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Mass killings and the Consumer Madness Index

A week or so ago, just after a Vietnamese immigrant named Jiverly Wong had killed more than a dozen people at a Binghamton, New York community center, a friend sent me a note wondering aloud whether the spate of mass murders around the U.S. was connected to the collapse of the economy. Since then I’ve been collecting body counts from the newswires–the engineer in Santa Clara, and the estranged husband in Graham, Washington, who killed their families and then themselves; the men in Pittsburgh and Oakland who killed a total of seven cops. 

I was meaning to write something about it, but yesterday the Washington Post beat me to it with a trend story on the subject. Reporter Philip Rucker does the math thus: eight mass killings in a month’s time, 57 dead in all. It’s become so routine so quickly that the latest episode, in which an Alabama man killed four relatives and then himself on Tuesday of this week, didn’t even get much national media play.

The most horrible aspect of it all–in part because it feels like the most telling–is the infanticide: parents killing their children in the apparent conviction that they are somehow saving them from an even worse fate. Of course the economy is a factor. But it’s too facile to call it “the” cause. The economy represents the tipping point in a long line of doomsday harbingers that have been playing on the American imagination for years. War. Terrorism. Global warming. And now, epochal economic collapse.

There are your four horsemen, if you’re inclined to think in those terms. And as the spectacular rise of end-time-obsessed religious fundamentalism attests, more people than ever do think in those terms. By this, I do not mean to blame the Bible-thumpers; as far as I can tell, the same current of end-is-nigh dread is running nearly as strong in the secular world. A culture that is staring at the end of long-ingrained ways of life, and that believes in millennialism and owning lots of guns, is a very dangerous beast.

More about this another time. But I’m curious to know what you make of all the recent bloodshed. Comments?

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 04/09/2009 - 09:27 am.

    The current newsstand edition of TIME magazine contains a devastating expose of a collection of kook economists, who have brainwashed President Barack Obama into adopting his present foolish and destructive economic agenda. Collectively, these economists are referred to as “behaviorist economists,” and they are hardcore followers of the British philosophical radicalism of John Locke, Bernard de Mandeville and Jeremy Bentham, all 18th century figures who argued that man is nothing more than a beast, irrationally driven by pleasure and pain.

    According to the TIME account, confirmed by sources close to the Obama White House, the President has been surrounded by a collection of “behaviorist economists,” who have cultivated a cult-like following through the publication of such daffy economic tracts as Freakonomics, Nudge, Predictable Irrationality, The Wisdom of Crowds, and Animal Spirits. These economists, including longtime Obama advisors Cass Sunstein, Richard Thaler, Dan Ariely, and Daniel Kahneman, have formed a tight clique, surrounding the President, to the exclusion of some of the more well-known and relatively competent economists, originally brought in to the Obama White House, but who have now been cast aside, in favor of the Pavlovian/Skinnerian kooks.

  2. Submitted by Rod Loper on 04/09/2009 - 09:57 am.

    Well, the thundering and ranting from the Glenn Becks and Michelle Bachmanns don’t help very much
    do they. Even Michael Savage thinks Beck is flat out nuts.

  3. Submitted by Donald Rilea on 04/09/2009 - 03:01 pm.

    These recent killings are part of a much longer phenomenon that’s been going on in not only the US, but Canada, the UK, Germany, Finland and other parts of the world since the immediate post-WWII era(though there are a few such killings that go back as far as the 1890s).

    There are many factors, especially behavioural traits like poor impulse control, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, etc, found within many mass murderers, that play into this phenomenon, including vastly improved, cheaper and easier to use weapons technologies, especially firearms technology. That doesn’t mean one can’t commit such acts with knives, bows and arrows, etc(one German mass murderer used a home-made flame thrower in his killing spree), but it takes more time and effort, especially in training, to learn how to use them than with most modern firearms.

    Tighter legal controls on firearms might help to a degree in this area, but would only be a small part of the social tools needed to correct this problem. Better community-based mental health care outreach programmes would be another help, but again, it too would only be a small part.

    Ultimately, I believe it will take a much larger overall cultural change, not just in the US, but in much of the world, in which individuals and communities are valued for who they are, and not just on the amount of money, possessions or potential services they can provide.

    This isn’t something that can be, nor should be, left up to governments and other institutions alone. So-called ordinary people like us have our roles to play in this, too, because the decisions we make on an everyday basis matter as much as decisions made in national or regional capitals.

    Even then, don’t think that the problem of mass killings, or even simple homicide, would ever entirely go away. People kill for a variety of reasons, some personal, some economic, political, what have you. They are most susceptible to doing it when feeling so desperate and pushed against the wall, or aggrieved, that they lash out at the targets closest at hand.

    Children and animals understand this instinctively, and sometimes act on those impulses.

    In my view, there are no simple, quick nor easy answers nor solutions to problems like mass murder, at least not ones that anyone who believes in a democratic society would care to have and pay the price of having.

    One could ban all firearms and other weapons,give law enforcement agencies unlimited powers of search, seizure, arrest, trial and execution, and institute collective punishment for the family members of mass murderers and the like, with their being put to death along with the murderer. But, the kind of culture in which we would live with such measures would be extremely harsh and dictatorial, and unsustanible over the long run.

    Making the sort of changes necessary to at least greatly reduce mass murder rates, and murder rates in general, won’t be easy, quick or cheap. But, the effort’s still worth making, because the present situation’s untenable over the long run, and some of the alternatives, like the ones I used above, are far worse than the problem they were meant to fix.

    Thanks for your time and attention.

  4. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/09/2009 - 03:26 pm.

    Last year, the United Nations finished a four-year study on the prevalence of handguns and automatic weapons around the world and asked member states to sign an agreement to stop trading in them. Only two countries refused to sign: The United States and Zimbabwe.

    If the Congress of the United States ever gets over letting the National Rifle Association control our policy regarding the easy availability of weapons that have no purpose other than killing, perhaps it will enact common sense national legislation (that will NOT “take away our guns”) and sign the United Nations agreement next time in comes up … four years from last year’s refusal. Until then, something like one person will die every 16 seconds as victims of these weapons.

    This may actually be another problem that could be solved by full public funding of all national public office election campaigns. It may be the only way to render big-money lobbyists toothless.

  5. Submitted by Brandon Cole on 04/09/2009 - 04:22 pm.

    Anthony Burgess once said “As we are all solipsists, and all die, the world dies with us.” Solipsism is a grand delusion in itself. How deluded these folks must be to include the lives of other in their own personal apocalypse.

    Megalomania is the only explanation my mind can grasp that might give these tortured souls the sense of entitlement to destroy the world of other as they destroy their own.

    I wish I could send a message to all future suicide-murderers: Your life is insignificant. If you wish to end it, end it insignificantly. Just leave the rest of us alone, we have bills to pay.

  6. Submitted by Mark Mershon on 04/10/2009 - 09:49 am.

    Bad economies don’t kill people, people kill people…if you outlaw bad economic news, then only outlaws will have bad economic news. They will take my bad economy away, when they pry my cold dead hands off of it!!

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