US Mass Shootings: Gun Issue, Mental Health Issue… War Issue?

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Ahh, the day after a high-profile mass shooting in America: the only time Republicans will ever pretend to care about the mentally ill.

A man, pictured above, killed twelve people with a gun at a California bar yesterday, then turned the gun on himself bringing the total number of dead to thirteen. Like a disproportionately high number of mass shooters in the US, he served in the military. He reportedly suffered from PTSD as a result of his experiences in Afghanistan with the US Marines. America’s war in Afghanistan is the longest war in US history.

We all already know the script by heart now. A loud demand for gun control legislation will come from Democrats and progressives, while conservatives will insist that America’s mass shooting epidemic is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. This debate will rage on impotently for a few days to a few weeks, and exactly zero changes will be made in US gun policy or in mental health care. Happens every single time.

That’s really the only debate Americans are allowed to have about these shootings, and it’s already seeing arguments cranked out by both sides marching everyone into their respective partisan stables. The spectrum of acceptable debate has been narrowed down to two opposing viewpoints which cancel each other out, neither of which will ever come anywhere remotely close to inconveniencing anyone who has real power.

You should always be skeptical when you see a popular line of debate like this. Noam Chomsky said, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

The propagandists who manipulate your society are constantly trying to narrow that spectrum of debate to the point where it’s just empty bickering which poses no real threat to real power. They want you arguing about whether or not Democrats are better than Republicans, not whether the two-party system is rigged for the elite class that owns it.  They want you arguing about Trump’s rude tweets and the hurt feelings of Jim Acosta, not this administration’s persistent advancement of longstanding, world-threatening neoconservative military agendas. They want you arguing about whose speech should be censored on the internet, not whether there should be internet censorship at all. They want you arguing about who is and is not a “terrorist”, a label that is useful only to the government agencies who leverage that word to justify increasing government intrusiveness. They want you fighting to control the position of an on/off switch that isn’t connected to anything.

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. 
“If it entered into mainstream awareness that the powerful people who control the mass media are using it to manipulate the way Americans think, perceive, behave, and vote, trust in those outlets would fall away and the ability to propagandize the masses would be lost. Americans not realizing that they are propagandized is itself a product of propaganda…”
  Of course, not all mass shootings are committed by veterans; two-thirds are committed by people who’ve never served in the military. And I maintain that those shootings are directly related to US warmongering as well.

[The poisonous cultural matrix]
The three most overlooked and under-appreciated aspects of the human experience are (1) consciousness itself, (2) the extent to which compulsive thinking habits dominate our lives, and (3) the extent to which we are influenced by domestic propaganda. American society is saturated in war propaganda, and has been for a long time, to the extent that hardly anyone even notices it anymore. It’s like that old joke about the two fish who are asked “How’s the water?” by a passing duck and then turn to each other to ask “What’s water?”; things like ubiquitous flag worship, intelligence and defense agencies influencing Hollywood movie scripts, the way the mass media consistently rallies in support of every new military campaign while ignoring the endless ongoing nature of old ones; these things are all so pervasively normalized that they don’t stand out against the background much.

But they are very abnormal, and they have real consequences. If we lived in a healthy, peaceful world where wars suddenly started happening, every single person would recoil with horror and do everything in their power to stop it. But because it’s something we’re born into and indoctrinated into accepting as normal, it just gets taken on as a natural part of life, and because Americans happen to live where the western empire concentrates most of its military might, they are the most pervasively propagandized people on earth. So now it just slides right into their minds unchecked when CNN stages a fake interview featuring a little Syrian girl reciting scripted war propaganda, when US media squeals with delight every time Trump bombs Syria, when war criminals like George W Bush are humanized and embraced by his ostensible opposition, the way dangerous new cold war escalations are being continually advanced against Russia while the mass media tells US liberals that Trump is too soft on Putin, to name just a few very recent examples.

If war propaganda didn’t significantly impact the public psyche, nobody would use it. The correlation between mass murder in the US and domestic war propaganda has not been scientifically researched, because the suggestion that domestic war propaganda exists in the US has not gained mainstream acceptance. Anyone who paid attention to western media’s unforgivable facilitation of the invasion of Iraq knows that corporate news media is such a reliable a partner to the US military that it may as well be a part of the military itself, but the first order of propagandizing an ostensibly free country is to hide the fact that that country is being propagandized. If it entered into mainstream awareness that the powerful people who control the mass media are using it to manipulate the way Americans think, perceive, behave, and vote, trust in those outlets would fall away and the ability to propagandize the masses would be lost. Americans not realizing that they are propagandized is itself a product of propaganda.

Lack of scientific inquiry notwithstanding, what else could explain the uniquely American mass shooting epidemic? Surely access to firearms is a factor, but other countries like Switzerland have similarly liberal gun laws without anything like the level of violence seen in the US. Surely mental health is a factor as well, but neither mental health problems nor lack of healthcare is a problem unique to the US. There is nothing like the mass shooting epidemic in the United States anywhere else in the world, nor indeed anywhere else in recorded history. Name me one thing unique to America that could possibly explain its unique mass shooting problem besides the fact that the American psyche is necessarily pummeled with war propaganda day in and day out in order to manufacture consent for US war agendas, and sometimes the mind gets bent so far it breaks.

Again, I am not saying that guns or mental health aren’t factors in this phenomenon, and I am not saying that these aren’t debates that Americans should be having with each other. But the fact that domestic propaganda can undeniably be found throughout the US media and the fact that mainstream psychology is completely ignoring its effects means that there are definitely leviathans moving beneath the surface of social consciousness which have yet to have any light shone on them.


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About the Author
Caitlin Johnstone
is a brave journalist, political junkie, relentless feminist, champion of the 99 percent. And a powerful counter-propaganda tactician.

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Parting shot—a word from the editors
The Best Definition of Donald Trump We Have Found

In his zeal to prove to his antagonists in the War Party that he is as bloodthirsty as their champion, Hillary Clinton, and more manly than Barack Obama, Trump seems to have gone “play-crazy” — acting like an unpredictable maniac in order to terrorize the Russians into forcing some kind of dramatic concessions from their Syrian allies, or risk Armageddon.However, the “play-crazy” gambit can only work when the leader is, in real life, a disciplined and intelligent actor, who knows precisely what actual boundaries must not be crossed. That ain’t Donald Trump — a pitifully shallow and ill-disciplined man, emotionally handicapped by obscene privilege and cognitively crippled by white American chauvinism. By pushing Trump into a corner and demanding that he display his most bellicose self, or be ceaselessly mocked as a “puppet” and minion of Russia, a lesser power, the War Party and its media and clandestine services have created a perfect storm of mayhem that may consume us all. Glen Ford, Editor in Chief, Black Agenda Report 

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6 thoughts on “US Mass Shootings: Gun Issue, Mental Health Issue… War Issue?

  1. What Johnstone fails to mention, and it is a prevalent problem amongst those who try to explain the wave of violence that has always permeated the US social scene is that the country was based on conquest, violence and decimation. It is much like any corporation (under Federal laws in 1776 the country was incorporated under a regime that is constantly replaced to secure a safe basis for the oligarchy), namely that its original character remains in force during its existence. Gun culture is a perfidious part of the US nation’s make-up, like religiosity and xenophobia. Reading early records, one encounters the strong argument that the Judeo-Christian wrathful God has ordained this behavior, which is daily reflected in delusionary propaganda arguments still used by the servants to power. In such a poisonous atmosphere, which is indeed not perceived by the public that lives within it, one can hardly expect a rational solution, despite the many efforts by radical journalists.

    1. Mr Pavimentov makes a cogent case for America’s violent, genocidal genesis being a huge factor in the peculiarly American phenomenon of random mass shootings. That said, we must recall that Western Europe itself spent easily almost 2000 years mired in constant brutal warfare with savage killings on all sides, such violence ignited by the most abject and dishonorable of human motives, the desire for personal and tribal aggrandisement. Afte rthe Roman Empire, Europe produced a series of “empires” grounded in constant internecine fighting and bloodbaths, we call this chapter in human history “feudalism”. The artistic legacy of feudalism, castles, statues, etc., and music make us forget the true horrors of feudalism, but they are there. If anything, the US today, due to the primacy of grotesque inequality is replicating such system, wth Bezos and his ilk the new barons, albeit of a new “modern” kind. Maybe America, assuming the planet lives long enough to see it, will emerge fromt his brutal period into a more “civilised one”, as Europe did (despite the barbaric world wars the ruling classes enmeshed that civilisation), but that is not a good bet in my book, just a possibility.

  2. The variables come raining down when it comes to gun violence in the U.S. It’s one of the prominent issues, along with endless wars and grotesque levels of inequality of all sorts that makes this society exceptional.

    Violence is as American (read U.S.) as both cherry and apple pie, the former being an observation from the fight for civil rights during the 1960s.

    Having written about several gun massacres, and having been in the military and a war resister during the Vietnam era, I agree with all of the links Caitlin Johnstone makes between war, militarism, and gun violence. When a culture of endless wars is “normalized,” and domestic violence and more generalized violence is ever-present, then the connections of a society at war permanently, war profiteering (and domestic gun sales), and machismo, or the frontier ethos, all come into “play.” Mental health is yet another issue and deserves close attention when gun massacres such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School are considered.

    A personal note: One of my students from the community college where I taught was gunned down during a weekend when he returned home for a visit in 2015. He and his friend were murdered near his family’s front door. I don’t think that this crime has ever been solved, but what was remarkable about the horror of this shooting was that the college where the student was a scholar/athlete made almost no mention of his death.

  3. There are still many illusions about the US expressed even by such scholars as Prof. Chomsky as if a better management would cure the social ill. Though individually US citizens are much like other people and display compassion and loving care, as a collective they repair to positions of power and violence. There are great differences with Western Europe, though that continent has over time been as cruel and anti-human as has been recorded since history began, because the human condition appears to be always that of strife and competitive territorialism, from Mesopotamia, Egypt, India to China. Nowhere however has tribalism reverted into the kind of individualistic isolation as seen here in the center of Capitalism which has allowed for a personal anti-social behavior that asserts its rights to be judge and executioner over fellow human beings. Canada and Switzerland which are quoted as having a greater distribution of weaponry over their citizens, retain a sense of responsibility of the individual for the societal whole, a real sense of belonging. Because of its history as a competitive colony for exploiting as it were fallow lands, the US has retained its flavor of intense isolation of each struggler for new land and many individualistic rights do not make for a harmonious whole. It is why propaganda has been developed to tie the populace into a false sense of belonging and why insecure grandstanding is such a basic feature of life in the US. The hollowness of conscience has been well noted by scholars and is evident in much of the speechifying of its governmental flunkies. Nothing short of a renewed sense of purpose i. e. on how to shape a rationally more equal society with the goal of civic responsibility from all towards all, but unavoidably couched in tribal terms will diminish the epidemic of violence that prevails and increases every day.

    1. And that was why the US was such a perfect foil for Capitalism, namely the forced isolated individualism of the struggle for survival in new territories. Despised Europe could mostly protect its citizens from that by its agrarian feudalist tribalism (though there one finds the roots for Fascism), which gave purpose to the so-called nationalist ideal, first propagated by the French revolutionaries. Every US soldier brought abroad to protect US interests is submitted to facing a real shared brotherhood that exists in the freedom fighters defending their lands and which annihilates their feelings of individualized un-freedom. No wonder they collapse emotionally and start doubting the indoctrination that brought them to their beliefs in righteousness, thus causing a violent reaction to what they perceive here as overwhelming general blindness. Veterans are main victims of the national psyche and unfortunately cannot express their insights because of intense conditioning. To try to induce socialism over that mental roadblock, is to recognize that this isolated individualistic competitiveness makes revolutions well-nigh impossible. A revolution in tribalistic consciousness needs to be brought about first, a major but not entirely impossible task.

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