FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

On Drones, James Holmes, and Concentrated and Diffused Violence

by ELLIOT SPERBER

In the aftermath of the most recent mass murder in the United States, the killing of twelve and the wounding of dozens of innocent moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, one hears repeated expressions of bewilderment.

Beyond the calls for the execution of the perpetrator, and the pronouncements of his apparent insanity, beyond the stories of grieving families, the calls for stricter gun control laws, and pronouncements of sympathy for those suffering in Colorado, one sees above all the search for some type of explanation. People want this tragedy to make sense somehow, to understand it, and to thereby regain some measure of control over the situation and return to normalcy. The norm, of course, is the problem in the first place.

One unfolding story recounts the efforts of police to enter the killer James Holmes’ apartment. Believed to be booby-trapped, police hope to find clues among his effects that point to Holmes’ motive. Once revealed, his motive can be regarded to some degree as the cause of the event. If such is the case, the cause can then be dismantled and order can be restored. But such is not the case. James Holmes is not the sole cause, or effect, of this violence, for this violence is not confined to Aurora, Colorado.

Once regarded as extremely anomalous, these mass killings now seem to occur somewhere in the U.S. every few years. And while these mass killings are notable for their concentrations of violence, to understand them it must not be overlooked that they arise from a social context in which violence, while often diffused and less dramatic, is nevertheless normal in this country. Beyond the mere representations of violence that one encounters in art and pop culture, which often are treated as scapegoats, daily life in the U.S. is organized according to degrees of pressure that amount to systematic, physical and psychological violence.

Among the calls for heightened gun control laws, it should be pointed out that far more lethal things than guns permeate our society. While it is widely recognized that these things cause vastly more harm than guns, for some reason the violence and death they wreak is considered somehow legitimate and acceptable. As such, even though car accidents, to focus on one quotidian example, daily produce on average numbers of fatalities that are the equivalent of the fatalities of six or seven Aurora-sized mass murders – and these occur every single day of every year – very few talk about initiating any type of ‘car control.’ Such a suggestion would most likely be met with ridicule and dismissed as unrealistic.

Traffic deaths, it will be pointed out, are distinct from gun deaths in several key respects. Among other things, the former are considered to be mere accidents while the latter are seen as intentional and, are therefore thought to be more egregious. A closer look, however, reveals that the relationship concerning intent is to some degree the reverse. On the level of policy making, for example, traffic deaths are, if not intentional, at least foreseeable, and could be prevented by specific policies, e.g. maximum speed limits of something like 10 miles per hour. Mass killings, on the other hand, though they may be committed intentionally by murderers, are, on the level of policy, less foreseeable and, as such, less preventable.

When one adds to the number of traffic fatalities the thousands who die annually of heart disease and cancers caused by traffic pollution – not to mention those who are injured in the oil extraction and production industry, including its military dimensions – the number grows substantially. These deaths, however, arise from violence that is even more diffused and, so, elicit minimal outcry, if any. But the fact of the matter is that these deaths occur not by accident so much as by a latent, de facto policy that sees such levels of violence as acceptable side effects of our economy’s normal functioning.

A profoundly significant aspect to the distinction between concentrated and diffused violence is the role the mass media plays in presenting information. Indeed, we largely see the world through this mediation. And the violence involved in a given story may be concentrated further or diffused further depending on the manner in which the story is framed. For example, the United States carries out regular drone attacks on targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen, among other places throughout the world. That many of these drone attacks kill civilians, causing just as much destruction and death as James Holmes’ recent mass murder, are well-documented. Indeed, photographs of the shocked and traumatized people grieving in the immediate aftermath of these respective atrocities are remarkably similar. And it leads one to wonder whether it is not merely coincidental that the same culture that produces unthinking, unfeeling killing machines like drones, also produces unfeeling killers like Holmes. However, while the news industry concentrates a great deal of attention on the killings in Aurora, further (psychologically) concentrating the (physically) concentrated violence there, there is no comparable psychological concentration of the physically concentrated violence inherent in drone strikes. Rather, the relatively meager attention devoted to drone strikes serves to diffuse the physically concentrated violence involved, and rationalizations for their deployment diffuse the violence even further.

None of the above should be construed as providing any sort of justification for the gross horror of James Holmes’ acts. Indeed, if there is anything to be learned at all from these murders it is perhaps that in general people are disgusted by violence in all of its manifestations. To be sure, in many respects it is only by way of complex ideological socialization and disinformation processes – further forms of diffusion – that this disgust of violence becomes disfigured from a rejection to an acceptance of violence. Those pronouncing their eagerness for a return to normalcy must recognize that this violence, both concentrated and diffused, is the norm.

Elliot Sperber is an attorney, writer, and contributor to hygiecracy.blogspot.com. He lives in New York City, and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com

Elliot Sperber is a writer, attorney, and adjunct professor. He lives in New York City and can be reached at elliot.sperber@gmail.com and on twitter @elliot_sperber

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 22, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Good as Goldman: Hillary and Wall Street
Joseph E. Lowndes
From Silent Majority to White-Hot Rage: Observations from Cleveland
Paul Street
Political Correctness: Handle with Care
Richard Moser
Actions Express Priorities: 40 Years of Failed Lesser Evil Voting
Eric Draitser
Hillary and Tim Kaine: a Match Made on Wall Street
Conn Hallinan
The Big Boom: Nukes And NATO
Ron Jacobs
Exacerbate the Split in the Ruling Class
Jill Stein
After US Airstrikes Kill 73 in Syria, It’s Time to End Military Assaults that Breed Terrorism
Jack Rasmus
Trump, Trade and Working Class Discontent
John Feffer
Could a Military Coup Happen Here?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Late Night, Wine-Soaked Thoughts on Trump’s Jeremiad
Andrew Levine
Vice Presidents: What Are They Good For?
Michael Lukas
Law, Order, and the Disciplining of Black Bodies at the Republican National Convention
Victor Grossman
Horror News, This Time From Munich
Margaret Kimberley
Gavin Long’s Last Words
Mark Weisbrot
Confidence and the Degradation of Brazil
Brian Cloughley
Boris Johnson: Britain’s Lying Buffoon
Lawrence Reichard
A Global Crossroad
Kevin Schwartz
Beyond 28 Pages: Saudi Arabia and the West
Charles Pierson
The Courage of Kalyn Chapman James
Michael Brenner
Terrorism Redux
Bruce Lerro
Being Inconvenienced While Minding My Own Business: Liberals and the Social Contract Theory of Violence
Mark Dunbar
The Politics of Jeremy Corbyn
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Why It’s Just Fine for U.S. to Blow Up Children
Binoy Kampmark
Laura Ingraham and Trumpism
Uri Avnery
The Great Rift
Nicholas Buccola
What’s the Matter with What Ted Said?
Aidan O'Brien
Thank Allah for Western Democracy, Despondency and Defeat
Joseph Natoli
The Politics of Crazy and Stupid
Sher Ali Khan
Empirocracy
Nauman Sadiq
A House Divided: Turkey’s Failed Coup Plot
Franklin Lamb
A Roadmap for Lebanon to Grant Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon
Colin Todhunter
Power and the Bomb: Conducting International Relations with the Threat of Mass Murder
Michael Barker
UK Labour’s Rightwing Select Corporate Lobbyist to Oppose Jeremy Corbyn
Graham Peebles
Brexit, Trump and Lots of Anger
Anhvinh Doanvo
Civilian Deaths, Iraq, Syria, ISIS and Drones
Christopher Brauchli
Kansas and the Phantom Voters
Peter Lee
Gavin Long’s Manifesto and the Politics of “Terrorism”
Missy Comley Beattie
An Alarmingly Ignorant Fuck
Robert Koehler
Volatile America
Adam Vogal
Why Black Lives Matter To Me
Raouf Halaby
It Is Not Plagiarism, Y’all
Rivera Sun
Nonviolent History: South Africa’s Port Elizabeth Boycott
Rev. Jeff Hood
Deliver Us From Babel
Frances Madeson
Juvenile Life Without Parole, Captured in ‘Natural Life’
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail