Why so many suicidal mass gun killings?

Vigil for mass shooting victims in Las Vegas in 2017. Source: VOA.

The mass shootings that regularly occur in the United States are mostly also suicides.

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They are the ultimate “deaths of despair.”

The killers do their shooting in public places and are almost guaranteed to be gunned down in their turn, if they don’t kill themselves first.

They are comparable to the suicide bombers in the Middle East and elsewhere, except that the jihadist killers are sometimes trying to achieve a specific military objective, like the Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War Two.

Among all the rich Western nations, the United States is the only one in which mass shootings occur on a regular basis.

That is not to say that ordinary Americans, and visitors to the United States, are in grave danger.  As a risk factor, mass shootings rank far below traffic accidents.

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But the fact that they occur says something about our society.  For every man (the shooters are almost all men) who kills others and then himself out of rage and despair, there must be a hundred others who feel the same rage and despair and don’t act it out.

Some people blame availability of guns, and I agree it would be better if the government restricted sales of rapid-firing firearms with large ammunition clips and magazines.  Casualties from mass killings were fewer during the assault weapons ban, but they still occurred.

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Some people blame ideologies based on hatred of black people or hatred of immigrants or hatred of women.  But the mass shooters can be of any race, and the percentage of white mass shooters is slightly less than the percentage of whites in the general population.

The killers profess all kinds of professed political and social motives and some profess no motives at all.  The only common denominator is that the killers are almost all suicidal men.

Hatred and bigotry have long been motives for killing.  The new thing is that the killers are suicidal.

There are ways to commit murder without sacrificing your life in the process.  (The methods are obvious, but if you can’t think of them, I see no benefit to society in helping you out.)

I think the root cause of mass killings are feelings of powerlessness and feelings of meaninglessness.  Your life is meaningless, so you give it up.  But you take others with you, so you do have some power after all.

I don’t have a good answer for this.  Calling for a greater sense of community or a stronger sense of values isn’t going to bring these things about.  Greater availability of mental health counseling probably would help some, but it won’t in itself empower people or make their lives meaningful.

There is a story about an ancient Greek named Erostratus, who destroyed the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world, so that his name would always be remembered.  But the fact is that his name is remembered and I don’t know the name of the person who designed and built the beautiful temple.

Afterthought [Added 8/15/2019]

But just to keep things in perspective—



Mass Shootings in America: the Unavoidable Facts by Julia Lurie for Mother Jones.

The Deadly Boredom of a Meaningless Life by Terry Newman for Quillette.

Why Do We Have Mass Killers? by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.


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37 Responses to “Why so many suicidal mass gun killings?”

  1. David Markham Says:


    You make an excellent point about the suicidality of mass shooters. These are usually acts of alienated males who think they have nothing else to lose so why not go out in a blaze of glory?

    These men have been subjects of mental abuse to such an extent that they believe they are victims of forces over which they have little if no control. The only thing to do with such a mindset is to project it out on people who have been identified for them as the perpetrators of their victimhood on whom the only solution is revenge.

    This dynamic is being played out before our very eyes and ears by the Victim in Chief in the White House. He fuels this mindset and affirms it so that shooters believe they are vindicated in carrying out these acts of war on their perceived enemies which has been confirmed by the commander in chief.

    These people are no more mentally ill than the Commander In Chief and his supporters who have radicalized them for his own aggrandizement. This is the same way that Hitler came to power and all dictators dominate a population.

    We are in a battle for the soul of our nation meaning that our national narrative has taken a turn so that Americans have been made to think of themselves as victims and their redemption is provided in the villifcation and elimination of the identified enemies.

    Marianne Williamson has the answers but she is vilified and discredited as a “whack a doo.” Rev. Peter House said we are living in a “mean nation” and have been for years. The symptoms of our meaness, our mean spiritness, set us apart from other first world countries in the present era.

    This is not so much a political problem although it surely is that, nor a mental health problem, but a spiritual problem. We UUs and Jesus and all major religions believe in love, but Trump and the Republicans fuel and fan the falmes of hate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philebersole Says:

      David, I think you missed the point of my post. The mass shooters represent a range of ideologies and many have no particular ideology at all. It’s an error to blame the right wing or any other single viewpoint for the shootings.

      A majority of shooters are white, but compared to the overall U.S. population, whites are underrepresented and blacks are overrepresented (not that this proves anything).

      President Trump’s comments do not help the situation, but he is a symptom, not a cause.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. paintedjaguar Says:

    My experience of “mental health counseling” in the US, medicalized, drug pushing, pseudo-scientific and money-grubbing, is that it is just as likely to actually make things worse as it is to help. Assuming that you can even get access.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Benjamin David Steele Says:

    Ignoring the issue of individual mental illness, what happens when an entire society becomes mentally imbalanced? As with my comment to another recent post of yours, I’d link this to our being in a reactionary age and living in a reactionary society (and involving inequality). But it also has something to do with modernity in general.

    Your post reminds me of analysis made by Karen Armstrong. She points out different is fundamentalism to religious traditionalism, the two being separate phenomenon. Traditional religion could be violent, but with fundamentalism we have seen a rise in suicidal terrorism committed by individuals or small groups, rather than crusades and such committed by theocracies.

    I’m not sure what that might mean in the context of what you’re discussing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • philebersole Says:

      Yes, I think you’re on to something. I don’t think that either religious fundamentalists nor right-wing radicals are deeply rooted in a tradition. Rather they have a sense that something has been taken away from them, and they want to get it back.

      Not all of the suicidal mass-shooters fall within these categories, maybe a majority are outside these categories, but they’re almost all angry loners who feel powerless and without a meaningful purpose in life – in other words, people left behind by modernity, as you suggest.


      Liked by 2 people

      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        Armstrong was making her argument about Islamic terrorists, but the argument would apply more broadly. She noted how the 9/11 terrorists seemed to intentionally flout traditional Islamic law and dogma. That stands out as odd.

        She argued that they were trying to get God’s attention and force his hand, in order to draw down divine wrath on a fallen world. Isn’t that what these other terrorists want, to provoke a response from the powers that be and tip a teetering civilization over the edge into unstoppable change?

        It’s not necessarily a demand to return to what was before but to push the whole world forward into what they envision. The thing with reactionaries is that, underneath the sometimes nostalgic rhetoric, they have a radical vision about remaking the world, as Corey Robin argues.

        Whether the End Times or the Handmaid’s Tale, they want something new that will wash away the dirt and grime of this tired and broken society.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        We don’t all agree as to what constitutes grime and broken. That is the problem to address before saving the world from grime and brokenness.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        Grime and brokenness don’t require agreement. It’s more of an all-consuming mood. What follows is rationalization of that deep down sense of wrongness in the world. This is why it becomes a fight between reactionaries, each claiming the ownership and authority of the sense of foreboding anxiety, in order to impose their hazy vision onto the world. It’s fear all the way down.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        Brother, you are preaching to the choir! How to convince the reactionaries is the question.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. philebersole Says:

    My overall point is that it is a mistake to attribute suicidal mass killings to whatever ideology you happen to deplore, whether the ideology be white supremacy, Islamic jihadism or something else. I think the root causes are deeper. Of course that’s not to defend white supremacy, Islamic jihadism, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Benjamin David Steele Says:

      I agree. It is the larger pattern of mass violence, across ideologies and demographics, that stands out.

      On the other hand, it is interesting to look at the details of specific examples. There is something odd about some of the motivations. Many of the Jihadists weren’t raised traditional Muslims. It is the uncertainty of their identity in an unstable society that seems to radicalize them. They fit Armstrong’s profile of reactionary fundamentalism.

      Even in white supremacy, it is interesting that some of the mass killings were done by those who were only partly ‘white’ with one Asian parent. These attackers looked Asian and many of those they attacked were Asian, all in the name of defending whiteness, as if to destroy what was Asian within them. That is as reactionary of an example as one is likely to find.

      It is harder to imagine a ‘black’ with one white parent killing other blacks for the sake of whiteness or maybe even killing other whites for the sake of blackness, or at least I haven’t heard of such a case. Certain ideologies take on strange forms and expressions, for whatever reason. Maybe because of historical background, some ideologies have greater potency.

      I’d be curious to see an analysis and breakdown of what motivated various killers. I did look into this a bit in one post, but the focus was on school shootings. They tended to happen in communities that were some combination of small, isolated, rural, poor, conservative, and religious. The explanation could be simple as these have been some of the hardest hit communities, such as dying small towns and loss of family farms, an issue far from being limited to whites considering large parts of the rural South are majority black.


      One of the experts I quoted pointed out the religious-like concern with meaning that many of the shooters expressed, indicating a sense of loss of meaning. That would relate to the common nostalgic theme of reactionary thought. But as I pointed out, the reactionary mind will latch onto diverse ideological rhetoric, depending on context and convenience. Principled consistency is not a strength of the reactionary mind.

      There is often a vague sense of something being wrong. This relates to the floating anxiety that is so common in our society, in particular as inequality rises and divides become chasms. This makes ever more people prone to the reactionary and so one would expect the stated reasons to be all over the ideological map. It’s a sign of society fracturing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Benjamin David Steele Says:

      The point your making is valid. There are deeper issues that go beyond mere demographics. I get the point your making and, taken on that level, I agree. But as I was pointing out, there are also differences… differences that make a difference. Plus, there is a larger context of meaning and a well-entrenched cultural background.

      This involves a dark history of racism, genocide, Indian wars, slavery, slave patrols, Jim Crow, sundown towns, redlining, eugenics, etc — all of which both of us know about in great detail, as hopefully most Americans know at this point, hopefully but maybe not. Though not exactly a secret, it is easily forgotten about or easily treated as ancient history, especially with a younger generation that has no memory of the entirety of the 20th century.

      Yet consider that much of this is still within living memory, intergenerational trauma, and epigenetic inheritance. Not to mention, as research shows, the underlying biases, injustices and oppressions are still systemically built into institutions and systems of authority, power and enforcement. This creates a potency to white supremacism in this country, maybe the equivalent (?) of Islamic fundamentalism in a country like Saudi Arabia.

      Taken in isolation, breaking it down by statistics doesn’t portray the full significance, that mass violence by percentage of race/ethnicity more or less matches percentage of race/ethnicity in general population (the same proportionate demographics might also be true in overtly authoritarian states such as Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, etc). America has been a majority white society for centuries and remains majority white. The fact that the mass violence is also majority white is no incidental detail.


      But the fact that most of the victims of American-style authoritarianism are also white is not to be ignored either, even when its justified with white supremacism (in how even whites are poorer in former areas of slavery concentration). It’s a messy history that makes most Americans on all sides feel uncomfortable. Some don’t want to admit that poor whites are also victims, just as many poor whites don’t want to admit they are victims of their own internalized racism that allows them to be manipulated. A culture of victimization is a powerful system of social control, as I’ve argued elsewhere. It can become an all-consuming mentality and worldview, something that goes deep into our collective psyche, maybe having its origins in the Axial Age.

      So, everything you say here is true. And everything I say here is true as well. They are two perspectives, equally important for getting at particular understandings. Lacking either perspective will cause our appreciation of the problem to be limited and so our ability to deal with it would be crippled. I’m not sure how we hold these kinds of dual visions simultaneously, as it doesn’t seem to be a talent most people have. Instead, they typically are set up as opposing views, each used to dismiss the other and create more division, often intentionally by those in power. It’s a challenge.


    • Benjamin David Steele Says:

      I always feel like I struggle to communicate, as you know. I feel like something never quite gets translated in our discussions. There is an underlying tension I feel between our views, but I can’t always put my finger on it and I don’t want to project my own issues onto it. Our approach does seem to be different or rather our patterns of thought. My mind constantly shoots off as tangents. Then you point out that might comments are not relevant to your comments or misrepresenting them, when from my viewpoint they were simply comments.

      I was trying hard to convey that in my last comment to you. That there are simply different perspectives. But damn! there is something about our society that forces such perspectives into antagonism. I can feel that antagonism in that background tension that extends into the larger society. It can be a struggle to find meaning in the data or even to find good data. I sometimes like to say the data speaks for itself, as a rhetorical emphasis on how certain interpretations jump out as obvious, in how the link needs no explanation between the rate of ice cream consumption and the heat index. But most data isn’t so simple, forcing us to interrogate the sources, methods of gathering, omissions, confounders, etc.

      That is how I almost always feel about demographic data. The media, even alternative media, almost always gets it wrong. That is seen with campaigns and elections, such as Trump’s and Sanders’ supporters, often with easily accessible data being ignored while other data is taken out of context. It makes public discussion next to impossible. About the point your making, I’ve noted that a major underlying factor is inequality. It doesn’t matter your demographics. Living in a high inequality society simply is a shitty experience with high levels of anxiety, depression, aggression, and general craziness. Even the rich are worse off in a high inequality society, as compared to the rich in a low inequality society — more likely to be harmed by stress, violence, and disease. Still, being rich in a high inequality society is far better than being poor.

      Demographics can be deceiving, when taken in broad strokes. The devil is in the details. Think about poverty. As with mass violence, it follows a fairly proportionate demographic breakdown. But not all poverty is the same. There are definite advantages to being white, even poor white. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Compared to poor minorities, poor whites are less likely to be trapped in poor communities and more likely to be welfare recipients (not unlike how white farmers got most of the New Deal farm subsidies). In both cases, this is probably the results of a long history of racism (carryover of sundown towns and redlining, remaining racial biases operating both consciously and unconsciously, systems that feed in bad data and so get bad results out, etc).

      We live in a really messed up society. And everyone has their pet grievances. But any argument made against a particular grievance can easily, whether or not intentionally, be used to defend yet other grievances. The entire media and political system frames the debate in such a way that good faith discussion is made near impossible. There are too many bad actors with loud voices, not to mention lots of wealth and power. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I guess my only point is that it’s frustrating. There are many truths that need to be communicated, need to given voice to and heard, need to be brought into the public forum. Yet there is some kind of failing of imagination.


  5. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    As for gun control, the full auto weapons and bump stocks are already illegal. There is an underground market for such things, so they will continue to exist and are trivial to produce with a garage machine shot or a 3D printer. We’ve been fighting heroin for a century now and anyone who wants it can still get it. Illegally modified guns are no different.

    Most of the gunowners I know would go for a 5 round external magazine limit – yet they don’t seem to influence the NRA. That’s because the NRA, like most advocacy groups, end up being led by the most extreme members. They are a product of the times and not a causal factor. Gun control groups often do themselves great harm by calling for more extreme measures than ordinary gun owners are ready to accept. Same principle of who floats to the leadership of an advocacy group applies.

    The reality is that the ability to rapidly shoot dozens of people has been readily available for anyone who wants it for a century. Semi auto rifles with large external magazines have been around since the Great Depression. If a rifle isn’t your cup of tea, just block the entrances and set a building on fire. Or build a bomb with black powder and nails.

    The question is then, why now? There has always been poverty. There has always been deep alienation. There has always been a surfeit of easily available high energy weapons. There have always been a baseline of mass killings. It didn’t just start in 1966 with Charles Whitman. Why has it become a growth industry in the last couple decades?

    If I were to blame anything, one aspect would be the ability of wannabe suicidal mass killers to form their own echo chambers. It was a lot more difficult – preinternet – to form a support group for mass murder. They urge each other on in places like the late and unlamented 8Chan. I don’t know how to break up such echo chambers without damaging the freedom of speech of everyone else.

    You alluded to another aspect. The eveil that men do lives beyond them. There is glory in great evil. Kliebold and Harris have fan clubs. Every new shooting brings breathless coverage by CNN. Fox and everyone else. Each new mass killing brings on a spate of copycats. You’ve noticed that, I’m sure. In days past the three networks would simply bury many such a stories.

    I personally believe that the decline of traditional values changes the equation. It has gone but nothing has replaced it. You aren’t supposed to consider yourself a waste of protoplasm. Everyone is supposed to have high self esteem whether they earned it or not. If you have high self esteem but the world treats you badly, obviously the world is bad, right? The narcisistic emotional response is then to hurt the world back. Not to look inside for the flaws that might be the cause of your pain.

    Here is an interesting and enlightening scientific paper done on the subject:

    Click to access f99c70c02aedbfdfadb486572ced36f9f3d9.pdf

    Interviewing a number of surviving commando style mass shooters (they couldn’t interview the dead ones);

    “In particular, they were bullied or isolated as children, turning into loners who felt despair over being socially excluded.”

    Describes me perfectly as a child yet you couldn’t find a safer person to own an arsenal of weapons than I. The difference is that I internalized the issue and looked inside. That’s what you did back then. The world was a beautiful and good place but I had a problem. I might have killed myself but I’d never hurt anyone else.

    Today’s mass shooter is a bit different. I’m okay and if you don’t see that, you’re NOT okay.

    “Narcissistic, grandiose traits were also present, along with heavy use of externalization. They held a world-view of others being generally rejecting and uncaring. As a result, they spent a great deal of time feeling resentful and ruminating over past humiliations. Such ruminations invariably evolved into fantasies about violent revenge.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

      And lets not forget all the “incel” shooters. Sexual frustration used to lead to masturbation, prostitution and ocassional rape. Now it seems mass murder is the new way of relieving sexual stress. We’re a different people than we once were.


    • Benjamin David Steele Says:

      “We’ve been fighting heroin for a century now and anyone who wants it can still get it. Illegally modified guns are no different.”

      Apparently, it is different. There are countries with stronger gun laws. They have reduced the amount of guns available. And they have reduced the rate of gun violence.

      It’s a matter of how it is done. It’s similar to Portugal reducing drug addiction by decriminalizing drug use but maintaining black market drug sales as illegal. Just because the US government has failed in its authoritarian style of bans doesn’t mean that all regulations must fail.

      “Most of the gunowners I know would go for a 5 round external magazine limit – yet they don’t seem to influence the NRA. That’s because the NRA, like most advocacy groups, end up being led by the most extreme members.”

      No doubt there are extreme members. But the more sinister issue is that the NRA is a front group and lobbyist arm for powerful gun corporations. It is one of the most powerful corporate lobbies in DC. Gun sales are highly profitable and sales always go up every time the typical voices begin fear-mongering about liberals taking guns away, despite those like Obama having actually expanded gun rights.

      “The reality is that the ability to rapidly shoot dozens of people has been readily available for anyone who wants it for a century. Semi auto rifles with large external magazines have been around since the Great Depression.”

      Earlier last century, they were expensive, hard to obtain, and so rare. These kinds of weapons have never been so easy to get old of as now. It’s simply not comparable.

      “The question is then, why now? There has always been poverty. There has always been deep alienation.”

      Not like seen now. The level of inequality is the highest its ever been in US and world history. And inequality closely correlates to psychological and social problems. All of the major diseases of civilization, including mental illness (depression, schizophrenia, etc), have been increasing over the generations.

      “If I were to blame anything, one aspect would be the ability of wannabe suicidal mass killers to form their own echo chambers. It was a lot more difficult – preinternet – to form a support group for mass murder.”

      That is surely a contributing factor.

      “I personally believe that the decline of traditional values changes the equation. It has gone but nothing has replaced it.”

      It’s the breakdown of communities largely caused by capitalism. There is no way of having traditional values without traditional communities. Many of the stable communities that existed a century go are no dead or dying.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        Those countries never had a strong gun culture to start with. There are more firearms here than people and they hold an important place in both our history and our mythology.

        Hate to break the news but we genuinely unique, even compared to Canada. What works elsewhere has to be heavily modified and introduced gradually here. And it still might not work


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        It’s nuanced. Switzerland has a gun culture and large numbers of guns. Yet Switzerland also has heavy fun regulations and low gun violence.

        Or consider the US failed drug war compared to another country. Portugal had a culture of violence with high rates of drug addiction and a police state with a war on drugs far more harsh than in the US. Yet Portugal turned that around through nonviolent revolution that brought a social democracy, ended the war on drugs, and lowered the drug addiction rate.

        Cultures are created constructs, patterns of behavior. As they are created, they can be uncreated and changed. Americans aren’t unique beings. We are humans like everyone else.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        The Swiss have a gun culture but it is completely different from ours. Their battle rifles are Government-owned but privately possessed and privately practiced with as a function of universal military service. (Or at least it was. Might have changed.) They have a true militia, “well regulated” and ready to respond like modern-day Minutemen. (Not to be confused with the US group using the same name.)

        America’s guns are owned as private property. Our mythology is the gun-slinging cowboy but there is also a bit of truth in it. Our gun culture used to be a combination of ex-military veterans and hunters. Now it is mostly recreational shooters and people who own for self-defense.

        The most vociferous gun owners today imagine themselves as the true militia in revolutionary terms. They view tyranny from Washington DC as the main threat and take to heart Jefferson’s more revolutionary rhetoric from the Revolution.

        There’s a book you might enjoy preusing, “The Samurai, The Mountie, and the Cowboy”

        SCOTUS spent most of American history dodging the 2nd Amendment. It wasn’t until District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. City of Chicago they actually made a solid ruling defining the 2A. All previous rulings were either dicta or artfully dodged the issue.


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        I admit that, as suggested by your comment, any changes won’t come easy. But that was probably true in Portugal during their revolution as it was true in America during our revolution.

        No major social changes are easy. The ending of feudalism wasn’t easy and was far more entrenched in culture. Even some of the social democratic Nordic countries were ruled by monarchies and aristocracies not that long ago.

        There is immense potential within societies. A culture isn’t inevitable fatalism.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        The breakdown isn’t specifically capitalist. We are less capitalist than ever before.


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        We are more capitalist than ever before. It’s just that capitalism turns out to be something quite different than the rhetoric rationalizing it. Capitalism, as we’ve come to discover, is perfectly capable of being put in line with corporatism, corporatocracy, plutocracy, cronyism, inverted totalitarianism, etc.

        We sought to spread democracy by spreading capitalism. Authoritarian states like Russia and China embraced capitalism, oligarchic capitalism in the former and state capitalism in the latter, while banning democracy.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        We can dance around the definition of capitalism all day. Capitalism is like communism – or any other economic system one can postulate – in that neither can exist in a pure state.

        I can go with the Mirriam Webster definition:
        “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”

        Or I can go with Investopedia:
        Capitalism is an economic system in which private individuals or businesses own capital goods. The production of goods and services is based on supply and demand in the general market—known as a market economy—rather than through central planning—known as a planned economy or command economy.

        Marx doesn’t get to define capitalism. Even though it predates him all the way back to the Phonecians (and probably long before then) he never understood it or even objectively looked at it.

        Trying to apply these definitions to Nazi Germany, China or Russia or Batista’s Cuba is a joke. The overwhelming role of central planning, lack of a free market, and complete disregard for individual property rights conflicts with every aspect of these two definitions. None of these have anything in common with capitalism except to have *borrowed those bits and pieces they found useful and rejecting everything else*.

        Or perhaps people are just trying to turn “capitalist” into an evil epithet by associating it with everything that is bad in the world.

        Corporatocracy, corruption, plutocracy, cronyism, totalitarianism, etc. are all departures from capitalism. They exist in equal measure under communism or any other economic system you can come up with because they are human nature. Fighting them is more like an endless game of whack-a-mole and the good guys don’t always win. You must do it but the price is eternal vigilance. No matter what one does there will always be people gaming the system to become “more equal” than others.

        I don’t think anyone thinks *unmoderated* capitalism is a good idea. I certainly don’t. Yet no other system has shown the endurance or the ability to turn on a dime that capitalism has. Those are good things.


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        Both of your definitions of capitalism perfectly describe the economic systems of the United States, Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia. All of them allow free markets to some extent, both within their countries and on the global market of neoliberalism. I’m fine with those definitions. Besides, that in no way contradicts anything Marx said, not that I’m a Marxist.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        No, they don’t. Free markets don’t just cover money cash, land, and hard goods. Ideas are intellectual capital, probably the most important capital of the 21st century. A free market includes freedom of communications. If you cannot think or speak freely, a country has not embraced capitalism. Good luck in trying to sell the idea that Allah isn’t so Great or that Russians should vote for you instead of Vladdy.

        In a more practical sense, 40% of the Saudi GDP is private sector. That private sector then is required to obey a host of rules that are religious in nature. That could be considered a kinda-sorta limited semi-free market if you want to stretch the definition a bit. Most of the rest comes from the government owned entity Saudi Aramco. If the government owns the large majority of the means of production, it is not capitalism.

        What Russia has is loosely called “state capitalism”, which really isn’t capitalism at all. But the name is catchy. Even Lenin used it to describe his transitional communist government. Government has ultimate authority over what a hand full of giant state-protected businesses do. They, in turn, have most of the economic power in the state. But – displease Putin today and you land in jail.

        I could be 50 lbs over my max healthy weight and still call myself “Michigan skinny”. (You should see my relatives in the Midwest.) It doesn’t make me skinny in any honest sense.

        The marketplace of ideas in the US is as free as it gets. As Google how free it is in China. They are running with “state capitalism” as well. Good luck being a businessman who doesn’t listen to the commands from Beijing. Free markets blend on a spectrum into planned markets and then command markets. China may look capitalist on a micro-scale but on the large scale, it is way over into the command economy side.

        The ultimate capital anyone has is their own life. (We usually end up renting bits and pieces of it out for a more liquid form of capital known as money.) If you do not have self-ownership you cannot have capitalism. This is the primordial capital from which all other forms of capital are derived. The US hasn’t strayed too horribly far from that and it may be the only area our markets are becoming freer.

        In all those other countries the concept of self-ownership is a nonstarter.


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        You’re conflating capitalism with democracy. That conflation was common with Cold War propaganda. But it has nothing to do with capitalism in practice. Capitalism simply means a system centered on capital, fungible wealth, and those who own capital.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        OTOH I think you are taking far too narrow a view of what constitutes capital and too limited a view of what a market is.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        That is fair. My purpose is probably different than yours. You perceive my taking a far too narrow view of capitalism is accurate. That is because I myself perceive capitalism as too narrow, part of what makes it oppressive. The change I’m looking for is broad.

        That is one of the reasons I brought up Marx, despite not being a Marxist. He didn’t come up with an ideological solution in advance, an entirely worked out system. Instead, he offered an analysis of the present system & argued that we couldn’t know what would replace it in advance. He never sought a class-based revolution for he thought there was no way to get past capitalism but through it.

        It’s a different style of thinking. There are plenty of people defending all kinds of ideological systems already in power or other ones to replace them. But few people are go the radical approach of moving into an unknown direction, something so new that we can’t pretend to be able to imagine and predict it.

        We need an entirely different understanding of human nature. But that will require the context and conditions of our understanding to change.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        That is almost poetic!

        My theory is that it is more likely to evolve an existing system into something better than to create a whole new system from scratch and then to sell it to a fearful and divided people.

        Taking it back to gun control, one group says guns are evil killing machines an ought to be banned. They believe that violence is the exclusive domain of the state. It gets this Monopoly because the people surrender (often involuntarily) when people collective for a govetnment. Along with a bunch of highly emotional reasons which ultimately count for far more than political theory.

        The other side considers guns to be a fundamental element in the balance of power between the individual and externally imposed authority. They believe that the government’s power to use violence is derived from the individual right of self defense. If you abridge that right, there is no longer any way for government to derive it’s “just” power and it must resort to tyranny. And a whole bunch of highly emotional reasons here as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        About the gun issue, most Americans simultaneously support both gun rights and gun control. They also support women’s rights and abortion regulations. You see the same thing with environmentalism, such that even the Green New Deal has majority support across the political spectrum, including in the Republican Party.

        Below is another example. It is quite relevant to your comment and this post.

        But the entire debate is controlled by those who frame divisively with the intention of social control. It’s part of the political spectacle of endless distraction. Actual public opinion is carefully edited out of public debate. This is the real silent majority.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        Divide and conquer is a fundamental strategy in was and politics.

        I think I mentioned before that even in rural Michigan where I grew up with rednecks and the Michigan Militia was born you could get a majority to agree to some basic additional gun control. Universal background checks, prohibiting larger than 5 round external magazines and the like would pass a popular vote. There are people of all political stripes who gain their power from making sure no compromise can be reached. That it a matter of playing on hate, xenophobia, insecurity and fear.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        By the way, I’m not demanding ideological purity or judging others by it. There is no perfect application of any ideological system. That is my point about all of these countries being capitalist. It isn’t about some ideal capitalism but actual functioning capitalism, just as the Soviets were actual functioning communism .


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        I realize you may mean something entirely different by ‘capitalism’. To me, capitalism as capitalist realism or late stage capitalism, is hard to pin down. Even Saudi Arabia is yet another form of it, theocratic in that case.

        Marx didn’t think there was any way to avoid capitalism nor to overthrow it. His conclusion was that the only way beyond capitalism was through it. And over time capitalism would become more of what it inherently is, monpolized wealth and power.

        Only in seeing it for what it is in full expression could we come to terms with it and build something better. It’s a nice idea, anyway.


      • Fred (Au Natural) Says:

        My definition would probably be something Adam Smith would recognize. I belong to the Chicago school of economics, despite attending 2 years of college in a school dedicated to the Austrian school. 🙂


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        I belong to the non-economic school of humanity. Homo economicus doesn’t exist. It was a figment of our collective imagination, a reality tunnel, as is capitalist realism in general. Humans are profoundly social creatures. My view is maybe more in line with the following:

        It’s the broader context that allows us to see more clearly. Capitalism, as a utopian ideal of ideological rhetoric, has never lived up to its promises because it can’t. The contradictions it contains are inherent and were the seeds of its failure right from the beginning, long before Adam Smith was writing.

        The privatization of the commons, colonial exploitation, class oppression, genocide, slavery, etc. These are what capitalism was built on. And there is no way to undo that original sin. It was inevitable that fascism, neoliberalism, oligopoly, and plutocracy would be the full fruition and end result of late stage capitalism.

        Privatization and theft of the commons didn’t happen through freedom but through violent force of government. So-called free markets were always dependent on the unfreedom of a permanent underclass, as seen in the smooth transition from colonial imperialism to neoliberal globalization. There is a reason that the American Revolution was a fight for freedom where the first act of revolt was against a corporation.

        We severely misunderstood what capitalism always was. That isn’t to say there weren’t benefits, as is true of every system that came before that also had benefits. Even the seeming benefits of capitalism might have happened with or without capitalism, as industrialization and technological advancement would’ve happened within numerous systems, though taken in different directions, in the way that the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation happened in numerous societies.

        The industrial revolution wasn’t identical to capitalism, as neither was democracy. The Cold War propaganda that mixed these together was designed to confuse the mind and shut down radical imagination, not to promote open public debate. Capitalism is a reactionary ideology and so has deep roots in violent authoritarianism and rigid hierarchies. This is part of the background to anxiety of identity politics, populist outrage, and mass violence.

        It is a social order that was unstable and destabilizing from the beginning. It couldn’t have lasted and it’s a small miracle it’s lasted this long. The decimation of community and culture of trust (“social capital”) was the slow eating away at the seed corn of our civilization. But capitalism couldn’t operate any other way.


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        The Kopel book looks potentially interesting. It’s a catchy title, anyway. I have some books about the cultural history of guns and violence in America. I’m familiar with how certain strains of thought developed here, such as the origins of militias and stand-your-ground laws.

        Still, I have a different view of culture. The idea of a national culture is a modern myth used to enforce a particular social order. America has no single culture but many cultural traditions (see Brian Hackett Fischer & Colin Woodard).

        This is why I don’t see “national culture” as fatalistic, as it is simply one of many stories that have been told. Yes, it is a powerful master narrative. But there were always competing narratives. And sometimes slight shifts can transform the shared stories that fall in and out of favor.

        That is how civil wars and revolutions happen. Those other cultural currents are always there, seeds already planted and waiting for the right conditions. Many societies have quickly or less quickly changed in ways that weren’t predictable within the prior dominant paradigm.

        That is why I read blogs like this, including posts like this. What is being shown here is a questioning of narratives, in this case the questioning of what mass violence means in our society. It is in that questioning that we defuse the power certain narratives have over our minds. In their place, we help grow new potentials.

        This is why I’m a radical in my conclusions, despite not being a radical by personality. Capitalist realism, gun culture, on and on. Just pretty stories that are contagious mind viruses. But there is a cure. I’m a radical in the etymological sense. I dig to the roots. I’m seeking to imagine what, according to the master narrative, is unimaginable.


      • Benjamin David Steele Says:

        Part of my ‘radicalism’ comes from my sense of the power of mind, culture, and language. I’m heavily influenced by:

        Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf’s linguistic relativity, Carl Jung’s archetypes, Julian Jaynes’ use of metaphor, Lewis Hyde’s metonymic embodiment, Daniel Everett’s dark matter of the mind, Robert Anton Wilson’s reality tunnels, William S. Burroughs mind viruses and control, and Philip K. Dick’s black iron prison.

        I see humans as vast potential, mostly untapped but always present. Everything must be questioned and doubted, interrogated and explored. Take nothing at face value, especially received wisdom. Humanity has transformed over the centuries and millennia. We will go on transforming.


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