When I first heard of the tragic shootings in San Bernardino I was saddened, dismayed and angered. One thing I was not was shocked. We seem to have entered a period of violence that shows no signs of slowing down, violence in which ideology plays a huge role.
Not only religious and political ideology but the general permissiveness of violence, the ideology that says that heinous acts of violence, in all forms of culture, are permissible and in some cases encouraged. The ideologies of gun ownership and of gang violence, of police brutality and the conditions that create it. The ideology of hamstringing our boys, who already have enough on their plates by imposing new gender roles and no new ways to transition into manhood. The toxic ideology that at once encourages the sexualization of girls and young women and then tells them that their bodies are not their own. The ideology that says that everything is permissible before you even understand what everything really means.
To blame it on video games, music or even the presence of a toxic entitlement culture, any single factor, is nothing but political noise, the truth is far more complex. All of these factors colluded and combined to create a soup of confusion that we just don’t seem to be equipped to deal with.
On the topic of the latest round of violence I think we are looking for clues in all he wrong places. Our media, as usual, is catering to the lowest common denominator, going for the easy explanation where there is none and in the process only making things worse. As soon as the announcement was made that the two assailants had been “radicalized” in some way, the usual suspects started chiming in about immigration. A point which was at least half moot due to the fact that only one of the couple was not an American citizen. A point, when taken in the context of high-powered semi-automatic weapons and regular visits to the range seemed out of context with radicalization.
These people were supposed to be the “other” training overseas for jihadist terrorism, not training right under our very noses in such an “American” way. Just as most of the shooters in the multitude of mass killings in this country seemed “normal” these two seemed very normal and American. Though the family of the man who accompanied his (wife??) on the killing spree that left 14 people dead and several more wounded had no clue he had been planning anything like this, there were signs, there had to be. The problem is that they were draped as much in the trappings of being American as they were in the guise of terrorism.
Not to say that any “solution” including tightening gun restrictions or fixing some of the conditions that Americans who have been or could be radicalized, live in, will fix this, it won’t. Like many social movements this one is self propagating, as are the popular demagogues who loudly oppose it. What the demagoguery and most Americans miss has little to do with radical Islam and more to do with frustration and anger over lost glory, deceit of power and promises never kept.
Basically, everyone is angry, largely for the same reasons.
White men especially seem angrier than usual, which I find both perplexing and perfectly rational. Perplexing because, on the surface, they still have the very best deal. They have cultural hegemony, they comprise a vast swath of the middle class, the 1% and were in a much better position to ride out the financial crisis at all economic levels. They do not face the many entrenched racial biases that Black households face in housing (a major factor, as the linked article points out, being the disparity of loan offers to the same qualified borrowers) employment and education. Yes, culture is a factor, and any idiot who claims otherwise is just that, an idiot. The questions are then, how, why and what elements of “culture” contribute to the disparity, and by culture I mean perception of culture as much as any culture itself. Perfectly rational for many of the same reasons.
So minorities get doubly screwed from multiple angles, yet, somehow, White men are aggrieved?
Let me say this out front, there is an element to “Black Culture” several in fact, that I find sickening, but that isn’t the real story here because the number of elements I find repulsive in the larger American culture are legion compared to the former. After all, the abomination of misogynist and violent music, associated with Black America is repulsive and dehumanizing, but that in and of itself doesn’t cause every social ill affecting a large number of African Americans. That river runs through the whole of American culture, the focus on violence as a deterrent for violence, placing the need for information below the need for emotional resonance in our politics, blaming, lack of historical understanding and then claiming to understand history.
It also ran through Tim McVeigh, Dylan Roof, Wade Michael Page, Christopher Dorner and Eric Robert Rudolph.
Which brings me back to the point.
Some people just want to destroy. They are angry, enraged, fearful and despised and the easiest way to combat that is to appear stronger, get angrier and deafen, blocking out anything, any evidence that the world may be just as unfair to you as it is to everyone else. In the case of many White men this is a quite painful revelation when they had been insulated from this fact for so long.
To me, whether or not and when these two were radicalized is not the point, understanding why is. Why did they turn on innocent people and lash out, why did they kill? To the best of my knowledge they did not chant “god is great” while mowing down their neighbors, they did not seem, by the choosing of their targets, to be making any kind of greater statement. By many accounts there was a seething anger in them that boiled over into rage. Yes local government officials were present according to some reports, but why carry out an act of terror in a town that has no strategic value? Why when the attack was carried out, did ISIL (or ISIS or whatever the fuck) call it out immediately, take responsibility for it? Why did it take so many days for them to even acknowledge it?
They were either angry and needed an excuse to kill or they were the worst terrorists ever because judging by the delayed response, even ISIL couldn’t figure out what they were doing and why. But when you are a terrorist organization that survives on breeding hatred and distrust in the countries you despise, any means to that end is helpful.
Despite their radicalization, apparently years long planning and appearance these two were not terrorists, they were assholes who used ideology to justify a killing spree. Just because they were pushed over the edge by a “cause” one which all but guaranteed that their small daughter would grow up without parents, does not make this crime a terrorist act. It was the act of two people so angry and desperate that they needed something, anything, to justify “going postal.”
If nothing else though, they gave terror a gift in their passing. Though by any standard they do not deserve martyrdom they may have gained it. They set in motion another thoughtless, terrifyingly fascistic wave in America. As the fringe racist right has steadily gained power in Europe (again) so it seems the United States is following. He who shall not be named’s tirades notwithstanding, there is a sizable chunk of this country that is ready as well, to use ideology and empty rhetoric to incite more violence against innocent people.
I don’t care what ideology you use to justify your hatred or violence, it is still hatred and violence and should not be tolerated by a free society. A society that is becoming even more “free” for a certain few and less free for everyone else. In any case it is no excuse for violence against people just trying to live their lives in peace.