Guns also kill people

by metaphysicalvillain

Adorno: “Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men. It expels from movement all hesitation, deliberation, civility […] which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of his engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, pedestrians, children and cyclists?” (Minima Moralia, p. 40)

And man-with-gun is a totally different beast than man-without. buzz...
  1. mouseonthemoon Dec. 15th, 2012

    There is something to be said, perhaps, about how no left solution seems adequate to this problem. With so many other crises — environmental, economic, political, inner city violence, etc. — the left can for the most part offer some clear links between cause and symptom. It’s easy for us to say that legal measures like gun control seem wholly inadequate to address the problems of gang violence (though it couldn’t really hurt). That’s a problem of a long history of dispossession; that’s a structural problem.

    But mass shootings aren’t really a class thing, as far as I can tell. So we are back to legal measures like gun control and appeals for better mental healthcare. But these seem so inadequate. If this guy had had a couple of hunting rifles, he’d still have done a lot of damage. And we know that those are not ever going away here. Obviously our country could benefit from better and more accessible mental healthcare (especially for the extremely poor) and even though a lot of these shooters are middle class, in our country that’s no guarantee that they have access. But mental healthcare is only effective in some cases and only for those who actually seek it.

    So then we are left with something even more nebulous. Some kind of weak sauce claim about the demoralizing effects of modernity? Are we to claim that this is a symptom of a cause that is so diffuse that we barely have a coherent name for it?

    On the other hand, this is like buttered beans for the right. It’s a symptom of moral decline, or individual evil. They do much better when confronted with the problem of the sociopathic individual.

  2. J.R. Dec. 15th, 2012

    It seems the generic argument against gun control after these ‘bloodbaths’ is to cry ‘mental disease’. Somehow, the all-powerful evil of the psychotic, the bipolar, he or she with personality disorder, is capable of manifesting all the destruction he or she wants without the help of technology. Almost seems that the impulse of our country would tend towards some paranoid Foucaultian nightmare where we preemptively imprison all would-be ‘cases’ rather than the most obvious solution: lessen the potential for destruction. As much as this will not solve the problem altogether, it is a matter of numbers and temptation. The harder to access, the slower the rounds, the more difficult it becomes to commit these acts. The way we think about it now, of course, is most beneficial for the gun industry and the prescription drug industry. Keep making guns and keep over-dosing our minds.

    In fact, it seems that the earliest response to all this from the right is to have an armed security guard at every school. Somehow this seems to be a quintessential non-response. Let’s just make sure that the good guys are armed for the bad ones.

  3. Brady Dec. 15th, 2012

    There may be no easy left response to the phenomenon of mass killings, but the much more mundane–and ultimately bloodier–violence that happens in a lot of American cities every day would certainly be helped by ending the drug war and not treating the prison system like a warehouse for people deemed undesirable.

  4. Brady Dec. 15th, 2012

    Also, I wouldn’t give up the class question so easily. A lot of these shooters might be middle class, but that doesn’t mean what it used to mean, if it used to mean anything. It’s probably too vague to say that these shootings have something to do with the “demoralizing effects of modernity.” But it’s probably not going too far to say that the increasingly dire straits in which a lot of ostensibly middle class people live has something to do with creating the situations in which these people snap. Everyone is part of the precariat, though not everyone knows it yet–the contradictions inherent in such a situation are probably more explosive than simply knowing that your life probably isn’t going to be what you thought it was. It’s not hard to imagine why some people lose it.

  5. mouseonthemoon Dec. 15th, 2012

    @Brady. You’re right that we shouldn’t discount class too easily. Part of the difficulty of understanding this phenomenon is that we can’t really discount anything. It confronts us with the problem of using “modernity” as an explanation. One aspect of modernity, in America at least, is a widespread access to powerful killing technology. There is also a growing economic precariousness for the middle class, which can cause all kinds of reactions, violent ones included.

    But my sense is that the left — or maybe it’s just me — is a lot more comfortable explaining violence when it can directly link it to capital: to the systematic poverty of inner city minorities, or to someone who “snaps” and does some unexpectedly violent thing because he or she became vulnerable to the movement of capital.

    But cases like Sandy Hook resist these easy narratives. Here we might be talking about all kinds of environmental factors that are quite possibly the result of modernity and capitalism but maybe also not. In any case the links between cause and symptom become less and less clear and you move into this sort of vague area known generally as “culture” : culture of violence, a culture of youth disaffection, and distraction, and I really have very little of substance to say about that.

  6. J.R. Dec. 15th, 2012

    @Mouse and Brady. Referring back to Adorno, I think one narrative, one cause, which is also symptomatic of ‘modernity’, is the lust for immediate gratification. It seems that the desire to commit these acts is infused with the fantasy of some absolute, cinematic gesture. In this sense, we could hypothesize that such desire spawns from the increasing ‘precarity’ of the middle class. Though almost paradoxically, it is because these people, like the Batman killer, have access to immediate gratification that they seek it in a more definitive way. In this sense, if there is something wanting in these kids’ hearts (do they have hearts?), it is caused by the insufficiency of all the gifts of technology. Not that I blame video games or Hollywood, but it does seem that on a more abstract level, all the playing and watching certainly cultivates the possibility of these acts.

  7. mouseonthemoon Dec. 15th, 2012

    @ J.R. Gun control couldn’t hurt, but I’m wondering why appeals to gun control seem like a sort of forced reaction for the left for lack of anything else to say. It’s partially because there is some truth to the fact that things like this might still happen with the same frequency even with tight gun control laws (though this is maybe a bad, ahistorical argument, since it’s hard to imagine what America would be like without guns). Just yesterday a man in China slashed 20-some school children with a knife, and any ban on guns that is politically conceivable would never ban guns entirely — so there is already an implicit sense that gun control will not stop violence, only maybe mitigate it in some circumstances.

  8. mouseonthemoon Dec. 15th, 2012

    @J.R. I agree that you’ve got to account for the influence of media in someway — there is little doubt that these scenes are cinematic. Fiction opens up a space for fantasy and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But criticizing violence in the media is also something that the left is not very good at. For one, you risk being associated with the moral majority and two you risk seeming like a snob who can’t appreciate the fun of a good action flick.

    It leaves us in a place where we have to criticize “culture,” which is something I find uncomfortable. I would rather just leave culture alone. I’d like to remain neutral on the question of, let’s say, the value of aesthetic value for society. Yes, media are commodified today, but it’s not easy to say how exactly commodification has affected media, and what would change if media suddenly became de-commodified. In a world without social contradiction, it matters little to me if people spend their time playing Call of Duty or studying renaissance sculpture and now I don’t want to have to say, maybe all of this shit IS bad for people…

  9. J.R. Dec. 15th, 2012

    @ Mouse. I see what you’re driving at. It makes me think that somehow the right has more of a grasp on the problem…? They either blame culture or pure evil. I don’t want to speak for the left, because there are obviously enough who don’t speak about this. (Was Obama’s recent “there are too many of these tragedies occurring” a reference to gun control?) For me, it seems like an important pragmatic step and it also, at the very least, constitutes a symbolic gesture of repair. I know that it would be 50 years before there would be any noticeable changes, but let us just say that Adam’s mother hadn’t owned guns, and to get a gun, this kid would have had to go down to some shady alley or something, might this not have prevented him from acting? I think on the slim chance that we could say yes, it is worth pursuing. I do think it is about temptation in relation to accessibility. I also think that a culture that is stricter with gun laws might reconfigure brains a bit, ‘for the better’. I guess these are my lefty dreams.

  10. J.R. Dec. 15th, 2012

    @ Mouse. I wanted to add one note, which is that I do not blame the violence of media. If we could call that the content, then it is the form itself that I am more critical of. You can be lured into the desire for immediate gratification with ponies and talking clouds nowadays.

  11. A.-O. Dec. 16th, 2012

    To inquire into the ‘foundations’ of gun violence is intelligent and necessary. Not to insist on the immediate implementation of gun control is idiotic and dangerous. I agree that the weight of the gesture is significant in itself. It is a matter of breaking a positive feedback cycle that is (i again agree) tied to the lure of total gratification perpetuated by technology and the culture industry–they are indissociable–in tandem. The question to ask is: what is a mother of two living in the lap of first world luxury doing with semiautomatic weapons in her house? In what culture is this normal? Answer: in the same culture in which torture is a part of mainstream discourse.. A mother who owns semiautomatic weapons has already validated their use. Also: I don’t condone shooting anything, but there is a difference between a hunting rifle and a weapon whose design principle is the efficiency with which it terminates human lives. Somebody stick a good comparison of gun violence stats by nation up on this thing…

  12. J.R. Dec. 16th, 2012

    Still trying to figure out how to post it in a comment. For now, I think the Guardian has the right kind of chart:

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