Let's consider the linkage between mass shootings and the ongoing denigration of the middle class by greedy special interests. It's not a one-to-one relationship, and it's hardly a rationalization or justification, but it remains hard to ignore. And it's worth considering in light of how we think -- or don't think -- about our society and our democracy.
Let's begin by getting something straight about Michigan's new anti-union law: It isn't properly described as "right to work" legislation. That phrase is, of course, widely used Republican shorthand for "right to work without being obliged to pay dues to the represented employees whose union bargained wages and benefits on your behalf."
But if the Michigan law, like so many similar laws in other, mostly southern states, was truly about "right to work," then the following clearly would have to be true:
You're a high school or college grad who hasn't found a job, or a middle-aged citizen who has worked steadily for decades, but has lately been laid off and can't find a new job. For you and many other Americans who are out of work, a true "right to work" law would, by the meaning of that phrase, strongly suggest that you're guaranteed a job. You have a "right to work," yes? Doesn't that imply a guarantee? A compact with government, even? Sure would be a good thing, if that phrase was anything more than willfully misleading, bait-and-switch politics.
Meanwhile, what about the nation's compact with gun violence? How does that tie in with prevailing attitudes about the role of wage-earning Americans in the workplace? Well, it's partly a matter of rhetorical equivalence, but there's a detectable, linking sociology that may be going on here. Bite the bullet and read along.
A well-written and truly "right to work" law would oblige employers -- perhaps with public subsidy, in some cases -- to pay family-supporting wages, not the ridiculously low, mini-wage jobs that mainly serve to drive laborers into debt, bankruptcy and despair, at a huge social cost to this country -- sometimes, a deadly cost.
In the real world, so-called right-to-work laws really are, as linguist George Lakoff newly notes, corporate servitude laws (and now, as in Wisconsin, government-servitude laws). The theme: Shut up and get to work, if you're lucky enough to have a job. We, the bosses, will make all decisions about your wages and benefits. There is no job security and little retirement security. Your pension is not only not portable, but we reserve the (ahem!) right to use legal loopholes to raid your pension retirement fund and spend the cash on other purposes, such as executive bonuses, like the bosses at Hostess did to their represented workers.
In short: Be afraid, and keep your nose to the grindstone. And remember: If you don't have a job in this country, you're nothing. Nothing!
"Right to work" laws merely allow the possibility of work, and then mostly only work for authoritarian assholes who have little if any regard for your needs or well-being, only their own bottom line. Which is why labor unions formed in the first place.
By way of analogy, the re-emerging debate on gun control in this country in the wake of the Connecticut massacre could be characterized as a debate on the current, wing-nut "standard" of gun control. Namely, a standard that permits you the right to die anytime, any place by bullet. Why? Because of those same authoritarian assholes, who got to be in charge of government thanks to organized pro-gun interests like the NRA who gave them millions in campaign funds, distorting democracy and common sense governance in the process.
Cultural observer Richard Florida offered a moment of clarity while speaking this morning on a Wisconsin Public Radio talk show. He noted that mass shooting are far and away more common in the US than any other industrialized nation. Going where few others dare tread, Florida then went on to note that the vast majority of these shootings happen in suburban settings, places that are not racially, politically or economically diverse. Such mass shootings don't tend to happen in big cities, much less minority-heavy inner cities. Is there violence in those places? Yes, but it's of a different kind and order. Which begs the question of why mass killings in our society tend to be so very middle-class.
Florida's take: Modern American mass killers internalize their anxieties, which are a heightened manifestation of the vast anxiety increasingly felt across 99 percent or so of US society. That anxiety leads Americans to acquire lots of guns (89 guns per every hundred Americans, at the moment). Among them, the prospective shooters see no easy, peaceful ways to reduce their angst, so they go with the greater flow, locking and loading.
Not every mass murderer is disgruntled about his job, or the lack of one. We'll leave deeper analysis to psychiatrists and sociologists. But the nation's current anti-democratic, despairing zeitgeist surely must figure into some or even many of these cases. Replace job anxiety with larger anxiety about one's perceived place -- or lack of it -- in a an increasingly mercenary, crystallized, opportunity-declining society, and the link still seems to apply.
At work, laboring Americans have the unwelcome right to serve in increasingly third-world conditions for unkind, anti-labor jerks. These laborers have the decreasing right to assert their needs as human beings who have legitimate yet declining expectations about earning a fair wage.
If you lose your job, you're pretty much on your own, because the cultural implication or stated rationale is that it was mostly or all your own fault -- although it could be, go the whispers and sometimes shouts, the fault of unseen and mostly only suspected forces, like immigrants or minorities.
If your angst turns to mania and you decide to unload your worries by loading a gun, then you can avail yourself of the mostly unfettered right to own one. If you're unhinged mentally, don't expect much professional or institutional help. Here, too, you're increasingly on your own. And that, the whispering suggests, is really a good thing. You are your own fortress.
Of course, throughout your struggle, you -- like most of the rest of America -- also own the unwelcome right to die by a gun at any moment -- in public, at school, at work, even in your own home.
So, welcome to the United States of America. Enjoy your stay; but be afraid. Try our our new menu; but don't get eaten. Get in touch; but get them before they get you.
Happiness is, indeed, a warm gun.