The Connecticut massacre and America's estrangement from reality

Belen Fernandez
The Connecticut massacre and America's estrangement from reality

In the aftermath of last week's school shooting in Connecticut in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 27 people, including 20 children, the Associated Press quoted Afghan President Hamid Karzai's extension of condolences to the US:

Of course, the list of tragedies witnessed by Afghanistan also includes items such as the US airstrike that killed 18 civilians in June. This occurred on the heels of the New York Times report on the US " kill list " and Obama's role in authorising civilian collateral damage abroad.

Given the utter lack of human empathy exhibited by the US in its dealings with the world, it should perhaps come as no surprise when the lack of empathy is replicated on a smaller scale at home by school assassins and the like. It goes without saying, however, that the president's tears are reserved for the non-military slaughter of domestic civilians.

As for Obama's pledge to do whatever he can to "prevent... more tragedies like this", it would seem that true prevention efforts would require the comprehensive rewiring of American society.

The profitable approach to individual torment

In the widely circulated post-Connecticut piece " I Am Adam Lanza's Mother ", Liza Long describes her appeal to a social worker for advice on how to deal with her teenage son Michael's mental illness, which she reports is occasionally manifested in life-threatening violence. The answer, quite simply, is "to get Michael charged with a crime".

Long has received deserved criticism from anthropologist Sarah Kendzior for violating her troubled child's privacy by "embark[ing] on a media tour promoting him as a future mass murderer". However, many of her points are valid:

In 2006, Human Rights Watch also determined that the rate of reported mental health disorders was five times greater among the prison population.

Long cites American society's "stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system" - in which "state-run treatment centres and hospitals [are] shuttered" - as decisive factors in the drive for imprisonment.

She also mentions that Michael has been "on a slew of antipsychotic and mood-altering pharmaceuticals", a nod to an industry known for reaping vast profits from the rampant over-prescription of drugs to treat mental and behavioural disorders. These medications in turn lend themselves to a variety of complications, ranging from addiction to depression to sudden death to the conversion of hyperactive children into automatons.

As for the practice of over-imprisonment as a source of capital, it is useful to review attorney John W Whitehead's analysis earlier this year:

Clearly, a neoliberal US system that values profit over human wellbeing and thereby alienates people from society is hardly a way to foster mental stability and social cohesion, and underscores the extent to which mental disorders can be symptomatic of greater societal ills.

The American disconnect

Without speculating about the details of Lanza's mental condition or motivations, it is nonetheless helpful to draw attention to the context in which such events occur.

For one thing, the American fixation with individual achievement and self-made success is an isolating phenomenon that produces pressures often not so evident in societies that attach more value to familial and communal units.

To be sure, the government's tendency to promote pro-corporate policies to the detriment of the majority of the population further exacerbates individual isolation.

Television programmes and video games glorifying violence may also play a role in chipping away at compassion and rendering abstract the reality of human suffering - a reality already under attack thanks to the state's policies of blissful bellicosity, remote control killing and dehumanisation of "the Other", all of which negate its own humanity.

As for the ease of procuring weapons in the Land of the Free that facilitates the domestic orgy of violence, the Washington Post has offered a chart depicting UN figures for gun-related murders in 32 developed nations, accompanied by the following summary:

In the end, however, gun control is merely one of many issues requiring attention in a country that should itself be diagnosed as mentally ill.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work , released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine  editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the  London Review of Books blog , Al Akhbar English and many other publications.

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