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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