Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Second Amendment Remedies

It's been mostly op-ed sites and lowly bloggerses who have trucked in the phrase "civil war" so far, and if you'd asked me a month or three ago, I'd have scoffed at the notion. 'murkins are simply too fat, lazy, spoiled, complacent, etc. And when students of history, whether amateur readers or academic researchers, go back and chronicle the happenings of this or that war, they tend to need a catalyzing incident and/or person, in order to outline and centralize their thesis or book. The assassination of the archduke, that type of thing.

So it makes sense that the natural temptation for real-time corporate and citizen journos will be to portray James Hodgkinson as some sort of modern-day Gavrilo Princip, rather than as a fool with a violent history who espoused "progressive" sentiments and hopefully died knowing that he did far more harm than good to whatever it is he purported to care about.

This is how it always rolls -- when a "conservative" wingnut commits a heinous crime, it's always the work of a lone psychopath; when a professed "liberal" does something, it broad-brushes everyone who might fall remotely under that broad umbrella. As this generation's Iran-Contra hearing continues to distract everyone to its ultimate conclusion of futility (and maybe a lowly minion taking it in the ass for Dear Leader), while they sneak in a DOA turd of a health bill and try to gut Dodd-Frank under cover of darkness, this event will simply add more fuel to their bullshit, at least among themselves.

How soon they forget about Sarah Palin putting a couple dozen congress-critters in cross-hairs, and getting one of them shot (along with nine dead, including a little girl) in a supermarket parking lot. Not to mention how their current hero stoked the worst sentiments in the undercurrent of this country, empowered the worst sort of angry rube. It should not be too surprising that angry rubes on both sides might get worked up and motivated to action by this constant puke-funnel. A lot of people are pissed off about a lot of different issues, and the scary fact is that most of them at least have a point about something. And no one is actually doing anything about any of it.

So looking around for a catalyzing event to symbolize the beginning of a "new" or "second" American civil war is just a parlor game. After reading, listening, observing, and thinking way more about this shit than any rational person should, it seems to me that the Civil War really never ended for a larger segment than the majority of citizens had assumed. Not just the unreconstructed neocon assholes fawning over their racist monuments and two-ply surrender flags, but even the rest of us who've made cultural assumptions and stereotypes (not without plenty of justification, mind you) along the way.

The blame is certainly not mutual -- we are right about the causes and effects of the original civil war, and they are wrong for continuing to deny reality and uphold their long-lost cause -- but the ongoing conflict has been there the whole time, all the same. It occasionally takes a break, goes into hibernation when there are issues that unite the nation (WW2, space program), shape-shifts a bit, but always resurfaces sooner or later.

I've said it many times before, but it bears repeating -- people got excited the most about bumptious candidates like Bernie Sanders and Fuckface Von Clownstick because they were the only two candidates out of the whole lot that spoke with some passion about the people in this country who were left out of the economic "recovery," whose elected representatives stopped being responsive to such issues long ago, because they were too busy selling out to the outsourcers and the insurance grifters.

The elite who own the country, the political system, and the corporate media have a vested interest in keeping us pitted against each other, but they are becoming either messier or more indifferent with the balance they attempt to strike. Most likely, they've collectively decided that between their greed for more and more and ever more, and the mighty PR machine which works quite well at selling outrage to all, they can simply keep us at each others' throats, and away from their own.

This bipartisan tableau of the perpetually screwed-over serves as the backdrop across which various smaller recent catalyzing events have played, mostly around the issue of young, unarmed black men being shot unnecessarily by white police officers, and the complete lack of accountability for such actions. That, along with a black president, easily recharged the old racially-based frustrations and grievances that the wealthy and disconnected preferred to pretend had been extinguished.

It's not that this morning's shooting is nothing, it's that it's nothing new. It's a small point of irony and good fortune that Steve Scalise's leadership position as majority whip comes with a security detail, or this could have been a real full-on massacre. We have collectively decided that apparently there is no conceivable middle ground between preventing crazy people from owning dangerous toys and absolute gun control, the latter of which is a logistical impossibility. There will be another one, and another one, and many many others. There will be shootings perpetrated by old people, young people, white, black, Arab, Christian, Muslim, conservative, liberal, atheist, or just plain random assholes with no axe to grind but the urge to quell the voices in their heads.

It is a choice whether to read a broader political context into this or that event, and to react accordingly, and so far putatively conservative politicians and their usual dogsbodies are making the wrong choice. Maybe they should think twice before renting themselves out to the NRA, who like to tout the Second Amendment as holy writ, yet forbid weapons at their own annual conventions, just as their rented politicians banish weapons from the hallowed halls of minarchy. Maybe they should think a third time about running their mouths about what people are saying, and the incitements to violence implicit in such assertions, because there will be another event, and sooner or later it will be a RWNJ, as they say on the internets.

I think the prognostications of a new more-or-less "traditional" style of civil war tend to come from old-school assumptions about what motivates people and causes violent rifts in societies. It cannot be noted enough that whatever happens in the months or years to come, wherever it may lead us all, it stems from people being economically fucked over, and having no recourse for their troubles. It comes from indifferent politicians colluding with scummy racketeers and laughing all the way to the bank, and then turning around and stoking old feuds with volatile rhetoric involving largely meaningless "social" issues.

The old Clinton nostrum about it being "the economy, stupid" holds true more than ever, as two generations of working-class Americans have watched their lives and futures and communities stagnate and rot. The smarter kids leave for college and never coming back, the less fortunate ones stay around until their jobs or backs give out and they languish in the modern-day opium den, with a phone engineered to hack their brains and addict them further, and a cheap flat-screen teevee that pumps them full of pablum, sound and fury signifying nothing.

I've been very annoyed with the bro-jerking net-twerps like the "red pill" and "MRA" subreddit meatheads, and sites like Return of Kings that feature smarmy tongue-in-cheek listicles on how to crush pussy and talk chicks into giving you head at the drop of a hat. But I do think that John Robb has been on to something with his most recent offerings, that men's traditional roles have changed extremely rapidly, and many of them don't really know how to deal with it. (In fact, you could probably create a mathematical axiom of inverse proportionality between education level and maladjustment.)

It is no surprise that many of these poorly educated young men end up turning to crime as a way to make a living, to hang with other criminals or gangs for some sense of social cohesion, and/or turn to violent acts of what they see as retribution or martyrdom, poisoned by toxic discourse and poor contextual knowledge. "Society" tells them, as it tells all of us, to work hard and play by the rules, and (incremental) rewards will come, even though one can easily find examples of people who do very little actual work, and cut corners and break rules routinely, and are richly rewarded.

What little is known of James Hodgkinson's story so far jibes with that narrative, more or less -- a person of some marginal ability, who eventually felt frustrated and aggrieved by the trajectory of his life and the refusal of the political system to address any of his concerns. That Hodgkinson was 66 years old merely tweaks the usual trope that volatile actions are the province of the young and impulsive.

It's a mistake for anyone of any political stripe to read too much into Hodgkinson as an individual, or his particular actions, not only because of the "unfair" broad-brushing, but because it tells us nothing about why this happened, or why the next one will happen. It does nothing to ameliorate the very real political circumstances that lead the James Hodgkinsons of the country to do what they do -- in fact, it reinforces and entrenches the cynical political postures everyone adopts after these events.

When I was born in 1967, world population was just under 3.5 billion, and the US population was just under 200 million. Today those numbers are about 7.5 billion and 325 million respectively. When any of us break out the old saw about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, these drastically increased numbers are part of the context, as are our collective ramping up in technological capability. In other words, in 1967 the average pissed-off prole would just write a folk song about it and impress some chicks. But now even poor people have smartphones and internet access and satellite teevee and drugs and alcohol, and it is quite easy for someone who is pissed about their lot in life to immerse their brains in toxic nonsense, find some Other to blame, and plan and execute violent retribution in fairly quick and simple succession. The M4 semi-automatic Hodgkinson used costs around seven hundred bucks. Drones are cheap, and recipes for dangerous chemicals and weapons can be found on the internet easily. These too are important features in the backdrop of modern-day 'murka, that when the proles feel like their political system is useless and their vote means literally nothing, and they're tired of living like rats in an increasingly crowded cage, there are options available to them that didn't even exist fifteen years ago.

So what this modern phase of this ever-simmering civil war might entail, rather than large overt military actions, is a bunch of small, seemingly disparate dots across the country, waiting to be connected. It might be the parts of Chicago where cops and outsiders fear to go anymore, with routine violence and nothing resembling a conventional economic system, where even legal disputes are resolved (or not) extrajudicially by whoever runs the block. It might be the remote enclaves of the western states, where large, entrenched clans like that of Cliven Bundy hold sway over certain numbers of people and square miles of land. It might be the Albuquerque of Breaking Bad, with significant numbers of citizens exchanging significant numbers of goods and services and dollars, again handling all financial and legal transactions entirely off the grid. It might be the ceding of large sections of the economy to the racketeers of finance, health care, higher education, and other establishment rackets. It might be the privatization and capitalization and devolution of law enforcement and state services, from privatized prisons to shithole Texas sheriffs shaking down tourists under the tender mercies of civil asset forfeiture "laws," which are really just licenses to steal.

It could even be the dystopic near-future of Cory Doctorow's Walkaway, off-grid post-scarcity powered by advanced 3-D printing, allowing for people to opt out of an increasingly intrusive and overweening surveillance state. Civil war might be characterized at its root not solely by violent interaction between factions, but the longstanding entrenchment of those factions in the first place. As such, active disengagement can be, in a technical sense, as much of an act (in intent, anyway) of civil war as a riot or a massacre or some other such violent altercation. The compounds and redoubts of preppers and survivalists and white separatists have gotten a leg up on this particular dynamic, and all of them have in some respects made their sentiments and intentions known; practically all of them consider the American government as some sort of socially engineered tool of communist betrayal, necessitating a total and clear separation.

All of this is to say that (again) while I don't foresee that classic confrontation most people think of when they hear that phrase, it's clear that there is an ongoing tectonic shift in how this society sees itself, how we see our role in the world, and how we see each other. These rapid changes have been a lot already for people to process and adjust to, and the changes are coming faster, so the reactions are getting more unpredictable and volatile. It will get worse before it gets better; it may never get better, at least not within our lifetimes. We haven't even touched on the inevitable effects of climate change, or the continued societal effects caused by job displacement (automation, commodification, outsourcing, etc.).

It might be something for some politician somewhere to grandstand about some of those very real issues, instead of yanking our collective chains over this "thoughts and prayers" bullshit that they have no intention of ever addressing.

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