Monday, April 16, 2007
Another one? posted by Richard SeymourWhy do they keep shooting up the students? Don't get me wrong, I am fully aware that this can be hyped, and used to justify the transformation of educational institutions into heavily policed camps, or 'profiling' that enables violating students' privacy. What's more, the ideological structures prevalent in American society have permitted these events to be understood in extraordinary ways that enable schools to suspend students or send them to the cop shop for wearing black clothing, issuing threats (however insincere) or using allegedly inappropriate language. Sometimes when the perpetrator is far too young to be held responsible for their actions, they are either tried as adults or they find an adult to try for something. Or when they have been tried as minors, various people have complained that their punishment isn't severe enough, as in the case of the Jonesboro Massacre. Clearly, these are ways to avoid dealing with the problem. For, surely the incidence of this in the US is at the very least way above average. What is more, it is suggested that many more are planned than succeed - for instance, after Columbine, a number of 'copycats' were allegedly attempted. One guy even runs a blog devoted to the topic.
These aren't always sudden outbursts: rather, they are often planned some time in advance, and weapons are accumulated to accomplish the act. There are often social causes involved, such as the destruction of the welfare state, yet the agents are often reasonably well off. I can only too easily fashion an Amisian response: killing is fun, a real kick, and the only wonder is that the civilised facade holds so well for so much of the time. Yet, I don't fancy the idea at all. I can't bring myself to seriously contemplate the idea of killing someone with pleasure, not even Martin Amis. I suppose, aside from the usual nutters blaming it on the teaching of Darwin in schools without an accompanying prayer, we will have to hear from people who think there's a 'culture of violence' - video games, movies, heavy metal and hip hop. To be sure, there is no shortage of cultural output that valorises random killing, but I can't help noticing a few things. Firstly, these complaints are usually tinged with racism (complaining about gritty movies with Fifty Cents and not the sexy ones with Brad Pitt). Secondly, they rarely focus on the involvement of the military-industrial complex in producing such output (video games with advertising that encourage you to 'Command Respect' by wiping out towns and villages, or that envision the overthrow of the Venezuelan government; Hollywood participation in the 'war on terror'). Thirdly, the 'culture of violence' never involves the actual business of strafing communities with bullets, cluster-bombs and daisy-cutters. Finally, of course, plenty of societies are entirely plugged into violent American culture, and generate cultures of violence all on their own, without necessarily having this scale of ongoing murderous assault on the young.
And then there will be the calls for gun restrictions, which would seek to restrain the use of an easily handled and highly effective weapon of death. No bad thing in my view. Yet, as Michael Moore pointed out in Bowling for Columbine, there are plenty of societies where gun ownership is prevalent, and where there isn't the repeated spectacle of classroom massacre. Student alienation in a viciously competitive educational system that prepares children for life in a capitalist society that where forms of social solidarity are embattled and diminished can have its role, perhaps, but then again, many of these shootings have been perpetrated by adults outside of the school system, often exacting some kind of bizarre 'revenge' on the children before committing suicide. Perhaps, then, it is too simple to locate a single cause: rather, a combustible fusion of most of these factors in various ways could produce the necessary circumstances.