Sunday, June 12, 2016

Murder in America.

I would like to say that the ordinary, quotidian nature of the killer was matched by the extraordinary nature of his actions. I would like to say that.

If Omar Mateen is, indeed, the latest Elliott Rodger, or Dylann Roof. If it is in fact the case that the mere sight of two men kissing incited him to this premeditated hunting of gays. If he is indeed the wife-beater who worked as a screw in a juvenile detention centre before perpetrating his act, then he obviously isn't unique.

And nor are his actions. Some time after Roof's armed assault on a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, the Washington Post revealed that the US had seen a mass shooting once a day, every day, that year. And the evidence is that these gun massacres are becoming more and more common.

It's easy to blame the availability of guns, and easy to agree that Americans of all people should be disarmed. And there is something terribly skewed in large parts of the US economy - the 'gun belt' stretching from the north-east to the south-west - being dependent on weapons manufacture. That is a legacy of the Cold War, and the decision of US state bureaucracies to use military production to modernise and industrialise the southern and western states.

However, comparative international research suggests that guns alone can't be held responsible for the trend. And it would be obtuse to ignore the documented role of inequality and social competition in providing the affective and experiential fuel for these massacres. But even talking at this level risks dissolving the specificity of such actions into a broad, almost apolitical context.

What I think is missing, and would be helpful, would be a granulation and analysis of the social character of the mass shootings. For if we knew how many were 'going postal' in the workplace, how many were school shootings, how many were aimed at Muslims, black people, women, gay or trans people, how many were 'anti-government', and so on, our rage would be less helpless, our answers less reducible to moralism. We would also perhaps be spared the less-than-inspiring discussions pivoting on whether or not the killer was mentally ill, as if that was the all-important context which could render others moot.

Because 'inequality' and 'social competition' are abstractions, unless we talk about the recent struggles over the legal and political rights of migrants, women, LGBT and black and Latino people, and unless we talk about the class struggles over the allocation of resources and costs in the long aftermath of the credit crunch. We could probably situate at least some of the upward surge in mass shootings in a hardening of the cultural backlash on the Right against these social changes. A hardening that began to be visible among the noose-bearing, Muslim-baiting, gun-brandishing, anti-Obama McCain supporters in 2008, returned with a bang under the rubric of the Tea Party, and has since been re-energised by the Trump campaign and its open flirtation with violence and white-supremacists.

If those social forces dictate the course of politics in the next few years - and by this, I don't just mean being the dynamic force in the presidential election, perhaps even to the point where they decide who the president is - then they will be filled with peril for all those whose slow, incremental gains of recent years threaten the traditional, provincial middle classes. And the more empowered and confident the armed reactionaries are, the less likely it will be that such mass shootings will be left to motivated, enterprising individuals.

In Orlando, Florida, the worst mass shooting thus far has just been visited on gay Latinx. But the trend, to repeat, is for mass shootings to increase year-on-year. And there are already rather a lot of them.