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?

More articles by:

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.

November 21, 2017
Gregory Elich
What is Behind the Military Coup in Zimbabwe?
Louisa Willcox
Rising Grizzly Bear Deaths Raise Red Flag About Delisting
David Macaray
My Encounter With Charles Manson
Patrick Cockburn
The Greatest Threats to the Middle East are Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman
Stephen Corry
OECD Fails to Recognize WWF Conservation Abuses
James Rothenberg
We All Know the Rich Don’t Need Tax Cuts
Elizabeth Keyes
Let There be a Benign Reason For Someone to be Crawling Through My Window at 3AM!
L. Ali Khan
The Merchant of Weapons
Thomas Knapp
How to Stop a Rogue President From Ordering a Nuclear First Strike
Lee Ballinger
Trump v. Marshawn Lynch
Michael Eisenscher
Donald Trump, Congress, and War with North Korea
Tom H. Hastings
Reckless
Franklin Lamb
Will Lebanon’s Economy Be Crippled?
Linn Washington Jr.
Forced Anthem Adherence Antithetical to Justice
Nicolas J S Davies
Why Do Civilians Become Combatants In Wars Against America?
November 20, 2017
T.J. Coles
Doomsday Scenarios: the UK’s Hair-Raising Admissions About the Prospect of Nuclear War and Accident
Peter Linebaugh
On the 800th Anniversary of the Charter of the Forest
Patrick Bond
Zimbabwe Witnessing an Elite Transition as Economic Meltdown Looms
Sheldon Richman
Assertions, Facts and CNN
Ben Debney
Plebiscites: Why Stop at One?
LV Filson
Yemen’s Collective Starvation: Where Money Can’t Buy Food, Water or Medicine
Thomas Knapp
Impeachment Theater, 2017 Edition
Binoy Kampmark
Trump in Asia
Curtis FJ Doebbler
COP23: Truth Without Consequences?
Louisa Willcox
Obesity in Bears: Vital and Beautiful
Deborah James
E-Commerce and the WTO
Ann Garrison
Burundi Defies the Imperial Criminal Court: an Interview with John Philpot
Robert Koehler
Trapped in ‘a Man’s World’
Stephen Cooper
Wiping the Stain of Capital Punishment Clean
Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail