The traditional sacred American ritual was performed in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio this weekend. I’m beginning to suspect that there’s some bloody Cabin in the Woods scenario being played out — to appease the blood gods spawned by the evil establishment of European hegemony in America, there must be a regular sacrifice of the innocent, and those gods are getting hungrier.
In any given week in America, you can watch as a different ritual of childhood plays itself out. Perhaps it will be in El Paso, at a shopping mall; or in Gilroy, at a food festival; or in Denver, at a school. Having heard gunshots, and been lucky enough to survive, children emerge to be shepherded to safety by their parents, their teachers, or heavily-armed police officers. They are always frightened. Some will be crying. But almost all of them know what is happening to them, and what to do. Mass shootings are by now a standard part of American life. Preparing for them has become a ritual of childhood. It’s as American as Monday Night Football, and very nearly as frequent.
The United States has institutionalized the mass shooting in a way that Durkheim would immediately recognize. As I discovered to my shock when my own children started school in North Carolina some years ago, preparation for a shooting is a part of our children’s lives as soon as they enter kindergarten. The ritual of a Killing Day is known to all adults. It is taught to children first in outline only, and then gradually in more detail as they get older. The lockdown drill is its Mass. The language of “Active shooters”, “Safe corners”, and “Shelter in place” is its liturgy. “Run, Hide, Fight” is its creed. Security consultants and credential-dispensing experts are its clergy. My son and daughter have been institutionally readied to be shot dead as surely as I, at their age, was readied by my school to receive my first communion. They practice their movements. They are taught how to hold themselves; who to defer to; what to say to their parents; how to hold their hands. The only real difference is that there is a lottery for participation. Most will only prepare. But each week, a chosen few will fully consummate the process, and be killed.
A fundamental lesson of Sociology is that, in the course of making everyday life seem orderly and sensible, arbitrary things are made to seem natural and inevitable. Rituals, especially the rituals of childhood, are a powerful way to naturalize arbitrary things. As a child in Ireland, I thought it natural to take the very body of Christ in the form of a wafer of bread on my tongue. My own boy and girl, in America, think it natural that a school is a place where you must know what to do when someone comes there to kill the children.
I’d also add that 8chan is the holy scripture of its acolytes, a meandering screed that combines the mindless repetition of a manic prayer wheel with the ravings of the book of Revelation. Free Speech is its shibboleth.
Until law enforcement, and the media, treat these shooters as part of a terrorist movement no less organized, or deadly, than ISIS or Al Qaeda, the violence will continue. There will be more killers, more gleeful celebration of body counts on 8chan, and more bloody attempts to beat the last killer’s “high score”.
There’s a radical suggestion right there. If there were an online forum in which Muslim terrorists gleefully shared tales of glorious murder, urged each other to outdo each other in suicidal mass killings, and celebrated every time one of these incidents occurred, the FBI would be all over it, tracing communications and working to arrest the ringleaders. 8chan, though, is fueled by the frustrations of disaffected middle class white men, so no, nothing will be done. It will continue to fester and spread its toxins.
So, here’s my first radical suggestion. Only it’s not that radical.
- Shut down 8chan. Arrest anyone who tries to revive it. Publicly shame anyone who participates in it.
That’s just the start. Another obvious problem is ready access to guns. There is incredibly stupid resistance to any form of common-sense gun registration, background checks, etc., and so gun manufacturers continue to flood a willing market with weapons of mass destruction. We’re making no progress on rational gun laws. Therefore, let’s take a different tack.
- Criminalize gun manufacture. Lethal weapons can only be made under a license for sale to the military,
and the military will be prohibited from allowing remarketers to sell their surplus. Hunting weaponry will also be licensed and the sale tightly controlled. The police will crack down on black market sale of guns; no more gun shows. Manufacturers will be held liable for the crimes committed by their weapons, so Glock, Smith & Wesson, and Remington will be the enforcers who regulate gun sales.
I’m just getting warmed up. People have been talking about revising the constitution to get rid of that useless vestige, the electoral college. Don’t stop there. There’s another political institution that does nothing other than enrich its members and allow a rich elite to throttle progressive laws.
- Abolish the Senate, or at least reduce it to a purely ceremonial function. Right now, the Senate is nothing but a relic of an elitist era, when it was considered important to preserve a version of aristocratic privilege, and power was distributed based on arbitrary property lines. It’s undemocratic. It needs to go. It’s not as if it will be doing anything to end the tyranny of the assault rifle in America.
Is that enough? I know it’s all unrealistic, and isn’t going to happen, unless there’s a revolution (which, at the rate we’re going, isn’t entirely unlikely). Basically, I’m suggesting that we correct the failings of the first American revolution, which wasn’t revolutionary enough, change our mindset to make capitalism accountable, and shut down the most extreme propaganda organ. It’s not as radical as it could be — a real socialist would suggest that the people should seize total control of the production of weapons, for instance, but I’ve become less trusting of the will of the people nowadays.
I’ll toss in one more, just for the heck of it.
- Outlaw the Republican party. Throw its leadership in jail, unless they repudiate all the principles of greed and bigotry that currently drive it.
That one might not be necessary if the other suggestions were implemented.