That’s looking less and less funny every day. I’m not so sure it’s even wrong anymore.
Today brings news of another massacre, this time of at least 26 children at a grade school in Connecticut, only days after a random mall shooting on the opposite coast in Portland Oregon. A couple of days before that there was another gun rampage on an Indian reservation in California. Where next? The South? The Midwest? They’re coming so fast now that the last one is forgotten before a new one enters the 24 hour news cycle. It was not too long ago when the murders a movie theater in Aurora Colorado, not far from the Columbine massacre, shocked the nation. Before that it was the poster child for confused, undereducated, alienated white suburban America with no future, Jared Loughner, who popped rounds into a U.S. Representative and several bystanders. It was enough to make people forget the Virginia Tech shooting. Where I live, there were two mass killings this year alone, one a racially motivated hate crime at a Sikh temple, and an estranged husband at a spa in Brookfield.
Now mass killings in America seem to be a weekly occurrence on average. And those are only the ones big enough to get reported. Standoffs with police, or situations where there are “only” a few victims rarely get national coverage outside the local press (did you know about the Brookfield Spa shooting?). I bet some of you know of some local rampage that didn’t make national headlines.
Riding the bus home I’m treated to extremely graphic, ghoulish pictures of people shaving with gaping holes in their throat (“be careful not to cut your stoma”) and people in hospital gowns showing the scars where their lungs were removed, ostensibly to prevent people smoking. There is a trend to plaster horrific images of drug users with before and after shots all over billboards to prevent drug use. We are now surrounded by these images. But what do they really tell us? What is there real effect? I think their real effect is to say that human society has become so debased, so decrepit, that we have no further to fall.
How ghoulish has our society become? How much worse can it get?
We’re told that Americans are basically a good people, and that these are just a few bad apples. How many bad apples before the whole barrel is rotting? When the Brievik massacre happened in Norway, certain people took perverse pride in the fact that these things can happen anywhere, even in peaceful Norway, with a small homogeneous population and the world’s highest living standards. Sure, but how many happened before and after that? Or in any other country where something like this has happened? In America, it’s now becoming as common as car accidents. That is decidedly not the case in Europe or anywhere else. There may be an exception, and I'll get to that in a moment.
Today I was reading an article on the “school to prison pipeline” where random drug sweeps are conducted to haul students away to for-profit prisons. Sniffing dogs are provided by the prison corporation (CCA) to sniff out marijuana in lockers so the students can be locked up. I recall the case where a judge who passed down harsh sentences on kids was getting kickbacks from the prison corporation. Once you are in the prison system, you are basically blacklisted from legitimate employment for life. Prisoners are a permanent institutionalized underclass. On the BBC I read today about how endemic rape is in American prisons. I also recalled the state of Texas microchipping students to follow their every move. Training them early, I suppose. I’ve noticed at a lot of stores whenever I wish to buy anything, the clerk, when they’re not using “push marketing” to try to ram another credit card down my throat, immediately barks “ZIP code! Why do I need to give my ZIP code to a stranger just to buy a tube of toothpaste (or whatever)? It seems like the modern equivalent of “papers, please.” They’re trying to normalize this sort of thing in the population, and it’s working. The clerk and I both obey. She needs to keep her job and I don’t want to cause a scene. Visitors to the United States often remark on the police state feel of the place, something Americans don’t even seem to realize anymore thanks to creeping normalcy. But it’s anything but normal. I recently heard a podcast with John Taylor Gatto about how schools are used to “break” children by forcing them to repeat meaningless facts or face the consequences.
Such outcomes are a natural consequence of a society that institutionalizes people from birth to death. From the age of five you’re shuffled from a school desk to a work desk with only a few brief years of hedonistic freedom in between (which explains the sex and binge drinking that comes along with), long enough to rack up a lifetime of debt. Then you’re put in an old folks home to run out the clock (when I worked on these, we used to call them “vinyl coffins” for their ubiquitous vinyl siding). Work hours and commutes keep getting longer, while pay keeps getting reduced. With already more people locked up than any civilization in human history, I don't think we can jail away the unemployment problem forever.
How is collapse worse than this?
I was also reading about the "Fiscal Cliff" and how only the U.S. and Denmark have such a boneheaded budgeting process (Denmark obviously has better outcomes). But, like the electoral college, the right to keep and bear arms, voting on Tuesdays, the fillibuster, schools funded by local property taxes, and a million other boneheaded legacy things we're stuck with, there will be no change. To put it in contemporary terms, we're stuck with the archaic two-hundred year old operating system until our computer craps out. Maybe then we can get a badly needed upgrade. There is so much dysfunction on every level, from the way we school our kids (herding bored children) to the way we inhabit the landscape (strip malls and muffler shops) to the way work (useless paper shuffling and sales meetings) to the way we run our government (slash and borrow). You’ve got one of two parties running the government hostile to the very idea of government. They want to see it fail. For them, that’s a good thing. Gee, maybe that leads to bad outcomes. If we were to actually sit down and design any of this today, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't do any of the things we're now doing. Everything is a kluge, a compromise, a quick-fix, a punt, an extend-and-pretend, or a kick-the can. How much longer can this slow motion train wreck of a government go on? Social intertia is morphing into social necrosis.
The BBC this week ran a story about how the Chinese are hidebound to follow America's path to destruction, including mindless hedonitic consumerism. Read it and weep:
In Mandarin Chinese, the number 12 sounds vaguely like a declaration of love - a coincidence retailers and shoppers have been celebrating with gusto on the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012. But as the BBC's Beijing bureau reports, there is growing concern over the environmental price of unbridled consumption."Thirty per cent off home appliances!" screams one Chinese online retailer."Buy 300 yuan [$48; £30] worth of goods to get an 80 yuan [$14; £8] discount!" urges another.China 'ecological footprint' fears fuelled by retail bonanza
Almost every major Chinese retailer is featuring a special deal honouring 12 December."Companies have made up a special festival to ask consumers to buy more," explains avid online bargain hunter Stella Yang. The 24-year-old has just moved to Beijing to hunt for a job after graduating in the UK.
Since her arrival, Stella has been busy trawling China's online shopping sites for items to fill her new Beijing apartment."I bought some basic things, like furniture and decorations for my new home," Stella told the BBC. "And clothes!" Stella was logging onto her favourite sites on Tuesday to look for additional deals.
But a shopper's delight is an environmentalist's nightmare. China lags behind many Western countries in terms of per capita consumption. China has the world's biggest ecological footprint, according to the Ecological Footprint Report released on Wednesday by WWF International.Chinese citizens are now consuming resources at 2.5 times the rate at which the country's ecosystems can provide.
If everyone in the world lived as the average Chinese citizen now lives, Mr Leape says, we would need 1.2 planets to support us.China nevertheless ranks a lowly 74th in worldwide per capita consumption, far behind older industrial economies like those of the United States and the European Union. If everyone on earth lived the way Americans now live, we would need four planets to support our lifestyle.
"One could argue that China is following a path that those countries took. But the simple truth is that China can't afford to follow that path," Mr Leape explains. Instead, the WWF's report concludes that Chinese leaders must strive to improve the population's quality of life without following the flawed 20th Century model of growth.
And, perhaps not coincidentally:
BEIJING (AP) — A knife-wielding man injured 22 children and one adult outside a primary school in central China as students were arriving for classes Friday, police said, the latest in a series of periodic rampage attacks at Chinese schools and kindergartens.Man with knife injures 22 kids at school in China
The attack in the Henan province village of Chengping happened shortly before 8 a.m., said a police officer from Guangshan county, where the village is located. The attacker, 36-year-old villager Min Yingjun, is now in police custody, said the officer, who declined to give her name, as is customary among Chinese civil servants.
A Guangshan county hospital administrator said the man first attacked an elderly woman, then students, before being subdued by security guards who have been posted across China following a spate of school attacks in recent years. He said there were no deaths among the nine students admitted, although two badly injured children had been transferred to better-equipped hospitals outside the county. A doctor at Guangshan's hospital of traditional Chinese medicine said that seven students had been admitted, but that none were seriously injured.
No motive was given for the stabbings, which echo a string of similar assaults against schoolchildren in 2010 that killed nearly 20 and wounded more than 50. The most recent such attack took place in August, when a knife-wielding man broke into a middle school in the southern city of Nanchang and stabbed two students before fleeing.
Most of the attackers have been mentally disturbed men involved in personal disputes or unable to adjust to the rapid pace of social change in China, underscoring grave weaknesses in the antiquated Chinese medical system's ability to diagnose and treat psychiatric illness. In one of the worst incidents, a man described as an unemployed, middle-aged doctor killed eight children with a knife in March 2010 to vent his anger over a thwarted romantic relationship.
Massive gap between rich and poor, wall-to-wall advertising and mindless consumerism, faceless bureaucracy, threadbare social services, broken, dislocated families, alienated workers broken at the wheel and discarded, etc. I guess China really is following in our footsteps, and with the same results. The right wingers have one thing right: changing gun laws won't stop the culture of killing, as Michael Moore found out in Bowling For Columbine. But at least it's harder to conduct massacres with a knife.
Timeline: Major shooting incidents in the United States (note: just in 2012!!)