Monday, October 02, 2017

Black Humor Alert

Sometimes sick humor is the only response to the news.  Here are some headlines I expect to see soon.

1.  Guinness Book of Records' New Category:  Most People Killed and Injured By A Mass Shooter

Sick, but the news I heard on NPR kept saying "the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history" which to some will be a challenge to set a new record.  There will be records for one person shootings, two person shootings, police shootings, military massacres, etc. And surely there is someone out there who wants to know about the deadliest mass shooting BEFORE modern U.S. history, so they can beat that too.  And Listverse has gone where Guinness has yet to go.

2.  NRA Establish 24 Hour Massacre News Channel  

As I listened to NPR (looks pretty close to NRA, doesn't it) switch to all day coverage of Las Vegas today, I realized it's only a matter of time before we need full time coverage of mass murders.  They'll fill in with other more mundane murders on slower days.  The more shootings, the more people will want more guns to compete for the Guinness records or to protect themselves.

The gun control people want to limit who gets guns and the kinds of guns they get.

The pro-gun people (chiefly sponsored by the gun and arms industry through the NRA) argue that people, not guns, kill people, so everyone (except Muslims probably) should have unlimited access (it seems since they seem to start lobbying if a member of Congress even thinks about gun control.)

It's clear that both people and guns together kill people.  A person with a knife can kill a small crowd, but not fifty, and not from a distance.  People can also use bombs and vehicles and other ways to kill more people at once.  But automatic weapons seem to be the most efficient and effective way to kill many people in a short time.

Then there's the people.  The president used the word 'evil' to describe the Las Vegas killer.  That's a word that is bandied about whenever there is a mass killing.  Evil is a word that makes the killer seem to be inherently bad through and through.  An agent of Satan.  (ISIS claimed credit for the Las Vegas killing, but I haven't heard about Satan's claim yet.)  Not someone you might know and say hi to every day.

The stats on deaths by guns around the world, make it clear that the easy access to weapons in the United States plays a role in the carnage here.  And as we learn about people involved in mass shootings, there's always some sort of long simmering resentment of people in general or some group of people.  Mostly based on personal issues of some sort.

There is currently a high level of anger among people in the United States.  Our current president claims that anger is what got him elected and he may be right.  But my point here is that people who commit mass murders often are people with a great deal of anger about something - loss of a job, loss of a spouse.  But underlying it all is loss of respect, probably most importantly self-respect.

We have a society that produces a lot of angry people with declining self-esteem.  I would argue that a number of social, political, and economic factors play a part.

Capitalism, which reduces everything to money and making it as efficiently as possible, plays a role, by squeezing more work out of employees for less money and using much of the employee share to enrich officers and shareholders.  That's the abstract part.  More concretely technology is making workers redundant.  Technology and foisting work onto the customer is now rampant.  It started, in my experience, with self-service gas stations.  Now travel agents are almost gone as people have to go online to book their own tickets.  Receptionists are gone as we spend a minute or more listening to simulated voices giving us choices of buttons to push until we finally get to what we need - and the companies seem to hope we won't need a human.  We have self service lines in the grocery.  Each of these changes cuts out jobs.  Businesses have been fighting unions forever.  With fewer employees represented by unions, workers rights and wages and benefits erode and erode.  Lots of people work long hours for less money.  A smaller number of workers get good wages and benefits.

Pluralism is a political theory of governance that stems from the idea of separation of powers and the competition of interest groups to influence policy decisions.  The money spent by corporations to support candidates and ideas, to lobby legislators, and to spin truth to the public has gone up significantly.  So we have a majority party that wants to cut millions out of the health care programs and wants to cut taxes to the wealthy at the expense of the middle and lower economic classes.

Both capitalism and pluralism share the idea that the best outcome comes from the competition of self-interested players.  And while surely different interests keeping watch on each other is helpful, the theory doesn't account for things like altruism and community spirit.  Self-interest was the only thing most economists counted as 'rational' thinking for years.  It's all about competition.  And the balance falls apart when some groups gain much greater power to compete than others.  And that's what has happened over the last 60 years as we've moved from a country where the gaps between the richest and poorest in society, and the lowest and highest paid employee in a company, were much lower, to our current (and worsening) situation where the gaps are growing greater and greater.  And if the Republicans manage to pass the kind of tax reform our president is extolling, it will get worse.

I'd argue that it is this spreading sense of loss of economic and political power that plays a huge role in the anger Americans feel these days.  If we don't address that, we won't affect the people who not only are angry, but are also unhinged enough to commit suicide through spectacular mass murders which give them so sort of attention.  And as I mentioned in the previous post (not at all thinking about writing this post since Las Vegas hadn't yet happened), bad attention is better than no attention.

These shooter know that their lives will be the center of national, if not world, attention for at least several days if not more.  They will get their 'glory' for the way society has treated them.  I'm not saying their thinking is right, but I'm just trying to offer a possible explanation for behavior that seems unexplainable.  Because if we don't understand why people commit such acts, we have no hope for finding ways to prevent them.  Calling them 'evil' essentially puts all the blame on the shooter and doesn't allow for reflecting on how our society helps to create so many angry, bitter people with access to weapons that can kill fifty people in a few minutes.

As I listened to NPR this morning, I kept hearing the same stories over and over.  They simply do not have enough information to fill the time with meaningful new news.  It's as though they feel that to compete with social media, they have to report each tidbit of new information - whether confirmed or not - because otherwise people won't listen.  I'd argue that people would like to hear more reasoned thoughtful stories and can wait a few hours for serious updates on the current crisis.  Only people who might have a direct connection to the story - people whose friends and family might be involved - have a compelling reason to stay closely tuned in.  And they'd probably do better with social media outlets where they can set up two way communication.

But we all have a responsibility to let the media know we want more thoughtful coverage.  Instant news is less important than well-done news.  And it may well be that people like me are in the minority.  That we have become, as a nation, sensation junkies.  That news, for most people, serves the functions of entertainment and confirmation of our own biases.  If that's the case, democracy won't survive.

1 comment:

  1. You are right about the anger issue, the problem is that we have codified that anger so that it is acceptable. Forty years ago you never heard of ‘road rage’. Someone cut you off in traffic you might curse to yourself, but you went about your business. Now you can follow that person home and beat the snot out of them and chalk it up to road rage, and be shocked if you are sanctioned for it. I was called for jury duty a few years ago and the case involved an altercation with a vehicle. The defense attorney ask if anyone did not believe that road rage could be a factor and I raised my hand. He ask me why and I said it was just bad thuggish behavior that would not have been tolerated years ago because people had good manners. I was excused.
    I just see a sense of despair as good as Obama was a lot of people were left behind, when he came in office 20 million people were on food stamps, when he left 40 million. People who rose up against the robber barons in the early 20th century had their labor as a bargaining chip for change through the unions. Back then we made things. We don’t make much anymore and you do not have those huge concentrations of workers in manufacturing who can shut down a whole industry as a vehicle for change. My only criticism of unions (and I was a union steward for 6 years) is they were to slow to recognize the importance of public and service employees. I cannot even image how difficult it is now to try to unionize and it is only going to get worse.



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