25 January 2013

Thoughts on World events, Sources of Anger, and the Coming Out of the Progressive Agenda

World events

World events over the past two months since my last post have been riveting. The elections came and went, and then, just as I foretold, Israel attacked Gaza, only ceasing when Obama, trying hard to pull off his pivot to Asia, sent Clinton to babysit. Egypt’s newly elected leader, Mohamed Morsi, shone in the international spotlight for his role in brokering the peace, only to set off violent conflict in his own country by letting his success go to his head and decreeing himself above the law. Though he backed off, the polarized nation continues to struggle with the significance of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood having come to power after the revolutionary uprising was sparked by the liberal opposition.

I had also been moved to write about Greece, and indeed, the situation there has only become more tense. Fallout from the Lagarde List scandal combines with austerity measures, pay cuts, and tax increases to force regular Greek citizens to carry heavy burdens for the corruption and ineptitude of their leaders. Add to the mix the growing influence of the neo-Nazi paramilitary Golden Dawn and their ability to crush freedom of expression in the birthplace of democracy, and the situation warrants even more attention from those who see that Greece’s fate is not isolated from the fate of other democracies of the world.

And so the world struggles forward, with conflicts and difficulties that seem, at the moment, to be heading away from rather than toward resolution...

Sources of anger

Most of us who are connected with the United States managed to survive the end of the Mayan long-count calendar, Christmas, New Years, and the fiscal cliff melodrama – most of us, that is, barring the 20 first-graders and seven adults in Connecticut who were shot and killed by Adam Lanza using his mother’s precious guns on the morning of 14 December.

From afar, the worship of guns as the ultimate symbol of a free society looks... insane. Here in Uruguay, one of the major news organizations ran this story after Christmas about people in the United States posting pictures of themselves on social networking sites posing with their presents from Papá Noel – rifles of the type used by Adam Lanza in the Newton massacre. Classssy. This reminds me of the last church service I ever remember attending: Christmas Eve Mass, 1990, during Operation Desert Storm, when church goers sang “Peace on earth / Goodwill toward men” then prayed for the invading troops to kick Saddam Hussein’s ass...

...In fact, this school shooting in Connecticut elicits many memories about the society I left behind. It takes me back to other shootings that occurred so near to the place of my childhood, which was then unincorporated Arapaho County, but since I left, it has become part of Centennial, Colorado. The obvious connection is with Columbine, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, on 20 April, 1999, mowed down their schoolmates in a rampage of anger and revenge for the way they, as geeky misfits, had been mistreated by other students and the world in general. When it happened, I was not particularly surprised that such a thing could occur in that particular place. I could even somewhat identify with the two young men, as someone who had myself been a geeky misfit, having grown up in a suburban landscape of subdivisions and strip malls, endless stretches of tract houses with their green-grass lawns and their ghostly ability to hide the dark undercurrents of the world in plain sight beneath a veneer of pleasantly contented normality. (David Lynch addressed this concept in Blue Velvet, where white picket fences, glowing stained glass church windows, and chirping bluebirds can so easily gloss over other vestiges of reality.) Not that I was mistreated in any significant way, mind you; nor was I ever bullied, as they were, just treated differently from the popular crowd, like bazillions of other youths who have similarly struggled through those awkward teen years, having purposely set myself apart, in many ways. But at the time of the shooting, I felt like I could sympathize with the schizophrenic panic that teenagers in those perfectly manicured suburbs were experiencing as they grappled with their understanding that all was not as right with the world as their surroundings would suggest.

This Adam Lanza person, age 20, had some similarities in character to the guys at Columbine: smart, geeky, sorely lacking in social skills. The setting, too, shares the characteristic of being an upper-middle class suburban area. But the random killing of such young and innocent children is much harder to fathom, and this very intelligent and introverted young man seems to have been less concerned about his treatment at the hands of other people his age and more focused on his parents’ divorce. He was fragile, his mother kept him close under her wing, and she had an unfortunate enthusiasm for the guns with which she had trained her son. It was her own guns that ended her and 27 other people’s lives, including her son’s, that fateful morning of 14 December, 2012.

There is another connection between the shooting spree in Newton, Connecticut and a shooting spree that took place in South Denver – Aurora, to be exact – but I am not referring to the 2012 movie theater shooting. No, it was the Chuck E. Cheese’s shooting, which took place on... wait for it... 14 December, 1993. Obviously, that incident differs in that it did not happen in a school, but it was a case of another troubled young man, Nathan Dunlap, 19 years of age, shooting innocent people. He was angry at having been fired. Four teenagers and one adult died of gunshots to the head, and another survived their injuries. It occurred before Columbine, and it was very troubling at the time to learn that the area where I grew up would produce a youth with this level of anger.

Still fresh on our minds is the date of 20 July, 2012, when James Holmes, age 24, went on a shooting rampage in an Aurora theater, killing 12 and injuring 58. He was a gifted neuroscience student, but then something went haywire in his mind. It seems possible that he was actually aware of what was happening to him, due to his area of study, but was unable or unwilling to do anything about it. His purchase of weapons and ammunition were certainly premeditated over the four-month period before his killing spree – all planned for the opening of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. Was he obsessed with the Batman narrative to the point of becoming inured to the fact that these were real people’s lives that he was planning to ruin or put an end to entirely? And would he have gone through with his evil plan if it hadn’t been so frigging easy for him to obtain all that lethal force?

People, especially young people who feel marginalized, can get very, very angry at the world and take it out on innocent people, and the level of their anger is so often not recognized until it is too late. Knowing this, why make it so incredibly easy for them to collect an arsenal with which it is all the more likely that they will act out their fantasies of rage? It doesn’t make any sense to me. To the tired old epitaph, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” there are many retorts that take the vast complexities of the human character into consideration. People with guns kill people, and pissed off people with high-powered military-style guns kill even more people. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys.” There are just guys who might hurt someone by accident at a gun show, while hunting, and in a myriad of other ways – including someday when it just so happens to be their turn to become so enraged about something that they snap.

Of course, times have changed since my youthful days in that disquieting suburbia. Seething anger has broken through the “future’s so bright” facade that the 1950s gave rise to, which lasted until 9/11 swept it away. There is much more anger in the United States now, and it’s not just teenagers coming to grips with the world outside of their protected childhood, but rather, a growing number of adults of all ages. It’s the anger of a highly polarized nation, of the right against the left and vice versa, and, even more insidious, it’s the anger aimed at the government for perceived evils, whether it is the viewpoint on the right that “un-American” forces are at work to destroy the country from the inside, or the despair on the left that the United States continues to use its military power in ways that are antithetical to the principles that it claims to uphold. And overlaying these polar factions of our one-dimensional two-party system is yet another element that is instilling a great deal of anger and a disastrous level distrust aimed at the government, and that is the irrational conspiracism that is tearing at the fabric of the country.

All of this anger, from all sides, is problematic – but the fundamentalist conspiracism is most troubling, because it is the most unsophisticated, and therefore the most easily disseminated, explanation, especially for young people who have no wider viewpoint to help make better sense out of the present situation. Rejectionist conspiracy theories are the easiest way to view the intricacies of the world, the most mentally lazy path, requiring – depending on – little understanding of scientific, historic, social or any other context, simply engendering misplaced anger, redirecting it at scapegoats, and making constructive conversation and real problem solving all but impossible. This not only amplifies the anger and frustration of those who seek to guide humanity forward on a path of positive progress but frustrates by confusion the at-risk youths who can cause so much damage when they decide that committing spectacular an act of murder and mayhem is the best way to express their anger and gain the attention that they so desperately desire.

Conspiracy theories such as this viral Sandy Hook school shooting conspiracy and so many others that are aimed at the government and at “others” – Muslims and communists, currently being the most popular targets – who are supposedly trying to carry out an evil plot against the values and culture of “real Americans” must also be addressed head on as part of the national discussion about violence, because they are a major source of anger in the United States. Unaddressed, they will only escalate anger and feed hatred, fear, and aggression and create social strife that will be even harder to find solutions for than what we face as it is.

Progressive agenda

Amazingly, despite the slow buildup of tensions, frustration, and anger about the direction that the United States is headed in over the past decade or so, the pressure in the tank is being released as Obama finally asserts the progressive agenda at the beginning of his second term. As maddening as his first term was for progressives who saw his attempts to compromise with the political opposition and his failure to stand up to the entrenched military and financial institutions as meek, those of us who took the longer-term view that it may have actually been wise to move slowly and subtly through such a caustic political atmosphere might even surmise that this tactic has been nothing less than brilliant, as it took a great deal of patience and self-control to sit out the crazies, letting them dig their own graves as they have grown crazier and crazier, to the point where everyone but their most invested adherents are now being turned off by it all.

Word gets back to supporters of the NRA that their attack ad calling Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for sending his daughters to a private school that has armed guards while scoffing at the idea of putting armed guards in all of the country’s schools was total B.S. The school that the Obama girls goes to is a Quaker school, for goodness sakes! On this same theme of totally missing the point of upholding nonviolent principles, people who have not already figured out that Rush Limbaugh’s vitriol is based purely on hate and ignorance might be moved to reject him at last when they hear about John Lewis’ elegant response to Limbaugh’s ridiculous suggestion for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other marchers in Selma, Alabama: “If John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?” And then there are all the brainiacs who accused Hilary Clinton of faking a concussion to get out of testifying about Benghazi, a despicable accusation that her testimony at two different hearings about Benghazi should put to rest.

So now, the progressive agenda has become unfurled, the gun control issue having come about because of the tragedy of the most innocent of deaths, while other issues such as projecting power in ways other than through military might are seeing the light because of who the new secretary of defense will be and other issues such as climate change and gay rights were directly addressed in the president’s inaugural speech.
Yes, Virginia, there is a progressive agenda, and it is about time that the pendulum swung back in this direction, after the Reagan Revolution had given it such a hefty push to the right. Our work is certainly cut out for us, and the current drone program, First Amendment rights, financial reform, and the messes our country are still responsible for in Iran and Afghanistan will continue to be areas that need the public to help move forward.

But I am convinced that, over time, those who try so hard to prevent human advancement out of fear of change will eventually either realize that they are on the wrong side of history or simply fade away as irrelevant to the new world that we are helping to forge today by constantly pushing ourselves to be better.

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