Violence Debate Still Fixated on Knee-Jerk Issues

Two days from the 10th anniversary of Columbine, Salon's David Sirota writes that "our national discussion about violence hasn't yet matured past gun control and video games."

Ten years after the tragedy, Sirota says the United States' debate on violence remains rooted in easy scapegoats because the country as a whole doesn't want to take a closer look at why it is so conditioned to violence.

After each tragedy, it's the same thing. Liberals want us to wonder why gun laws let anyone access deadly weapons. Conservatives insist we question why video games supposedly turn down-to-earth kids into murderers. These queries satiate two desires. In a country that ascribes hubristic "exceptionalism" to itself and berates self-analysis as "hating America," we seek absolution via scapegoat, and so we upbraid boogeymen like firearms and Xboxes.

Among the more likely culprits, Sirota writes:

• A "winner-take-all economy." When it "tortures society, should we be shocked that a few lunatics go over the edge?" He cites reports of increasing domestic violence and extremist activity since the economic collapse of last year.

• U.S. militarism and a media culture that enables, glorifies or otherwise sanctions it.

His politics are very well left, so if you don't care for that, it may just piss you off. But the fundamental point he makes seems reasonable and apolitical to me. Games and guns are sort of pretend-cultural arguments about violence in America. No one is asking why we're dispositioned to carry it out in the first place. We're just looking at means or inspirations.

He says: "Ultimately, shouldn't we expect the deep alienation that may lead the occasional troubled kid to turn video-game fantasies into real-world terror?" That's reasonable. The game's not even a proximate cause of all this. If someone's life is so dysfunctional they spend hours in front of a screen divorced from reality, the last thing we should look at is what's on the screen.

Columbine Questions We Still Haven't Answered [Salon, thanks Kai]


    The argument Sirota makes initially, that any debates on violence in the United States shouldn't be filled with people using easy scapegoats, is sound.

    The second argument he makes, i.e. "blame capitalism" (which he inaccurately calls a 'winner take all economy') and "blame veneration of the military," commits the EXACT SAME MISTAKE that his first argument accuses other arguments of making. He takes two easy scapegoats: classical liberal economics (i.e. free markets) and any media coverage of the military that doesn't say "we should spit on soldiers."

    In committing the error he accuses other people of committing, Sirota unravells his second argument.

    The idea that violence is a product of capitalism ignores the historical fact that the most peaceful contries on earth are those with classically liberal institutions. The more a country adopts individual rights (including the consequences of those rights with respect to economic interactions between individual human beings (i.e. a free market economy (and I mean REALLY free market, not the Keynesian-Corporatist crap that currently passes for free market))), the more it is peaceful.

    The US might have more violence within it than some other OECD contries, but it has much less than, say, Zimbabwe, Sudan or Myanmar.

    As for the veneration of the military, one can respect members of the armed services WITHOUT supporting the foreign policy of the government that makes the decisions to go to war. In the American system of government, it is an administration of politicians that declares war. The military simply carry out the politicians bidding. Its perfectly reasonable to respect individual members of the armed services whilst STILL disagreeing with the administration's foreign policy.

    I have friends that are members of US military. And they are not evil men and women. You can accuse them of being naive, I have done this myself on multiple occasions. But they are not intellectually dishonest. They usually have purely benevolent intentions, and yes, they may be a little naive, but they are not cruel and they do not relish in the subjugation of others.

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