Mass Murder, Men, and the Decline of the State

By Dr. Vomact

Some deeds raise questions. Some speak so loudly, you might say they are themselves questions. The recent vogue of mass murders, done by a single individual who walks into a crowded public space and commences firing for no apparent reason belongs to this latter class. The press and public ask why anyone would do such a thing. They talk about how such bloody deeds could be prevented.

The answer to the latter question usually follows the obsessions or interests of those who supply it. Those who think guns cause violence use the disaster as another point in the argument against the very notion of an armed citizenry; the proponents of the Second Amendment argue that if everyone had guns, then such murderers would be stopped before they filled their self-imposed quota of death. Others, more wise, argue that these murders are symptomatic of a breakdown of the moral order, or–more specifically–of the decline of Christianity. One is sympathetic to this latter belief; indeed, if a murderer did not think suicide put him beyond accountability, perhaps he would have been deterred.

In the end, most public voices agree that the problem clearly shows a need for more “security”. The State, of course, agrees. As Martin Van Creveld has said (in many books, for example, The Transformation of War and The Rise and Decline of the State) the very reason for the existence of the State is to provide security for its citizens via its monopoly on armed violence. As this noted historian has also observed, the need for armed State violence (or protection therefrom) has declined in the last 50 years. Major States, armed with nuclear weapons, simply cannot afford to attack each other. After the collapse of the Soviet facade, this decline in demand for State security might have become obvious to even the least observant–were it not for the newly created demand for interior (“Homeland”) security.

Its new role as Homeland defender has created an abundance of new opportunities for (at least) the American State to exercise its mission to control; it has caused the profligate flowering of new bureaus and offices, and an influx of money and laws to revitalize those who were becalmed. Here is an instance of the principle that the currents of history never flow in one direction; for every current there is a counter-current, for every Robespierre a Metternich. Just so, those who think that Van Creveld’s announced decline of the State is synonymous with the fall of the State will have to wait, for the very forces of instability have raised a counter-current that strengthens the State.

We began with thoughts about the modern fashion of mass murder; it might not be apparent how these killings are connected to “Fourth Generation War”. Firstly, there is a connection in that the solution to both “random” mass murder and “terrorist” attacks is thought to be the same: more State security. More important is the nature of the murder-fashion itself; I said it was a question, and the question is this: How could they happen at all? Not “Why did he do it?”, but “Why is this possible; how can such a phenomenon exist at all?”.

Consider: it is 1950, and an armed man walks into a crowded department store and commences firing in a leisurely way. As his victims fall and lie bleeding, occasionally he stops to reload. He strolls along, shooting at whim until he wearies of the game and ends his own life. Can you picture it? I cannot. He would not have gotten past the third shot. Why? Run the scene backward. The shooter starts firing. Women scream, and turn to run, dragging children. A man nearby throws himself at the shooter, knocking him down. Others follow his example, and the shooter is quickly covered by pile of pummeling men. If he is lucky, he lives to be arrested.

In 1950, it was still considered appropriate for boys to be taught masculine virtues. Those virtues included bravery, strength, and a willingness to sacrifice. Men were taught as boys to respect women, and adult men were expected to protect both women and children. Like any social norm, it was not always nor perfectly executed: surely there must have been times when men on a sinking ship crowded ahead of the women and children in the rush to the lifeboats. The important point is, such men were regarded as failures, as cowards. Any real man had the right to shoot them like the dogs they were. According to the norm, most every young man dreamed of being a hero–of saving the day (and the pretty damsel in distress). Consequently, the odds are very good that in our imaginary department store scenario, there would have been at least one man who wanted to be hero. Probably, there would have been several; in any case, most of the rest of the able-bodied men present would have been galvanized–and shamed–into action by the hero.

You might say that our society is like a body without an immune system. As such, it is at the mercy of every predatory organism–be it an angry and deranged individual or a cell of 4th Generation warriors–who chooses to attack. Any group of people subject to such an attack have no defense, because no one has been taught to assume the role of defender. No one knows what to do, so the crowd is like a herd of milling sheep, letting the wolves take their pick. It was not always so; it is not of necessity so.

Can State security protect the sheep? Can an institution fill the void left by the collapse of historically sensible and healthy norms? Perhaps, for a time, the State can create the illusion that it is doing so. The State can subject the sheep to ever stricter controls, and tell them that they are the more secure for it. Indeed, the willingness of sheep to accept whatever measures the State dreams up seems unbounded–as long as what is done is done in the name of security. But illusion is not fact: the State cannot truly protect its citizens if they lack the will to protect themselves. One could, of course, hope that–given enough time–even the sheep will catch on. It’s not the way to bet, though.

Was Van Creveld wrong–is the State not declining? On the contrary, Van Creveld is surely right, for he wasn’t predicting the future–he only recognized what had already become fact. On the world stage, all States but the single most powerful State have already become just “one more gang in the street”. American power is still very real, though far more limited than Washington thinks. America cannot be ignored, but it can be fought, fooled, diverted, and–if nothing else–it can be out-waited. But power directed outward is not the same as inward control. As its outward power has weakened, the American State’s control over its own citizens has paradoxically strengthened. (The European Union also seems to have grown into a choking Sargasso of bureaucracy.)

I can’t predict the future. I can only say what is already obvious: we are in a time of increasing chaos, accompanied by a growth in State control. The second trend feeds on the first. However, control and pretense both have limits; nothing can grow without limit, nor exist forever in complete disregard of the truth. This aspect of the State, too, must fade.

[Dr. Vomact was born in Munich, capital of the Bavarian Free State. By an inscrutable whim of fate, he became an American; he hopes that his stylistic excesses will be excused because English is his second language. He studied at the University of California, and was granted a Doctorate in Philosophy by the University of Oregon in Eugene. After a few years of desultory and intermittent teaching assignments, he was cast forth like Milton’s Lucifer from the academic heavens, and has been a source of confusion and consternation among mortals ever since.]

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed in Uncategorized | 24 responses so far

24 Responses to “Mass Murder, Men, and the Decline of the State”

  1. rogelio007on 21 Feb 2008 at 7:56 pm 1

    “just “one more gang in the street””

    In some communities that is what police are considered to be. An example: East Los Angeles.

  2. jaylemeuxon 21 Feb 2008 at 10:37 pm 2

    man, this length-of-comment restriction is killing me.

    “Others, more wise, argue that these murders are symptomatic of a breakdown of the moral order, or–more specifically–of the decline of Christianity.”

    To assume that Christianity as we know or knew it is the sole source of the American “moral order” is, at the risk of understatement, very biased. Moreover, to assume that what we called our “moral order” at the 1950’s or even the 1750’s is the kind of moral order that Christ was talking about, assuming he ever existed, is delusional.

    Suicidal ideation is the result of a load of psychological and biological changes. Convincing people that they’re gonna go to hell is not going to prevent them from committing suicide if they are clinically suicidal. Plenty of so-called Christians killed themselves before the 1960’s or whatever decade supposedly marks the death of American nirvana.

    “In 1950, it was still considered appropriate for boys to be taught masculine virtues. Those virtues included bravery, strength, and a willingness to sacrifice. Men were taught as boys to respect women, and adult men were expected to protect both women and children.”

    Look around-it’s still happening, for better or worse. “Masculine” is a subjective term. Since they are still called “boys,” whatever boys are currently taught is automatically masculine, even if it’s not the “masculine” the author has in mind. And no one should think for a second that all that “respect” for women was not concurrent with plenty of oppressive practices.

  3. mycophagiston 21 Feb 2008 at 11:51 pm 3

    In the late sixties it was decided that we were spending too much money on insitutionalising the mentally disturbed…

    As a result we now have one tenth the number of people in institutions as we used to.
    Is there a cause and effect?

    Dr. Vomact suggest that what occurs today, could not have occured in 1950. May I suggest that he’s “nuts?” :)

    I personally have stopped two mentally unhinged people from commiting violence. One had a knife, one was simply acting bizzare and threatened people. What if they had a gun? I would have taken cover and perhaps waited for a suitable opportunuity. If I had a gun ( a crime in NYC) I would have shot such an armed person.

    When people have the opportunity to fight back, they do. As was done on 9/11, as was done on a train in Long Island. We have NOT become cowards. Kids Still want to be hero’s…

    All nonsense.

    Dave

  4. Cheton 22 Feb 2008 at 12:58 am 4

    Comments is comments and posts is posts.

    If you want to expostulate for more than 200-250 words, go ahead and write a real article.

  5. judasnooseon 22 Feb 2008 at 9:51 am 5

    Jaylemeux raises one interesting challenge: Is Christianity the moral foundation of the USA?
    I regard his other points as deserving of lengthy rebuttal, but I would require some time to scrape up some evidence.

    Mycophagist rightly notes that institutions have been underfunded, but I believe that is a small part of the picture. Again, I will need to time to prepare a case.

    Withal, Dr. Vomact has introduced a very interesting line of inquiry, namely the relationships of chaos to state assertiveness. Mapping the limits of statist control and pretense is a worthwhile but big project. For the most part I agree with Vomact’s perspective: Americans did not run amok in the 1950’s as they do today. This is a non-trivial cultural shift. Is there a criminologist in the house? If not, can one be recruited?

  6. dckinderon 22 Feb 2008 at 2:30 pm 6

    Americans did not run amok in the 1950’s as they do today.

    Tell that to the blacks in the South.

  7. gracaton 22 Feb 2008 at 3:01 pm 7

    We did not have 24/7 news coverage in 1950 either. I am sure in 1750 massacres took place that went unreported or under reported. Throw in today’s overcrowding and over development and you have a lab rat run amok situation.

    I don’t trust the reporting from more crowded Asian, Latin American and African cities to site these folks as handling modern times better then the US and Europe either. As for firearms ownership as a factor. Either we want to remain armed citizens with the risk that entails or Not. Hashing out the details of how gun ownership will be implemented seems always to become an all or nothing proposal. So a decent policy is never forthcoming from either side of the aisle.

    All this being said: I don’t think giving up our technology (couldn’t be here now) will solve the problem. But. I do believe reading history and trying to follow the basics of Christianity would be very helpful.

  8. seerovon 22 Feb 2008 at 10:02 pm 8

    “Is Christianity the moral foundation of the USA?”

    No, I don’t believe it is. At the same time, I do believe there was a “traditional” value system that existed in the 50’s that has been socialized out of America. Our educational and media systems have been influenced by social Marxist thought. If you want to understand where this thought oriented, I would suggest watching this short film by Bill Lind. Its very eye opening.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8630135369495797236&q=bill+lind&total=17&start=0&num=10&so=0&type=search&plindex=0

  9. rogelio007on 22 Feb 2008 at 10:23 pm 9

    “Tell that to the blacks in the South.”

    And to Native Americans and Hispanics in the West. And to Jews in the North. (Racism is not a Southern monopoly, you know.)

  10. loggie02on 22 Feb 2008 at 11:10 pm 10

    Someone said “I am all in favor of western culture as soon as it gets some”.

  11. seydlitz89on 22 Feb 2008 at 11:23 pm 11

    “In the end, most public voices agree that the problem clearly shows a need for more “security”. The State, of course, agrees. As Martin Van Creveld has said (in many books, for example, The Transformation of War and The Rise and Decline of the State) the very reason for the existence of the State is to provide security for its citizens via its monopoly on armed violence. As this noted historian has also observed, the need for armed State violence (or protection therefrom) has declined in the last 50 years. Major States, armed with nuclear weapons, simply cannot afford to attack each other.”

    But this is not van Creveld’s argument, rather . . .

    “The principal function of the state, as that of all previous forms of government, has always been to fight other states, whether defensively in an attempt to defend its interests or offensively to extend them.” – “The Fate of the State”

    The state as possessing the monopoly of violence within a certain territorial boundry is Max Weber. . .and he made no distinction between “state” and “modern state”. . .

    What I find amazing in these articles is the unquestioned assumption that the deterministic “decline of the state” is true following some sort of mystical quasi-Marxist notion of historical determinism, kinda like the “eventual triumph of socialism”. . . rather than asking if this could not be a political crisis instead, the machinary of the state being abused for private interest . . . with a bought and paid for media greasing the skids . . .

    I guess I’d better hurry up with my own contribution. . .

  12. mycophagiston 23 Feb 2008 at 12:55 am 12

    judasnoose wrote

    Mycophagist rightly notes that institutions have been underfunded, but I believe that is a small part of the picture. Again, I will need to time to prepare a case.

    Withal, Dr. Vomact has introduced a very interesting line of inquiry, namely the relationships of chaos to state assertiveness. Mapping the limits of statist control and pretense is a worthwhile but big project. For the most part I agree with Vomact’s perspective: Americans did not run amok in the 1950’s as they do today. This is a non-trivial cultural shift. Is there a criminologist in the house? If not, can one be recruited?
    **********

    Never in our history has the flaunting of wealth been so visible. Mind you, wealthy people have ALWAYS flaunted their wealth – But today we have the luxury of almost an intimate and vicarious view of the lives of Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears.

    Ok, so degeneracy is on display…

    Meanwhile, ,back at the ranch so to speak, just what are we doing with the people who for the above and other reasons are losing it?

    Even in the Middle Ages the community payed for mental health and institutionalising those who were a threat to just about everyone.

    With a handful of exceptions we find that the people commiting these acts have been tagged before. Given a prescription for powerful drugs, and sent on their way…

    I wasn’t exagerating by saying that we institutionalise one tenth of those we institutionalised in the past.

    Meanwhile, the good doctor tells us that if only we had old fashoned values, we would make quick work in dealing with armed psychotics. No lie – I am insulted.

    (BTW – I am a supporter of the Second Amendment)

    Dave

  13. jaylemeuxon 23 Feb 2008 at 3:10 am 13

    after some thought, i retract my statement that whatever boys are taught is automatically masculine, since there are a variety of sources in the social sciences that break down cultural values into masculine and feminine.

    however, i stand by my assertion that “masculine” is used very subjectively in other venues, including this article.

    teaching boys that the first answer to every perceived threat is to protect the poor women by shooting someone, (which isn’t exactly what the author suggested, but what I imagine his teachings would boil down to) could result in a nation full of vigilantes looking for someone to take a shot at.

    No matter how many guns we put on the streets or how “strong” we teach boys to be, we will always have psychos shooting up their schools until we start taking responsibility for pushing these kids to the brink and not giving them any help. I look at this partially in terms of taking initiative rather than reacting to problems that we’ve allowed to get out of hand.

  14. zoagriaon 23 Feb 2008 at 8:39 am 14

    Dr. Vomact,

    I’ve provided a link below for you:

    http://www.constitution.org/liberlib.htm

    This is a collection of notable essay’s, articles, speeches, and etc. related to the founding of the U.S. Republic and our Constitution. As you’re a naturalized citizen, it’s likely that you’re unfamiliar with the bulk of the history related to the U.S., in particular the “Federalist v. Anti-Federalist” debate that’s continued unabated to this day.

    The issue you’ve brought up in your post is a regular debate topic in most U.S. Law Schools’ “Federalist Society” chapters, and it’s certain that you’d be welcomed at which ever chapter is in your area (as membership is not restricted to lawyers). For more information, “The Federalist Society” has an exhaustive website that includes recommended reading for both “conservative” (generally Federalist) members and “libertarian” (generally Anti-Federalist) members alike…. New Left or “progressive” political proponents aren’t typically willing to engage in considered or thoughtful debate on many of these types of subjects (although they are certainly welcome), and so it’s worth clearly stating that the Federalist Society isn’t an “arch Right Wing” organization (you’ll no doubt be surprised at the quantity of Austrian economic philosophy that’s evoked).

    Best,

    A. Scott Crawford

  15. ignatxon 23 Feb 2008 at 11:02 pm 15

    So, following Vomact’s, umm, logic, these sort of shootings are enormously more common in the US than elsewhere in the Western world because American’s are more enormously cowardly than Europeans, the Japanese, etc?

  16. ignatxon 23 Feb 2008 at 11:06 pm 16

    …In reality, no number of playground fights, John Wayne movies watched, football (or even rugby games) played can prepare human beings to instantly, uniformly sacrifice themselves when they’ve just seen violent death occur for the first time. Vomact should watch fewer John Wayne movies and read the Red Badge Of Courage.

  17. judasnooseon 24 Feb 2008 at 1:32 am 17

    Pardon me, I seem to be using a different definition of running amok.

    “Running amok” means chaotic, passionate, personal violence.

    KKK members organizing and conspiring to lynch blacks is far too orderly to be called “running amok,” although it could be called treasonous, insofar as they seek to establish a state within a state.

    For the Christianity issues, I have assembled some evidence at:
    http://judasnoose.wordpress.com/2008/02/24/did-the-founders-intend-to-found-a-christian-nation/

  18. mycophagiston 24 Feb 2008 at 2:47 am 18

    judasnoose wrote:

    For the Christianity issues, I have assembled some evidence at: http://judasnoose.wordpress.com/2008/02/24/did-the-founders-intend-to-found-a-christian-nation/

    Nice summary!

    Of course the religious right tells me that the very absence of Christ from the Consitution “proves” that we are a Chrisitian nation… :)

    And they are succeding!
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-09-11-amendment_N.htm

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you couldn’t get a high school diploma without passing a simple test on the Constitution?

    Dave

  19. rogelio007on 24 Feb 2008 at 3:13 am 19

    “Vomact should watch fewer John Wayne movies”

    Everyone should. John Wayne was a draft dodger. He went out of his way to avoid military service in World War II. At least Ronald Reagan joined the Army to make training films in Hollywood, even though he never served in combat. Jimmy Stewart though, there was a man. He flew many combat missions in the Army Air Corps. Watch more Jimmy Stewart movies.

  20. ignatxon 24 Feb 2008 at 11:16 am 20

    At the risk of beating an already dead rhetorical corpse..

    – If Vomact’s theory that ordinary American’s were willing to tackle armed criminals with their bare hands before the 1960s was true, how could anyone explain the success of violent crime, including the rise of the Chicago Mob, before that date?

    – Cheap high capacity clipping loading weapons are a relatively recent innovation. If Charles Whitman had been able to buy an M16 for a few hundred dollars, he may well have murdered his victims close up instead from the safety of a high tower. Cheap M16’s and similar weapons make mass murder accessible to the destitute and unskilled.

  21. rogelio007on 24 Feb 2008 at 6:03 pm 21

    ” how could anyone explain the success of violent crime, including the rise of the Chicago Mob, before that date?”

    The Chicago Mob were ruthless. If you messed with them, they would not only kill you, they would also kill your wife, your kids. your parents, your grandparents and your brothers and sisters.

  22. ::JRBehrmanon 25 Feb 2008 at 1:47 am 22

    Van CREVELT’s “monopoly of arms” definition of the state is almost a cliche, unless one is prepared to drill down into exactly what “monopoly” and “arms” mean:

    A “monopoly” is a seller, or source, of arms, not necessarily the sole holder thereof.

    In a republic, the entire citizenry is to be armed with unform, robust ordnance.

    In an aristocracy a patronage-chain is armed in accord with its station.

    In a plutocracy, a mercenaries are armed.

    In the US today, we have some elements of all three of these situations, with the patronage-chain having nuclear ordnance, mercenaries having sophisticated ordnance, and the rest of the citizens having a variety of small-arms.

    The highest of these supply-chains is autarkic, the lowest is now dominated by imports.

    Arms range from archaic heraldy, including inexpensive medals that motivate ordiinary soldier, not flags used as commercial decoration or religious symbols, railroads, merchant marine, airlines and other “dual-use” facilities, public-key infrastructure, through other useful signals, ordnance, medicine, and so on, that circulate in world trade channels. Archaic Veblenian totems or “high-tech” fashion goods, like the F-22, are militarily useless but powerful, political potlatch, not actually arms

    In “a republic, if you can keep it…,” I do not see how to rely on military institutions of the first Britsh Empire, defeated in 1784 and, again, in 1874, 1836, and 1844.

    In particular, widespread private ownership and criminal circulation of heterogenous small-arms does not even begin to come close to “a well regulated militia”.

  23. oldskepticon 25 Feb 2008 at 2:40 am 23

    Dave, good point.

    “In the late sixties it was decided that we were spending too much money on insitutionalising …”

    Firstly, yes to your point, this does contribute to violence and crimes overall and costs society a lot of money.

    But it’s a little more complicated than that. The intentions of de-institutionalisation was well meant and if had been carried out better would have had positive outcomes.

    The idea was, that thanks to new treatments, a lot of people in institutions could return to society “as long a sufficient support mechanisms” were put in. The idea was a win-win: better quality of life for inmates for about the same cost (or maybe even a bit less).

    Unfortuntately, Govts (just about) everywhere got the idea of shutting institutions, but squibbed out on the support costs. Great way of saving money on a politically unpopular cause. Result, huge amount of people dumped on the streets. Even when their condition could be controlled by treaments, so many were so institutionalised that they couldn’t function in society without (now virtually non-existant) support.

    Result, yes more crime, homeless people, side affects from self medication, et al, et al.

    We still institutionalise these people – we now send them to far more expensive jails, where, when they get out, they are even worse. But that’s ok by the pollies, crime and punishment are always great vote earners amongst the fearfull classes.

    Note the large increase in jail populations over the same time period (helped along by silly drug legislation as well of course).

  24. RC#3 Perspective on School Attacks aton 02 Mar 2008 at 9:13 pm 24

    […] http://dni2.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/mass-murder-men-and-the-decline-of-the-state/#more-146 […]