Sandy Hook Massacre Shows the Descent of Capitalism into Barbarism

Printer-friendly version

The massacre of innocent lives at Sandy Hook elementary school is a horrific reminder that short of a thorough revolutionary transformation of society the spread and depth of decomposing capitalism can only find expression in ever more barbaric, senseless, and violent acts.  There is absolutely nothing in the capitalist system that is capable of offering a meaningful understanding of why such an act could even be conceived, let alone a viable proposal for change:  not in the media, not among the politicians, whether left, right, or center, and not among the academic talking heads.  It is impossible, under the yoke of capitalism, to truly address the problem, and even truly understand how to. In the aftermath of the Connecticut school butchery, as has been the case in all such violent sprees in recent memory, all the different parts of the ruling class have offered an ‘explanation’.  How is it possible that in Newtown, Connecticut, dubbed “the safest town in America” a deranged individual could find a way to unleash such horror and terror?  Whatever ‘explanations’ are offered, their primary purpose is to create a fig-leaf for the ruling class and cover up its own murderous mode of life.

The Right lays the blame on individual agency, effectively suggesting that Adam Lanza’s action can be explained by his choice to allow the ‘evil’ side of ‘human nature’ to take over.  They claim that there is nothing psychological or behavioral in the shooter’s action.  In the words of Nancy J. Herman, associate professor of sociology at Central Michigan University, “Today, the medicalization of deviant behavior has made it difficult for us to accept notions of ‘evil’.  The diminution of religious imagery of sin, the rise of determinist theories of human behavior, and the doctrine of cultural relativity have led further to the exclusion of ‘evil’ from our discourse.”  Accordingly, the ‘solution’ the Right offers to this problem is the revival of religious faith and collective prayer.  This is how the Right dismisses the advances made in many decades of studies of human behavior which can actually offer a window into the understanding of the complex interconnections between individual and society proposed in particular by evolutionary studies of human social and anti-social behaviors.  It is also how the Right justifies its proposal to just lock up those who express a deviant behavior, because they criminalize it by attributing to it a moral nature. 

From various reports we learn that the 20-year old gunman had Asperger’s syndrome, a condition that can lead to social awkwardness and isolation, but there is no connection between the disorder and violence.  It is also the case that only 5% of all gun-related violence in America is linked to any mental illness.  This fact alone should be enough to dispel the widely-held belief that mental illness and violence are mechanically and deterministically linked.  However, this does not mean that Lanza’s behavior was determined by a rational choice, or the choice of doing ‘evil’, as the Right claim.  Also, it does not mean that his action can be understood simply as the act of an individual isolated from the social context in which he grew up. Much attention is given to “profiling” potential shooters when what needs to be done is develop a profile of the society that produces people driven to such drastic measures.  Whatever surveys are used to measure the extent or increase of mental illnesses among the population, they have all gone up dramatically in recent years.  These surveys also show a general decline in empathy in society.   It is a painful irony, and proof of their hypocrisy, that while the bourgeoisie talks about gun control, they are also deploying in Turkey, thinking about keeping China in check, and also continue to encircle Iran. The nature of violence cannot be understood divorced from the social and historical context in which it is expressed.  Mental illnesses have existed before, but it seems their expression has reached levels of paroxysm in a society under siege by an 'every man for himself' mentality, the loss of social solidarity and empathy, and even the weakening of the most basic human interaction.   People feel they have to 'protect' themselves against...against who? Everybody is a potential enemy, and this is an image, a belief reinforced by the nationalism, militarism, and imperialism of the bourgeoisie.  Yet, the ruling class poses as the guarantor of ‘rationality’ and carefully skirts the issue of its own responsibility in the spread of anti-social behavior.  This is perhaps clearest in cases when the United States Army court-martials soldiers who engaged in acts which are considered ‘atrocious’—and which certainly are—as with Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who went on a rampage and killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan, at least nine of whom were children. Never mind Bales’ use of alcohol, steroids and sleeping aids to soothe his physical and emotional pains, and the fact that he was deployed in one of the most intense battlegrounds in Afghanistan for the fourth time.

If media and games violence teach or reinforce the value that fighting - even killing - is an acceptable way to resolve a conflict, they are not the source of anti-social behavior, as many on the left like to point out.   It is both the competition embedded in capitalist mode of functioning and its militaristic expressions which inform the content of the media and video games. When children grow up in a culture that celebrates fighting and violence as an acceptable way to win, and when society teaches that one must win at all costs, they are highly likely to acquire those ‘values’. These ‘values’ exist pervasively under capitalism all over the world, and what we see in the media and video games is just a reflection of this. Violence is not an American prerogative, even if it can be argued that gun violence is particularly pernicious in this country.  It is true that with less than 5% of the world's population, the United States is home to roughly 35–50 per cent of the world's civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison.  It is true that the ratio of gun to people in America is roughly 88 to 100, which is higher than in Yemen, which comes in second.  Yet the prizes for gun-related murders go to countries like Jamaica and Puerto Rico. 42% of the homicides that occur on the planet happen in a part of the world where only 8% of the world population lives: Latin America.  This is not to trivialize the pervasiveness of violence in the United States, but rather to highlight that the context in the present period is one of a society dangerously developing a ‘culture’ of suspicion and fear in other fellow creatures, and a disposition toward ‘every man for himself’ in which murder, rather than human solidarity, becomes the ‘solution’ to differences, conflicts, and personal problems.

This is what lies at the root of Adam Lanza’s mother’s obsession with guns and her practice of taking her two children, including Adam himself, to the shooting ranges.  Nancy Adams was a survivalist.  The ideology underpinning survivalism is that of the ‘each for themselves’ in a pre and post-apocalyptic world.  It preaches self-reliance, or, rather, individual survival, and relies on weapons as the instruments for individual protection and appropriation of vital and scarce resources.  In preparation for the collapse of the American economy, as survivalists believe is about to happen, they stockpile weapons, ammunition, food, and teach themselves ways to survive in the wild.  This type of social psychosis may have been heightened by the recent esoteric predictions about the end of the world supposed to have happened on December 21, with the end of the Mayan calendar, and which many survivalists followed.  Is it so strange that Adam Lanza may have felt overwhelmed by this sense of no future?  Or that he may have perceived children as future competitors over scarce resources that need to be eliminated?  Whatever the actual mental landscape Adam Lanza experienced, it is certain it was not a rational, clear-minded, happy state of mind.

At the time of this writing, it is less than a week after the Newton killings.  The initial vow by President Obama that “This time the words need to lead to action” and that he “…will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this” is already showing up for what it really always had boiled down to be: a political arm-wrestling exercise between two factions of the ruling class that have been at each other’s throats on virtually every social issue for the last decade.   Their divisions are so insurmountable that not even a massacre of these proportions can instill at least a minimum of decency in their diatribe over gun control and the care of the mentally ill.  For its part, the National Rifle Association expresses a paroxysm of paranoia and total irrationality when it proposes that there should be an armed officer in every school in America because “a bad guy can be stopped only by a good guy”.  Schools are already half-way from becoming full-fledged jails and have been so for a number of years.  This insanity does not only show the bankruptcy of the Right’s ideology, but also its total infection of decomposition: in a society that cannot offer viable answers and solutions to its problems, the only possibility is for each individual to be against everybody else. Leading House Republicans, fearing the loss of the NRA’s support,  have already openly restated their firm opposition to new limits on guns or ammunition, setting the stage for yet another legislative battle and drawn out sessions over the Second Amendment.  It is so obvious that whatever ‘concern’ and urge for ‘action’ the ruling class feels is not for the well being and safety of the population, but rather for their own political purposes.  The Left offers the narrative that if only the Right were more reasonable and flexible, it would be possible to pass meaningful and effective health care legislation to better address the needs of the mentally ill.  It would also be possible to reduce the daily bloodshed from gun violence if only the Right could be persuaded.  In this narrative, the inaction over the issue of gun violence in America is the result of the Right’s hardened stance.  It is a sorry fact, however, that there are so many guns privately owned by Americans that any new restriction would do virtually nothing to control any violence.  This was already the case for the eight years between 1996 and 2004 when a ban on assault weapons was enforced in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings.  Even though the National Rifle Association has recently lost some of its clout and its opposition may be slightly easier to resist, Republicans are posed to carry out a long and vicious battle.  And even if there was less animosity between the two factions of the American ruling class, the changes proposed by the Administration amount to mopping up a flood with a Kleenex.  In their disgusting political self-interest, the faction of the ruling class now in power is manipulating the natural horror that the Connecticut school slaughter raised in order to weaken their opposing faction and pass for the defenders of the social safety net and being intent on making preventative service accessible to everyone.  For their part, the Right’s proposes to strengthen the repressive apparatus so that anyone who is potentially dangerous can be locked up. In their vision they see schools as prisons in which teachers become wards and policemen in a public place that needs to be on lockdown.  

It is natural to feel horror and deep confusion at the assault on innocent victims.  It is natural to look for possible explanations of what is obviously a completely irrational behavior.  This expresses a deeply felt need to reassure ourselves that we can have at least a degree of control over our own destiny, that humanity can get out of what appears to have become an endless and ever more extreme spiral of violence.  But the ruling class can only capitalize on the present emotions of the population and manipulate its need to trust in order to channel it into the mythology according to which the state is willing and capable to resolve society’s problems.  Revolutionaries must affirm clearly that it is rather the continued existence of class society and class rule, and the protraction of the relations of capitalist exploitation that are solely accountable for the exponential increase in irrational behaviors and the patent inability to reverse this trend. 

Ana,  21 December 2012


General and theoretical questions: 

Recent and ongoing: 


Gun Massacres in the US