America's problem isn't its gun culture; America's problem is the mass psychosis which feeds its gun culture and fuels not just the normalisation of gun violence, but exalts it as the sine qua non of the strength and self assertion that informs the nation's identity.
In the wake of the horrific massacre of 28 people - 20 of them children - in Newtown, Connecticut, the world's attention has been focused on America's lax gun laws and of what can be done to try to prevent more massacres from taking place in a nation where such incidents occur on a near-annual basis. And as ever the debate has centred on the association of the right to bear arms with freedom, and the inviolability (or not) of the Constitution's Second Amendment which enshrines the right in law.
But this debate is reductive in the extreme when it comes to the problem of gun violence in a nation in which mothers cannot be sure their kids will come home alive after dropping them off at school in the morning. The more important and relevant issue is the nation's fixation with violence and the over emphasis on material success and status that makes life in America akin to an all or nothing struggle of all against all.
US culture is steeped in the ethos of the winner, the muscular over-achiever who rises to the top by dint of a mammoth capacity for studying, work, and risk taking. Words such as compassion, empathy, co-operation, kindness, consideration are the words of weak people and by extension a weak nation. In America you don't get what you deserve, you get what you take, and in order to take you have to be more ruthless, competitive, dedicated, committed, and smarter than the other guy. The rewards for success are limitless, while the penalty for failure is severe. This after all is a nation in which over 40 million people live in poverty and where the level of inequality between rich and poor is greater than it was during the days of the Roman Empire. And just like Rome, America's empire stretches to every corner of the globe and was built and is sustained by its capacity for violence and destruction on a grand scale.
For, yes, the history of the United States is a history of war at home and overseas. It is a nation founded on genocide, built in its formative years on the back of slavery, and sustained by the lie that freedom and a capacity for violence are two sides of the same coin. Hollywood conveys this message in a diet of movies in which violence and danger are ever present conditions of human existence. Meanwhile, on TV, a plethora of cop shows and crime dramas, many of them painstakingly procedural, paint a picture of a dystopian world in which fear of the bad guys, the other, is real and deserved; in which the weak are constantly preyed upon and where everyone is a potential adversary.
The disconnect between the myth of America and the reality is concealed by a corporate media that has poisoned the level of political debate, which with the overarching influence of various business lobbies, including the gun lobby, is portrayed as a fight to the death between the good guys and the bad guys, those who want to protect your freedoms and rights, including the right to own assault weapons, and those who want to take them away. The rugged individual, the frontier spirit, these and the aforementioned myths underpin a society in which extreme wealth and greed sits comfortably with an overweening and nauseating bible fetish that plumbs new depths of hypocrisy and affectation.
The specific details behind the awful events of last week in Newtown, Connecticut are of course yet to be revealed. What motivated the 20-year-old son of a schoolteacher at the local school in which the massacre took place, with his mother one of his first victims, nobody knows at this point? But the irony should not be lost. This act of mass murder did not take place in a crime infested conurbation such as Detroit, Miami, LA, or New York. It took place in a sleepy, affluent, and supposedly safe rural community. It was not committed by a known criminal or an individual with a history of violent behaviour, but by a young man who by all accounts was shy and nervous, non-threatening in any conventional sense. And the guns he used were owned by his mother, a pillar of the community who doubtless saw nothing wrong with owning and keeping lethal weapons at home, as millions like her across America do.
President Obama spoke movingly to the nation in the aftermath of this latest massacre to take place in an American school. In a speech suffused with genuine grief and pain, the president had to stop to wipe away a tear as he recalled the children who were senselessly slaughtered. He spoke to and for a nation in which the lessons of this latest slaughter will inevitably be lost as the days and weeks pass and the pervading mood returns to one of grim resignation that there are bad people out there who do bad things and that guns do not kill people, people kill people.
Significantly, there is no record of the president grieving over the 168 children who've been killed in US drone strikes against targets in Pakistan, revealed recently in a report carried by the US Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which he has personally sanctioned over the past seven years, nor for the countless and faceless children slaughtered by US airstrikes in Afghanistan during his time in office.
While America's gun culture endangers children at home, its culture of war endangers children all over the world. The inescapable truth is that rather than the land of the free, the United States of America is the land of barbarism and brutality.
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