Violence and the American Dream

In response to a post by the illustrious philosoraptor regarding the latest documented murders making their rounds on the Interwebs, I expressed the following which I thought I would cross-post (with some modification) on account of its effective conveyance of a general position of mine which I think is perhaps worth hearing:

I’m afraid murders such as these are simply going to happen so long as there are people on the planet.  There’s a whole lot of talk about gun violence and whatnot, but isn’t the real problem that people like this dude exist, and insofar as we grant ourselves liberties, they’ll be around to take advantage of them?

And given the sheer volume of people (318,900,000!) in our nation, it doesn’t seem that surprising that these events occur at their present frequency.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to do anything to further reduce their frequency, but I think we’re at a pretty stable point in human history, violence-wise, here in the USA.  I’m surprised this doesn’t happen far more often than it does.

It’s clear that it takes virtually nothing other than being an intensely angry and irrational person to accomplish this sort of thing.  So…if even one person in a million reaches that level of irrational rage, we can expect to see stories about 3,189 of them.  Sure, control for obvious factors and eliminate children and whatnot, but you get my drift.  We live in a huge society and there is a non-zero probability that people will do this sort of thing.

This isn’t a blanket argument against further regulating weapon ownership or what-have-you, but it’s a fact I fear is often lost in discussions about responses to this sort of stuff.

I remain relatively convinced that the best general policy to be raised in hopes of addressing such psychotic violence in American society is more along the lines of alleviating the general socioeconomic malaise gripping so much of the nation.  I don’t want to run the risk of sounding like a stereotypical Marxist-style reductionist, but if we’re witnessing a hum generated by a section of the population cracking under the pressures of modern society, maybe working to alleviate those pressures as generally and as efficaciously as we can is the best way to go.  It seems like some obvious socioeconomic reform is where we arrive if we follow that line of reasoning.

There’s plenty in desperate need of completion.  We need to end the atrocious and destructive prohibition of many drugs.  We probably need to end the privatization of our prisons and actually take the term “correctional” facility seriously and prevent them from becoming the oft-reported monster factories that they are.  We need to dramatically raise the minimum wage and cap salaries above $250,000 a year or so with a steeply progressive tax.  We need to open our government to its constituents more directly through technology, enabling more direct access to representatives.  We should have government discussion boards with diagrammed arguments, open to all for discussion and advancement.  We have to stop covering the same tired ground over and over, and make actual progress.

And on that note, the current mainstream debate between gun control and mental health support, whatever their merits and demerits, have seemed perhaps unified in the grip of tunnel vision.  We probably need to help people before they get to the point where those kinds of assistance and controls are necessary.

Update:  I happened across this article, whose title of “Study confirms that the US is No. 1 in mass shootings, blames ‘gun culture'” pushes aside the following content of that very article which seems to somewhat verify what I’m talking about:

“…young Americans continue to embrace the ‘American dream’ of soaring financial and educational achievement, of doing better than one’s parents. When such dreams are frustrated, this bedrock belief in upward mobility predisposes some — especially those with a tenuous grasp on mental health — to psychological ‘strain’. In rare instances, severe strain helps forge mass shooters, he wrote.”

Now, I haven’t looked at this study directly, and the author’s conclusions seem the type which could be more-or-less unsubstantiated guesses at causal relationships among correlations, but the manner in which the content of the article which points to socioeconomic strife among Americans as a primary cause of mass shootings is pushed aside in favor of the declaration that “gun culture” is to blame is exactly what I was pointing out above.

This seems flat-out emblematic of US public discourse.  We are stuck in an increasingly plutocratic system pitting gluttonous, downright immoral republicans against semi-aimless, stumbling democrats, with both sides tilling their fields of pander-gained votes.  In Trump, we’re seeing the culmination of the angry ignorance stewed for so long by a foolish republican party mistakenly under the impression that it could control the idiotic fruits of its labors.  In Clinton, we’re seeing what seems a genuinely well-intentioned person fall into a pattern of apparently deceitful behavior as the political system slowly convinces her that underhandedly dodging regulatory constraint is the only way forward.

Novus Homo vs. The Capitalist Machine

I dream of being put in a position to fix this.  I don’t know exactly how it would be done, but I don’t think such specific knowledge is necessary, to be honest.  Specific solutions require the effort of many people, and pretending to have those answers as a single person is nonsense.  What I do know is this:  we need someone of genuine moral character.  We need someone who is actually led by fidelity to rational moral obligation.  We need someone whose life has not been lived with the sole purpose of gaining economic and/or political power.

But, as America continually leaps and bounds towards plutocracy, with businesses granted the same protections and rights as individuals, and the expenditure of money increasingly protected as though equal with speech, the barriers to this are obvious.  It is so sad to think that the American Dream has come to this, with the likes of Trump actually leading the polls in one of the only two political parties with any real chance of landing the top candidate in the presidency.  He stands for all those ignorant jerks in America who yearn for the day unimaginable wealth might grant them the power to ignore all those who would decry or restrain their asinine behavior.  They worship the exertion of power, unmitigated by even the most rational of considerations, and to them, Trump is thereby a hero.

It is no surprise to me that the republican party has produced this, for it is almost entirely on their account that America has been consistently pushed towards a corrupt plutocracy over the last two decades.

So while I would love to serve, the sad fact is that the acquisition of a certain level of wealth by any means (inheritance, in Trump’s case) suffices to earn outrageous wealth beyond one’s wildest dreams.  Short of accomplishing that initial feat, one is far less likely to rise to prominence in our modern political system. It’s not impossible, and we need look no further back in history than our current president for that proof, but it is doubtless that wealth is a perhaps unparalleled help in obtaining whatever one desires.  As such, and with our country’s income disparity, we live in a country very distinctly and deeply divided between those of unprecedented, near-invulnerable riches who are granted access to political and economic power thereby, and those who are subject to such political and economic power, generally unable to do much beyond verbally annoy those who exert it.

As proof of the near-perfect invulnerability provided by that certain level of wealth in our society, I offer Trump’s own history; despite his cavalier nonsense and inept mismanagement of resources, he managed to invest so much money on behalf of other people that his investors could not afford to allow him to fail. Where any man wielding less wealth would have been stripped of all he owned and tossed into the gutter, Trump was bailed out and stood back up, basically forced into success.

It’s that simple.  Being wealthy to the extent of Trump or others like him is virtually impermeable insulation from personal ruin.  It enables the possessor of such wealth to offer very little to society while living in such luxury as to be utterly unprecedented in human history.  Through no real effort of their own, they are able to maintain and expand absolutely staggering wealth.  As one economist has recently observed, Trump could’ve reached even beyond his current level of wealth by merely investing in unmanaged index funds, sitting back, and watching the money roll in.

That’s it.  Take daddy’s millions, put it in index funds, become a multibillionaire.  That is all a millionaire must do to have virtually guaranteed and nearly endless wealth.

I, along with other members of the American middle class, on the other hand, must read thousands of pages of IT books, strive to complete certification examinations, perform consistently above expectations in my professional duties, navigate all the interpersonal intricacies of the modern workplace, all while tending to my own familial and personal duties outside of the workplace.   For this, I am rewarded with a net worth around 1/ 125,000th of Trump’s.

He has 125,000 times as much wealth as I, a hard-working member of the American middle class.

How can any avoid the conclusion that our economic system is an utter disaster?

We need to flatten our society’s hierarchies in every way.  We need to make citizens of this nation as equal as possible.  As I wrote above, we need to effectively cap salaries with a steeply progressive tax and dramatically increase the minimum wage.  We need to implement a forceful inheritance tax that prevents the undeserving from being born into luxurious ease.  I’m not against the notion that certain individuals may be rich on account of their merit, but I am against the preposterous levels of disgusting gluttony on display by Trump and those like him.  That 1% of the nation commands 50% of its economic resources is the most revolting fact about our society which I know.  It’s got to be changed.  There is simply no way to rationalize this distribution of resources.

And when people argue that this removes incentive for good work, beyond pointing out that no one deserves to be valued at 125,000 times that of someone such as myself (nor can such valuation be held as necessary incentive for good work), I respond that I don’t want those for whom outrageous wealth is the only incentive to do good work to be anywhere near positions of power.  We should, as a society, seek to eliminate that incentive as much as we can, funneling those whose hearts are not interested in good work away from those systems of good works whose value is too great to be subjected to the abusive hands of the corrupt, interested only in their personal gain.

This country needs another Theodore Roosevelt.  It needs a bold, heroic figure to stand at the helm and move it on behalf of those who are trampled by the iniquities of modern society.  The entire purpose of society should be to encourage and enable the full development in liberal artistry of every human being who lives therein.  As we watch our universities turn into vocational schools, as our lives are increasingly taken over by the economic machine whose control is increasingly put into the hands of the inordinately rich, we need to take action.

We delay only to our own detriment.

Fortunately, though this is another post for another day, while Marx seems to have thought violent revolution a necessity in the overthrowing of such entrenched capitalist oppression, it looks to me like the free and open source development of software and hardware continues to deliver the world’s modes of production squarely into the hands of the laborers of the world.  As this technology progresses, the communist ideal of autonomous laborers democratically managing the world’s resources seems to me more and more inevitable.

It’ may well be a sort of cyberpunk distributivism that saves us, and this gives me great hope, actually.

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