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Fear and Loathing Unto Death: Extreme Individualism, Shredding the Social Fabric, and the Sandy Hook Massacre

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Dennis Loo       (Page 1 of 4 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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Nancy Lanza appears to have embodied at least some of the attributes so highly touted by those who have the greatest fear of crime and who seek the comfort of very white, very rich communities, away from the big cities with all of their frightening heterogeneity, in big houses, on big lots, with lots of guns. The very things that she thought would protect her were her and her son's undoing. Her stockpiling of weapons of protection and her enthusiastic training of her son Adam to use those weapons were not used against threatening strangers but instead turned on her and they made Adam's psychotic break so very deadly, not just to her but to twenty-six others, including twenty children, in a school just two miles away, filled with the very people that Nancy Lanza regarded as her own. This is what makes Columbine and the Aurora Massacre resonate so much with the Sandy Hook Massacre.

Why is a parent who knows that her son is profoundly impaired socially, lacking in the most rudimentary skills of social interaction and empathy, who as a child had to be monitored constantly because he might do something harmful, teaching him how to use semi-automatic weapns?

Sandy Hook is but the latest and most dramatic example of chickens coming home to roost: what U.S. foreign policy has been with its horrid treatment of foreigners as aliens worthy of no respect and deserving of no due process has come home to haunt the homeland and even the most innocent and most putatively "American" of its people.

When domestic and foreign policy of the country are governed by over-the-top fear and loathing of the Other -- detaining indefinitely and torturing people, based merely on suspicion, without due process, without benefit of charge, trial and conviction; assassinating people based again on no due process but the say so only of an unsupervised chief executive operating in secret sessions; worshipful celebration of all things military, conferring heroic status (including cinematically as in the new film Zero Dark Thirty which falsely and outrageously claims that torture lead to finding Osama Bin Laden) of those who are routinely engaged in carrying out war crimes against foreign populations of non-combatant men, women, and children whose only crimes are that they are living in their own countries in the midst of a foreign occupation and are therefore treated as "the enemy;" treating anyone who dares to question the propriety of these lawless acts as "traitors," deserving of death and/or torture (e.g., Bradley Manning, Julian Assange); treating reason, science, evidence and facts as at best immaterial and at worst as beneath contempt and something to be derided and crushed; making scapegoating fashionable, elevating faith, superstition, crazy conspiracy talk and gut feelings above reason and dispassion; the ugliest manifestations of racism, misogyny, and anti-gay, anti-immigrant hatred stoked and unleashed in both public and private forums -- then how long before these dreadful acts and ideas turn into internecine violence within the heartland, when these weapons of indiscriminate killing are used within the most putatively saintly and innocent of people and places? If you regard yourself as not subject to the rules and laws of others but above the law, when vigilantism becomes the ruling standard, then why should you not anticipate that these unleashed forces should eventually turn on you and yours?

As I wrote in the Preface to my book, Globalization and the Demolition of Society:

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"Using market forces and individualism as the organizers for economic and political affairs is a recipe for ever-expanding inequities and the shredding of the social fabric, leading inevitably to myriad disasters on the individual, regional, and global level. It will not do to attempt to mildly modify this [neoliberal/free market fundamentalist] invasion, gesturing and gesticulating at the margins. The response to this assault that is occurring on every conceivable level requires an equally comprehensive retort, an alternative vision for our society."

I am going to repost an article that I wrote after the Aurora Massacre because what I discuss in it has great relevance to this latest massacre:

Dark Night Rising: James Holmes, the Aurora Massacre, and the Other Massacre (7/21/12)

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Additional material added on 7/25/12; Update 7/27/12

James Holmes's actions in Aurora are a domestic, non-governmental figure's individual enactment of the same policies of terror that authorities have been using abroad.

We need to talk.

First, while stricter gun controls should be enacted and are long-overdue, and in particular the banning of automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and while this latest murderous rampage underscores with excruciating drama the need for stronger gun laws, gun controls would not by themselves have kept guns and ammo out of the hands of Aurora's mass murderer, James Holmes. While Mr. Holmes is apparently socially awkward and according to someone who was a fellow student at University of Colorado, a "little off," this plus his clean criminal rap sheet (with only one speeding ticket) would not have been enough to bar his ownership of weapons.

There are far too many people with life stories like Holmes to realistically envision even stricter gun laws pertaining to them. Such signs of social disconnectedness might trigger the need for counseling at the very best (which would have, even if implemented, questionable usefulness). Preventive measures could only work reasonably in a society that was startlingly different than the one that we now have. That is to say, it would have to be a society in which the collective interest and welfare were paramount over the current principle that individual freedom -- particularly to exploit others and to ignore others if it's not in one's own personal material (i.e., selfish) interest -- are touted as the be all and end all of existence.

Second, the proximity of this mass killing spree to the Columbine massacre, within twenty miles, is not coincidental. Colorado (along with places like Arizona) are the destination and residence of choice for many who are part of white flight from urban areas. Columbine itself concentrates whites seeking "refuge" from minorities and urban areas, thinking that they were or are finding safe haven, when in fact the level of alienation, anti-intellectualism, and a Wild West vigilantism is palpable. One commenter "JQ" on The New York Times' online edition describes the situation in Colorado as

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"There is a subculture in America that seems closer to the surface, seems to involve more of the population, in some places than in others. No place is immune, of course, but having lived for a long time in New England and now in Colorado, I have a vague sense of unease here, especially when I venture forth outside my enclave of highly educated affluence.

"Partly it's an anti-intellectual culture. It's certainly a culture in which 'shoot' is an early reaction to disagreement (see Denver police reaction to Occupy: automatic weapons!), in which the symbolic military combat vehicle is a popular model for SUVs and the ubiquitous pickup

"And it's a culture ruled by a pervasive sense of impotence -- economic impotence, a feeling of victimhood, and a sense of being [u]nable to do anything about it."

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Cal Poly Pomona Sociology Professor. Author of "Globalization and the Demolition of Society," co-editor/author (with Peter Phillips) of "Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney." National Steering Committee Member of the World Can't (more...)

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