Well well, it happened again, and although everyone is shocked, at the same time no one is particularly surprised. Another ‘loser’ snaps and bingo! Dead people.
There are so many questions raised by this catastrophe that its hard to know where to start, and although Elroy is pretty sure that everyone in the bloggerhood has had a crack at it he also feels the need to opine.
The problems are many fold. Society, education, the health system, that bloody second amendment, popular culture, history, all of these have a bearing on what brought Cho Seung-Hui his point of no return, and as Elroy doesn’t mind a bit of depth, deep into these issues he will go. Crack an ale and order pizza – this might take a while.
Of course, the more authoritarian among us have got it all pegged. Cho was evil. Simple as that. No more to see here, move along please, evil is as evil does. However, Elroy finds it intriguing that, no matter what improvements are made in audio/visual technologies, some people will always see the world in black and white and the answers to life’s questions on the rear bumper of an SUV.
It is true that Cho Seung-Hui was pretty severely messed up, and maybe he shouldn’t have been wandering around unsupervised, but could it not be argued that this tragedy is a consequence of the conservative philosophy that denies any positive influence that the ‘nanny state’ may bring and demands that individuals be ultimately responsible for their actions?
Cho certainly took responsibility for his actions in one respect; his blew his own head off. He didn’t say ‘I didn’t do it! It wasn’t me! I mis-shot! I ’m going into rehab!' I don’t quite recall the exact massacre to which you refer!’ No, instead he understood that there would have to be a price paid for his rampage, and although Cho probably considered blowing his own head off quite a bargain in comparison to the alternative, it cannot be denied that he suffered for his crimes.
But where conservative, or rather neo-conservative, ideology has contributed to this fiasco is in the cult of the personal, the perversion of autonomy. The right like to blame this concept on the hippies of the 1960s, but seeing as said counter-culturalists were also busy advocating communal living, a general end-to-capitalism-as-we-know-it and adventures in the land of the psychoactive pharmaceutical, it’s hard to see how conservatives apportion the blame quite so easily. Unless they are covering for someone.
Which of course they are. The individualism of the ‘60s, the simple wish to able to follow one’s dreams and wishes without too much undue interference from the man, is a very different kettle of lentils to the marauding isolate that straddles the globe today; as the lady once said, ‘the central message of Buddhism is not “every man for himself”’.
No, for the 21st Century’s manifestation of greed and selfishness we need look no further than Levi Strauss and his fawning acolytes, two of which did more damage to the fabric of society than I care to imagine, ladies and gentlemen I give you…Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan!
It is their ‘individualism’ that has poisoned the community well, not that of The Furry Freak Brother, it is their vision splendid which spawned the grotesque gargoyle of consume-or-dieism that gives not a flying fuck for his fellow man, not the amiable bumblings of Mr. Natural, but this is typical of conservatives' idea of personal responsibility – that everyone else should take personal responsibility for the havoc their ideas and subsequent actions have wreaked.
Conservatives are always yearning for some golden past, particularly that post-war utopia where everyone was nice to everyone else, always, forgetting that this brief epoch of alleged harmonial bliss was brought to them courtesy of none other than huge tariffs, strong unions and John Maynard Keynes, not free markets, a ‘flexible’ labour force and Milton Freidman.
Thirty years ago the promise of computers was that we would all have more leisure time. Well, that happened alright, it’s just that it was stolen and called unemployment, which enabled the powers-that-be to blame the people whose jobs were exported like so many woodchips for the consequences of those exports.
Making citizens fight for scraps instead inviting them for dinner was always going to end in tears; instituting self-preservation as the driving force of the people has led to a culture whereby the priority of the self is the self, an I’m-alright-Jack society which does not think it owes anything to anybody, let alone the community at large. And as the thought that that they should do something for nothing, however small, is anathema to the prevailing ethos, the great unwashed has withdrawn from society to tend only to its very nearest and dearest, and sometimes not even them.
There is another neo-con tactic in the arsenal of devide and rule, that of ‘starve the beast’– defunding the state-run services they can’t sell outright, like schools, hospitals, housing and transport – and it is active across the word, leading to a flight from all things public for a citizenry who are now too scared to risk them. This has left these institutions to either the most dogged ideologues or those with no other choices, and the resulting breakdown in education standards are nothing short of criminal.
Many public schools in the USA are only just holding on; in the poorer districts, students come from homes and backgrounds which are, shall we say, challenged in many ways, and the workload on teachers just keeps on growing. No Child Left Behind has increased schools’ paperwork and makes them to concentrate on attempting to pass the various tests that new legislation requires as schools that fail them are forced hire private education ‘consultants’ to supplement the teaching staff.
This puts an extra strain on already busted budgets, as the White House failed to actually fund NCLB. So now that educators are snowed under by having to get students through tests that are designed to see if the kids can pass tests, unimportant things like ‘critical thought’ go to the wall, nothing gets learnt and bored students start to entertain themselves in other ways, like bullying and ostracizing whatever misfit just happens to wander past.
This funding drain has been trickling the lifeblood from public schools for decades. Governments, particularly those of the Anglophone countries, say that ‘It’s no good just chucking money at it’ but Elroy says that sounds like a pretty good idea. Chuck money at education. Lots. All the time. And if that doesn’t work, chuck some more – it works for defense departments! We spend less on educating children than we do on killing them.
Another of the problems with the conservatives’ miserable mantra of ‘individual responsibility’ is that it was extended to citizens who could not, by no fault of their own, be entirely responsible. Now, on no account think that Elroy is advocating a return to the nuthouses of old, but the he does think that the state has a far greater obligation to those with a mental illness, and by the extension the rest of society, than it is currently fulfilling. Not that asylums don’t exist anymore; on the contrary, more and more and built each year, it’s just the name has changed – now they are called ‘penitentiaries’, ‘prisons’ and ‘gaols’.
In Australia they called it ‘care in the community’, which is all very well, but the problem was there was no money to pay for it. The savings made by closing institutions went straight into higher profile and more glamorous projects, but someone forgot to tell the suffering that the ‘community’ would be looking after them now, so those not lucky enough to find refuge with what services remain are either left cowering in motels, hotels, hostels and whatever other flophouses find themselves ill-equipped enough to take them in, are in jail, are taking their long-suffering families down with them or are camped out in a cardboard box near you.
If people were lying on the streets with blood pouring from open wounds, a civilized society would put them in a hospital (for free!), but the doctrine created by the current world order dictates that we must leave anyone with a mental illness to die in the gutter. If anyone else gets harmed along the way, well, it’s still cheaper that the alternative, and anyway, it’ll be all their fault. Somehow.
So is this about the second amendment? Oooh, that second amendment! It’s a tricky one! What does it actually mean? Well, for a start, which one do you want to use? There are, it would seem, two versions.
Here’s the one signed and ratified by the states:
‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’
And here’s the version hand-written at the time that hangs in the National Archive:
‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’
Oh, what a difference a comma makes! To Elroy, and others, this alters the meaning significantly but it’s a complicated issue, a matter of semantics and how English was written, used, and phrased in 1776. What the hell did it mean?
Elroy doesn’t pretend to know what was in the minds of the Founding Fathers as they negotiated the wording of the US Constitution way back when – indeed, that document’s inherent vagueness has kept many a law professor in Harris Tweed ever since ratification – but he would hazard a guess that the challenges faced by a collection of sparsely populated agricultural sharecropper colonies seeking to overthrow a monarchy manifesting itself as an absentee landlord and a ruling elite that put itself above the law are somewhat at odds with those facing a highly industrialized independent federation that wields supreme power with the largest economy and standing army on the face of the planet.
And it seems to Elroy that the gun lobby are as confused on this issue as anybody, if not more so. On the one hand they claim that the second amendment is sacrosanct to protect citizens against being taken over by the Federal Government, but on the other hand they say it is so citizens can protect themselves from each other. Or protection against marauding Muslims hordes. Or Mexicans. Or someone. Or something. Whatev.
Elroy reckons the second amendment was inserted to allow citizens to bear arms in order to maintain a militia in the absence of any state mandated facilities – y’know, armies and that –and if you ain’t in the militia, you don’t get the guns, but that’s just Elroy.
But unfortunately for the many thousands who die while looking down the pointy end of a personnel pacifier, those-who-should-know have obviously interpreted it as meaning everybody automatically joins a militia at birth which means, in turn, that the USA’s psycho-turkey shoot ain’t gonna end anytime soon. It’s sad, for as good ol’ Ghandi once quipped ‘An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.’
It really needs to be asked if the Founding Fathers’ logic, whatever is was, is any longer truly applicable as the effects that the second amendment is having today, now, in the 21st Century, can no longer be tolerated. The USA’s firearm death rate is the highest in the world, five times its nearest rival, and it is a society where not only are there are 300 million people for 250 million guns but where the solution to that seems to be handing out the missing 50 million as soon as is humanly possible.
And along with this excessive reach of firearms is its attendant culture, a message sung out long and loud from all corners of the USA that says it all right to own a gun – hell! Better make it twelve! What should be a privilege is claimed as a right actively and positively encouraged by all stratas of society. The rest of west looks at the USA with bewilderment, unable to fathom why the Americans give guns away in cornflake packets and then wonder why people shoot them at each other.
This has always bothered Elroy. How you can arm 5/6ths of the population and not expect them to go ‘Bang!’ at each other every now and then? It’s what guns are for! The NRA argue that if you are going to ban guns because they kill people, then you must also ban cars for the same reason, but Elroy says nay!
Cars are designed to move from A to B – death is a secondary, unintended function – but for guns, death is the primary function. In fact there is no secondary function – they certainly don’t go from A to B, unless you chuck ‘em. They might double as a hammer, or maybe a paperweight, but their overall positive input to society is, as far as Elroy is concerned, nil.
The last part of this sorry puzzle is history, the history of immigration and the white man’s attitude to other cultures and ethnic identities. With WW2 still within living memory, the Korean War even more so, and considering it takes at least three generations for host cultures to love the immigrant ones, Elroy hazards a guess that American Koreans are subject to the same racism that Asians are subjected to wherever they go in the west, Virginia not exactly being a Mecca for the international Korean diaspora.
So, if you take a vulnerable, first generation immigrant, isolate him and insert him into a alien culture of overarching selfishness, an education system that has lost the faith of both those it seeks to help and itself and a society that encourages the use and ownership of firearms, and then bully and ridicule said immigrant sufficiently while failing to deal with any manifestations of mental illness, the chances are you will create the perfect storm. That, Elroy claims, is the tragedy that led to further tragedy, and that tragedy will only be compounded by even more unless we as a society do something. Soon.
So, what to do? First, admit that making China the manufacturing base of the world has not had an altogether positive effect on the west’s erstwhile labor force, and return to localized industries of all kinds. People live locally. They spend money locally. They want to educate their kids locally and they want to be employed locally.
Furthermore, concede that the income gap has been allowed, nay, encouraged to expand into a yawning chasm over the past two decades or so, and then do something about it, if for no other reason than to ensure that no one tries to break in and steal your telly.
Here’s a rough guide, a rule of thumb to tell how healthy your society is: if you have citizens that cannot afford a roof over their head, or breakfast, that are forced to commit crime in order to supply themselves with the basic necessities of urban survival, a prison population expanding at a greater rate than even your national debt and an elite which conspicuously consumes massive amounts or resources just because it can, the chances are your society could do with a dose of income redistribution.
Next, increase education funding; make public schools like palaces; pay teachers the same as doctors and lawyers; build more of them, smaller, more community based and throw so much money at them they drown in the stuff.
Ensure that sick people are made well, without sending them broke into the bargain, and that goes double for mental illnesses. Doctors and nurses should be like firemen – have so many of them they can be left to sleep in public hospitals built like five star hotels.
There are solutions for the gun thing too. Here’s one – amend the constitution! It’s been done before! After all, as GWB says, it’s just a piece of goddamn paper. Here’s another ¬¬– stick them guns in the crusher, like we did down here in Australia. Oooh, it were luverly! Crunch! Grind! Wrench! Sproing!
Or…don’t make anymore! Think of the money you’ll save! Money you could put into schools and hospitals, not that you’ll need that many more of the latter if you stop shooting each other!
But here's the best: stop making bullets. This way the 2nd amendment remains untrammeled, people stop dying in such vast and indiscriminate numbers both in the USA and the rest of the world, and no one’ll shoot anyone unless they really, really have to. And hopefully, not even then. Win! Win! Win!
And it is the rest of the world we really have to be worried about.
Elroy wonders whether this message of death and hatred for ones fellow man is truly what the world’s beacon of light and democracy wants to be broadcasting. Hey, here’s a scary thought – maybe it is!
Gun culture has spread to all four corners and every empty pocket on the globe; in some countries an AK 47 is cheaper than food. Sub-Saharan Africa is teeming with despots and their followers armed to their rotting teeth with a depressing array of hardware manufactured by either America, Britain, Russia France or China. But the chances of world peace are, sadly, remote, as it just so happens that the five countries with a permanent place on the United Nations Security Council, the five countries charged with promoting and keeping world peace are… America, Britain, Russia France and China.
And America is not just content with sending its hardware across the world, it’s sending its operating software too, although too much of that is being sent back to the manufacturer damaged, some of it in boxes. In Iraq, gun-toting maniacs are merely yet another impediment to buying bread, and events like the massacre at Virginia Tech happen several times a week, but they are both responses to the same malaise.
Both are acts committed by people driven so insane by a culture that flaunts its riches with such vulgarity and wanton disregard for human life that, rightly or wrongly, they felt they had no other option but to explode. The difference is, in America they call it a tragedy and in Iraq they call it Monday.
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