Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Connecticut Shootings And Capitalism

MASS SHOOTINGS are particularly shocking, but they aren't that uncommon in the U.S.  Easy access to guns--one-third of Americans own a gun, and the U.S. as a whole has half the world's guns in civilian hands--may provide the means for committing certain types of crimes, but the roots of Adam Lanza's actions go deeper. They lie in a profoundly alienated society in which violence in general is sanctioned by the most exalted American institutions--as long as it is carried out for "legitimate" purposes, like U.S. wars abroad or police at home defending law and order.

So far this year, more than 90,000 Americans have been shot by guns--over the past three years, there have been 231 shootings in which four or more people have died.

This is from an essay in Socialist Worker called How Does This Happen? that analyzes the Connecticut school killings. Believe what you like about Socialism, but as Nicole Carlson's analysis demonstrates, a Socialist analysis does not have to excuse our economic system and ignore the downsides that come with it. It doesn't have to be thought out and laid out in a way that guards it against potential attacks from the other main political party. It can focus on the roots of the problem.

Marxist thought comes out of the Materialist branch of philosophy, which is that we are the products of our environment, environment here meaning the world created by the economic system we live under.  It's simply the "nurture" side of the old nature-nurture debate.

How we go about making our livings, the social and power relations that result from our economic system, necessitate decisions that are determined not so much by free choice as by the realities of getting by, and so we are the products of our environment much more than we are genetically defined by who our parents are.

Conservatism comes out of the other side. It's talk of "personal responsibility" is an attempt to downplay the negative effects of Capitalism and the "nurture" argument. We're not products of our environment, everything we do is a free choice. People are said to have "good genes" when all they have is more opportunity, a big head start.

Conservatism must do this so it can downplay the downsides of Capitalism, write them off as unavoidable, just as it earlier excused systems of royalty and dictatorship. Everything it says is to guard against potential political attacks from the other side, in this case the Democratic Party, which wants to leave the Capitalist system in place but which has heard the arguments about nurture and wants to take them into account, because they are powerful arguments and win elections for them, but it always does so in a way that means it must compromise itself in the end.


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