Sunday, May 29, 2022

Talking with Anarchists About Gun Control

Every time I write anything supportive of gun control there is a consistent response from a certain segment of my social circles that is strongly in opposition to my position on this very fraught issue.  Of course we're talking largely about the internet here, but many of the responses represent actual people I know in the real world.  They're people of all ages, from various countries, who identify as anarchists, socialists, communists, or elsewhere on the left.  Demographically diverse, though skewing towards white, male, on the younger side, and from the US -- which may say more about my social circles than about anything else, and it's not particularly relevant.  The point is, from my vantage point at least, there is an abundance of people on the left who seem to be seriously opposed to any kind of gun control laws, for all kinds of reasons.

Those are the folks I'd like to speak to now.  Most of the voices in support of gun control laws out there are not necessarily coming from what we might call a radical left orientation.  The hypocrisy of liberals who support spending hundreds of billions every year on the military but complain about the Republicans who don't want to pass gun control laws domestically is easy to dismiss, as is the moralizing of pacifists.

For whatever it may be worth, that's not where I'm coming from.  I have a decades-long record of being called a terrorist sympathizer, on the basis of the many songs I've written that are fairly explicitly supportive of historical and contemporary armed struggles around the world.  I'm not a pacifist, moralistic or otherwise, and politically I have loads in common with the anarchists and communists who take issue with my support for the idea of gun control laws in the US.

I think I have a solid understanding of where my fellow members of the far left are coming from on this, and for those who are willing to hear me out, I'll venture to unpack the conversation around six of the types of questions I encounter regularly.

1)  Guns are a tool, though a potentially deadly one.  Is the problem the tool, or how the tool is used, and who's using it, or misusing it?

Let's say we agree that guns are good for hunting and good for self-protection, but they can be misused, for shooting schoolchildren or killing one's family (which happens somewhere in the US on a daily basis).  What might be done to prevent misuse, in terms of laws and regulations?

I know many of us are very doubtful about the potential for the US government to pass useful laws, since it usually just makes everything worse.  But just at least in principle, as someone who spends a lot of time in countries where governments are more interested in passing useful laws on occasion, let's say we were talking about cars.

Cars are also a tool, and a deadly one.  Tens of thousands of people die in the US every year from car accidents (about half as many as those who die from guns).  In many other countries, guns hardly kill anyone.  Cars are still pretty deadly most everywhere, though.  

In Stockholm, city planners decided a while back they were going to aim to design the city's streets, roundabouts, and other infrastructure in such a way that even if people drove recklessly, on purpose or not, they will find it difficult to get into a fatal accident.  Without four-way intersections, if you run a red light, it's very difficult to have a serious collision, though it's easy enough to have a fender-bender.  As a result of decades of work on redesigning Stockholm's streets, the city achieved zero traffic deaths over an entire year recently.

If we were to treat guns as a necessary evil along the lines of cars and try to minimize their misuse without banning them, there are many different avenues to explore there, certainly including many of the types of things the NRA guys talk about, such as bulletproofing schools.  But one of those ways to avoid the misuse of guns is to make at least some aspects of their misuse impossible.  For example, by banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and the rapid-fire weapons that employ them, we can dramatically lower the death count, as happened during the years when the assault weapons ban was in effect in the US.

2)  The state is the greatest purveyor of violence and has a monopoly on the really big weaponry.  Why should we unilaterally disarm, and leave the police with all the guns?

So, there is gun control already, it just doesn't ban high-capacity magazines and rapid-fire weapons.  It does ban really big, even more rapid-fire weapons from being owned by civilians, though.  We also can't have our own howitzers, shoulder-fired Javelin missiles, tactical nukes, etc.  

But we can buy lots of guns, and we do, as do the cops.  And what are the results?  The cops kill several thousand of us every year, and we kill tens of thousands of each other.  According to the NRA dude on the radio yesterday, guns are preventing a million more deaths on the streets of the US every year, which is just a mind-boggling notion, that without being so well-armed, we'd be killing a million of each other every year.  But barring the NRA's lunatic reasoning, we are still the victims of guns, mostly fired by each other.

Specifically, many people kill each other in violence related to the very profitable trade in illegal drugs.  Making all the drugs legal would be a very good move to help with some of that violence.  It would also give the police far fewer excuses to terrorize so many people, fill the prisons, etc., but I digress, slightly.  Point is, mostly we're just killing each other, and we do that more, the more guns we have.  This is a statistical reality, though of course there are always many possible explanations for it.

Also, the idea of gun control is not to just control guns for civilians, but potentially for the cops, too.  Now I can see the looks on the faces of your average American radical when I say this -- I realize the unlikelihood of demilitarizing the cops in the US.  Demilitarizing society in general is also unlikely, in the current political climate, so let's just stay partially in the realm of hypothesis here -- we have to start somewhere, in terms of thinking about these things.  Implementation will be another matter altogether, to be sure!

To bring in another example from outside the US in terms of this question of disarming the police, along with everyone else:  I was at the G8 protests in Rostock in 2007.  Through mass nonviolent civil disobedience, tens of thousands of people blocked the roads throughout the region, forcing G8 delegates to travel by helicopter or by boat.  

There were also riots, which as far as I could tell were started by the cops, but I didn't see how they started, I only saw what happened once things really kicked off.  There were thousands of mostly young folks throwing rocks and other projectiles at the police, who were decked out in body armor and other riot paraphernalia.  The police swung their clubs and the youth threw rocks, and there was some tear gas, too.  This went on for hours.  

As this medieval melee progressed, many people were injured.  I recall reading in the news that 16 cops got broken bones.  Afterwards, some of the politicians in Berlin were outraged, and called for the riot police to be armed with guns.  

They were immediately rebuked by the chief of police, who said arming the police would only escalate these kinds of riots, so that the folks throwing rocks might also arm themselves with heavier weapons than cobblestones.

Without arming the riot cops, they still maintain law and order in Germany, such as it is.  Without any of the protesters being armed, we shut down the whole Rostock area for a week.  The state could change the equation and arm themselves more heavily, easily.  The state could impose long prison sentences on people who sit down in the street, too.  Doing so, or not doing so, is a calculated decision on the part of any government, which every government knows will come with various short- and longer-term consequences.  

Either way, the real power of the state here isn't mainly about how well-armed it is, but how well-organized, how competent, and how relatively trusted it is, in many different ways.  By the same token, the power of the social movement in this situation is about how well-organized it is, how much popular support it has, and the overall context it exists in, which is a context that has been established by previous governments, previous social movements, cultural norms, and other factors.  

Not whether it escalates conflict from cobblestones to more deadly projectiles, so that the police can respond in kind.

3)  The US government is the biggest terrorist organization in the world.  It terrorizes its own population as well, and is also bringing us closer than ever to the end of life as we know it.  It must be overthrown by any means necessary.  This may involve lots of guns, so if the proliferation of guns cause problems in the short term don't we just have to deal with it, without banning them?

I agree with the sentiment here, including the potential need, hypothetically at least, to sacrifice one thing in order to achieve another (in this case, sacrificing public safety in order to achieve a violent revolution).  But I would invite the insurrectionists to engage with me in a little bit of nuanced thinking.

If we recognize there's a problem here -- public safety -- but we're willing to sacrifice it for the hypothetical revolution, then maybe we can also apply this same logic in different ways.  As far as I'm aware, the philosopher who first wrote about the concept of principal and secondary contradictions was Lao Tzu, but it doesn't matter.  Whoever came up with the notion, it's very relevant.  

At this stage in history in the US, I think very few people would say we're on the brink of a popular leftwing revolution of some kind, and what we really need is enough guns and ammo to make it happen.  That's very far from our actual situation.  The kind of movement that could lead us in that direction would be a very large, very well-organized mass movement, involving a significant minority of the population of society, that has lots of deep ties throughout civil society, labor unions, community organizations, neighborhood associations, and so on.  That kind of movement doesn't currently exist in the US.  Putting on a good riot and organizing a revolution are two entirely different things, there are many, many steps in between.

In the meantime, if we're supporting or opposing different reformist initiatives, any laws that make it more difficult for people to buy assault weapons and guns in general will tend to make society safer, and this is a good thing.  It does not resolve so many of the deep contradictions within society that desperately must be addressed, but the existence of those many problems does not justify having more guns around -- they're not helping.

The easy availability of legally purchasable high-caliber weapons is not generally the thing that makes or breaks a revolution.  At some point in the process, access to weapons and support of all kinds is crucial to any such movement, and we can cite many examples of revolutionary movements and the role played by the supporters of different movements in different parts of the world in securing needed weapons.  And of course revolutionary movements around the world recently and historically are full of examples of soldiers and cops abandoning their posts and joining the movement, too, which is often where the weapons used in revolutions come from in the first place.  Plus, so many of the more explosive tools used by guerrilla armies, urban or otherwise, are illegal, even in the US.  Revolutionaries tend to need to be creative, and are not usually reliant on the guns they use being legal in the first place.

4)  Gun control is just more reformism.  The US is a failed state.  We can't hope the state is going to fix our problems for us by banning guns, can we?

The thing is, the fact that US society is so awash in deadly weapons is by design.  It's been this way for centuries.  What's changed is the weapons have gotten deadlier.  But arming the white male population in this country has been government policy since long before the US was a country.  It was part of the settler-colonial project from the beginning.  Speaking as a white male American for a moment, historically we have been the cannon fodder for settler-colonialism -- or the overseers, or the hired killers -- depending on what the capitalists were looking for at the time.

In other words, to a huge extent we are just playing into the hands of the powers-that-be by opposing gun control.  Of course the police need to be disarmed, and defunded, and a whole lot of other things need to happen.  There's nothing smooth about any of these processes, if they can be called that.  But there's no hope of demilitarizing the police if the rest of society is as militarized as it is.

If we just take what is essentially an accelerationist position -- that there's no hope for useful reforms, and the best we can hope for is for society to implode quickly, so we can somehow benefit from the chaos and make a revolution out of it -- what we are actually doing is aiding the far right.  I can't guarantee that -- there are certainly examples in history where bread riots were instrumental in bringing on very progressive changes.  But the kind of breakdown of social cohesion that we've been facing in this country for so long is not the kind of chaos that leads anywhere good.  Flooding the country with inexpensive guns will accomplish just about as much as cancelling the food stamp program, it seems to me.  Not the kind of reform that would be helpful.  Unlike more food stamps, and fewer AR-15s.

5)  The Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer go downtown with AR-15s, threaten us, and worse.  Recently they shot into a crowd of protesters and killed one of us in Portland.  Don't we need to be armed, too, to protect ourselves from them?

Realistically, gun control just means fewer weapons on the streets.  Norway already had strong gun control laws when a Norwegian Nazi went and killed 78 people in 2011.  This can happen anywhere.  People can get shot at protests in Norway, too, but you'll have to go back a very long way to find a protest where something like that happened.  Same with Cuba, incidentally.  Or most countries that aren't having a war.  But in the US it happens all the time.  It doesn't have to be this way.

But laws that impact the availability of guns, or particularly deadly forms of them, such as rapid-fire weapons with high-capacity magazines, would not just apply to the left.  We started carrying guns around at the protests because they were doing it.  They started doing it because they were both allowed to by law, and encouraged to by very rich and powerful forces in society.

Having protests where there are opposing sides, both heavily armed, along with a heavily-armed police force, hasn't been making anyone safer.  People keep getting killed.  Not that we're safe with only the police being heavily armed, but without the heavily-armed civilians facing off, we seem to shoot each other less often.

6)  If we ban guns, then we just make ourselves more vulnerable to state repression.  Guns can help protect oppressed communities, can't they?

I'm a big fan of the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, the Industrial Workers of the World, and other liberation movements originating from the US that at least partially involved the use of guns, and these would literally be the last sorts of groups I would want to see disarmed.  But it was not mainly the fact that they believed in armed self-defense that made these organizations so threatening historically, or that led to their total repression by the very heavily-armed forces of the state.  They were threatening, and violently repressed, because they were massively popular, and represented a real alternative to the capitalist, imperialist, racist, neocolonial status quo.  Their belief in armed self-defense was a powerful one, to be sure, but neither the belief or the practice required the state approving of it, or making it easy for them to acquire weapons by having them be freely available in gun shops.  The Irish Republican Army also believed in armed self-defense, and managed to acquire lots of weapons, none of them legally.

I am not making a pacifist argument here, to be clear.  I'm not at all suggesting there's anything better or more moral or even more effective about the IWW or AIM having access to arms or not having access to arms.  I'm suggesting that historically, when it comes to popular movements that did not make revolutions but did ultimately have a major impact, the impact they had was overwhelmingly because of their popularity, their thinking, and their methods of organizing, rather than any victories on the battlefield, and certainly had nothing to do with the easy legal access to firearms.

Although US history -- whether we're talking about last year or the last century -- is very bloody, as is the history of much of the world, and armed movements can be instrumental in influencing the powers-that-be to make major reforms, once those reforms have been made, the forum of the struggle tends to change.  It's a very rocky, uneven process, I'm not suggesting otherwise.  But generally, once things like the right for workers to strike was more or less established, and going on strike was no longer generally going to result in being massacred by the police, violent repression did not stop, but the largely unwritten rules of engagement did, to no small extent, and this happened in lots of different countries that could be mentioned, including the US.  

In the relative absence of the kind of massive, coordinated state violence against the labor movement that was characterized by the period of the twentieth century preceding the election of FDR, the large-scale armed uprisings and bombing campaigns that we saw in the 1910's and 1920's also subsided, replaced by large-scale labor organizing, which changed the face of this and many other societies for at least a few generations.  On the island of Great Britain the history is also stark -- the last armed uprising on the island happened just prior to the establishment of the (legalized) trade union movement, after which time violent repression most definitely continued, but less often in the form of massacres of striking workers anymore, after the 1830's.

When the state changes the rules and starts massacring workers for going on strike and this sort of thing, that's the sort of change that tends to make armed resistance more popular -- when the alternative is getting slaughtered.  In the absence of that kind of situation, though, as far as I can tell, carrying around or stockpiling guns will only lead us further towards slaughtering each other, rather than towards any form of liberation.

In conclusion, for what it's worth, I applaud the militancy of the many anarchists and communists out there across the US that want to make a revolution, and feel so committed to the idea that they are doing what anarchists and communists have been doing since either term has existed -- namely, studying history, political theory, getting involved with some kind of local organizing, and learning to be a good sniper.  I would just strongly suggest that we're going to need a lot more folks involved with a lot of successful local organizing before those marksmanship skills might ever be useful.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Great Replacements

Living in a settler-colonial country that was built by Replacement as a fundamental operative concept, I now listen to liberal pundits talk about the idea as if it were just invented by the Right.

We've gone a whole week without the racist massacre in Buffalo being supplanted in the news cycle by a bigger massacre elsewhere in the country.  So we've been treated to a continual barrage of stories about a white supremacist conspiracy theory called the Great Replacement, and we've been once again told by the mass-incarcerator-in-chief that white supremacy is a stain on our country.  Occasionally someone mentions the proliferation of rapid-fire weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as a potential problem.

Of course, getting control of the wild proliferation of very deadly weapons throughout American society would not be profitable for the arms manufacturers that own the Congress.  It's much easier to talk about the stain of racism in the society, since that's a much more amorphous notion than the concept of rounding up all the AR-15's and throwing them in a smelter.

It also appears to be much easier to deride a white supremacist conspiracy theory, talk about social media disinformation, and to point out that Tucker Carlson is a fascist, than it is to talk about the many other reasons why a conspiracy theory like this one might become so very popular so quickly.

It has always seemed to me to be patently ridiculous to suspect a cabal of wealthy Jews of running the world.  Given how many Jews of all walks of life have been killed in pogroms or gas chambers, depending on which century's horror show of inhumanity we want to dwell on, this cabal is doing a really shitty job of running the world on their own behalf.  A good ruling cabal doesn't get continually slaughtered, seems to me.

But other than the part about the small cabal of wealthy Jews at the center of the operation, the Great Replacement conspiracy would seem to contain lots of kernels of reality in it.  Many people have observed that the most popular conspiracy theories tend to have kernels of truth in them, which tends to be a big part of the attraction in the first place.

If we were to actually try to make sense of the popularity of this conspiracy theory beyond Fox News and social media algorithms, then rather than fear-mongering and talking about how hopelessly racist much of society is, we could try to put the Replacement concept into a bit more context.

Historically and currently, the basic modus operandi of settler-colonialism is Replacement.  There are other forms of colonialism, but in the form of colonialism that saw the settlement of places like North America by Europeans and their descendants, the basic model was one that involved the systematic theft of indigenous land and the systematic elimination of the indigenous population, through murder, biological warfare, and starvation.  Only once this process of settlement and slaughter had resulted in a territory's population being majority white could it be eligible for statehood in the US.  That is, only once the indigenous population had been sufficiently replaced by whites was it considered eligible for the "civilization" that came with being part of a country whose economic foundations were built on and sustained by the enslavement of Africans and the replacement of Indians.

In Palestine today, the illegal settlements are continually expanding, with Palestinian homes and villages being continually destroyed by Jewish settlers and the self-proclaimed Jewish State (Israel), in a settler-colonial process of replacement.  The English term "replacement" is used locally by people talking about this process, I just heard it a couple weeks ago on NPR.  I don't know what that is in either Hebrew or Arabic.

The methodology of settler-colonialism is not a recent development, whether or not the stenographers of those in power that call themselves journalists know anything about it, or the real foundations of the societies they live in, hiding just beneath the thin fig leaf of some limp form of democracy.  With the emphasis in the propaganda on the US being largely a society of immigrants, it's convenient not to have to mention that this immigration was of a forced nature, involving wars, famine, and persecution.  And certainly convenient not to have to mention that what these so-called immigrants generally had in common was that they were from somewhere in Europe.  This is because if you're following the settler-colonial model of replacing the indigenous population with settlers, the settlers are to be from certain places.  Historically this has meant not just Europe, but preferably northwestern Europe.  Many laws were passed to keep out everyone else, or to kick them out once they were no longer useful.  Basically, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other settler-colonial enterprises had a whites-only immigration policy for most of the time they have existed as colonies or countries.  And it was all about replacement.

This only began to change basically in my lifetime.  Although there is still a tremendous preference in favor of Europeans, and specifically certain Europeans, most of the settler-colonial countries no longer have a whites-only immigration policy.  And due to higher birth rates among many immigrant groups, a declining lifespan among increasingly opiate-addicted white Americans, and many other factors, it is indeed the case that even with the relative trickle of nonwhite immigrants allowed to move to the US every year, whites are on track to become a minority of the overall population sometime in the next couple decades.

This "browning of America," as I recall Newsweek calling the phenomenon on one of their magazine covers in the 80's, is often celebrated among Democratic Party pundits.  Despite all the jerrymandering going on all over the place that tends to favor Republicans, ultimately with the demographics changing as they are, Democratic Party candidates will get elected more and more often, more and more easily, or so the theory goes.

It's not a very good theory, given that the Republicans are successfully appealing more and more to the working class, and Democratic politicians seem to drift further and further away from any identification as the party of the working class majority.  But whichever of the two corporate parties might benefit from these demographic changes, the demographic changes are real, they're happening, people know they're happening, and at least to some extent, government policies are making them happen faster.  If we don't have a whites-only immigration policy, this will naturally result in more people of color in society.  And if we don't systematically kill off undesirable segments of the population by lynching them, starving them, enslaving them, sending them to residential schools, imprisoning them, castrating them, exiling them, etc., then this kind of change in policy will result in populations growing.  

Whites-only immigration policies, the scalp economy, arming settlers and exclusion laws were not conspiracies, and certainly not Jewish ones.  They were policy, openly practiced and espoused, on the books.  To the extent that they exist today, such as very notably in Israel, they are practiced with a very thin fig leaf of the rule of law of some kind, but basically it is naked settler-colonialism, with Palestinians excluded from civilian courts, Israeli elections, the Israeli military, and Israeli society more generally.

Fear-mongering about the nonwhite barbarian hordes is a very longstanding trope in the US and all other settler-colonial societies.  The policy of replacement was and is real, and it has been a policy used to expand and sustain settler-colonial societies, very profitably for the immensely rich powers-that-be in all of these societies, very much including this one.  What has changed, at a glacially slow pace, mainly in my lifetime, is for the first time since any of these states were states, in some of them already, people of primarily European descent are a minority.

If you look at the totality of the situation I think it's abundantly clear that what is happening in the US demographically is not any kind of Replacement, "Great" or otherwise.  But the concept of replacing one part of the population with another is, in fact, one of the main colonial practices this country was built on, and that is worth understanding, along with why the concept of replacement could be used by the Right to their advantage, as a familiar bogeyman to rally around -- the loss of a white majority achieved and maintained through the violent practices of Replacement.

If there's a moral to this ongoing Replacement story, be it historic white supremacist practice or rightwing conspiracy theory, I'd suggest this one:  when we compare ourselves to the far more prosperous multi-party democracies of Europe, we may note one of the big differences between the two sides of the Atlantic.  On this side, the population is sharply divided along racialized lines, the descendants of settlers and the descendants of the settled and the enslaved.  On average, all of these groups are made up overwhelmingly of members of the working class, and today they all have a lower standard of living and a lower life expectancy than your average European.

The rich here in the US are richer, and the poor poorer and far more numerous, than in other allegedly developed nations, because here the rich long ago discovered how easily they can pay half the working class to kill the other half.  And now, with half the working class concerned about somehow being replaced by the other half, we're on some very familiar-as-apple-pie American ground here.  But can't we just replace capitalism instead?

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

When the Shooting Ended

Some thoughts on precisely what it is that makes the United States so exceptional.  Spoiler alert:  Europe is full of racists, too, but they don't have mass shootings every day.

All over the US media there are discussions taking place, as one would expect, about the slaughter of 10 people in Buffalo, New York, by a young white supremacist in body armor with a rapid-fire weapon.  I have heard no discussion about the phenomenon of mass shootings in general in the US compared to other countries, in this round of discussion.  Lots of discussion about the many reasons for mass shootings to happen, without any explanation for what makes the US so exceptional in this regard, aside from implied explanations that can be very misleading, whether intentionally so or not.

As the pundits try to dissect the motivations of the killer in this massacre, we hear a lot about social media misinformation, Fox News propaganda, our country's terrible history of racism, and the ongoing propagation of institutional racism today.  We also hear about different gun laws, efforts at controlling the proliferation of assault weapons, the power of the gun lobby, and the sanctity of the Second Amendment.  We hear about mental health, and the ongoing failure of the public health sector to basically exist in any meaningful form in this country, though they don't put it that way.

It has been mentioned that the Buffalo massacre was the 200th mass shooting in the United States so far in 2022, and it's only mid-May.  What isn't mentioned is that most of the other mass shootings involved men killing their families, or men targeting women.  Misogyny is so endemic, it apparently doesn't bear mentioning anymore, like the sun rising in the east.

One of the people that the Buffalo killer was inspired by, according to his online rantings, was the fascist mass murderer in Norway, Anders Breivik.

As horrific as Breivik's murder spree of helpless young people confined to an island in the summer of 2011 was, the obvious question that I don't hear the media asking at all is why was that massacre in Norway in 2011 so exceptional, whereas mass shootings in the US kill more people than were killed in Utoya about every two weeks, in a "normal" month.

I have personally been deeply affected by gun violence.  Two of my best friends were shot to death, and these experiences were formative for me.  My father and stepmother live down the street from Newtown, Connecticut.  She sang at funerals of the children killed there at Sandy Hook Elementary.

I also spend a lot of time in Europe, in countries where very few people -- especially people younger than my parents -- have had any experience at all with gun violence.  Despite the 2011 massacre there, one of those countries with very little gun violence is Norway.  But why the comparative lack of mass shootings -- or gun violence of any kind -- there and elsewhere in Europe?  What are the fundamental differences between these societies that cause the US to have such a vastly higher rate of mass shootings, homicides, and even suicides than any other countries (that aren't having a civil war)?

There are a lot of things that make the US exceptional, but there are also a lot of things that the US has in common with the many other countries in the world that do not have a big problem with mass shootings or gun violence generally.  I'd like to focus on a few of the similarities first.

When we hear about Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Charleston, El Paso -- all massacres carried out by white supremacists who set out to kill people from a particular group -- there is naturally discussion of how people develop these warped beliefs, how anyone becomes so troubled that they'd commit a massacre, what is it about our society that gave rise to people with these beliefs, and what is it that nurtures their ongoing hatred.  All important questions with lots of important answers.

But when we take as a whole a collection of countries that haven't had anything like this kind of rate of mass shootings or homicides, such as the EU, how would we answer the same sorts of questions about European societies, and what do we do with that information?  To briefly attempt an overview here, in terms of history there is no question:  Europe is where all the white supremacists came from in the first place.  When my parents were young, the US was an apartheid state, by law, and Black people were commonly terrorized by racist police and lynch mobs.  By contrast, in Europe when my parents were young, a Nazi regime was systematically gassing to death millions of people for being of the wrong race, religion, national origin, or political affiliation, among other things.

In all the countries occupied by the Nazis, there were local Nazis who worked with the occupiers.  There was lots of resistance, sabotage, etc., but there was also lots of collaboration.  There were, and are, loads of racists all over Europe.  Since the defeat of fascism in Europe, far right parties and movements have persisted, and xenophobic, openly racist rightwing governments form on a regular basis historically and in recent years as well.

Although the welfare state is generally much more functional in Europe than in the US, if you travel around you will find in city after city ghetto after ghetto.  They are decidedly in better shape than the abandoned, burned-out neighborhoods of St Louis or Trenton.  But they are definitely ghettos, the people living in them feel like they live in a ghetto, and their governments pass laws they call things like "Ghetto Laws," an ongoing source of tremendous pain and tension in Denmark right now.

In many other wealthy nations you will find ghettoized, racialized groups of people who are subjugated in many different ways.  Oftentimes you'll find similar percentages cropping up -- like the percentage of Maori people in New Zealand society and the percentage of Maori inmates in New Zealand's prisons is very similar to the percentages of Black people in US society at large, and in the prisons in the US, like around 15% of the population and 60% of the inmates or thereabouts.

We hear a lot about rightwing media bias, and proliferation of lies on social media, both being big problems.  And they clearly are, but when we look across the Atlantic we will find many of the same corporations owning the media landscapes there, too, along with the same social media platforms being used by similar percentages of the populations of countries in Scandinavia, Germany, England, etc.  They generally have better school systems, but their countries are also full of rightwing media tabloids and social media algorithms loaded with hate speech and disinformation.

With the extremely high rate of femicide in the US -- five women per day in the US -- once again, in Europe I see men and women interacting exactly like they do in the US.  There are lots of nice, gentle people, and then there are angry, unhappy people.  There are lots of happy-looking couples, and others who argue.  There's lots of alcoholism in Europe.  Porn is extremely popular there, too.  Sadly there is a lot of male violence against women there, just like here.  But so many fewer femicides.

The argument could certainly be made that things are different in Europe with regards to the welfare state.  That there's generally a lower level of stress in a society where people are unlikely to end up living in a tent on the sidewalk, like so many thousands of people do in every city on the west coast of the US.  On the other hand, a declining standard of living is a great source of stress for people who are experiencing it, and in the US this was one of the biggest factors determining whether a voter might vote for Trump in 2016.  Regardless of the starting point, there are huge numbers of Europeans experiencing a declining standard of living, feeling very stressed about this, and voting for rightwing parties, just like in the US.

Another frequent talking point is the lack of adequate mental health care in the US.  Sane people who support universal health care point to Europe as a place that has that, where things are better.  While at this point there are some states, like Oregon, where coverage is en par with European societies, the health care situation may be one important distinction that makes the US special.  But in terms of mental health care, by my personal observation, it's sometimes not such an impressive difference.  I know many people in England who had the option of not more than five sessions with a counselor before they would be told the NHS-funded counseling sessions had come to an end.

So if Europe is also a place full of stressed-out people with declining incomes, rising immigration, insufficient mental health care, a burgeoning far right, ghettoized, racialized minorities, lots of fascists and racists, along with lots of violent men who abuse their partners and others who are inclined to take their own lives, what is it that makes us have such higher rates of homicide, suicide, femicide, and especially mass shootings?

When the shooting ended in the Netherlands in May, 1945, and the last of the German troops occupying the country surrendered, the Dutch people had lived through years of violent repression, some of which was carried out against Dutch people by other Dutch people.  The population was full of both underground antifascist fighters and organizers, as well as lots of informants and Nazi collaborators.  This situation existed in Dutch society from top to bottom.

When the Dutch government-in-exile came back to power, their first priority was the disarming of society.  The first thing they did was initiate a gun roundup.  With society so polarized and so traumatized, the last thing the government wanted was the proliferation of deadly weapons.

I think of this often, ever since I read about it in a book about the last weeks of World War 2 in the Netherlands.  I don't know whether the US today is more or less polarized than the Netherlands is today, or was back in the immediate post-war period.  But we have a hell of a lot more mass shootings and homicides here.  And as far as I can tell, there is one -- and only one -- over-riding difference between the two cases that really matters:  in the Netherlands, they took away the guns.

A Tale of Two Narratives

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