FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Rationality of the Malheur Gunmen: Fighting for the White Future of This Country

by

The Malheur gunmen are not crazy. They act logically out of a long-standing rationality in the United States. And the future of the country hangs in the balance.

The right wing has made increasing noise about the federal government owning lands, particularly in western states like Nevada and Oregon where the feds own 85% and 53% respectively. The complainers argue that government ownership infringes on American free enterprise based on private property. But federal ownership is radically different than private ownership. The feds own this land mostly because its private ownership would be tremendously unprofitable. In other words, federal ownership is a huge subsidy to private interests making profits from these lands. Federal ownership makes private profit possible. The ranchers at the heart of the Malheur conflict, for instance, lease federal grazing lands for pennies on the dollar.

A major aspect of the violent seizing of Malheur, then, centers on the distribution model of these federal subsidies. Should they prioritize the interests of the large resource extraction multinationals? Or should they primarily serve the needs of the manifest destiny frontiersmen? Seen in this way, this is an old conflict at the racist heart of the United States. Poor white men could enjoy their God given right to property through dragging their families into the backwoods and pushing the frontier of the country, therein conditioning the land for eventual corporate exploitation. Communism for white men eventually led to socialism for corporations.

This conflict therein seems to lie between two right wing factions. Why doesn’t the right wing splinter under the pressure? The answer is that the less powerful faction is a well-paid – if not always well-heeled – creature of its much more powerful counterpart. Since the seventeenth century, resource allocation has occurred through white supremacist patriarchal structures, rewarding and reinforcing these cultural practices as the most rational way to succeed. The colonial planter class avoided insurrection while insuring a labor supply through granting small, though historically new, privileges to poor former indentured servants of European origin. The Southern aristocracy upped the ante in a bid to preserve their status during the Civil War. The federal granting of homestead rights to the white trash of the day mobilized this dynamic westward, diffusing post-war tensions by allowing rapacious speculators the lion’s share of spoils. These practices became canonized in law, with some of the more vile rulings eventually repealed – though without compensation for damage done – such as the notorious Dred Scot finding that “Neither Dred Scott nor any other person of African descent had any citizenship rights which were binding on white American society.” Yet some rulings still stand as the law of the land such as John Marshall’s so called Indian Opinions that found, among other things, that white possession of land by whatever means confers ownership.

In all these instances, white male citizenship depended upon the subordination of all other sectors of society. And the upper classes acquired a dedicated, culturally based police force to fight for an elitist structured society. The paradigm holds that white men must boldly fight for their unique entitlements not just as a personal battle for proprietary privileges, but as a patriotic struggle for the benefit of society, preserving the core form of organization that has brought us this far. They therein counter other claims based on distinct rationalities such as equality before the law, equality of opportunity, or scientific inquiry. White women must directly serve this cause, while darker hued folk enjoy the options of bondage, incarceration, or genocide.

This brings us to the armed taking of Malheur. As many others have pointed out, the upsurge in right wing militarism is associated with the relative decline in the fortunes of white men from their more entitled past – lower income, poorer job prospects, even deteriorating health. Rather than a petulant lashing out, however, these actions, while extreme, emerge from well-established and well-structured practices in this country. In other words, these militants are not irrational crazies. Their actions are highly rational. But they are based on a rationality of white male privilege driving the fortunes of the country.

The wellbeing of all but a tiny sector of society has deteriorated over the past forty years, generating diverse forms of discontent. Appeasing armed white men would prove a timeworn solution: empowering shock troops to make all other groups inured to their plight – or at least more afraid of trying to bring change. Indeed, these extremists may have a better chance at success than other groups operating out of different rationalities, such as fairness, equality, or even preserving capitalism. But any appeasement will strengthen the white supremacist rationalities of society. The solution to the Malheur gunmen and their various copycats rests in disempowering them by employing non-white supremacist rationalities to undo the past forty years of inequality and corporate impunity. This is actually not such a huge challenge, with signs of it all around us. Widespread cynicism about change, however, helps empower the status quo. The Malheur gunmen are doing something, are you?

Arthur Scarritt is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Boise State University. He is the author of Racial Spoils From Native Soils: How Neoliberalism Steals Indigenous Lands in Highland Peru.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 24, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Reflections on DC: Promises and Pitfalls in the Anti-Trump Uprising
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Developer Welfare: Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
Melvin Goodman
Trump at the CIA: the Orwellian World of Alternative Facts
Sam Mitrani – Chad Pearson
A Short History of Liberal Myths and Anti-Labor Politics
Kristine Mattis
Democracy is Not a Team Sport
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Mexico, Neo-Nationalism and the Capitalist World-System
Ted Rall
The Women’s March Was a Dismal Failure and a Hopeful Sign
Norman Pollack
Woman’s March: Halt at the Water’s Edge
Pepe Escobar
Will Trump Hop on an American Silk Road?
Franklin Lamb
Trump’s “Syria “Minus Iran” Overture to Putin and Assad May Restore Washington-Damascus Relations
Kenneth R. Culton
Violence By Any Other Name
David Swanson
Why Impeach Donald Trump
Christopher Brauchli
Trump’s Contempt
January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail