Mass Shootings and Externalizing Blame

Mass Shootings and Externalizing Blame September 4, 2019

If mass shootings stop, what tragedies will we exploit for political gain?

In the wake of a shooting late last month in Odessa, Texas which left several people dead, the blogosphere is full of people trying to evade responsibility for the phenomenon of mass shootings. Rather than address the matter of how best to define this complex cultural problem, everyone seems content to turn it into a partisan pissing match.

Right Wing and Wrong Wing

When conservative lobbyist Tony Perkins went on FOX News to give his opinion, he magnanimously admitted that thoughts and prayers were not sufficient to solve the problem. Predictably, he expanded his definition of the problem in a way that seemed ideologically convenient:

“It’s not just about having a conversation about restricting those who should not have guns. But it’s also a discussion of the absence of a moral core in our culture,” he said. “I mean, look, we’ve taught our kids that they come about by chance through primordial slime, and we’re surprised that they treat their fellow Americans like dirt.”

I really don’t think you have to look at what we teach schoolkids about natural history to notice a tendency toward dehumanization in our culture. After all, the USA imprisons children in hideous detention camps, lets people die of preventable diseases rather than make treatments affordable, and  tolerates police brutality against African-Americans more than it tolerates protests against such brutality. Ours is a society that is still supporting foreign dictators in their human rights abuses, and fighting wars of empire overseas that no longer warrant mention in our media, let alone protest in our streets.

Despite all this, Perkins made it clear that “the left” is really to blame:

“It’s time we talk about the result of the left’s systematic march through our institutions, driving religious expression from the public square,” he added.

To my way of thinking, Perkins is giving “the left” way too much credit. In fact, it’s the failure of democratic liberalism that deep-sixed the economy and rolled out the red carpet for the normalization of white supremacy and fascism in the USA.

Leave Darwin Out of This

The atheist blogosphere only objected to Perkins’s ostensibly anti-evolution remarks. PZ Myers at least put the blame on the “gun-worshipping cult that crosses boundaries between believer and non-believer,” but he ignored the political aspects of Perkins’s raving. Always one to mistake the finger for what it’s pointing to, Friendly Atheist made it sound like evolution being blamed for a mass shooting is more objectionable than the mass shooting itself. When FA wrote, “It’s up to the rest of us to push back against their inability to deal with reality,” it was all about defending science and reason rather than assessing society’s problems in any more informed way than Tony Perkins does.

Now I agree that Tony Perkins is a right-wing dung nozzle and that major steps have to be taken to restrict the availability of guns in the USA, but his point that there’s a larger social problem isn’t necessarily wrong. As I said before, our secular consumer society is more about domination than co-operation. The promises of freedom, progress and scientific rationalism haven’t created utopia for anyone except the powerful. Our problems persist, and if we define every one as that not enough people think the way we do, doesn’t that sort of, um, reasoning refute itself?

I’ve said in a previous post that the phenomenon of mass shootings has a lot to do with the secular mythology of the USA, and it’s fair to ask ourselves whether our reaction to mass shootings is any more substantial than the knee-jerk response of conservatives and patriots. It could be that saying “thoughts and prayers” is little more than admitting their helplessness in effecting positive change; and our mockery of the thoughts-and-prayers trope is an admission that while we’re no less powerless, we’re just as uncomfortable thinking about corporate control of our government, the glorification of violence and the persistence of white nationalism.

Maybe when we describe the universe as being characterized by “blind pitiless indifference” we’re just attributing traits to the universe that we most admire in ourselves.


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  • Jim Jones

    One of the great social ills of the US is that the oligarchs have won their battle. A nation fit for heroes, promised to the generation who won WWII, has been stolen and handed to the inheritors of wealth. This is the source of the bitterness that elected Trump, who ironically is the worst example of it.

    Rage is an inevitable outcome of a system which offers no hope to the poor. It’s possible that mass shootings are a path to anarchy.

  • Silverwolf13

    Some mass shooters have stated that they wanted to start a race war.

  • Jim Jones
  • Spot on. That is the true nature of the beast.

  • Perkins asserts that “it’s also a discussion of the absence of a moral core in our culture …. we’ve taught our kids that they come about by chance through primordial slime, and we’re surprised that they treat their fellow Americans like dirt.”

    That is deeply insulting. If that is how the right thinks about science and truth, it isn’t just the smug arrogance. It is lousy logic based on self-delusion. In my experience, the people tend who disrespect and foment intolerance and bigotry are mostly conservatives and populists, at least at present. If Perkins is representative of the non-secular moral core, I’ll take the secular moral core any day over his immoral non-secular moral core.

  • It would be good to know how many of the shooters went to some religious service every week.

  • smokert5555

    Every “reason” you named is wrong. There is only one place to lay the blame: right at the feet of the shooters. Nobody trained them to do it, nobody gave them guns and said “Shoot everybody.”. The idea to become a shooter was their idea and their idea alone. All the talk is about limiting some guns, mostly because they “look” scary. All that does is punish the law abiding. More people will be killed in Chicago this summer than all the people killed in mass shootings. Why is the focus only on that?

    You mention the El Paso shooting, but why didn’t you mention the Dayton shooting, which happened right before the El Paso one? It’s not even the latest one!

    Then you went on a mini rant about the troubles the USA has (wrongly blaming the wrong people for those troubles), which has nothing to do with the article. So i’ll only point out they are wrong.

  • It’s odd that you don’t seem concerned about the price that the law abiding people murdered by the shooters have to pay for our cavalier attitude toward gun violence.

    Did I say odd? I meant totally predictable.

    I’ve never, not once, tried to downplay the responsibility of the shooters themselves. It simply goes without saying that the shooter is committing a crime. But your analysis doesn’t explain why the USA alone has this problem. Is it just a vast coincidence that people in the USA happen to make the decision to gun down people by the dozen? Or is there a confluence of factors in play that you refuse to acknowledge?

    Your comments go a long way toward validating the premise I laid out in the OP. You’d rather not think about the influence of the NRA over our legislative process. You’d rather not wonder whether we have a lot of cultural myths in our national imagination about the regenerative power of violence. You’d rather not think about the way the President himself is empowering white nationalists by giving voice to their paranoia and racism.

    These things are our responsibility, and they create a social context for these constant acts of violence.

  • smokert5555

    Sorry dude, but the first line in your article reads that blame is to be spread around to people not involved in the shooting. ”
    In the wake of a shooting late last month in Odessa, Texas which left
    several people dead, the blogosphere is full of people trying to evade
    responsibility for the phenomenon of mass shootings.” That implication comes from you, that there are people to blame other than the shooter. The key words are “full of people trying to evade responsibility for the phenomenon of mass shootings”. Nobody is to blame except the mass shooter.

    The USA is not alone. We are not the only ones with mass shootings and please don’t pretend we are.

    The NRA’s “influence” only reflects the law abiding citizen’s thoughts. They are a lobby group, with no power to make policy/law and no power, other than the membership’s use of the ballot box to vote out those who don’t respect law abiding gun owners rights. You’re trying to make them appear as an evil organization with the power to block legislation. This is demonstrably wrong.

    Then you move on to blame the president, who in no way is involved in the shooting and then implying/saying he’s in the pocket of white nationalist/is a white nationalist with absolutely no proof whatsoever that is the case. In fact, in the manifesto of the El Paso shooter, he predicts people like you would want to blame the president and the shooter himself says the president is not to be blamed for his actions.

  • That implication comes from you, that there are people to blame other than the shooter.

    That’s right. I think the shooter is to blame for the act, and that these acts take place in a social context in the USA that involves a much wider scope of political and cultural influence.

    If that’s too complicated for you, that’s not my fault. But all you’ve done is say, “Nuh-uh” as if that constitutes a rebuttal.

    The USA is not alone. We are not the only ones with mass shootings and please don’t pretend we are.

    Oh please.

  • smokert5555

    “I think the shooter…” That explanation requires an explanation. What social context? What political/cultural influences? Why are you mentioning anything other than it’s the shooter’s fault, unless you’re trying to blame people who didn’t promote it, didn’t encourage it and weren’t involved?

    Oh, please yes. I never said that we don’t have more that other countries, but you said the US is the only country with this problem. Your quote: “But your analysis doesn’t explain why the USA alone has this problem.” The US isn’t alone in this problem, demonstrated by your own graphic.

    Then your graphic doesn’t share what’s classified as a mass shooting or any of those involved. Most “mass shootings” are gang related/urban neighborhood related. I notice you didn’t even bother to answer the idea that there are more murders just in Chicago this summer than those killed by mass shooters.

  • What social context? What political/cultural influences?

    I’ve been explaining this to you in my responses. Once again, if you’re a little out of your depth here, that’s not my problem.

    I never said that we don’t have more than other countries,

    If nitpickery is your first, middle and last resort, I predict this dialogue isn’t going to be very satisfying for either of us.

    Your claim that most mass shootings are “gang” related and restricted to “urban neighborhoods” seems intended as a racist dog whistle and not a sincere attempt to examine the phenomenon. Are you implying that African Americans are simply more prone to violence than whites, or that there’s something about urban neighborhoods themselves that is conducive to mass shootings? An honest attempt to address the problem of inner-city gun violence would at least try to look at whether gun availability enables criminals.

    You seem determined to oversimplify this matter simply in order to exonerate the gun lobby and our callow legislators from responsibility in solving our gun violence problem in the USA. “Don’t shoot people” is a poor excuse for a public policy on the destruction wreaked by guns in our society.

  • Dehumanizing is a great way to polarize, distract and control the masses. It is a favorite tactic of demagogues, tyrants, liars, kleptocrats and murderers and it has been for millennia. It just works so well that it cannot be ignored.

  • smokert5555

    If what you been explaining so far is your answer, i have to reject your premise. You have no evidence to support any premises you’ve submitted.

    Nitpickery? Hardly. You made a blatantly false statement and i called you on it. I assume you said what you meant. If not, here’s your chance to retract it. Otherwise, my challenge stands.

    Most mass shootings are as i said they are.
    It isn’t even close to be racist to point out the actual numbers. You want to attack the problem? It goes way deeper than a few mass shootings. It comes down to people thinking it’s ok (or just not caring) it’s ok to shoot whomever gets in their way. We need to attack that mentality, not the tools being used to achieve that end. In other words, it’s cultural, but not the culture you think it is.

    It’s not gun availability, it’s the idea that criminals get their hands on guns when they don’t the right to do so. Not one law proposed/enacted would be able to prevent any mass shooting we have, mostly because the criminal element just doesn’t care what the law says. And we haven’t even started talking about people who are mentally ill who commit these kinds of crimes.

    The only thing that would stop gun violence is an outright ban of guns. The problem with that is it doesn’t stop the violence. People will just shift to another weapon.

  • At this point, I am stating a desire for information.
    Why? Are you afraid?

  • Dude.

    Did it seem like your line of inquiry was making me apprehensive? Or did I just come up with valid concerns that you didn’t bother addressing?

    Get a grip.

  • It’s not every day that a person admits to Sealioning. But here we are.

  • You don’t think an answer would be interesting to consider?

  • Jim Jones

    Why is the US almost alone in this?

  • Jim Jones


  • Jim Jones

    JAQing off.