• $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • other
  • use Paypal

CALLING ALL COUNTERPUNCHERS! CounterPunch’s website is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. We are supported almost entirely by the subscribers to the print edition of our magazine and by one-out-of-every-1000 readers of the site. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners to the “new” Cuba. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads or click bait. Unlike many other indy media sites, we don’t shake you down for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it. So over the next few weeks we are requesting your financial support. Keep CounterPunch free, fierce and independent by donating today by credit card through our secure online server, via PayPal or by calling 1(800) 840-3683. Note: This annoying box will disappear once we reach our fund drive goal. Thank you for your support!


The Variables of Violence


Can anything be said in the wake of the most recent murderous eruption, this time in Aurora, Colorado?  On one hand, many people jump forward quickly with new laments, calls for greater gun control, appeals against such control, and frankly, everything we’ve heard so many times before.  Others, on the other hand, are offended by the very idea that we would try to answer the question of why such violence occurs.  To suggest that explanations might exist, seems, for them, a move toward affixing blame somewhere close to their own values, interests, and lifestyles.  They are people who tell us that murderers alone are to blame for murders.  Period.  This view is a preemptive strike against calls for, and criteria of, accountability and moral maturity.

I believe there are six variables that exist in unique combination in the United States that collectively make gun violence the national disgrace it has become.  These variables are closely related, but distinct.  Together, they form a deadly cocktail of death and grief.   We have a freakishly high rate of ownership (still more guns than people) compared to all societies not engaged in explicit sub-state war.  Guns are also bizarrely easy to acquire in the U.S.  The majority of Americans want better (and yes, this means “more”) gun control.  NRA “leaders,” the radical zealots and rhetoricians who pull us deeper into a culture of death, are out of step with the country.  The bumper sticker reads, of course, “Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.”    But the other one reads with equal truth and clarity, “As a matter of fact, guns do kill people.”  I don’t know about you, but I would rather have a psychopath coming at me with a bat or knife, than a gun.   I’d even prefer facing a sidearm with a small clip instead of a military assault weapon.  This commonsense may be coming more common, the NRA-inflicted radicals notwithstanding.

Second, we not only live in a society with many guns and easy access to them; but we are embedded in a culture that tells us—daily—that guns have a glorious history of serving as problem-solving tools, and that violence is often needed to solve our problems.  The United States is infamous for its violence.  We have prosecuted, joined, and promoted many wars in our short history, we lead the world in arms manufacture and trade, we spend nearly as much on our military than does the rest of the world combined, and we have approximately 1,000 military installations outside the U.S. around the globe.  It is embedded into our collective consciousness that guns solve problems, and that we Americans are a pragmatic, problem solving, “can do!” people.

Third, and much related to the variable above, we valorize violence.  Violence not only solves problems, so our teachers, textbooks, memorials, and politicians tells us—we engage in particular forms of glorification of violence (it is one thing to use a tool, it is another to glory in its use).  I invoke the Hebrew and biblical concept of “glory” which at its core means “presence.”  We make violence present to ourselves in various ways, where that presence is not one of lament, necessity, risk, or regret; but is characterized by celebration, even fun.  Much has been written about this, little unpacking of the point is necessary.  Video games.  Movies.  Television.  Stories of heroism and sacrifice in our national myths.  Chris Hedges has reminded us powerfully that War is a Force that Gives Us MeaningPolitical theorists and actors have known since antiquity that a powerful way to forge unity in a tribe or society is to identify, and monger fear about, a common enemy.  This simply makes us feel better about ourselves.  And back to video games, it is no surprise that the young people sitting behind consoles in the U.S. with joysticks in their hands, guiding drones in their murderous missions, are operating equipment designed to look and feel just like the toys they grew up playing.  Blurring the line between virtually killing people and actually killing them is just one way our taxes have gone to work.

Fourth, we are (and perhaps increasingly so) a culture of anomie.  Christopher Lasch wrote about our culture of “diminishing expectations,” and Walker Percy told us, upon publishing The Thanatos Syndrome, that precisely because we can walk into any bookstore and find shelves of “life-affirming” books, we should know that there is very much death around us.  We Americans are increasingly desperate, depressed, distracted, and drifting.  We handle our malaise through various forms of sedation, entertainment, and violence turned both inward and outward.   In a word, we are less happy and less able to cope than most other peoples who live above desperate poverty.  Columbia University’s 2012 World Happiness Report ranks the U.S. as the planet’s 23rd happiest country (since we tell ourselves that happiness is purchasable, and we’re the world’s richest country, our unhappiness reveals the lie of consumerism=happiness).

Fifth, we are a culture of fear.  We are fear-based creatures as surely as we are carbon-based.  Read Genesis 3, the primordial Legend of our Fall, and notice how animated by fear our first parents were.  Notice the central role given to our fear in the construction of Hobbes’s social contract in his seminal Leviathan.  In its current iteration, the Republican Party is most fundamentally, the Party of Fear.   In the GOP, fear comes before and runs deeper than commitment to fiscal sanity, easily demonstrable by the strident call for spending cuts everywhere except ‘defense’.  Fear generates disillusionment, dismay, and destruction.  It births resentment, anger, bigotry, tribalism, xenophobia, greed, and various centrifugal and centripetal forms of ugliness.  In this time of economic insecurity, and loss of hope in authorities and institutions, those on the right constantly tell us how fearful we should be, and their calls to fear are too often obeyed.

Last, in our society, as in all others, are found many persons who suffer from mental, psychological, and emotional deficit.  Here, as elsewhere, many live lives marked by pathology, dis-ease, dis-integration, and various kinds of mental, emotional, and spiritual loss.  Many are dysfunctionally lacking wholeness and health.

These variables are closely related, and in certain combinations, bring direct violence into our lives through the agency of guns.  Millions of mentally ill persons do not conduct random violence as we saw in Aurora.  Other societies have loose gun laws and high levels of gun ownership.  We can go through the variables and find other places where some of them are pronounced.  But they all seem substantively or robustly present in the U.S., and uniquely so.  This is, tragically, what is never said in the wake of a Columbine, Jonesboro, Virginia Tech, Tucson, or Aurora—let alone in regard to the ordinary violence that plagues us, especially in our urban centers, daily.  These spasms of murderous violence are the tip of an iceberg.  But what gives rise to the spasm is structure and system—what peace and conflict scholars call structural or indirect violence.  These variables are structural and systemic.  Of course an individual shooter is to blame (in some ways, depending on his mental health).  But there is plenty of blame to go around.  When a shooter enters a theater and kills, he must be held accountable, but let’s not pretend we have nothing to do with it as a culture.             

Michael Minch teaches Peace Studies at Utah Valley University.

October 13, 2015
Dave Lindorff
US Dispatched a Murderous AC-130 Airborne Gunship to Attack a Hospital
Steve Martinot
The Politics of Prisons and Prisoners
Heidi Morrison
A Portrait of an Immigrant Named Millie, Drawn From Her Funeral
Andre Vltchek
Horrid Carcass of Indonesia – 50 Years After the Coup
Jeremy Malcolm
All Rights Reserved: Now We Know the Final TTP is Everything We Feared
Omar Kassem
Do You Want to See Turkey Falling Apart as Well?
Paul Craig Roberts
Recognizing Neocon Failure: Has Obama Finally Come to His Senses?
Theodoros Papadopoulos
The EU Has Lost the Plot in Ukraine
Roger Annis
Ukraine Threatened by Government Negligence Over Polio
Matthew Stanton
The Vapid Vote
Mel Gurtov
Manipulating Reality: Facebook is Listening to You
Louisa Willcox
Tracking the Grizzly’s Number One Killer
Binoy Kampmark
Assange and the Village Gossipers
Robert Koehler
Why Bombing a Hospital Is a War Crime
Jon Flanders
Railroad Workers Fight Proposed Job Consolidation
Mark Hand
Passion and Pain: Photographer Trains Human Trafficking Survivors
October 12, 2015
Ralph Nader
Imperial Failure: Lessons From Afghanistan and Iraq
Ishmael Reed
Want a Renewal? Rid Your City of Blacks
Thomas S. Harrington
US Caught Faking It in Syria
Victor Grossman
Scenes From a Wonderful Parade Against the TPP
Luciana Bohne
Where Are You When We Need You, Jean-Paul Sartre?
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The US Way of War: From Columbus to Kunduz
Paul Craig Roberts
A Decisive Shift in the Balance of Power
Justus Links
Turkey’s Tiananmen in Context
Ray McGovern
Faux Neutrality: How CNN Shapes Political Debate
William Manson
Things R Us: How Venture Capitalists Feed the Fetishism of Technology
Norman Pollack
The “Apologies”: A Note On Usage
Steve Horn
Cops Called on Reporter Who Asked About Climate at Oil & Gas Convention
Javan Briggs
The Browning of California: the Water is Ours!
Dave Randle
The BBC and the Licence Fee
Andrew Stewart
Elvis Has Left the Building: a Reply to Slavoj Žižek
Nicolás Cabrera
Resisting Columbus: the Movement to Change October 12th Holiday is Rooted in History
Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria