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AUSTRALIAN
MARXIST
REVIEW

Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 61May 2016

Guns, paranoia and social change

Yet another mass shooting in the US. Shockingly, they have become so commonplace that no one takes any notice now unless the body count is extreme. But gun deaths in the US are just that: commonplace. With more than 30,000 a year, how could they be anything else?

Over 30,000 gun deaths a year should be a wake-up call for any society. And plenty of people in the US (including President Obama) are calling for reform of the country’s crazy gun laws. In the heartland of capitalism, however, there are also plenty of people who believe that free access to guns is a good thing. So good, in fact, that they will fight vehemently against any attempt to restrict that access.

The reasons for this attitude are many and varied, but they share one common feature, a feature identified in Michael Moore’s documentary film Bowling For Columbine: paranoia. Americans in general are the most fearful people on the planet. Millions of them believe the end of the world is actually imminent. Millions more are constantly told not to offend their God lest they be consigned to Hell to be tortured for eternity!

Large numbers of Americans are afraid of foreigners (just look at Donald Trump’s rants against Mexicans) and a surprising number are fearful of aliens from other planets. Many are afraid of the United Nations, believing it to be part of a conspiracy to impose “one world government” on everyone. Sinister black helicopters allegedly operate on behalf of these deadly supra-national interests. The “black helicopter” paranoia seems to spring from an innate distrust of their own government and its pervasive intelligence agencies which are known to operate with scant regard for the laws of the USA.

This paranoia is deeply ingrained in popular culture in the US. American capitalism has grown rich exploiting the scientific and technological advances made by the people working in its well-funded institutes of higher learning. However, higher education in the US is restricted to those who can afford it. The wider population in the US is encouraged, in various ways both discrete and overt, to be suspicious of scientists and of science itself.

“Mad scientists” abound in American popular culture. Even the sane ones cannot be trusted. It is rare in American fiction for a sympathetic character to have faith in science, rarer still for that faith to be justified. Only in science fiction programs set safely aeons in the future is science seen as helpmeet and tool of civilised humanity.

So prevalent is fear of “what is coming” in the US, that people all over the country have actually built their own survival bunkers. Once intended to help people survive nuclear war, they are now more frequently aimed at surviving domestic unrest as “social breakdown” looms in an apocalyptic future.

Job security is largely unknown in the US today, so a great many Americans are understandably afraid of the future. In addition, they have lived for over half a century under the threat of nuclear war and neither their policies nor their institutions have been advanced to offset that threat. For Americans, the world’s people are not a powerful force concerned with the common good, but merely an amorphous bunch of individuals all concerned only with advancing their own interests.

This rampant individualism has been assiduously cultivated for decades in opposition to the collective principles that were extolled in the Soviet Union and which accord with humanity’s actual interests. It suits capitalism to have people philosophically isolated from one another, selfishly “looking out for number one” and not caring about society as a whole, for capitalists only get rich by exploiting everyone else, ruthlessly crushing the weaker beneath their feet.

Human beings, however, are by nature social animals. Their instincts are to help one another, to co-operate. This contradiction means that capitalism must constantly dissemble to promote its individualist approach, pushing the idea that individualism is somehow not only natural but “right” and, incredibly, beneficial.

To maintain this fiction, a massive army of propagandists, academics, “think tanks” and journalists is retained by capitalism, constantly reinforcing the individualist line even while life itself constantly demonstrates that it is not in humanity’s interest.

The gun lobby in the US can be seen as the epitome of individualism, promoting as it does the absurd view that ready access to guns makes people safer! The line advanced by the peak gun lobby organisation, the National Rifle Association, speaks for itself in its fatuousness: “the answer to a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun”. It might have some validity if by “good man with a gun” they meant the police. But they don’t; they mean relying on an armed population to shoot it out with the baddies. This highly unlikely scenario is a popular fantasy among gun nuts, who revel in the idea of a heroic “rugged individual” drawing his gun and blowing the baddies away, with cheers all ‘round.

Capitalism is a society built on exploitation, inequality and unfairness. It rewards criminality, and fosters selfishness and aggressiveness towards others. It idolises profit, in pursuit of which it frequently resorts to war. The conflicts and contradictions in capitalist society can – and frequently do – lead to mental health problems on the part of people trying to cope with them.

In the most developed capitalist countries, this has developed into a mental health crisis, exacerbated in the USA by the prevalence of deadly weapons. Desperately unhappy people in other countries who try to end their unhappiness with suicide, will often try to overdose on sleeping pills or slash their wrists. Such attempts are frequently survivable, allowing the sufferer to be treated. But in the USA, where the would-be suicider has ready access to guns, the result is all too often irredeemable – ie fatal. In fact, some ten thousand or more people die from gun-related suicides in the US every year.

A mental health crisis of this magnitude cries out for a concerted, significant response. Capitalism, however, has other – more important – fish to fry. The USA is slowly being de-industrialised, the country’s standard of living is falling, its big corporations are moving their enterprises offshore to more profitable low-wage countries. It is imperative that capitalism keep people from thinking about these matters, or they might begin to question the validity of capitalism itself. Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a serious scare, running on a platform advocating socialism!

American imperialism is intent on gaining control of the world’s major resources – not just energy but also water and food – ensuring its continued domination of the planet. The rest of the world, however, is not prepared to sit idly by and let this happen. Conflict is looming between the USA and the BRICS* countries, conflict the EU will try to exploit for its own benefit.

(*BRICS countries are Brazil. Russia, India, China and South Africa.)

The USA is finding it harder to maintain its vast military machine as its economy declines. To ensure the continued support of the American people – or at least to nullify their discontent – US imperialism’s most valuable tool is the paranoia that has been so carefully fostered over so many years. A frightened populace forgives so many injustices, forgets so many broken promises.

A ramped up “war on terror” has so far served imperialism well. Numerous wars against various “rogue states”, usually co-incidentally energy-rich states, have also helped to consolidate the position of US imperialism while strengthening the image of the world as a “dangerous place”.

And, let’s face it: for millions of people in numerous countries, the world is a dangerous place. Mainly, however, because of imperialism’s many wars, coups, subversions and assassinations. To say to the people of Pakistan or the Yemen that the world is a dangerous place, as they cope with constant US or Saudi drone strikes, is to mock their suffering.

And yet, even as capitalism in decline thrashes about causing death and destruction in country after country, or simply warps their economies so that the majority must unnecessarily suffer disease and hunger, there are hopeful signs of change for the better. Imperialist domination is being seriously challenged across Asia, Africa and Latin America. In Britain and in the USA itself, there has been a resurgence in Social Democracy. Yes I know it is a diversion rather than an answer and can never solve capitalism’s problems. But that is something those people have yet to learn.

In the meantime, thanks to Bernie Sanders in particular, socialism is back on the political agenda of the capitalist world. Revolution is still a dirty word, but millions of people are seriously considering the view that there is an alternative, social system, a system called Socialism. That has to be a good sign.

Whether those people go on to support a revolutionary change in the social system surely is where we come in.

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