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Violence, late-stage capitalist nihilism, and our society's decline

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Life is precious but yet can be very short. Remembering Orlando Mass Shooting.
Life is precious but yet can be very short. Remembering Orlando Mass Shooting.
(Image by Thank you, my friends, Adam! from flickr)
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As America's paradigm of mass shootings has re-entered the public eye in recent weeks, with over 130 mass shootings having happened so far in 2021 in addition to the ones we've lately all seen headlines about, a chill hangs over these new spatterings of bloodshed that wasn't as acute prior to the pandemic. This is the chill of American anomie.

Anomie is the breakdown of a society's cohesive moral fabric, the decline of a culture that's taken severe hits from national tragedies, escalating ideological conflict, or the unraveling of the institutions that the masses used to respect and rely on. In American Anomie, a commentary on the work of French sociologist Emile Durkheim, theliberal but often insightful Chris Hedges writes:

Societies are held together by a web of social bonds that give individuals a sense of being part of a collective and engaged in a project larger than the self. This collective expresses itself through rituals, such as elections and democratic participation or an appeal to patriotism, and shared national beliefs. The bonds provide meaning, a sense of purpose, status and dignity. They offer psychological protection from impending mortality and the meaninglessness that comes with being isolated and alone. The shattering of these bonds plunges individuals into deep psychological distress that leads ultimately to acts of self-annihilation. Durkheim called this state of hopelessness and despair anomie, which he defined as 'ruleless-ness.'"

While looking at the data showing that more than half of the U.S. mass shootings since 1966 have occurred after 2000, and that more than a third of them have occurred since 2010, this dynamic of a society losing its perceived moral center feels extremely relevant. What trends have also defined American society since the 1960s? For one, the implementation of neoliberalism and the consequential hollowing out of the public institutions that are supposed to protect the masses, with corporations being free to loot, overwork, and deprive the population with abandon while creating an unparalleled prison-industrial complex. Especially since the 2008 crash and the discrediting of the ruling class ideology, this has destroyed the people's faith in the justice system, the legislative process, and the other pillars that define our supposedly free republic. People are more and more seeing through the lie that America stands for justice.

Consequently, many have fallen into nihilism and bitterness. And among these disaffected masses, a certain type of person has taken it so far as to abandon the very concepts of empathy and morals. As Hedges observes:

Durkheim noted that the poor have lower rates of suicide. The poor know the rules are rigged against them. James Baldwin made much the same point when he wrote that African-American men are less prone to a midlife crisis than white men because they are less susceptible to the myth of the American Dream. Most African-Americans learn very early in life that there are two sets of rules. But white Americans, because of white supremacy, are more susceptible to the myth, and therefore more infuriated when that myth is exposed as a con. This, I suspect, is why nearly all mass shooters and members of right-wing hate groups, along with a majority of supporters of Donald Trump, are white men.

It's a story which has become so commonly recognized, whether in media commentary, or in movies like Joker, or in meme culture, that we all now seem to be familiar with it to a certain extent: a white man in America grows alienated from society, then turns to nihilistic violence in an attempt to attain power and vengeance. Or at the very least he simply embraces nihilism as a life philosophy, scorning constructive belief systems like Marxism in favor of a 4Chan-type right-wing contrarian persona. He uses an ironic style of memetic humor to justify his unwillingness to work towards a better world, to face the pain of our reality.

This pathology of nihilism pervades our culture, enforced by the ignorance the media instills in us about the alternatives to the bleak paradigm we inhabit. The propagandists of empire and capital don't want us to see through the absurd lies they spin about socialist countries like China or the DPRK, because otherwise we would recognize class struggle as a proven route towards making our lives better. All that our pro-imperialist, capitalist-minded cultural hegemony wants us to experience is a mindset of assumed hopelessness towards our prospects for a better world, and of warlike hatred towards manufactured enemies. And when war fills our collective consciousness instead of empathy, love, or hope, even more monsters are created.

As commentator Caitlin Johnstone wrote about a 2018 bar shooting that was committed by a man who served in the U.S. military, it's this war paradigm that's helping motivate so many of these disaffected white men to embrace nihilistic violence:

The plutocrats who use mass media propaganda and alliances with opaque government agencies to manipulate public thought to their advantage do not actually care if civilians are shooting each other, as long as it doesn't damage their investments. They do not care how many bullets you are allowed to put in your gun, nor do they care if the mentally ill receive adequate treatment. They care very much, however, about their ability to manufacture consent for the endless military campaigns they wage for profit and geopolitical dominance. It is already well documented that individuals who've served in the US military are at least twice as likely to commit mass shootings as the rest of the adult population, and this should surprise no one. Being exposed to meaningless acts of slaughter can break your mind, which is why there is a suicide epidemic among US veterans. Couple that factor with PTSD and the way servicemen are psychologically conditioned and desensitized to the killing of human beings, and you've got a recipe for mass murder when those men come home.

All of these social ills that are producing ever more mass shootings have been exacerbated by the U.S. empire's decline of the last half-century. Neoliberalism was implemented by the bourgeoisie in reaction to the decline in the rate of profits which capitalism has found itself confronted with since the 1970s. The U.S. ruling class has chosen to perpetuate a state of intensive war since 2001 (in addition to the milder state of war which existed prior to then) in reaction to Washington's geopolitical decline throughout the last couple of decades. The degradation of the public sphere through cruel austerity, the militarization of American society through funneling War on Terror equipment to police departments, the propagation of a neoliberal culture which disregards empathy in favor of soulless competition, the demonization of immigrants to the effect that concentration camps have been built for them, the poisoning of our minds with hateful lies and fetishizations of violence, the campaign to portray our hellish late-stage capitalist environment as unavoidable and preferable to communism's supposed evils""all of these societal sicknesses are symptoms of the system's weakening.

Until the capitalist state is overthrown, and U.S. imperialism is defeated, things are only going to get worse. We can see this with the current events that surround the recent shootings. Biden and the Democrats are accelerating society's militarization, authorizing a rapid speed-up of the funneling of military equipment to police in recent months. Unemployment is stillrising after tens of millions have lost their jobs in the last year. A stimulus that would actually bring long-term relief to the country's increasingly impoverished families has been rejected because of the Biden White House's drive towards continuing the wars and military buildup. I've come to Marxism, but many others are going to continue to embrace the loss of hope.

 

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Rainer Shea is writing articles that counter the propaganda of the capitalist/imperialist power establishment, and that help move us towards a socialist revolution. Donate to me on Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=11988744

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4 people are discussing this page, with 4 comments


Betsy Whitfill

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We've been in transition from Pisces to the new age of Aquarius. Laugh if you must, but ignoring this is costly, as you describe.. Our culture has been in decline, if not dead for the past decade or more. The young are spiritually alienated...and look for hope amidst technology and drugs. Not finding hope there, the commit suicide or take up shooting others. Isn't it time that the "grownups" wake up and listen to reason? click here "If individuality was Pisces' greatest gift, today as we enter the new Age of Aquarius, the misuse of that same individuality has become man's greatest danger and threat. Throughout the world, powerful individuals, governments and institutions hold millions in thrall. In these circumstances, men have become pawns, held at ransom to the vagaries of the market. Institutions of all kinds - governments, banks and corporations - have reduced the shining individuality of their workers to passive obedience. Elsewhere, others starve and die in silence, or slave for a daily pittance, while the rich add riches to their unholy hoard. This divisive norm is driving men to the edge of destruction and presents them with a historic choice: to continue thus and end, for ever, man's sojourn on Planet Earth or to change direction completely. Already, the signs are there that men have seen the danger and, throughout the world, are awakening to a new dawn. The shining light of Aquarius is entering their hearts, and the cries of justice and freedom rise readily to their lips. This same justice through sharing will bring men out of their darkness and lift them onwards to their destined goal. Thus shall it be. be.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 12, 2021 at 12:10:57 PM

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K.H. Williams

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In my view, your article mischaracterized the cause of the dangerous self-destructiveness. The deeper issue is identified in a 1980's book by Dr. Anne Wilson Schaef titled, "When Society Becomes An Addict." She says (my words) that American society is fatally addicted to its longstanding white male patriarchal system. We can change if we're willing to learn and do something differently. We've been co-dependents and reactive instead of responsive. We've taken the bait and actually believed that "bigger is better" and "more" are solutions. We've taken the bait of unregulated capitalism and now have big houses, big cars, big refrigerators, big oil, big ag, banks too big to fail. We've been distracted and seduced by the undertow of status quo and low standards, i.e., "Just keep doing the same old thing over and over again while expecting different results." This is insanity. But the addicted one continues to metaphorically creep around alleys trying to evade police in the middle of the night while stealing enough money for the next fix. What might that same individual accomplish if s/he took all those brains, skills, and talents and put them in a wholesome direction? What if we had wholesome visions instead of unwholesome ones and worked toward the achievement of our full human potential? If a human being truly wants change and his/her human needs are met, it's to that individual to take responsibility, do something differently. For all the wonderfulness of so many caring Americans and their inherent genius and contributions, where is cultural wisdom? We have not been taught how to resolve conflict responsibly, grow up. Even so, honesty and personal integrity are principles valued--or not--by the individual. I'm not responsible for others' lies, delusions, and manipulations. I'm responsible for mine.

Submitted on Monday, Apr 12, 2021 at 2:57:07 PM

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Tomonthebeach

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I think you may be right, Rainer. QAnon is pure nihilism (nothing you hear or see is real - it is all a conspiracy). Trump's behavior and most of the GOP's behavior is consistent with a nihilist worldview (religious and moral principles are a fiction). Of course not everyone is nihilistic. Those who are may not even know what the adjective means much less recognize it in themselves. It is the Trump-type of nihilism that leads to ruthless exploitation of foreverwars.

I agree that if one has not fallen into the black hole of nihilism - these days, Marx seems to explain a lot.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 13, 2021 at 3:03:15 AM

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Jill Herendeen

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Couldn't agree more w/ your last paragraph. But surely the plethora of "mass shootings" are psy ops, designed to make Americans "give up their guns"? Because if there's anything tyrants hate, it's an armed populace.

Submitted on Tuesday, Apr 13, 2021 at 6:48:30 AM

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