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Deadly derangements

DC | Sreeram Chaulia | 18th Dec 2012
A combination of 12 handout pictures shows 12 of 20 young schoolchildren killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14 in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.   Reuters
A combination of 12 handout pictures shows 12 of 20 young schoolchildren killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14 in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. Reuters

Two ghastly atta­cks on school­children in China and the United Sta­tes last week are bound by a common thread of deranged social relati­o­ns and political systems. Far from being one-off tragedies attributable to individual crackpots, the knifing of tiny tots at a primary school in Henan province and the shooting of six-year-olds in an elementary school in the state of Co­n­necticut are manifestations of illnesses inherent in the socio-political structures of the world’s two most powerful nations. These horrific crimes are symptoms of the abnormal arrangements that underpin oppressive orders in China and the US.

Crazed knife attacks on school-going kids ha­ve become a sickeningly common phenomena in China in recent years, te­rrorising communiti­es with the brutality and un­predictability of assa­i­lants. In 2010, there was a record number of such assaults that killed 20 and injured more than 50 uncomprehending chi­­­l­­­dren. The latest stabbing spree in Henan wounded 22 minors, mocking at new security measures introduced in schools across the country to prevent such repetitive and imitative calamities.

Sadly, not enough introspection and public debate has been allowed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) about the root causes of this diabolic threat to the safety of children. Superficial commentaries after each disturbing act of violence aimed at children tend to focus on the absence of international standards of care for the m­e­ntally sick, which all­e­gedly drives some of the more extremely oriented individuals among them to slash children. Abuse of the mentally challenged in state-run asylums is indeed a widespread cancer in China, but it is not a sufficient cause for the creation of so many child-killers.

Better explanations ab­o­ut child-stabbers in Ch­i­na revolve around the notion of “rapid social and economic change” and the tensions it is generating within Chi­nese society. Mo­der­ni­sa­tion is truly an unsett­l­ing process that crowns some winners and dashes the hopes of losers. Chi­na’s extraordinary economic growth in the last three decades, espec­i­ally the vertiginous shift in fortunes it has triggered among different classes and regions, has raised income inequalities to obscene levels. Wh­ile absolute poverty has been practically ban­ished, the competing frictions of uneven distribution of wealth have exacerbated stark differences in status and hierarchy and broken down the egalitarian societal em­pathy of the Maoist era.

Under state capitalism, China has 1.3 billion re­sentments and anxieties about earning one’s keep, inhaling polluted air, consuming infected water, finding affordable housing, holding on to personal property and accessing the best schools and hospitals. What Chinese hyper-modernisation has done is to showcase the “better life” to all citizens but give the access keys only to those who are anointed by the CCP. It is arguable that the ruthless knife-wielding stalkers of children are by-products of a highly unequal society with no safety valve in the form of periodic elections to at least choose one’s own government.

Many Chinese stabbers of kids hold grudges against local party apparatchiks and are disillusioned by failure to obtain redress of grievances by petitioning the Central government in Beijing. By diverting the discussion after each new wave of knife attacks to law and order or mental healthcare, the CCP and its opinion-manufacturing outlets have swept these more entrenched fundamental political problems under the carpet.

In America, there is relatively greater transparency about the prese­n­ce of a morbid gun culture and its devastating impact. Statistics are thrown about after every fresh violent shooting that the US leads the world in per capita possession of we­apons (by the last co­unt, there were 88.8 guns per 100 people), and fervent appeals are made for introducing tougher re­gulations on their sale. But nothing daring like stringent gun-control laws or confiscation of arms from households happens because of the lobbying clout of the de­fence industrial complex — a conglomerate of private corporations, Congressmen, government agencies and media houses that confound the public with militarist messaging.

One national-level in­st­ance of determined ac­t­ion in the American polity vis-a-vis the menace of gun proliferation occurred in 1994, when the Bill Clinton administration enacted the Fe­deral Assault Weapons Ban thanks to a legislature where the De­mo­cr­a­tic Party had a majority in both the Senate and the House of Re­pre­sen­tatives. When the ban reached expiry in 2004, the gun-loving George W. Bush administration and a Congress where both houses had a Re­pu­blican majority allowed it to lapse, much to the delight of the military industrial complex.

American democracy may be more transp­ar­en­t than Chin­ese autocracy, but the sta­tus quo which perm­its random wea­po­ni­sed outrages in sch­o­ols, malls or cinemas is hardly democratic. Af­ter a decade of overseas wars, Am­­e­ri­ca­ns have been bo­mbarded with signals which reinforce his­torical clichés that weapons are necessary to protect oneself agai­nst ha­rm. Film­ma­ker Michael Moore contends that in a relatively secure country like the US, the only reason so­me citizens keep buying deadlier guns is due to their stereotypical fear of “people of co­lo­ur”. The statistics do be­ar out that whites are tw­ice as likely to own guns as non-whites, rev­ealing not only the politics of the racist Repu­blican Pa­r­ty in opposing gun con­trol but also the in­grained social prejudice which associates Af­ri­can Americans and His­pa­nics with violent cri­m­e.

The libertarian strand in US politics th­at distrusts the government and glorifies the individual, coupled with the racist conviction th­at owning a weapon is the only guarantee agai­nst non-whites, are the core fears inflated by the gun lobby to keep its cash registers ringing. Until the US builds social capital across racial divisi­o­ns, even a “post-ra­c­ial presidency” like that of Obama cannot fix the violent vein that ru­ns through the country.

As mourners grieve in Connecticut and Henan, a familiar despondency is setting in that they will be forgotten soon and that the US and China will “move on” with business as usual. Cynicism about change is basically taking a bow to structural pathologies in the economies, societies and polities of both countries. Only peace movements and collective action can transform violently sick systems where children are regularly maimed to line the pockets of corporations and despots.

 

 

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Rob's picture
by Rob (not verified) on
Thanks for the article. One should at least understand and explain what Libertarians actually are doing before attacking them. Libertarian programs are ending violence by rejecting these false choices in the article. For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues worldwide, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ http://www.Libertarian-International.org ....

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