Society of the First-Person Shooter

Andrew Sprung (@xpostfactoid1) tweets up a reaction to discussion of yesterday’s atrocity in Connecticut:

Sprung later amended his language: He meant mass murderers, not serial killers, but we understand what he was getting at. The responses seem obvious: In other Western or so-called advanced democratic societies with strict gun control, we do not see bomb attacks by deranged “loners” on schools and movie theaters, or on civilian versions of typical insurrectionist IED targets like military vehicles. We also recognize that the “first person shooter” generally desires “a blaze of glory,” and quite frequently “goes out” with it, the main exceptions being killers like Jared Lee Loughner and James Holmes:  already mentally “gone,” only just barely present enough to aim and pull a trigger.

So, at least on the level of first impressions, the semi-automatic weapon represents a particular and unique problem, and thus ought to be easily addressable. We can therefore imagine that through strict controls, we might reduce the incidence of mass killings by gun without a lossless transfer of lethal potential. The spree killer might still kill, but not be able to collect so many victims so easily.

Unfortunately, the kind of compromise laws even an heroic effort is likely to produce in the U.S. today may not eliminate events like the Sandy Hook shootings. Any such expectation may even be as superficial as the rather literally sociopathic counter-suggestion from the far right – that the answer to gun violence is yet more guns; that, if schools are being targeted, the answer must be to arm teachers. The fact that our neighbor to the south has very strict gun laws, yet currently a very high incidence of gun violence, points first to further complexities, but eventually to the deeper problem. The gun control advocate might point out that the situation in Mexico is one of criminal violence of a different type, relating of course to the narcotics trade, but moving a link further in the logic chain reminds us that Mexico’s massive criminal violence problem is in great part a spillover, an export of our own societal infirmities.

Yet with eyes open to precisely these problems, we can still choose to support gun control. Sprung’s heresy uncovers the political character, or quasi-political social character, of the “school shooting.” The IED is a political-military act against the invader culture, the same culture of the first-person shooter, the same culture compulsively failing to instruct itself about itself, about its missing pieces, despite one very hard lesson after another – one mass murder after another indicting it through its schools, its malls, its movie theaters, its temples, its Congress on the Corner. It’s instructive that the federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed in 1994, an era of optimism on matters of war and peace, but was simply allowed to lapse ten years later in the new era of pre-emptive war on terror. Maybe, in ways impossible to trace definitively, we are suffering, have become, collateral damage of our own warmaking.

A constitutional democracy expresses and validates its moral decisions through its lawmaking, but not if the decisions the laws are meant to embody have never actually occurred. If the law instead represents an actual moral commitment, a turning to each other that also crosses current cultural and religious divides, then we can let the wonks of the future tell themselves that it was really the Semi-Automatic Weapons Control Act of 2013 or 2017 or 2027 that finally put an end to the Auroras and Sandy Hooks and Oak Creeks and Tucsons, but it will have been, as it will have had to have been, something more important than any piece of legislation.

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19 comments on “Society of the First-Person Shooter

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  1. The Columbine duo, wanted to blow up the school, shooting it up ‘ala the matrix’ was plan B, similar to the Bath Schoolhouse Massacre of 1927, and one can refer to Beslan # 4, or that school in France, last year,

  2. Great post CK, though I have to issue a humblebrag alert for your saying you were just gonna throw a piece up real quick. ;-)

    I’m intrigued by your remark about mass violence being a spillover of societal infirmities, perhaps making us our own “collateral damage”. I’d say there’s not much reason to be coy about it, because it’s pretty clear this is happening. Our foreign policy meddling puts us in a position where we think we need a huge police state to protect us, but we feel a need to retain a counterbalancing capacity for violence so we allow assault rifles, and so people who feel wronged by society can kill dozens at a time. The glorification of military-as-protector makes ownership of lethal machines respectable, and those who object to their very existence as possibly corrosive of the nation’s moral fabric.

    When mass killings occur, many people are quick to claim that death isn’t the fault of guns, but rather of the people who use those “tools”. But tools can pervert the way we conceive of our relationships to other people by naturalizing oppressive modes of interaction. Objects themselves can thus be morally fraught.

    • I guess you caught me pretending I find this easy… But not throwing it up means working real hard to digest and re-digest it, and edit it, and proofread it, and print it out again, and edit that, and start over and again, and again, while producing texts for possible future posts that never get completed… and so on. It also would have meant trying to follow certain ideas further, maybe something like what you just expanded on, or maybe the reaction to Huckabee’s comments that I was discussing with Elias yesterday.

      To stick to your final observation, I think that’s one of the most difficult things for people to get their minds around. Guns like any other weapon express a relationship. I had in mind Hegel’s observations on the long gun as the expression of the nation-state: Just the kind of weapon to allow soldiers to stand in large masses and produce and receive fire semi-anonymously, from a distance at which they and the enemy blur into representations of each people, though that’s just one dimension of the uses and meaning of the tool, what its mere existence implies and organizes as social possibility and necessity. The gun in our culture is an expression of our mutual lethal suspicion and, I think, mutual hatred, which becomes self-hatred, and leads to self-punishment, as though we have concluded we deserve to be terrified and injured.

      During WW2 the SS kept close tabs on German public opinion. It was hoped that the Allied bombing campaign would rally support for the war effort and build anger. They kept on getting back significant numbers of average Germans, raised as good Christians, who accepted the bombings as punishment, thought they were getting what they deserved for destroying so many other people’s lives.

    • also – don’t wanna overdo my reply to your reply – but I think get your point about a direct big government vs gun culture cycle – very hard for me to sort out whatever part of it might conceivably be logical from whatever rest of it that’s totally insane.

      Now I’m going to watch a shoot-em-up movie for dinner.

      • I think you accidentally a word. If you mean what I think you do, then I admit the connections I made may be hyperassociative. But what I’m getting is this: Big government measures like gun control are dependent on a powerful security apparatus to enforce them, and this apparatus is in turn dependent on a normalization of weaponry in the eyes of the public. I don’t think this is a defeater for gun control because legislation can (as you say) enshrine and solidify our “moral commitment” against lethal weaponry. But I think lefties would do well to keep this worry in mind.

        I also think there’s something to the criticism that we freak out over twenty dead American kids but hundreds of dead Pakistani kids fly under the radar. If our first instinct is to ask what the Feds can do for us, maybe it shouldn’t surprise us that our discourse perpetuates the more problematic aspects of nationalism.

        • If the primary political distinction is friend and enemy, then exactly to whatever extent we identify ourselves as Americans – with or without the actual security state – then the 20 American kids matter to us in a way than 20 Pakistani kids don’t. We can then attempt to economize. What about 200 Pakis, 2,000, 2,000,000? We can ask at what number would an American be expected to hit the kill-the-Americans-instead button? Of course, the question is never really put that way, but the answer, I think, could and is actually answered within the “political” friend/enemy paradigm: There is no “number” for all times and places; there is a non-rationally pre-determinable yet still rationally defensible decision point where love-of-country and sacrifice-of-friend are the same. We know, just never apart from the moment in all of its actual complexity, that there’s some moment of willed moral self-creation where we’d rather let the ticking time bomb go off than disfigure the object of our love by the mutilations we’d have to inflict on its behalf on the prisoner or the innocent others, where the sacrifice for love would become the impermissible sacrifice or end of sacrifice itself.

          • Well are we targeting Pakistani civilians deliberately, that’s by no means true, we are targetting irregular forces, who do on occasion, conceal themselves in urban structure with civilians,

            • That’s true – there is a difference between intentionally killing 20 children and unintentionally doing so. (Incidentally, the difference is also relevant to the so-called “excuse” of the deranged killers discussed below. Upstanding Pakistani patriots may be as little inclined to accept your “excuse” on this one as you are on the other ones.) But that there’s a morally relevant difference doesn’t mean that there is not also a morally significant overlap. We don’t know that any particular attack on irregulars will kill civilians, but we certainly know that a general and thoroughly intentional policy of attacking irregulars will cause civilian casualties, and, no matter how careful we are or how carefully we couch our decisions in modernized “just war” arguments, to pretend that we are totally free from self-bias would render the whole exercise – justified as national self-defense – absurd.

              If our militarism is reflected in our society, and our society in our militarism, then, whether you think its on balance a good thing or a bad one, it shouldn’t be surprising that “limited and justified collateral damage” inevitably ruptures its supposed limits and justifications. We or God or a nature or the Dao may insist that the one-sidedness of aerial attacks from the blue must also be intolerable for us, a moral impossibility that we convert into an illusion and replace with a two-sided relationship governed essentially by Newton’s 3rd Law of Physics.

  3. Though I obviously disagree with the idea of gun control preventing these things, even in the case of sweeping bans, your bit about the socio-political context of them is spot on, IMO. We seem to love quick fixes to what’s obviously more complicated than “let’s pass another law!” — meanwhile, the laws pile up like trash.

  4. I notice a disconcerting tendency among mainstream liberals* to see restraints that most hurt normal people as legitimate in the name of restraint on the Crazy few.

    No. If someone has done nothing wrong, & has not shown legit reason to suspect of such, there is NO such thing as a legitimate reason to restraint them, at all. To preserve liberty requires a presumption of it, to assume otherwise just leads to shackles on those that do not pose a threat.

    (* – this is not to say the main impediments to freedom are from liberals. Rather, their ability to argue reasons that don’t sound rooted in mere xenophobia & religion based bigotry makes their arguments for restraints more effective. )

  5. He does seem to have been a gamer, but their are many who are, and don’t go on killing sprees, I put it to you, that you are driven by oikophobia, hence the denial of what is quite apparent about Morsy, or Bel Hadj, or Moaz al Khatib, This leads the converse of blaming those who had no part in an event, like Tucson, and absolving those who contributed to it like Sheriff Dupnik

    • “Oikophobia” is an interesting concept or charge. Apparently, it’s being used in some quarters by conservative writers to attack leftists and others. Applied in a political context, It implies that an oppositional stance is driven by some form of mental illness or other irrational predisposition on the part of the critic.

      It’s obviously a way to indict the patriotism of the critic, a charge of treason under a thin veil. It re-reproduces the classic conflict between the philosopher and the city. From the point of view of the patriot, the philosopher undermines belief in the gods of the city and leads the impressionable, especially the young, into mischief, confusion, and rebellion – the charges against Socrates. So from the point of view of the city father who depends on the city’s myths, philosophy is inherently oikophobic. The philosopher tries to prove he is not an enemy by willingly assuming his responsibilities as a citizen, even accepting his unjust death sentence, when called upon. The Platonic political philosopher reflects upon the example of Socrates, and anticipates and prepares for the conflict in various ways, up to and including offering wisdom to a tyrant on how to make the best of his rule. Any such intervention, whether initiated by the philosopher or not, makes the philosopher suspect to the tyrant’s enemies, since both the tyrant and the rebel are like everyone else who puts the civil objective ahead of the love of truth, or who simply assumes the truth of the civil objective, in this respect equivalent to where not expressly a religious objective. From the philosopher’s point of view, they are inherently alethophobic.

      For the defender of the West, which sees itself as the civilization of free inquiry and criticism, the charge is especially ironic. The real oikophobes turn out to be the ones who are phobic in regard to the traditional and authentic oikophobia, or self-hatred and self-negation, of the “oikos” they rise to defend. Yet it also provides them no way to detect their own self-contradiction, since their ethos is already self-contradictory. To the extent they’re consistent, they contradict it. To the extent they contradict it, they’re consistent. All of history turns into a succession of very long collectively enforced entrapments in one or another stall or short circuit in an autorecursive foundational paradox.

  6. No, it is that stubbornly antibourgeois streak of the intelligentsia, that rains contempt on the soldier, the policemen, the merchant, those ‘bitter clingers’ who do not agree with fundamental transformation, I used to think you understood this,
    but since you went through the looking glass, absolving the Salafi endorsing the netroots, you lost that

  7. No, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to be taken seriously, It is a curious thing, this ‘traison de clercs’ that permeates the culture, now mental health seems to play a larger role in this last series of shootings, yet that is rarely explored, the gun must be the scapegoat,

    • The “traison de clercs” is “the culture” – everything else being an irrational attachment from the point of view of pure public reason – e.g., your unreasoned preference for an image or description of Christ or Christian prophecy vs some Salafist’s unreasoned preference for an image or description of Islam – or, as I have lately been at pains to point out, the liberal’s unreasoned preference for particular images or descriptions of liberalism. Once whichever sanctity is presumed, everything that follows is perfectly reasonable until its implications undermine the initial presumption, leading to damnation, chaos, dogs and cats lying together.

      Contrary to your claim, mental health as a problem is not at all absent from the discussion, one current theme being that the same political faction most fervently opposed to gun control also happens to be fervently opposed to the provision of universal health care including mental health services. It is much easier to gain access to firearms than to gain access to psychological or psychiatric services.

  8. It is the notion of the New Orthodoxy, that the rest of conventional society, is fundamentally wrong, either evil or ignorant, hence
    the murderous rampage of a Loughner or a Holmes must be excused, yet the gun is always held liable, the bodies become mere props in this exercise, as are the wishes of the law abiding,

    • The notion of the “excuse” of a Loughner or a Holmes is a trick of perspective. Any attempt to explain any crime or evil will always be made to seem an “excuse,” since it seems to eliminate or exclude the notion of free moral agency and therefore of responsibility – summarized by Kant, replicating the oikophobia/alethophobia conflict just summarized, replicated constantly in political discussion, on numerous liberal twitter feeds all the livelong day as well as in your conservative’s indictment, inescapable because structural for language and consciousness.

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