*Mass Delusion, Not Just a Mass Shooting:  The Orlando Massacre & the “Lone Wolf”

 

For the fifteenth time in his presidency, Barack Obama appeared this morning before the American public to express his sadness and shock at a mass shooting.  Just hours before, a gunman, identified as 29-year old Omar Mateen, opened fire with an assault rifle (AR-15) and possibly a handgun at a gay club called Pulse in Orlando, Florida.  The precise facts of what transpired are yet to be established, but this much is known:  he commenced firing just a little after 2 AM on Sunday morning, was then holed up in the club with hostages, and was finally taken down in a gunfight with a SWAT [Special Weapons and Tactics] team around 5 AM.  But this was not before Mateen had killed at least 50 people; at least another 53 people have been injured, some critically.  This carnage is being described as the “worst mass shooting” in American history.

 

The gunman’s name identifies him as a Muslim.  The media chatter all morning has swirled around speculations about Mateen’s possible fidelity to ISIS, his links if any with ISIS or other Islamic “radical” groups, his friendships with those who might have been similarly radicalized, or his probable homophobic tendencies.  The killer’s father has issued a statement where he has disavowed any possible connection between the killing and “religion”—he did not mention Islam by name—and he has suggested that that his son was repulsed by his sighting in Miami of two men kissing each other in public several months ago.  It has also emerged that minutes before Mateen started firing, he placed a call to 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS.  Mateen had apparently come to the attention of the FBI a few years ago for possible links to radical groups but was no longer under surveillance.

 

In the hours and days ahead, a picture will be formed of the gunman’s motivations.  Most likely, it will be established that he had been radicalized by ISIS videos and literature, and that he was moderately active on social media sites which espouse radical Islamic views.  The carnage will be described as arising from a conjuncture of circumstances:  all over the United States there are celebrations these days of gay pride, and Mateen may have chosen this moment to signal both his abhorrence of homosexuality and his acceptance of radical jihadists’ denunciation of homosexuality as a form of wickedness intrinsic to the West. The abhorrence of homosexuality is, of course, not particular to ISIS or Islamic extremists:  the Wahhabi state of Saudi Arabia does not tolerate open expressions of homosexual conduct, and likewise many Christian fundamentalists are also violently homophobic. But these comparisons will not be allowed to disturb the placid waters of American reporting, especially not at this juncture.  We can also be certain that, whatever Mateen’s motivations, the Orlando massacre will now be exploited by Trump, whose credentials as an utterly shameless person are well established, to the hilt.

 

Speaking with an air of resignation, President Obama mentioned that investigators would go wherever the facts take them.  It may be that he has come around to the view that no intervention by him can make an iota of difference, and that as Consoler-in-Chief he can only express his condolences to the families of the victims, congratulate various law enforcement agencies for stepping into the line of fire, rally the American public, and ask for God’s guidance and wisdom in helping the nation meet such challenges. Indeed, it is beyond him to do anything else at all, for the simple reason that what we are dealing with here is not a “mass shooting” but rather mass delusion.  Whatever the gunman’s motivations, or his state of mind, the one indubitable fact is that he was able to access an assault rifle, a handgun, and possibly explosives.  In Florida, an assault rifle can be purchased legally, which is in itself an outrageous statement on the affairs of this nation.  However, it is quite immaterial whether Mateen was able to make a legal purchase of an assault rifle in Florida, since such legal gun purchases are possible in other states; there is, moreover, an open arms market, including one on Facebook.  The “facts” that the FBI and other investigative agencies will chase down are altogether irrelevant; they will establish merely the history of the weapons in question, and, at best, whether Mateen may have been assisted by others in procuring such weapons.

 

What does it mean, then, to suggest that the Orlando shooting is nothing other than a visceral demonstration of the fact that the United States is living through a period of “mass delusion”?  To be deluded, the Oxford English Dictionary informs us, is to accept foolishly a false or mistaken belief; a delusion is “a false impression or opinion, especially as a symptom of mental illness.” Another dictionary definition offers an elaboration:  a delusion is persistence in an idiosyncratic belief that is maintained despite being contradicted by reality or rational argument, and this is typically a symptom of mental disorder.  Mateen’s ex-wife has stated that he was abusive in their relationship and beat her often; she describes him as someone who was “unstable”.  Let us leave aside for the moment the colossal understatement involved in characterizing the gunman as “unstable”:  one would think that anyone who perpetrates such a massacre is, in some sense of the term, unstable.

 

What is far more germane to my argument is that the characterization of Mateen as someone who was of unsound mind ought not to be allowed to obfuscate the graver reality that begs to be recognized.  In an earlier blog, precipitated by a shooting at a community college in Oregon last year, where too the killer, Chris Harper Mercer, was described as a “loner” with a history of mental illness, I had called for the National Rifle Association to be declared a criminal or terrorist organization and be banned.  The same pussyfooting that has characterized the response to every mass shooting will doubtless be on witness again in the days ahead. There will be much discussion of the necessity of background checks, tightening gun laws, restricting the number of firearms an individual can buy, and so on.  The lunatic NRA will respond with predictable bravado, suggesting that “guns do not kill, people do”, and that the only way America can be made safe is to ensure that guns do not fall into the wrong hands and that a well-armed people is the best retort to killers.  Other well-meaning people will chip in with the observation that hunting is nothing less than a sacred American tradition: indeed, though I have not verified this, it would not be surprising if every American president has not declared a fondness for hunting.  Some noise will be generated; and, then, life will go on.  Another shooting will be around the corner, as it must.

 

A few generations from now, when one hopes that the United States will join the rank of civilized nations and virtually ban private ownership of firearms, or make the conditions so restrictive as to virtually eliminate violence by firearms, Americans will wonder how and why the country labored under a mass delusion for so long.  This mass delusion begins with a primitivist not to mention outrageously silly reading of the second amendment to the US Constitution.  The mental illness of which many previous killers have been accused is in actuality the mental disorder that now afflicts this nation as a whole.  Despite all evidence to the contrary, the NRA and the millions of their supporters in the wider public domain have persisted in peddling the view that gun ownership is an inviolable part of American identity, that private ownership of guns makes people safe, and that the antidote to gun violence is more guns.  It is not the “lone wolf” or the insanity of one gunman that we need to be worried about, but rather the state of lunacy to which the United States has been reduced.  No diagnostic manual has a known remedy for the mass delusion through which the United States is now living.

 

 

 

*Declare the NRA a Terrorist Organization

I recall a conversation that some friends and I were having more than twenty years ago, on the eve of America’s bombing of Iraq months after Saddam Hussein had moved into Kuwait.  We all agreed that war was engineered into the American psyche:  the country seemed then, as it is now, to be on a war footing.  The bombing seemed imminent and thousands were bound to die, reduced to the indignity of being viewed as mere “collateral damage”.  Someone then remarked that while the United States was busy bombing other countries into submission, relegating them (as one American official declared with much pride) to the stone age, enough people were being killed on American streets from gun-related violence.

Another Olympic Gold for the US

Another Olympic Gold for the US

The newspapers carry the story of yet another massacre, this one at a community college in Oregon.  Lovely small-town America has had its share of mass killings and the end is nowhere in sight.  The killer, Chris Harper Mercer, is now reported to have taken nine lives before being killed in a gun battle with law enforcement officers.  Rather predictably, we are now being told that the gunman was a “loner” with quite likely a history of mental illness.  A Washington Post headline sums it up, “Oregon shooter left behind online portrait of a loner with a grudge against religion.”  The lack of “community”, the inability to forge relationships with others, the desire to go down in glory:  all these are the stable ingredients of a story that has been foretold.  Thus, we read, “Mercer was a quiet, withdrawn young man who struggled to connect with other people, instead seeking attention online or, ultimately, through violence.”  In nearly all such instances—the Charleston shooting, most recently, comes to mind—there is mention of the killer’s real or alleged membership in neo-Nazi groups, or other so-called “fringe” groups which bear a grudge against the de-whitening of America, and the Washington Post is unfailingly true to form in this respect.  The article states that “Mercer’s e-mail address referenced an iron cross, a symbol often associated with Nazis.”

The aftermath equally will hold no surprises.  All of America will come together in grief, there will be much hand-holding and some soul-searching, and a few noises will be made about gun control.  The country will be unanimous in declaring Mercer a “coward”:  there are, of course, much stronger words to be used for a mass killer, but cowardice is always deplorable and one can expect consent around such a characterization even amongst those who might otherwise disagree about the killer’s motives, the relative responsibility of an individual and society in such cases, the desirability for gun control, and so on.  In about a week’s time, or perhaps as soon as the funerals of the victims have been held, the news will have disappeared from the media.  The Pope will no doubt be saying a few prayers seeking God’s mercy for Mercer, particularly since the killer appears to have borne a grudge against “organized religion”.

We are being told that at least one thing is already different about the aftermath of this shooting, namely that President Obama is now coming out with all his guns blazing.  His acolytes, mindful of the ‘fact’ that he is no longer hobbled by the need to appease Republicans, argue that Obama is now showing true grit and determination, and according to some liberals he has already been redeemed by the political positions he has embraced over the course of the last year.  His comments on the Oregon shooting have been described by the media as displaying his “rage” and frustration, as he asked the American people to reflect on how they could get the government to change gun ownership laws and give young people at least an opportunity to grow up.  Obama, according to the New York Times, took a “swipe” against the NRA with these rather modest words:  “And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt for sport, for protecting their families, to think about whether your views are being properly represented by the organization that suggests it is speaking for you.”  But Obama, evidently still smarting from his resounding defeat by legislators from both parties to introduce gun control in 2013, admitted that he was powerless to change anything at all.

Only in the United States would Obama’s remarks be viewed as “radical”.  They are in fact nothing more than another instantiation of the pussyfooting which for decades has characterized what rather comically and tragically passes for ‘debate’ on gun control.  There will be the usual arguments about background checks and the desirability of keeping guns out of the hands of criminal elements and those who are mentally unsound; others will discuss whether schools and colleges should implement safety precautions; and there will be mention of a lengthier waiting period.  Thus, in this fashion, the ‘debate’ will go on ad nauseam—not moved an iota by the news that thirteen firearms were found in the possession of the gunman Mercer, all acquired legally.

Debate and Discussion in a Free Society:  Bullet-Proof Vests for Children in the Land of the Brave

Debate and Discussion in a Free Society: Bullet-Proof Vests for Children in the Land of the Brave

The Big Gulp:  More is Better

The Big Gulp: More is Better

Meanwhile, the NRA will go on the offensive, though the sheer idiocy of its position may be gauged from the comment put forward by Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s long-time executive vice president, in the aftermath of the school shootings in Newton, Connecticut:  “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Wayne LaPierre, Messiah of the Gun Lobby

Wayne LaPierre, Messiah of the Gun Lobby

One hopes that we will be spared the usual indescribably stupid remarks that are bound to follow from one spokesperson or another of the NRA and its supporters in Congress, something akin to this:  ‘Guns don’t kill, people do.’  What has been indubitably clear for decades is that the NRA makes or breaks political fortunes, waging a jihad against its opponents that has taken far more lives than the acts of terrorism ordinarily termed jihad.

What is called for is simple:  The National Rifle Association should at once be declared a terrorist organization.   The preponderant portion of even those who favor strict gun control, whatever may be meant by that phrase, will at once ferociously object that many members of the NRA, whose membership in 2013 was announced at 4.5 million—joined by “tens of millions supporters”, according to the NRA’s own spokesperson—are not only law-abiding citizens but recreational sportsmen who use their guns for simple pastimes such as hunting.  The rights of the hunter are, in America, described as sacrosanct.

The Hunter's Moment of Sublime Pleasure:  The Peace and Quiet of the Gun

The Hunter’s Moment of Sublime Pleasure: The Peace and Quiet of the Gun

Indeed, it is a reasonable supposition that Bernie Sanders, who represents Vermont in the US Senate and is now being projected as the radical or at least socialist wing of the Congress—the idea that there is a “socialist wing” is laughable, too preposterous for words—has often voted against gun control legislation because Vermont has a disproportionately large number of hunters and heavy gun ownership.  The ethical arguments against the slaughter of animals for pleasure aside, the days of Davy Crockett are long gone. As for those who point to the Second Amendment, its anachronism must go the same way as those odious measures which for centuries kept women, African Africans, and native Americans in subjection. When religious-minded people are prepared to concede that passages from their scripture or holy works must be rejected if they are repellent to the conscience, absolutely nothing requires allegiance to a portion of the US Constitution that is obsolete.

When, moreover, an organization is deemed to be a terrorist outfit, consequences must follow.  The NRA’s members might be given 30-60 days to comply with the ban on their organization and surrender their arms, and failure to do should lead to a freeze on their bank accounts and the issuance of an alert by Interpol which would prevent their travel outside the US.  Perhaps a leaf should be taken out of the methods routinely deployed in Maoist China:  a long stint, extending over several months and perhaps much longer, in a re-education camp for offenders would be highly desirable.  LaPierre and his fellow gun enthusiasts might perhaps learn that in all of Japan, there were two firearm-related homicides in 2006; in 2008, the number had gone up to a staggering, comparatively speaking, eleven—about the number killed in Oregon.  Private ownership of guns in Japan is nearly impossible.  With a population that is more than 1/3rd of the US, the number for 2008 might proportionately be raised to about 30—compared to 12,000 firearm-related homicides in the US the same year.  Lest the NRA dismiss the Japanese as “Orientals” who do not understand the spirit of American democracy, it is worthwhile noting that a background paper on gun ownership and gun fatalities released by the Council on Foreign Relations in June 2015 shows that the US has 88.8 guns for every 100 people, Australia 15, and the United Kingdom 6.2; the firearms-related homicide rate for every 100,000 people is 3.1, 0.14, and 0.07, respectively.

The NRA does not, of course, even remotely represent all firearm owners in the US:  as Obama himself noted in his remarks some hours ago, there is “a gun for roughly every man, woman and child in America.  So how can you with a straight face make the argument that more guns will make us safer?”  Moreover, the problem of guns in the US runs exceedingly deep, and the same militarism that has turned the US into a lethal military machine has every relation to the pervasive culture of guns that has turned the US into a country of gun shows, ammunition shops, firing ranges, massive gun ownership, and of course the mass killings that mark the exceptionality of the US.  The NRA is the most visible face of this barbarism and must be a dealt a blow which would render it extinct.