To begin, condolences for those who lost friends and family in today’s most recent mass shooting in San Bernadino, California.
The news has not released who the gunmen are/were at the time of my writing. Surely there is already speculation about ISIS or some other Islamic militant group. Perhaps some other group.
There will be those who call (once more) for stricter gun laws and there will be those who say that if people were allowed to openly carry guns, he/she could have stopped the tragedy or mitigated the loss of life.
As in other recent shootings, people may claim such is domestic terrorism and/or those who are responsible had mental health issues.
No matter the case, blame will be placed–there is always room for blame.
Whatever the case may be–terrorism (domestic or foreign), an issue in gun control, or a mental health issue–is beside the point.
The point is, events such as these are all too common.
They are not simply gun control issues, mental health issues, or terrorist issues. They are evidence of significant social problems we have in America. In order to begin to seriously address the issue–which is, admittedly more complex than a blog post will allow–we as a country must accept that as a social problem, such is socially created.
America’s chickens have come home to roost.
Some may say that whoever is responsible fell through the cracks–such a statement is often implied, if not made, in reference to such gunmen.
The fact of the matter is that the system itself is cracked.
The American system.
A system that is cracked eventually falls apart. America is falling apart. And yet rather than putting America before the mirror, we point fingers and issue blame. Such is, of course, not to mitigate those directly responsible. However, in order to adequately address the problem of mass gun violence, we as a country must look squarely at our society, ourselves, and our values.
America is a society that–increasingly since the 1950s and more particularly since the 1980s–is built upon competition. Competition is not relegated to the world of sports or capitalist enterprise. Competition is in education, in the workplace. You name it, competition is ubiquitous in our society.
Why? Because American society has long equated success with morality. Money and possessions are indicative of one’s success. America’s “Social Darwinism,” writes David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead,
“is heavy on the social and light on the Darwinism. It starts with the premise that America remains the true land of opportunity, an equal playing field where everyone has a shot of success. Those who succeed in a big way have proved that they are smart or hardworking or talented; they rightly deserve the rewards given to them…those who fall behind, meanwhile, are often blamed for their own misery” (91)
Well, the premise upon what such Social Darwinism is based is a crock of shit. America is not a land of opportunity; nor is it an equal playing field.
The American Dream is hogwash as the odds of “success” are stacked against most. Competition is the name of the game. In order to be “successful” one must compete. It’s a dog eat dog, sink or swim society, which is
“unique among Western democracies, as is the belief that individuals have so much control over their destiny. Elsewhere people are more apt to believe that success or failure is determined by circumstances beyond individual control. Scholars attribute the difference in outlook to the ‘exceptionalism’ of America, especially to the American Dream ethos that dominates U.S. culture–an ethos once intensely optimistic and brutally unforgiving” (Callahan 124-5).
Callahan distinguishes between what he calls the “Winning Class” and the “Anxious Class.” The haves, that is, and the have nots.
For whatever reason, our society places value on the “haves”and the process of “having.” Accumulating. Accumulating what? Mostly shit we don’t need. But somehow, those who “have” are those our society tells us to look up to.
Winning is, after all everything, isn’t it?
As General Patton said, “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.”
Or as Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
As the odds are increasingly stacked against the “have nots”–the losers–and the poor become poorer while the rich become richer, such only contributes to rampant anxiety.
Anxiety is defined as the fear of the unknown.
As election time approaches, daily we hear fear-mongering.
Anxiety is but one outcome of fear.
Hatred is another.
Anger is another.
Violence is another.
The very structure of American society as it is today (and has been for sometime) instills fear. Might say fear is sewn into the very fabric of American society.
Fear of not-having.
Unfortunately, for an increasing number of Americans, this “not-having” is not limited to not having enough shit they don’t need–it amounts to not having enough to survive with life’s basic necessities.
A system predicated on competition is a system begging for violence.
Such is built into the word “compete” itself which, in coming from the French competer, means “to be in rivalry with.” The French is, in turn, derived from the Latin com (together) and petere (to fall upon, rush at, attack).
To “succed” in America, to become part of the winning class, one needs to go beyond mere competition: one needs to win.
As much as America might portend to be a land of equal opportunity where anyone can achieve the dream, the dream is just that–a dream.
It is not reality.
The reality is that to succeed you need to compete; succeeding requires violence, however subtle it might manifest. The reality is that more and more people don’t even have the opportunity to succeed anymore.
They are the ones just trying to scrape by as the rich as the “government is weak captive of wealthy interests and lacks the will to do justice impartially” (Callahan 263). The inequality that is America “is also,” says Callahan, “reshaping our politics as wealthier Americans get more adept at turning money into influence–twisting rules to their benefit and escaping punishment when they break the rules.”
America gives lip-service to words like “equality” and “opportunity.”
It has never been a land of equality and it has never been a land where people are given a fair shake.
It is a country that thrives on competition.
Competition implies, as it were a breaking. Competition, is a priori, violent. You break down your opponent.
America is breaking apart at the seams.
The gap between the rich and poor is growing.
Racial tensions, in many respects, are at a boiling point.
Yet to achieve the American Dream, our society tells us, we must compete. We must fight against one another.
Is it the American Dream?
Or the American Nightmare?