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Tue Jul 31, 2012, 02:28 PM


American Thanatos: The Variables of Violence


Can anything be said in the wake of the most recent murderous eruption, this time in Aurora, Colorado? On one hand, many people jump forward quickly with new laments, calls for greater gun control, appeals against such control, and frankly, everything we’ve heard so many times before. Others, on the other hand, are offended by the very idea that we would try to answer the question of why such violence occurs. To suggest that explanations might exist, seems, for them, a move toward affixing blame somewhere close to their own values, interests, and lifestyles. They are people who tell us that murderers alone are to blame for murders. Period. This view is a preemptive strike against calls for, and criteria of, accountability and moral maturity.

I believe there are six variables that exist in unique combination in the United States that collectively make gun violence the national disgrace it has become. These variables are closely related, but distinct. Together, they form a deadly cocktail of death and grief. We have a freakishly high rate of ownership (still more guns than people) compared to all societies not engaged in explicit sub-state war. Guns are also bizarrely easy to acquire in the U.S. The majority of Americans want better (and yes, this means “more”) gun control. NRA “leaders,” the radical zealots and rhetoricians who pull us deeper into a culture of death, are out of step with the country. The bumper sticker reads, of course, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” But the other one reads with equal truth and clarity, “As a matter of fact, guns do kill people.” I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a psychopath coming at me with a bat or knife, than a gun. I’d even prefer facing a sidearm with a small clip instead of a military assault weapon. This commonsense may be coming more common, the NRA-inflicted radicals notwithstanding.

Second, we not only live in a society with many guns and easy access to them; but we are embedded in a culture that tells us—daily—that guns have a glorious history of serving as problem-solving tools, and that violence is often needed to solve our problems. The United States is infamous for its violence. We have prosecuted, joined, and promoted many wars in our short history, we lead the world in arms manufacture and trade, we spend nearly as much on our military than does the rest of the world combined, and we have approximately 1,000 military installations outside the U.S. around the globe. It is embedded into our collective consciousness that guns solve problems, and that we Americans are a pragmatic, problem solving, “can do!” people.

Third, and much related to the variable above, we valorize violence. Violence not only solves problems, so our teachers, textbooks, memorials, and politicians tells us—we engage in particular forms of glorification of violence (it is one thing to use a tool, it is another to glory in its use). I invoke the Hebrew and biblical concept of “glory” which at its core means “presence.” We make violence present to ourselves in various ways, where that presence is not one of lament, necessity, risk, or regret; but is characterized by celebration, even fun. Much has been written about this, little unpacking of the point is necessary. Video games. Movies. Television. Stories of heroism and sacrifice in our national myths. Chris Hedges has reminded us powerfully that War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. http://tinyurl.com/yenxl65 Political theorists and actors have known since antiquity that a powerful way to forge unity in a tribe or society is to identify, and monger fear about, a common enemy. This simply makes us feel better about ourselves. And back to video games, it is no surprise that the young people sitting behind consoles in the U.S. with joysticks in their hands, guiding drones in their murderous missions, are operating equipment designed to look and feel just like the toys they grew up playing. Blurring the line between virtually killing people and actually killing them is just one way our taxes have gone to work.


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Reply American Thanatos: The Variables of Violence (Original post)
stockholmer Jul 2012 OP
redgreenandblue Jul 2012 #1

Response to stockholmer (Original post)

Tue Jul 31, 2012, 02:54 PM

1. I remember when I was a kid, about six years old, I saw the old Star Wars movies for the first time.

I was shocked how the protagonists kill vast numbers of people like it isn't nothing.

No shit, our culture glorifies violence, and more than that trivializes it.

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