On a hot summer evening in Colorado, families and friends gather at the local movie theater to enjoy an evening of light entertainment. That evening is turned into a night of bloodlust and bedlam when a lone gunman enters the hitherto safe confines of the theater, and, with rifle, shotgun, and pistol, kills a dozen and wounds more than four dozen more.
Sadly, it is a scene with which Americans are all too familiar. Disgruntled employees, broken by the strain of the workplace or terrified at the abyss that lays before them in unemployment after a recent dismissal, return to their offices or factory floors with guns.
Alienated students bring homemade bombs to their schools, and confused loners, seeking significance in a society that has cast them aside create their own headlines through mass murder. Self-appointed vigilantes gun down children for merely appearing to be in the wrong neighborhood. Police put 41 bullets into an innocent, unarmed, immigrant peddler, succumbing to a ‘shoot-first, ask questions later’ mentality.
After each and every incident Americans are left pondering why and wondering what if anything can be done to stop it and also, ‘how did this occur, and what caused it?’
Are violent games, movies, and music desensitizing our children?
Is the problem that inadequate precautions have been taken to screen and then care for those with emotional problems? Problems that, left untreated, can overtake the better angels of one’s own personality?
Is it that America has made a cult of gun ownership and made firearms ‘sexy,’ using the basest advertising techniques to glorify their ownership?
Is it a foreign policy that equates patriotism to bombing campaigns that left cities from Pyongyang to Hanoi in piles of smoking ruin? Is it that war itself is reduced to a video game as remote control drones kill American citizens whose names appear on a ‘death list’ that is kept in the Oval Office itself?
A reasonable case can be made that each of these in varying degrees contribute to a poor socialization of the American psyche, leaving it vulnerable to improper and ultimately violent impulses.
The larger question however is what sort of society do we wish to live in, and once that question is answered, how do we go about organizing it?
There is only one problem: There is a road block to the progress of citizens organizing the society. That problem is a dictatorship of finance-capital. Our society is not organized along the lines that the people desire but rather along the lines that the private owners have determined will reap them the greatest profits.
There is no immediate profit in the public care and treatment of those with psychological and emotional disturbances; that costs money and the one percent do not wish to pay. Films, literature, and television that seek to portray working people accurately and that are uplifting are potentially financially risky; much easier to splatter the screen with gratuitous violence to a public taste already deadened by decades of exposure.
The creation of a consumerist society, obsessed with obtaining the appropriate brand name shoes, hats, jackets, cars, and liquor labels lead youth desperate to acquire any outward sign of success and acceptance they will even kill to get it is a long terms sales plan.
While peace and cooperation between nations would produce profit in trade, there is an immediate profit in war. The munitions, the equipment, must be rapidly replaced and the quantity increased. The lawmakers of the land who vote for the expenditures must abide dare they be accused of leaving our boys int he field without the tools they need to get the job done.
The job of multiple simultaneous wars however is too big even for the Pentagon, and so private armies must be hired for additional security, and private companies make profits from taxpayers by being the lowest bidder to do the wash and cook the meals of those on what soon become permanent forward bases as imperialist ambitious grow grander and the thirst for profits is un-satiated. All these decisions are made on behalf of the ruling class; the working class would have none of it if their voices were truly represented in deliberative bodies.
An intelligent debate about the responsibilities that should correspond to the rights of gun ownership is made impossible. The gun lobby, financed by the arms manufacturers who wish only to sell more weapons, regardless of the purpose, be it hunting, competitive shooting, forming your own militia, or robbing the local liquor store shut down the debate before it even begins. Instead some propose that still more guns is the solution so that each and every armed citizen can squelch an unexpected gunfight with his own superior firepower. Proposals such as this are actually taken seriously, as if the Wild West remained untamed and the 21st century were not the present time.
Rather than a society that first seeks war as a solution to geopolitical problems, why not a ‘Department of Peace’ as some lawmakers had frequently proposed? In 1995, the government of South Africa instituted a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to deal with the human rights abuses that occurred in their society during the Apartheid period.
No such commission exists in the U.S. to seek resolve for all the monstrous crimes committed by a capitalist government against it’s own people, from the enslavement of an entire race, to the genocidal slaughter of another. No official government body seeks to find the root causes of why a government would suppress the desire for workers rights by using automatic weapons against families in Ludlow, Colorado. We do not as a society confront the crimes of the wholesale murder of the incarcerated in places like Attica State prison. We wish only to bury and not confront the institutional racism that prompted and excused the most ghastly medical experiments and forced sterilization of human beings.
There is a great deal to do if we are to take positive steps in taming the savageness of man and make gentle this world. It is not the ruling class that will provide the solutions, it is the 99 percent, but first they need the power to do so.
Perhaps no society will ever be immune to a certain pathological personality, determined to do evil, but those who have been fortunate enough to visit socialist societies, both of the past such as the USSR and of the present, such as Cuba, will have observed something different from the experience a capitalist society produces. They will have noticed a kindness, a joy, a spirit of cooperation, of mutual support and caring. They will have also seen a great interest in the development of youth, as well as a purposefulness to culture, art, literature, and film.
This is not to suggest that we should strive to replicate, imitate, or mirror these societies, but rather to indicate that given the opportunity, the people will create a society much different than capital will. Americans, given the chance, would organize themselves into a society brimming with opportunity and reflecting the unique values, customs, and traditions that this nation can be proud of.
Given the chance, the people will once and for all remove the corrupting profit motive that has poisoned a culture, left a workforce at loose ends, and praised and accepted anything, even violence, in the pursuit of private gain. Given the chance, working people would build an America that was truly ‘kinder and gentler’ and would seek real solutions to put an end to the violence that has cut short so many American dreams.
Photo: Two flags are placed near a memorial by the Century 16 theater, where 12 were killed – and many more injured – during a vicious shooting by a young gunman. Alex Brandon/AP