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Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?

Photograph Source: Evan Nesterak – CC BY 2.0

“The most noxious element of neoliberalism is the reduction of all social issues to personal responsibility.” —Henry A. Giroux

“Violence is one of the most fun things to watch.” — Quentin Tarantino

Have you ever wondered why we [women] are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there’s a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.” —Andrea Dworkin

One has to take pause before writing upon another corporate media manipulated spectacle of violence. Even if one has a distinct thought, any reaction justifies the spectacle itself. Alas, we are here, and our thoughts are our thoughts. To grow up in America and live outside of violence would be impossible. One could be opposed to it, or support it, but it is too much a part of the fabric of America to truly develop a non-violent worldview.

Even in the midst of existential threats to life on earth under the umbrella of climate change, there remains an unparalleled drama to American violence. It is, perhaps, an element of society that the best of us lose interest in quickly. More pressing issues remain—chiefly the violence against the environment by the 1% that threatens life as we know it—and even life as we don’t yet know, but are about to learn.

It is in this context that so-called social issues gain new meaning—and one begins to understand their popular appeal despite their apparent pettiness. The right organizes three elements of white supremacism within a violent patriarchal structure: anti-immigration, pro-gun, and anti-reproductive rights. All three assume scarcity of resources and advocate for a white only state that gives these resources only to white men to distribute to their white families. None address the real reason for scarcity, which is the 1% hoarding of wealth.

Soon, if not right now, an additional scarcity will be added, which will be real. The present scarcity of resources remains mostly an organizational failing. The rich have too much power, and would rather keep their money then distribute resources equally. As a result, people are too poor to buy what they need (or want) despite the earth having the resources to provide it. Climate change will change all of this, and create scarcity that may be real, whether or not the 1% exist in its present form or not. The blame will still lie in the same place, but in this way, our future will be even more hopeless. Even a political revolution may not provide the necessities, but that is no reason not to try.

Such a mentality can easily get one down, and in this context it may be pleasant to remark upon the true miracle of life forming on this earth at all. Humans, while an overrated species, remain in many ways, quite remarkable in our capacity for civilization, even if almost all supposed advancements have been built on the backs of the poor and the environment. All that being said, this current time, while of tremendous peril and uncertainty, and unimaginable horror and grief, remains in many ways, a miraculous one, not because of the polluting technological machine of capitalism, but more so because of the development of the human mind, body and soul, as seen in medicine, art, and elsewhere. It is valuable then to remark on this, even if most of our daily lives are filled with unbearable, unjustified, and tragic suffering.

One has to wonder if the right wing doesn’t believe in climate change when one looks at their position on guns and violence. There must be an assumption that in the coming years, life will become like the apocalypse, and that they must prepare for it. In a way this has always been their position though, so maybe there is no connection with climate change. What it amounts to is a purely selfish world view that assumes that the world is not built on kindness, but on violence, and that when the world breaks down, we will not see radical compassion, but radical cruelty.

While the left is often smeared for green fascism, there is strong evidence to contradict this claim. It turns out that if one values the rights of the earth and animal kingdom and wishes peace upon them, a person would be far less likely to hurt other human beings. On the contrary, those downplaying the violence to our earth seem also to forget the humanity of others very quickly. Note Donald Trump claiming that the best way to stop gun violence is to expand the death penalty.

The paranoia of the right, while always present, becomes self-fulfilling as they promote corporate leaders who have the same values of survival of the fittest. The right may be best prepared for this world, but who on earth wants to live in it? Boris Johnson, upon his recent election said something revealing: the right understands human nature better than the left does. Human nature is a false concept. While there are evolutionary tendencies, it remains astounding how much humans can differ based on socialization, despite the similarities in genes. In that way, human nature can truly be created, at least mostly. So there remains no reason not to be truly optimistic about it, for practical purposes.

White nationalism, based on the assumptions of the right, is an organizing principle. Why race, and not something else? It simply remains the most obvious marker. Much like when sports teams wear different jerseys, race is an appealing marker because the rich can immediately notice who to save from the desert island. No need to ask the people waving for help any question. Simply look at the color of skin, and choose. The modern right loves suvival reality television too, with or without Trump.

In this way white nationalism, in practice, is not a result of mental illness, but of ideology, which could be described as insane, but from a clinical perspective, probably wouldn’t, unless it included personal capacity for violence. This is a mistake, and it says more about our white supremacist establishment then it does about mental illness, or lack thereof.

Donald Trump, and many others have used the phrase mental illness to try to understand mass shootings. As Jeffrey St. Clair observed: “I wonder if Trump will seek out advice from the Sackler Family and the other titans of Big Pharma for how to get those “mentally ill” mass shooters back on their meds. If you want to buy an AK-47, you need to show us your prescription. It’s a win-win, economically speaking. You can help keep the gun industry and the drug companies in business.”

A corrupt clock strikes right twice a day, and it is in this way that it is sort of sweet that the Republican Party has enough compassion for the violent killers that they want to explain their acts in this way, even if they would want to cut off these guys heads afterwards. But a closer look reveals that the myriad of excuses may only be because the Republican Party actually agrees with murder, and therefore seems to understand it. We’ll take compassion and understanding wherever we can get it, but with a boatful of salt when it is only applied for white supremacist killers.

Where is this level of compassion for immigrant families? Black youth? People on food stamps? Endangered Species? Rather than find some systematic problem to explain the everyday struggles of ordinary people, the right always finds a way to blame and judge, in order to punish, and extract. It seems the only way for the Republican Party to begin to feel any sympathy for you is to literally become a white supremacist that takes the ideology at face value, therefore enlisting some fatherly mix of pride, sympathy, and disavowal.

It is in this large moral gap—where Republicans only care about white supremacists—that the Democratic Party could step in and start to care about literally everyone else. Sadly it seems that at least a third of the country is white supremacist, but that still leaves the majority for Team Blue. Alas. the Democrats, rather than considering systematic explanations for the entire country, instead goes the other way and says that there can be no compassion for these people—or anyone else.

If the Republican strategy is to celebrate the powerful and bully the weak, the Democrat response could be the opposite. Instead it remains entrenched in false notions of equity, opportunity and nostalgia for the American Dream. Bernie Sanders may be the only figure who point blank believes in human rights, rather than humans needing to earn rights to be worthy of help from the state. Note that now the mentally ill have become a new category of “marginalized” people meant to be brought into the Democratic Party tent of austerity, war and liberal doctrine.

This is fine, but not a radical response. In politically correct liberalism, words deemed as negative lose their meaning, even when they can be explanatory. Mentally ill is now one of those words. Rather than change the definition of who is mentally ill, the Democrats want to say that being ill is “ok”, naturally implying more pills for Big Pharma. It would be helpful for us to ask who is really mentally ill? Is it the people who do abnormal things under the unbearably alienating and vicious system of capitalism, or is the people who deny their humanity and simply go along with the rules—blaming all the disobedient people simply because they resent their freedom.

Donald Trump has been described as honest. Now he is a pathological liar, but this isn’t what is what people mean, when they call him honest, oddly enough. What Trump is honest about is that he does awful things, but he also is proud of it, and does it openly, even when he runs from responsibility for direct violence. In the same way the mass shooters are honest in their expression of white supremacy, more honest than all of us who rely on international trade and imperialism that keeps the global south poor, or those of us who built wealth on slavery, etc. Honesty then, with a world, this unjust, is not necessarily a positive. Instead, we should aim for irony. It is true that the only way to get a “zero” on true-false test would be to know every answer, but to choose the opposite. This is the sort of honesty we must aim for.

In this spirit we must take issue with both political parties. One who finds a spiritual connection with violent white supremacy as a natural expression of their white nationalist policies. And the other who operates in a purely negative sense, choosing to only negate the most awful elements of the other party, while never flipping their logic on its head.

Democrats should be admitting that yes, white supremacy is a mental illness, and should be addressed in a serious and comprehensive way. But they should also be acknowledging that the Republican Party is not interested in looking at mental illness in anyone but white supremacists.

Those suffering from mental illness are disproportionally poor, female, and people of color. Those suffering from trauma, alienation, and lack of self-worth are also these people. Those who have environmental causes of brain damage due to dirty air, water and food are also these people. Those lacking education are also these people.

To call examining mental illness a cover for white supremacy ignores that white supremacy causes mental illness. Could we do a serious examination of how the marginalized react to trauma in non-violent ways that still involve loads of self harm? Why do we only begin to pay attention to people when they kill others? Is this the only language we understand in America?

Bless Brother Trump for examining the role of video games in our culture of violence. But Andrea Dworkin made an important distinction in her speeches against pornography. She noted that that while most people assume she opposes porn because it causes rape, she saw it as the other way around. It is because we tolerate rape, that we celebrate violence against women on screen. And in this way Brother Trump has to cut deeper and look beyond narratives of personal responsibility that abstracts culture but fails to look at imperial violence.

On a cultural aside, Quentin Tarantino is back at it again, and this is another case where if he wasn’t so perfectly American, we’d be better just to ignore him. This movie looks even more problematic than most of his movies, besides the nazi one and the slavery one, both of which were infuriating. On the one hand, one has to like that someone has split the widening gap of film which seems to be this: Either make a genuine, artistic project that makes no money or make a regressive violent movie that makes lots of money. Now Tarantino is an artist but that’s not the reason he is popular. He is popular because of the violence, just like the rest of Hollywood. The fact that he is also an artist gives him a different crowd than Marvel, but there are a million directors just as talented who won’t get the acclaim. Just as there a lot of violent movies that are worse than his that will make more money, but won’t be taken seriously because they lack the art. In this way, he’s the perfect extreme centrist for our times.

This new movie bashes hippies, so not worth seeing I’m sure. But it could not be worse than Django Unchained which was just a fetish of black violence and extreme racism that could only be justified because the SJW arc of the story completely went against the content. Now if one wants to say the N-word a million times and script a violent thoughtless black guy you can’t do that unless it’s also anti-slavery. This is not to say that Tarantino isn’t engaging with several conflicting themes of American culture at once—this is why he’s interesting enough to write about. But he merely represents the academic side of white supremacy that is dangerous because it takes itself seriously.

As corporate as movies such as Avengers may be, when I went to see there was an old man crying next to me. Weird, maybe. But sweet and sincere. Like the movie was, despite its imbecile nature. Tarantino can’t go there. He very much operates on satire, and is completely post-modern in this way. Everything, ultimately is a joke, even the Holocaust and slavery, and murder. But he always tries to square things up with liberal underdog triumph despite making pornographic violence for two hours.

This is the same reason it was hard to get into Game of Thrones, the television show that is. It remained caught between its two ideals: the liberalism of the consuming educated class and the violence necessary to maintain this superior position in society. So it could give us all the horrible shit we wanted only to make us the good guy in the end once again. When it comes to establishment media though, HBO remains head and shoulders above most in thoughtful content, one has to say.

So, yes, America is suffering from mental illness and societal collapse. We should be investing resources in those poor and brown communities who are denied the services of wages, schools, hospitals, clean air, and stability and community that will help them avoid mental and spiritual collapse. Even the Democrats must begin to acknowledge their failure to think in an intersectional way that acknowledges that it is not only white supremacists who suffer pain, but everyone. Some choose violence and hate to express themselves, but why should we help these people only? Why not first look to those who suffer, but suffer with love, hope and peace in their hearts?

Joe Biden gaffes are informative because they tell us not only what he is thinking, but the thinking of the entire Democratic establishment. When he said that poor kids are just as talented as white kids he may have revealed something. Note that America has been getting poorer and more desperate for many decades but everyone said all was fine until middle class white men became dangerous and angry. It was only then that the establishment began to notice an America in decline. But we would be wise to remember that many of the problems undergoing Trump country: addiction, pollution, joblessness, loneliness, trauma, etc. are also happening elsewhere, and are far worse in these places.

The Democrats, a corporate party to the core, only like to talk about marginalized people in isolation, never wanting to connect people in a human sense and never wanting to focus on the greed of the rich until it effects the people with a voice in this country: the rich, the violent, the privileged. The truth is that most people cry and are unheard. Most people long for love, understanding and dignity but will never make the front page spectacle of violence and despair. There remains hope though: if the establishment can exit the neoliberal framework of personal responsibility for a white supremacist, perhaps one day it too will treat its victims with the same compassion.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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