Economics and politics - comment and analysis
6. October 2017 I Will Denayer I General, General Politics, Globalisation and Development

America’s white men mass murderers’ problem

The mainstream reaction to the mass murder in Las Vegas has been 100% predictable. Politicians and journalists agree that now is not the proper time to talk about politics. It could sow division, dissent and confrontation and that will lead nowhere. Instead, we must now show dignity, pray and mourn – presumably until the next mass murder. Then, again, it will be inappropriate to talk about anything substantial.

“Stephen Paddock does not fit the profile,” were several commentators quick to emphasise (see for example here). Of course, he does. Paddock was American, white and male, just as most mass murderers in the US (see here and here).

DLI6DWcWkAE3qQA

Picture 1: Paddock does not fit the profile, but he does (Source: TMZ). 

“Our unity cannot be shattered by evil, our bonds cannot be broken by violence and although we feel such great anger at the senseless murder of our fellow citizens, it is our love that defines us today (…) In times such as these, I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers do not come easy,” said Donald Trump (see here).

For once, Trump almost sounded presidential. To be sure, it is all bile. As Richard Wolffe put it succinctly in the Guardian, “our” bonds can indeed not be broken by violence, especially if they are ties to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, just as “our” unity cannot be shattered, because there is none to start with (see here). There is only fake spectacle.

Yet, even all the prayers and mourning do not prevent some asking the simplest and most impertinent of questions. Inappropriate and embarrassing as they are, they will never be answered. Nonetheless, to begin with, currently hundreds of wounded are being treated in hospitals in Nevada, but as the richest country on Earth does not have anything resembling universal health care, some will soon be confronted with a new tragedy: enormous medical bills (see here). Nevada’s Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed legislation over the summer that would have allowed Nevadans to buy into the state’s Medicaid program. In the meantime, mass murder kills more Americans than HIV, Parkinson’s disease and hypertension. How is “unity” going to work for these people?

Secondly, what about gun control?

When a journalist asked this question to White House Speaking Woman Sanders, she answered that

“I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that won’t stop these types of things from happening. (…) I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4.000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there” (see here).

Nonsense. From the East Side of Chicago, Illinois, to East Chicago, Indiana, takes no more than an 18-minute drive. When the Chicago police department investigated the source of guns recovered over 11 years, more than half came from other states (see here). Paddock, a millionaire real-estate investor, had no criminal history or a history of mental illness. He passed federally mandated background checks before purchasing guns earlier this year.

The sale of fully automatic rifles is forbidden by the federal government. But Nevada, and many other states, permits the sale of semi-automatic guns. With a semi-automatic weapon, a shooter must pull the trigger once for each round. An automatic gun, on the other hand, fires after the trigger has been pulled once until the magazine is empty. Paddock used a device called a ‘bump-stock’. It converts semi-automatic rifles into automatic ones that can fire at a rate of 400 to 800 rounds per minute. Prize is around $99. These bump-stocks are sold without restriction. Scandalously, of course, it is a legal grey area. Paddock had more than thirty rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition (see here). The Nevada state laws are everyman’s optimal political solution, except of course for those who die because of it.

America has six times as many firearm homicides as Canada and nearly sixteen times as many as Germany. An enormous amount of scientific evidence proves that the US is an outlier on gun violence because it has way more guns than any other developed nation (see here). America has 4.4 % of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns in the world. On average, as the Washington Post reported, there is more than one mass shooting a day in the USA (see here) (a shooting becomes a “mass shooting” when four or more people were shot, excluding the shooter). It is evident that more guns lead to more deaths. The problem is that even this is impossible to explain to people who are deaf to facts. It’s not facts that count, but lobbies, their money and their ideology.

According to research by Richard Florida, more dense populations, more stress, more immigrants and more mental illness do not significantly correlate with more gun deaths. There exists only one positive significant correlation: states with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths (see here). A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews, found that new legal restrictions on owning and purchasing guns tended to be followed by a drop in gun violence (see here).

A majority of gun-related deaths in the US are suicides. This is, of course, also one of the most compelling reasons for reducing access to guns (see here). When countries reduced access to guns, they saw a drop in the number of firearm suicides. An Australian study, for example, shows that suicides dropped dramatically after the implementation of a gun buyback program: buying back 3.500 guns per 100.000 people correlated with up to a 50 percent drop in firearm homicides and a 74 percent drop in gun suicides (see here). Incredibly, over the past 20 years, support for “protecting the right of Americans to own guns” has increased. Major mass shootings, such as the attacks on Columbine High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School have received enormous attention, but seemed to have had no positive effect on public opinion about gun ownership (see here).

Whiteness protects  

During the shooting, which occurred late Sunday night, Paddock killed nearly 60 people and injured more than 500, when he started firing from a window on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay resort. As Shaun King writes in The Intercept, Paddock’s whiteness determines absolutely everything about how this horrible mass murder gets discussed in the media. The privilege is undisputable (see here). When a black man or a Muslim kills people, determinations about the corrosive or destructive nature of ‘his’ group are being made immediately. When Muslims commit terrorist acts, the whole of Islam is in the dock. What follows is the dehumanization and criminalisation of an entire group. This is not the case for white mass murderers. The white shooter is a “lone wolf,” angry, probably mentally ill or something – he is an “enigma.”

Stephen Paddock was declared a “lone wolf” in the media (with USA Today being the first (see here)) before analysts started, not because an exhaustive investigation produced such a conclusion, but because it is the only available mainstream conclusion for a white man, the only permissible one. White privilege, writes King, protects Stephen Paddock not just from being called a terrorist, but from the anger, rage, hellfire, and fury that would rain down if he were almost anyone other than a white man (see here).

Why white men kill: economics, ideology and loss of privilege

Why do white men kill? The answer that guns are freely available – brought to you by the NRA (see here for an article on the NRA in Counterpunch) is as much as answer as that climate change is caused by greenhouse gases – brought to you by all the fossil fuel lobbies in the world. Professor Ramsey tried to answer this question in an extremely long article in Counterpunch (see here). Tentatively, I think that what is going on is rather clear. If you want to call it, as Ramsey does, a ‘White supremacy capitalist empire’ problem, then go ahead.

The white supremacist once considered himself (not herself) the pinnacle of evolution. His country, the USA, was the best, the mightiest, the most prosperous one of the world. The mix of infantilization and narcissist patriotism makes for nice ideology for as long as it remains somehow plausible to dream the Dream. Since 1978, however, in the US, the cost of college tuition has increased by 1.120%. The cost of medical care has increased by 601%; the cost of food has increased by 244% and the cost of housing has increased by 380%. Since 1980, the average wage of the blue-collar manufacturing worker rose by 10%. The minimum wage actually fell – by 5.5%. Average CEO pay, on the other hand, increased by 937% during the same period (figures from US Labour Department (here) and the Economic Policy Institute (here)).

net-public-investment

Figure 1: Public investment is at its lowest point since the 1940s (Source US Department of Labor).

DGt3y4bXoAExViI

Figure 2: Meanwhile income inequality has been growing ever since the conservative counterrevolution (Source: Branko Milanovic). 

DK-Fk37XkAAqmDwFigure 3: And top income tax rates are lower than in any other developed country (Source: IMF). 

DGo3rXkXgAEvXLv

Figure 4:  J.K. Galbraith had a point when he quipped years ago that we are transforming into a country of low-paid waitresses and bartenders (Source Bloomberg).  

I suspect that the reactionary white supremacist, in his heart, knows he is wrong. The threat to his existence is not the black family or the Muslim family down the street. It is not illegal immigrants. It is his own folk, as he always defined them, who are eroding his privilege, his economic power, his political relevance, his social status. The ideal type white supremacist is losing control while he realises that he has no real effect whatsoever on the political system: he is, as many studies prove effectively politically powerless, as the (dominantly) white men in Washington push whatever laws the lobbies pay for and the extreme rich demand (see here). The radicalised white men, who once considered themselves the rulers of the world, are now being treated with the same indifference, or else, with the same sadism, they treated those they could consider inferior and powerless in the past. He knows that if he is poor and poorly educated, his children will likely end up being poorer and even less educated. There is no way out. Not that these people belong to the disenfranchised class of the precariat or the extreme poor – there is ample reason to doubt it. It is not the poor who travel to Charlottesville in Virginia and walk around in full military gear showing off semi-automatic weapons. It is not income per se, but falling status, those who are losing out because economic, political, cultural, social and demographic changes that undermine their privilege, while they cannot count on the politicians they vote for to turn the situation around. The contrary is true: the political system serves the extreme rich, not those who are gradually becoming economically unimportant or irrelevant (see here).

This theme shows up in every serious analysis of the extreme right. The supremacists might hate everyone and everything that is not WASP – Latino’s, Muslims, Jews, Irish people, refugees – their underlying frustration, their enormous anger is always connected to the loss of economic and social status. To this one more factor has to be added: the perceived physical vulnerability of the ‘system’ as such. De Tocqueville explained this a long time ago in an analysis of the French revolution: for centuries the French peasantry, the cruelly oppressed, did not revolt. It was only when the rising bourgeoisie managed to poke holes in the Ancien Régime, proving its vulnerability, that the hatred and the violence of the populace exploded to a degree no one had anticipated. It brought Robespierre and other proto-totalitarians to power (see here).

At this historical point, the cracks in America’s project of global hegemony show. Look at what happened. The utter madness of the neocons’ grand plan to destroy the Soviet Union by luring it into an unwinnable war in Afghanistan is glaringly obvious. The US have been fighting in Afghanistan for the last 38 years. What did it bring the American people? At the “end of history” (the fall of the Soviet Union), the US might have encouraged real, peaceful development of nations in a climate of cooperation, mutual understanding, peace and development. It could have included the Middle East and China and Russia, instead of provocation, undermining, confrontation, chaos and war. But that was the last thing the imperialist warmongers within the US government aspired.

The next major chapter started with 9/11. It was immensely important. 9/11 provided the hawks in Washington with a new ‘enemy image’, more than good enough to replace Soviet communism. It provided the ideological justification to start a “War on Terror,” which was, in reality, a war on Islam (as General Wesley Clark openly said). Or, if it was not a war on Islam, it was certainly a war on Muslim nations, as the Pentagon was planning to destroy the governments in seven Muslim countries in five years. Iraq was to be first. Obama targeted two other countries, Libya and Syria, with the neocons fervently trying to find an excuse to attack Iran. What did that bring the American people? It made the US more enemies and more Americans bought more weapons.

It is by now clear that Washington’s strategy of using political fundamentalist Islam to secure a revitalised American global hegemony has been a complete failure. The military, economic and political destructive forces that the American government unleashed have come back to haunt them. It made, of course, no one better anywhere, the US included, except the extreme rich, the military industrial complex, the surveillance apparatus and mercenaries in the style of Blackwater.

Today, we reached a new stage. Trump’s clownery ensures that all attention is focused on him. It really does not matter what he is saying, or how, as long as attention is diverted from what is really happening. What is really happening is that the most savage fringe of the Republicans – the neocon fundamentalists – is implementing policies designed to further enrich enormous wealth and destroy democracy. These policies will harm the irrelevant general population and devastate future generations, but that is literally of no concern to these fundamentalists.

People like Stephen Paddock know that these henchmen don’t give a damn about him. And he is afraid. And he is angry. The subject of white privilege, he thinks it is Stephen Paddock who should rule the world. But it’s not immigrants or refugees or Jews or Muslims who are finishing him off. It is his own revered model – the best ever – that is making him superfluous and irrelevant.

Stephen Paddock is not – as the newspapers are writing at the moment – an “enigma.” The problem is that explaining why not crosses the boundaries of what can be said. Because Paddock is a ‘lone wolf.’ Economic dysfunction, low wages, lack of investment, ‘free’ trade, outsourcing, neoliberalism, oligarchy, imperialism, wars abroad, racism and privilege all have nothing to do with it. Anyway, that is what they want you to believe and no solutions will be found.

DLXki2oUQAAzrEv