competitive shooting for grade school kids! Food fights that end as gun fights! Remember “I don’t like Mondays”? Read all about what an armed 16 year old can do:

  48. JTMcPhee says:

    We humans are at a point where we have such control over “nature” that we really will be able to decide, down to a molecular level, what we (or those of us who can gather or take enough wealth from others) care to be. Want to look and be just like Darth Maul, all parti-colored with horns and spikes and preternaturally and “inhumanly” fast reflexes and freed from empathy and the superego? No sweat — pay the lady, step right into the biotransmogrifier, and away you go! Some nation or racial group offends you? No sweat, here’s just the virus to wipe them out. Or more particularly, how about this notion of political succession and Change:

    “What are we supposed to be?”

    Maybe that, in the geohistory of the human bug, is a meaningless question now. All those philosophers and political economists and theologists and Great Thinkers are trumped, altogether and forever, by a relatively obscure few Great Tinkers. Maybe this set of humans, borne and to die in the period from, say, 1920 to 2040, is the last to have a chance to ask the question and try to negotiate an answer that does not lead to “In the end, there can be only one.”

    Maybe the Gee-Whiz Lookie What I Can Do bunch has already branched off from the dead stem of homo sapiens sapiens, like a baobab or a mangrove, put down its own roots and become the New Thing, a world full of Morgan Worsters and those “libertarian” types all looking to be the one and only John Galt. Maybe we are Neanderthals looking longingly past the advancing Cro-Magnons, so much more beautiful and deadly.

    And this is a Good Thing? Progressive?

    Anyway, Merry St.Paulmas, and a Happy New Fiscal Year to all.

  49. Alex Bowles says:

    I can’t think of too many people’s work I’d describe as “haunting”, just because so few patterns run deep enough to encompass the number of variables needed to trigger persistent recollections in unexpected places.

    The Great Wave, by David Hackett Fischer, is an exception. Bursts of population growth triggering price revolutions produce moments of tremendous crisis; not just financial, but social, moral, cultural, philosophical, and legal. As the basic social system fails to function, humans encounter a crisis of mind, one in which the their organized relations to others becomes a painfully clear measure of their own health and well-being. The inseparability of humanity and society – combined with an inability among humans to stabilize the basic conditions of their engagement with others – paves the way for epochal change.

    The resulting periods of equilibrium are far from utopian, but they are defined by cultural systems that place high value of harmony, balance, and equilibrium as central values in addressing human needs, from the economic to the spiritual.

    These are very macro-level cycles. It’s easy to dismiss them by finding an abundance of anecdotal counter-examples. And it’s easy to forget that measures of crisis and stability are relative to what came before, and are not charted against an absolute, existential baseline. But cutting through all the noise and relativism, it’s possible to identify clear trends in prices, to relate those to moments of rapid population growth (parabolic in the last 50 years), and the tenor of the cultural changes that ensue.

    Fischer published his book in 1999. In terms of the century-spanning timescales he works with, the decade+ since is a very brief period. But in it, we’ve seen a remarkable crystallization of understanding. The particular factors go well beyond anything described by Fischer, but they tend to support his central thesis. And their enumeration provides a list of things that, following painful attacks and counterattacks, are highly unlikely to survive. Their passing becomes a precondition for the emergence of a new equilibrium.

    Writing for Deutsche Welle James K. Galbraith notes

    The economic crisis is not a cluster of distinct and separated events, a subprime crisis in the US or a public debt crisis in Greece, nor are there distinct US and European crises. There is one crisis, only one crisis, a deeply interconnected crisis of the world system.

    In terms of factors driving the crisis, grossly inefficient yet structurally embedded patterns of energy use are one. The technologically-driven contraction of supply in the labor market is another, compounded by the slow recognition – and even slower policy response – to the resulting destabilization. The Libertarians prize “efficiency” and they’re often doing so in ways that promote greater energy savings. But without a social policy that mitigates the damage done, the entire transition becomes exceedingly dangerous. And that’s where the third great driver – neoliberal economic policy – enters the picture. It actively frustrates efforts to resolve the disconnects between the beneficial aspects of libertarian thinking, and the emergence of policy that offsets the myriad failings to which libertarians themselves maintain a stunning blindness.

    Of these three, neoliberal thinking is by far the most vulnerable. Energy is non-negotiable, and creative enterprise is invaluable. However, the neoliberal conceit – that free markets are stable, self-regulating, and reliably self-correcting – is demonstrably wrong. Moreover, the failings are not the products of simple error at the margins. They pertain to the very core of the thing, which turns out to survive through outright fraud and immunity from prosecution. The direct results of what it justifies could be fairly prosecuted as criminal enterprises in the absence of the parallel legal system under which they operate.

    When we talk about a return to equilibrium, we’re really discussing the rule of law in a state governed by democratic consent, freely given by the educated and informed. The remarkable thing about Sandy Hook is the way in which it has become a flashpoint in this much deeper conflict that is playing out between reason and its antagonists. Bloomberg, again,

    You might think, as we do, that the gun lobby’s aversion to information, and its success in securing congressional support for secrecy, poses a threat to public health and law enforcement (not to mention democracy). There is surely a case to be made to that effect. Yet it’s harder to document that argument thanks to the successful suppression of information.

    These are the results of the gun lobby’s storied political muscle. They are not, however, the actions of a political movement confident that history, data or reason itself can support its agenda. Truth doesn’t fear information.

    But toxic enterprises does, recoiling like organized crime in the face of fearless prosecution. And as all these monsters take shelter under the collapsing tent of the GOP, a screw much bigger than them all continues to turn.

  50. len says:

    And I’m sorry, but if you want to talk about a “culture of responsibility” you need to acknowledge the standards that already exist. LaPierre cast blame everywhere he could – everywhere – save for his own organization and the agenda is pushes. This is the antithesis of responsibility. And his failure to take even one ounce of responsibility, or to be conciliatory in any way was widely noticed.

    I agree. La Pierre is dogshit.

    La Pierre represents his interests. Game makers represent their interests. Movie makers represent their interests. In a culture of responsibility, one doesn’t represent one’s own interests purely and solely. A responsible citizen takes responsibility. Gun laws are needed to close loopholes, to ensure licensing and background checks. These will be helpful. Responsible people look at the law, they look at the ultra-violent effects and movie scripts, they look at the first person shooters and they say, “nope, not with my name on it”. They don’t need the law to tell them how to be responsible for the culture.

    Last night, Christmas evening, a neighbor across the field from us was showing off his possibly brand new assault rifle by repeatedly firing bursts. It’s legal and scary. I’m sure the fellow and his friends took some pleasure in doing that. The night before, Christmas Evening after the local church services, they were exploding rounds that sounded not like fireworks: too crisp and too loud. Scary stuff and perhaps illegal. But until the current media push, they’ve never done that. They are expressing themselves. Boldly. It sucks to live where that goes on but I suspect it was repeated in a number of neighborhoods across the country. The few, the proud, the boldly paranoid.

    1. The number of high velocity, flesh shredding tumblers with rapid rate firing assemblies out there is already significant. Since the discussion of new gun laws, the sales rate for the weapons skyrocketed in anticipation of a ban.

    2. A discussion focused solely on gun laws will perpetuate that and likely collapse the effort as those who have to support it are made even more paranoid by the lack of balance in the discussion. I believe the most sober among do see the connections among guns, violence, violent entertainment and a dearth of medical care. Comparsions to Canada and Mexico yield exactly the opposite results so it the misleading statements by the gun control advocates are just as paranoia inducing as by La Pierre and his ilk. Two sides of the same coin. To change the culture, responsible people paint a more complete picture so the reaction will also be more complete and sustained.

    3. We need better gun control laws. I don’t think we need free speech laws for the movies and the game community. We do need to exile them from the responsible society much as we tolerate but exile pornographers, and if I have to choose, I’m happier about the sex trade than the first-person shooter trade. Really. And Dille? Damm his eyes. Really. Until they take responsibility for their contributions to the culture, then damm their eyes and damm their products.

    Unless the progressives want to see more violence, they need to own up to the deficits of culture and get to work on them. Otherwise, they can stand ready to be regarded with the same jaundiced eye that looks on the violent incidents with disgust and loathing. Enough is enough. If Joe Scarborough can see it and Jon Taplin can’t, the world of culture just turned upside down.

  51. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Reckon I’ve made clear my funky view that [Neo-]Progessivism got us into this fix as much as did its reactionary foil. Progressive thinking is what a prudent and wise friend at The Getty dubbed “the More model”. Name the problem, the $olution is more: ever more to systems and structures, pathological almost from their inception.

    The more their gear-works grind innocents into pulp, the more grease the gears get. The frontline deliverers of those systems of care must settle for glycerine. Periodically they’re ostentatiously anointed with thin glycerine to conceal the truth that they’re as a lot replaceable as parts and the viscous grease reserved for the machine itself. The machine gets greased either way, in the Progressive construct: the more successes, the more grease; the more failures or the greater the losses, the more grease. Such is the logic of ineluctable Progress that it’s incapable of radicalism in its own self-searching restructure. It can only look ahead, and march on. Fuck the trodden. They’re the most replaceable of all, the very “human resources”. Ratchet ever forward, never back. A bright new morning ever beckons. And Hell to pay for anyone in the way of velvet tank treads. Progressives have a Complex all their own. Metastasis or Bust!

    What really broke the bonds of Czechoslovakians, years of underground Art or decades of strategic statecraft? Both. Lamb and Lion against a Bear. Prometheus and Epimetheus, together in midwifery. Forward thinking and the rearward forces of restoration, together radical, a confluence of the too fast and the too slow. Competing notions of History joined in a common end, toward a new beginning. That’s what it takes to rescue and restore a people so that it can rediscover, and resume to reinvent, itself. The Cause leapfrogging the causal.

    No way the same thing can happen here, on these shores, again in the near future. We’re angrily bent on being spent, and on melting the fat of our own flesh to provide grease for the gears that grind. We’re actually geared to love the gears. In so doing we serve a highly sophisticated and scientifically impressive order very like that of the Ancient Maya whose scientific, technological and artistic prowess was built upon its people’s generational acclimatization to blood sacrifice, to devouring not only others but those within until the “human resources” ran out.

  52. Alex Bowles says:


    In a culture of responsibility, one doesn’t represent one’s own interests purely and solely.

    This, exactly.

    In one sense, LaPierre is just DC lobbyist doing what they all do, all day. Their world epitomizes unenlightened self-interest. So it’s refreshing to see what happens when one of these slimeballs addresses the American people directly, without realizing just how great a disconnect exists between these people and their exceedingly unreliable “representatives”.

    But in another sense, LaPierre represents something much worse. Most of those who poison America in one way or another do so as a byproduct of industrial processes that are commercially competitive thanks to “economic externalities”, which are simply the costs that enterprise manages to dump on on the people without accounting or recompense. Those backing the the NRA do this too, as any ER nurse will tell you. But these guys also take an active role in creating the atmosphere of fear that helps their products sell. This calculated cultivation of fear and menace sets them apart from the standard industrial polluter, who is simply indifferent to domestic health and tranquility. These guys actually see a calm and peaceful civic sphere as an impediment to larger market share.

    The thing about guns is that you know they’re lethal. The display of arms has had an intimidating effect since the first primate hefted a large stick. In terms of persuasive power, their history predates that of glamorized pop culture references by a lot. And when you pick up a gun, this power is what you’re taking into your hands. For some, that’s an addictive rush.

    A PS3 game controller doesn’t provoke the same response. After all, entertainment is focused on the release of dopamine. The experience of actual violence, on the other hand, is colored by adrenalin. As any number of soldiers will tell you, combat is truly terrifying, but it also makes you feel intensely alive. It’s a heightened state in which everything feels more real, and which very little in civilian life – which is awash in “violent” entertainment – actually mimics.

    That’s by design. Ao much of contemporary entertainment is really about escapism. The commercial pinnacles are the immersive worlds of Avatar and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The whole point of these things is that they’re not real and we know it. That’s why tickets sell. As Aristotle himself noted, the point of bloody tragedy is catharsis, and sheer spectacle is one of its six vital elements (along with other biggies, like plot). It provides a way for us to confront our deepest fears and insecurities by wrapping them in illusions that are conspicuously fake. This is not unlike the way jesters could speak the truth only by dressing up and behaving like idiots. And while it’s true that the boundaries between fantasy and reality may get fuzzy for some, the sense of deep personal grievance (actual or otherwise) combined with a generalized sense of injustice and a personal sense of isolation and despair is the common thread in carefully target murderous rampages that end not with demands, but with suicide. That’s escapism of a very different sort.

    I don’t play Grand Theft Auto, but I’m not even remotely scared of those who do. Idiot vigilantes, on the other hand, who entertain fantasies of “killing bad guys” in real life are far more unsettling. Most of us can enjoy movies about zombie apocalypse without becoming fear-filled Doomers prepping madly for the End Times. Now I don’t know what to do about those who can’t, but I sure as hell don’t want them having access to private arsenals full of military grade combat gear. Because honestly.

    I understand that, if you try to take the things away, you’ll only contribute to the fetish factor. That’s why I’m all for letting people keep them, but doing so with the knowledge that we’ll take the people away (to Federal Prison) if they fail to properly register, license, secure, and insure their ridiculous weaponry. Confiscation makes guns glamorous. Tedious bureaucracy turns them into a chore. Over time, cultural works that paradoxically depend on verisimilitude will reflect a reality in which guns are available, but legally radioactive when carried outside the narrow and labor-intensive bounds of law. When that happens, the relatively recent (i.e. Reagan-era) view of guns as every man’s Rambo-given right may start to fade as more and more people see them for the incredible liabilities that they are.

  53. len says:

    the costs that enterprise manages to dump on on the people without accounting or recompense

    The movie Chocolate sold a lot of it. Product placement is the certain example that Hollywood and the game makers know this is true. That the degrees of connectedness vary by product and expression of it is certainly true, but they are there. We can talk about reducing percentages; eliminating all violent acts is not worth talking about. Talking about gun control as the disarming of America is not worth the time. It won’t happen. Talking about registering guns, restricting access to ammunition of certain kinds and packaging, closing loop holes in background checks are all topics that can help reduce percentages. Doing that without discussing mental health and how media shapes that is to fail to stop the actual cause: sick and/or evil people who were able to get guns too easily. They’ll still be there and they’ll still be able to get weapons.

    A culture has to be reminded what the good is for the greatest number. Otherwise, they won’t care in the small and only lament in the large. The media most certainly has a stake and a responsibility. If they step up, the conversation continues and usefully. If they don’t or deny a role, it will come to a stuttering halt until the next incident, and the funerals. A bad day in our lives; a good day in the news business. Sad but so.

  54. MSS says:

    “When did it start?

    When did America’s mass consensual hallucination begin? When did the boundaries between truth and fiction dissolve?”

    Hallucination has been a small part of American culture for many years – but now the nuts appear on TV as the “other” side of a “balanced” presentation, which gives the nutty theories more respectability and validity than they ever deserved.

    When Nixon left office, a wry commentator said that if Nixon were on TV and choking his wife, there were 30% of Americans who would believe that she had fainted and he was holding her up by the neck.

  55. MSS says:

    MSS :
    “When did it start?
    When did America’s mass consensual hallucination begin? When did the boundaries between truth and fiction dissolve?”
    Hallucination has been a small part of American culture for many years – but now the nuts appear on TV as the “other” side of a “balanced” presentation, which gives the nutty theories more respectability and validity than they ever deserved.
    When Nixon left office, a wry commentator said that if Nixon were on TV and choking his wife, there were 30% of Americans who would believe that she had fainted and he was holding her up by the neck.

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