Friday, June 04, 2010

Get used to Cumbrian-style killings in neoliberal UK


This piece of mine appears in the First Post.

Neil Clark: The egotistic culture of free market capitalism is to blame.

It's tempting to see Derrick Bird’s killing spree in Cumbria as 'just one of those things' - a freak, isolated event that has no real sociological cause. It's certainly a line taken by right-wing media commentators. "Terrible deeds like this happen every so often. Nothing could have been done to prevent it, little can be done to explain it," opines political blogger Iain Dale.

In fact, much can be done to explain it.

US-style killing sprees are a relatively recent phenomenon in Britain, occurring for the first time in Hungerford, Berkshire in 1987. We didn't have such occurrences in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, or 70s - and many countries in the world still don't experience such events. So where have we gone wrong?

The answer is that we've Americanised our economy, and consequently are paying a very high social cost.


You can read the whole article here:

11 comments:

DBC Reed said...

Right: a lot of the problems at that taxi rank seemed to stem from unregulated competition.This whole country is stressed out (whether or not it turns out this geezer was any more or less stressed than anyone else.)
A very well-researched piece .

Czarny Kot said...

It is pretty safe to say that these type of incidents do occur more frequently in more 'competitive' societies, but they are not limited to them.

Gun legislation will be the main topic up for discussion but it's a bit of a red herring.

As David Lindsay pointed out, Switzerland and Japan have no problems with mass-killings. In Switzerland gun ownership is compulsory, in Japan it is strictly controlled.

Whilst I personally think that guns should be limited to only those who need them (ie: farmers) it is clear that societal factors are more important than the availability of guns.

Whether this is the fault of 80's neo-liberalism, 60's social liberalism and individuality or even 90's cultural glorification of violence is a question I certainly cannot answer. Perhaps a combination...

PS: Good point in the article about Facebook. Spot on.

robert said...

Hmmmm, I sympathise with much of what Mr Clark is arguing here, but ...

The first US-style mass slaughter by a lone gunman in Germany, so far as I know, was a massacre in 2002 that left 16 dead at Erfurt. Which had been in the old Communist sector. If we want to invoke politics to blame for that particular massacre, then do we blame it on neoliberalism or on recidivist Commies or what?

And the first mass slaughter by a lone gunman anywhere was back in 1949, when a former soldier named Howard Unruh went berserk and wiped out 13 people in New Jersey. (He escaped the death penalty through being found insane.) But in 1949 America was actually in one of its less free-market periods. The New Deal and the Fair Deal were still very much active.

Not all that much neoliberalism, either, in the corporatist big-government South Korea of 1982, where a barking-mad cop named Wou Bom-kon wiped out, I kid you not, 57 people in a few hours.

As for David Lindsay's comment that the Swiss have no problem with mass killings, this simply isn't true. In 2001 Friedrich Leibacher, an alcoholic paedophile, slew 14 members of the legislature in Zug, Switzerland.

Me, I'd be inclined to attribute more blame to the general pornographication of the mass media during recent years, than to any direct neoliberal correlation. Which is not to say I don't find Mr Clark's comments rewarding and interesting, because I do. (And I fear I spend far too much time on Facebook myself.)

Stefan said...

God, what a stupid article.

Mr. Piccolo said...

Great article, Mr. Clark. I agree completely. Just to let non-Americans know how bad things are in the U.S., our schools (public and private, rich and poor) commonly sport high-tech security systems, including security cameras and metal detectors. This is largely a response to the many schools shootings that have taken place in the U.S. since the 1980s.

What is even worse about all of this is that people who work on the problem of mental health in America know that the changes in the economy and the society have caused our mental health situation to get much, much worse.

I once had to read over a model human resources manual at work that plainly admitted the fact that changes in the economy and society (less employment security, longer hours and more stress, more family breakdown, weaker friendships, less community spirit, etc.) were the primary reasons for the mass outbreak of mental health problems over the last 30 or so years. This was a manual for EMPLOYERS admitting this!

Yet, nobody can critique neoliberal capitalism in America. To do so, one must break a powerful taboo that we have developed since at least the 1980s. Capitalism in the U.S. has developed this kind of almost godlike status. While it is no longer a big deal to viciously skewer actual religious belief (in fact, you will probably be considered a member of the avant-garde for doing so), any radical critique of neoliberal capitalism is met with accusations of being a fascist, or a traitor, or any number of unpleasant things. Instead, folks usually try to pin the blame on some other force in society.

Conservatives often blame these shootings on violent video games, movies, etc., and I agree, to a certain extent. But conservatives never seem to understand that these video games, movies, etc. are part of the free-market system. They aren’t produced by state-owned enterprises or worker’s cooperatives, but by capitalist corporations. Of course, some conservatives will try to spin it as if crypto-communists in Hollywood were behind all of this, in an attempt to weaken the U.S. for a Red takeover, but that is just silly conspiracy theory.

That being said, I also think progressives need to wake up to the fact that the Sexual Revolution and other social upheavals of the ‘60s and into today have made things worse, not better. Social libertinism and economic neoliberalism go together like a horse and carriage. I think a future anti-capitalism will have to be both economically left-wing and socially conservative, at least to a certain extent.

I’ve mentioned this before, but left-wingers and populists should start looking towards more traditional societies for some inspiration. These kinds of killings are much less common in more traditional societies, like the Amish, for example, who tend to have much better mental health than the average American out there in mainstream society, largely because Amish society is much more cohesive.

There was a mass shooting at an Amish school in 2006, but that massacre was perpetrated by an outsider, not a member of the community, and for reasons that did not arise out of the Amish community. While I don’t want to idealize traditional communities (they have their problems, too), I think we can learn a lot from them, while at the same time being more critical of certain aspects of modernity.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who doubts what Neil Clark has written should read Mark Ames's book 'Going Postal'. After the Reaganite economic reforms had placed immense pressure on workers, previously unheard of workplace shootings and school/college shootings became common. The first one was in a US postal office in the 80s, hence the name. In 2003 there were over 40 workplace and school/college shootings in the USA. The shootings in East Germany occurred after the rapid neo-liberalisation of the economy. The Russian murder rate shot through the roof during the neoliberal 'shock therapy' of the 1990s.

Derrick Bird's workmates were amongst his first victims, and most of the pressure that he felt was coming from work and financial problems. I'm a university-based criminologist, and my local paper asked me for a comment on the Cumbrian killings. They printed the bits about the pressure, but edited out the connections to the neoliberal economy.

Stefan, what a stupid, ignorant comment. Back to the sandpit for you.

- questionnaire

Anonymous said...

I'm a university-based criminologist ...

Are you the Crossbow Cannibal? Care to speculate on the links between your profession and gory serial killings?

Johnm said...

This comment was left with First Post but I don't think it got accepted;


Neil Clark’s reasoning is good and if there is an error it is in his omissions. In terms of defining the problem Neil has gone only so far. His suggested cause is a subset of what might be summarised as “Engineered Evolution” or “Social Engineering”, which is some of the machinery used to bring about the “New World Order” or the Biblical term “Image of the Beast”.

The issue at hand is complex but a simple explanation should work; there is always a cause of an effect. Derrick Bird’s mental health is not known to me but it is not necessary that he be psychotic. The causes being suggested such as Will and taxation problems are not causes but are triggers, causes and effects over a long period, left Derrick Bird enabled waiting for the right situation and the right trigger. There will be a large number of people in the same boat, of the few of them who meet their Waterloo only a few will follow Derrick Bird’s course, most will engage in other forms of anti-social behaviour, others will have mental breakdowns.

The causes and effects of Engineered Evolution are probably infinite sets and we cannot consider them all so a good place to start is with post traumatic stress disorder. A simple description of PTSD is when we compare the subject’s personality to a computer program; the PTSD is present as a virus or a number of viruses. The personality is being continually programmed and viruses can be inserted at any time by an experience that conflicts with the persons embedded value system, such as molestation, rape, experiencing or witnessing violence for starters. The effect of engineered evolution, that is, rapid changes in values and expectations leaves the victim with a fragmented and disoriented personality.

More directly related to the case at hand, there is a process called enabling, or normalising in some cases, where the subject’s values are turned upside down, examples are; using human silhouettes and effigies as shooting targets, DVDs and TV making sexual immorality and killing appear normal. Today, when people have a conscience that conscience takes a much diluted form to the conscience of yesterday.

Johnm

Roland Hulme said...

I'm a big fan of Neil's and I like him a lot, but I'm with Stefan on this one. Blaming mass murder on capitalism is... I'm tempted to say 'absolutely f**king retarded' but instead I'll just say '...a stretch.'

America's numerous mass shootings might have to do with the fact that you can walk into a store and buy a gun without so much as a driver's license in many states.

This is just drivel. Sorry, Neil. You're spot on with a lot of things but BOY you missed the target with this rubbish.

Anonymous said...

"This is just drivel."

No Roland, once more you talk drivel yourself. You know nothing about the subject.

I gather from briefly perusing your site that you would rather read about sports cars and other easy stuff for overgrown teenagers, but for once read the properly researched quality literature Neil has suggested and compare the stats for mass killings, serial killings and homicides for a) social democratic nations and b) neoliberal capitalist nations.

Here's a brief example; in Ames's study, there had been one workplace shooting in the USA before 1980; after 1980 there have been dozens in workplaces and colleges. Only quite stupid people would fail to see the significance of that. Of course, to understand this you have to understand the difference between single causes and generative conditions. If that's beyond you, well, to be frank, you should stay out of the argument.

Just read the research, then come back, and if you're still shooting the same line at least we'll be able to confirm that you are an ideologue rather than a thinker.

- questionnaire

Anonymous said...

... oh, and to save you some time, Roland, note that many nations including Canada and Austria have higher per capita gun ownership rates than the USA and Britain yet far lower rates of the types of murder I have just mentioned.

The gun ownership argument is beginner's stuff. You have to follow the research and the standard arguments in the field right through.