In Benjamin Britten’s Opera, Peter Grimes, the composer develops the theme of the struggle between the individual and the society. One of the more cogent and penetrating insights of this intersection, according to Britten, is that the more violent the society, the more violent will the individual be.
While the last few decades may not top the charts for violence, there is clearly a more ubiquitous and incessant dissemination of the violence humans are perpetrating on one another. And like the bursting bubble of 2008-9, first in the housing market in the U.S., the conditions in which these acts of violence occur have changed. They are no longer isolated and manageable. They are no longer mere incidents, or even accidents, although those continue. They are no longer able to be remediated by a single agent. They spill over borders, political ideologies, languages, time zones and other economies.
We have engaged in a run-away global economy, in which the corporations have a distinct advantage over the various governments charged with responsibility for public policy including regulation of the corporations, for cleaning up the messes (frequently initiated by the bankers and financial markets) when the collective centrifuge blows apart. It is a lot easier and compelling to remove a dictator, for example, than to replace that dictator with a level of governance, laws, and social policies that take care of the needs of the people who live in that country. Libya, Iraq, Tunisia, Yemen, are some of the nations in which chaos, violence, and the complete fraying of the social fabric have replaced the dangers and threats once posed by the dictators, many of whom were “allies” of the west, and the news out of those places was mainly “settled” and predictable.
Today, the various theatres of violence, failed states, migrant refugees and instability are ripe opportunities for forces never before even contemplated let alone planned for. And once having left a deep deposit of military hardware in their abandoned fighting fields, the United States is experiencing, and the world is witnessing, the slaughter those weapons inflict in the hands of the terrorists. Just as Donald Rumsfeld, envoy of then president Ronald Reagan, conveyed “weapons of mass destruction” to Saddam Hussein in the mid-eighties, so too has the world’s military super power (albeit indirectly) fueled the current violence in the Middle East. And one of the things about this period of history is that such complicity is now out in the open for all to see and to contemplate and to measure.
And, caught in the vortex of its own “power” the United States is continuing to ship arms not only to other nations, along with Russia, but it has engaged in a massive sale of weapons inside its homeland. When the arsenal of power is dependent on the gun (not exclusively) then that arsenal is already participating in its own demise. Devising preventive techniques to block the acquisition of arms from “undesireables” at home, while expanding the international shipment of bigger and more explosives around the world is a bi-polarity that is simply and utterly unsustainable. The hornets’ nest of political voices that perpetuate the dependence on the bullet, both at home and around the world, and the culture in which that nest lives and even grows, is one that would find any restrictions on the development and sale of those arms repugnant. Little boys, and increasingly little girls, in such a culture, will come to believe and act upon the notion that violence is a remedy for whatever blocks their individual and narcissistic paths. Exporting violence, as a way of life and a means of sustaining its balance of payments, merely enhances the opportunities of those who would seek to deploy violence in their own little worlds, in whatever country they may exist.
The NRA, the proliferation of arms for all law enforcement including school guards, the dissemination of the argument of self-defence backed by a weapon, in the purse, under the pillow, in the glove box, in the brief case, and yes even in the college classrooms and the sanctuaries of churches and the absolute contempt for any push-back from even the parents of lost children in Sandy Hook, for example, cripples both the spirit of the nation of the United States, and the capacity of the rest of the civilized world to give that country the kind of respect it could enjoy, if it were deliberately and openly to put curbs on its dependence of the bullet.
Of course, there is significant evidence that the United States also provides generous amounts of support for worthwhile causes, like the fight against AIDS in Africa, and many other such examples. And that generosity of spirit must not be denigrated. However, linked to both the addiction to corporate profits of its main corporate citizens, and to the delusion that military power is the guarantor of national and personal security, this generosity can be and is only tarnished and reduced significantly.
Even the language of its political discourse is infused with killing, wiping out the enemy, fatal blows to the enemies, (in the rhetorical sense) as examples of potential leaders who might occupy the White House. Not only does this language and weapon-infested culture bespeak a neurotic masculinity so frightened of losing control as well as dominance, it also entraps successive generations of young men who are innocently and naively emulating their fathers and grandfathers.
The male individual who does not subscribe to the “win-at-all-costs” formula, even if it means obliterating the enemy, is far too often dubbed “girlish” or worse, “gay” or even worse, “fag”....And when we combine the ‘first-and-last resort’ to weapons in all conflicts in the U.S. with the emasculation through poverty, unemployment and hopelessness of the people of both genders who have barely enough money to survive, the American society demonstrates its commitment to violence and the individual is its victim.
In yesterday’s column in Truthdig.com, Chris Hedges call all Americans Greeks, reduced to the serfdom of the masses dependent on the miserly bail-out of the rich and the powerful. Americans, however, may consider Greeks to be at least on the leading edge of the bail-outs, for we all know that after the ensuing bail-outs that will be required to “reconcile” the $1.3 trillion in state debt, there will be empty vaults under the control of the wealthy and the powerful for those still in line.
While the violence continues on the battle fields, on the oceans and through the air, behind those horrific scenes, big powers are engaged in an interminable campaign of manufacturing, marketing and exporting weapons of all kinds around the world. Weapons in the hands of the hopeless regardless of their ethnicity, ideology or religion, still constitutes a dangerous marriage.And remember Britten’s linkage: the more violent the society, the more violent will be the individual in that society.