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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why Are White Men Mass Murderers?

There have been two recent articles on the relationship between race and gender and mass murders in America (excluding terrorism) – one by Christy Wampole (New York Times 12.17.12)  and the other by Sarah Jane Glynn (Atlantic 12.20.12). While both writers agree that white men do most of the killing (65 percent of such killings are committed by white men), they disagree on why.  Wampole suggests that it is become white men have become the new disenfranchised.  Women and minorities have usurped their traditional role as dominant species in American culture, and they are frustrated and enraged to madness.
I would argue that maleness and whiteness are commodities in decline. And while those of us who are not male or white have enjoyed some benefits from their decline, the sort of violence and murder that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary will continue to occur if we do not find a way to carry them along with us in our successes rather than leaving them behind.
Can [non-white women] imagine being in the shoes of the one who feels his power slipping away? Who can find nothing stable to believe in? Who feels himself becoming unnecessary? That powerlessness and fear ties a dark knot in his stomach. As this knot thickens, a centripetal hatred moves inward toward the self as a centrifugal hatred is cast outward at others: his parents, his girlfriend, his boss, his classmates, society, life.
Glynn responds:
White men are doing just fine. On average they earn the highest wages, and are the most likely to be employed when you control for the fact that they also have the highest labor force participation rates. The idea that our economy is a zero-sum game, and that women and people of color are somehow stealing opportunities from white men is old, insidious, and untrue. So where is the problem? What makes men more likely to be violent if it isn't the advances of women and people of color?
Men have been committing a disproportionate amount of lethal violence for a long time, and for as long as we have been keeping records. Men are both more likely to be the victims and the perpetrators of lethal violence—expect for intimate-partner violence which is much more likely to be committed by men against women.
Both writers overstate the case.  It is the combination of a persistent male ethos of aggression and dominance; genetic sexual differences; the male gun culture; and mental illness which provide the rocket fuel for male havoc.  Furthermore a culture of resentment, frustration, anger, and hatred is the ideal medium for within which individual killers mature.

There has been a vigorous debate since the emergence of feminism in the late Sixties concerning male and female ‘nature’.  Are boys genetically programmed to be more aggressive and violent; and girls more conciliatory, social, and caring?  Or are these attributes simply social constructs?  To this day, academics still write about the coming and going of Barbies.  Why is it, says a recent article (Guys and Dolls No More, Washington Post 12.22.12) that little has changed since the days of early feminism when gender-neutral was the operative term of the day, and that parents still buy frilly, pink, girly things for girls, and trucks, tanks, and macho video games for boys?

Image result for images barbie doll

While many, such as the author of the Guys and Dolls article, argue that it is the pervasive and insidious influence of the media and their marketers and the still-homophobic culture of America, others would say that nature always trumps nurture in matters of behavior.  It is a well-known observation among parents that if they remove all toy guns from a boy’s playroom, he will use carrot sticks as pistols and broom handles as rifles in violent, aggressive games with his friends.  And if they give girls trucks, tools, and equipment, they will not play with them and find something to cuddle.

Regardless of the eventual outcome of the debate, boys are still brought up and nurtured to be boys. They still are the biggest consumers of violent video games, the enthusiastic supporters of violent sports, and the most rabid spectators at NASCAR races, the most male of all sports – speed, risk, fiery crashes, and raw aggression.

Image result for images fiery nascar crash

The gun culture is also predominantly male.  Men hunt and shoot far more than women.  Most of the hunters on Versus  are men.  Men like to hunt and kill; and it is hard not to reflect on pre-history when men did exactly that on the African veldt while women were gathering and cooking. With a few exceptions (a muscular Linda Blair in Terminator 2, Scarlett Johansson in Lucy), it is men who are the shooters (heroes or bad guys) in the movies. Guns have always been an extension of maleness.

While according to NMIH (National Institute of Mental Health) over 26 percent of Americans suffer from mental illness, and nearly half of them suffer from two mental disorders. A combination of any of them – e.g. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, etc. – can be lethal.  The rate of Serious Mental Illness (SMI) already high in the national population (5-6 percent) is near 25 percent in prison populations, suggesting that many inmates have some personality disorder when they enter prison and when they leave.  Recent observations in the light of Sandy Hook (Newtown) have suggested that the rates of both mental illness and especially SMI are far higher because of our poor diagnostic tools.  Many mentally ill people escape detection. 

This combination – aggressive men whether by nature or nurture; a gun culture which extends maleness and idealizes it; mental illness which leads to irrational, unexplainable anti-social behavior – is enough to cause outbursts of havoc. 

However, two more elements have to be added to the mix. Guns are everywhere, and the number of guns per capita in America beggar that of any other Western country.  The gun culture has been encouraged by a liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment, nostalgic and idealized memories of the rugged individualism of the Wild West, and a persistent and unsettling growth of conspiracy theories, most of which talk of insidious national and international threats to ‘Our Way of Life’.  It is easy to get guns and guns that kill quickly and efficiently.

Image result for nra logo images

Finally the 'culture' of frustration and resentment felt in many parts of the country and picked up on by Donald Trump must be considered as an important crucible of individual violence.  Many parts of the South still harbor a visceral and unnamed hostility to the Federal Government because of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Civil Rights – all programs which either fought to bring down the Southern economy and social order; or to enforce radical changes in them. 

This generalized hostility is not the preserve of the South.  The rage is coming from another non-regional place, a deeper place – an anger that America itself is being overrun, overtaken, and fundamentally changed.

The only unanswered question concerns race.  Why are mass murderers overwhelmingly white?  One explanation is that for a variety of psycho-sociological reasons, black violence is street violence, mostly confined within black neighborhoods.  Survival is an immediate, daily challenge, more than enough to occupy the lives of poor, minority inner-city residents.  They are less infected by conspiracy theories and political frustration and more corrupted by internecine warfare over drugs, money, and local power.

Some observers have noted that white men still feel a sense of entitlement, and that the rage and frustration noted above is made especially acute because of a perceived generalized threat to them.  It is not so much a feeling of individual loss or deprivation – a black woman getting preference over a white male – but that they, the undefined socializing government are taking it away.

If this is the case, then black people, still affected by vestiges of 19th century racism, have far less to be angry about.  Government has, at least since the 1960s, been there to help not to take away. The racial element in mass killings is the least well-understood.  Researchers still tip-toe around the subject of race in all areas of inquiry.  It is has been more exposed to scrutiny now since it is white males who are the perpetrators, not blacks; but few convincing theories have emerged; and most ideas are still speculation. It is also important to reiterate the fact that 35 percent of the mass murders are committed by black men, a not insignificant proportion, suggesting that facile conclusions must be avoided.



  2. 35% of mass murder committed by black men? What percent of the population are they? If your numbers are correct, then it would be black men who are more likely to commit mass murder.


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