I'll start this post with an illustration.
Lasers are interesting devices. The word “laser” is actually an acronym formed from the first letters of the words “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Lasers work as follows: a “lasing” material (either a special crystal or gas or semiconducting material) is “pumped” with electromagnetic energy. This energy raises the electrons in the atoms of the material to higher “orbits” as the electrons store the energy pumped into the material. Then as electrons start to give up this energy and fall back to lower energy states, the energy is released as photons (light), which strike other atoms in the material, causing them to give up their pumped energy as well, ultimately resulting in a cascading flood of photons which comprise the light of the resulting laser beam. The laser beam has some unusual characteristics, which make it both interesting and useful. First, the light of the beam is monochromatic; that is, it is composed of light of one color only. Second, the beam is coherent; that is, it does not spread out except over very great distances. The light of the laser beam is the result of a series of deliberate choices by the designers and makers of lasers, as laser light is almost never found in nature.
Which brings me to the Arizona shootings this weekend, and to further reflections on American social life in these troubled times. There are many who write and comment on the societal consequences of resource depletion and economic collapse, and who state their belief that such times promote the rise of fascism, bigotry and intolerance. The way these writers talk, however, makes it sound as if adverse conditions cause fascism, bigotry and intolerance to just bubble up from the body politic in some inexplicable way that can only be described as a mysterious social force untraceable to any one individual.
I think such an explanation is nonsense. There are, to be sure, many idiots, bigots, and all-around doofuses in the United States these days. Our American society is now faced with post-Peak Oil, the depletion of a host of other resources, an economy which is long since past its peak, an environment which is increasingly degraded to such an extent that it can no longer support life, and the decline of our influence and hegemony in the world. Even within the U.S., the dominant Anglo sons and daughters of privilege are finding that they must now function within a multipolar, multicultural society. They have been used to being the sole center of attention for too long. For too long, they have been overloaded with all the toys a kid could want, and they have not had to share with anyone else. Our post-Peak nation in a post-Peak world will be forced to learn to share. This is a cause of angst and resentment among some of the sons and daughters of privilege.
Given the right environment, this angst and resentment could be constructively worked out. After all, having to share is not the end of the world. On a purely physical, technical level, it is quite possible that we could all live securely in a managed contraction of our economy, with high quality of life, if we were simply willing to share what we have with each other. But ours is not the right environment.
The present social environment of mainstream America is the deliberate product of its makers and designers, who are the wealthiest of the sons and daughters of privilege. They would rather tear this country apart than share the mountains of things they have piled up to themselves via the impoverishment of the rest of the nation and the world. They own the majority of the media and the majority of its politicians and most prominent mouthpieces.
So we have Fox TV and Fox News telling us that the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 arose because banks were forced to lend to minorities. We have Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh making all kinds of bigoted, racist statements to the world. We have Fox News agitating for war in Iraq even though the war was unjustified. We have all the Fox talking heads calling Obama a closet Muslim, a terrorist and a Nazi, even though their accusations had no basis in fact. We have Steve Forbes and Dick Armey creating the “Tea Party” and we have nearly all mainstream American media focusing an inordinate amount of attention on the Tea Baggers while ignoring genuine grassroots expressions of public opinion that run counter to the “me first” message of the Tea Baggers. We have Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes now able to vomit their hatred through thousands of mouthpieces. We have the Arizona immigration law and Republicans poised to try to push similar laws in several other states. We have the primary school textbook industry now taken over by right wing zealots who want to use public schools to push their jingoist propaganda. We have places like Walmart and Fred Meyer hawking books by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and George Bush – right next to the newsstands carrying Star, the National Enquirer and Cosmopolitan. And we have Sarah Palin targeting her opponents in the crosshairs.
Under such a media onslaught, it's not surprising that a few narrow-minded working-class redneck types would find themselves getting “lased.” Like atoms being pumped by light of a certain frequency, these people are gladly allowing themselves to get pumped by propaganda that validates their evil beliefs and desires. Is it any wonder that when they release their “pumping energy”, the result is violently destructive deeds?
To be sure, there is now a “debate” in the mainstream media over whether the right-wing garbage now emanating from most American media mouthpieces is actually responsible for the appearance of white supremacist militias and acts of violence such as the Arizona shootings. According to the McClatchy Tribune, a professor from USC “cautioned against coming to any conclusions about the motivations of the shooter in Tucson.” Similar backpedaling can be seen from Fox TV and Sarah Palin. And one person wrote, “Leave it to the liberals to expect one person to be held accountable for the individual actions of every person who hears them. It's representative of the liberal nanny state dream come true!”
Funny thing, though, is that a couple of decades ago, when these very same right-wingers were religiously campaigning against indecency on television, their opponents tried to deny any causal link between indecency in the media and sexual activity among young watchers of TV and movies. Now the right wingers are trying to use the same defense. Ah, well, to borrow a line from the Crucible, “God damns (punishes) all liars.” (By the way, the Good Book says something similar in Revelation 22:15.)