Mass-shootings and False Consciousness

“… The unImage of Roseburg, Oregon and source for a Shakespearean quotation from Hamletdiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns – puzzles the will.
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.”

(Hamlet, act 3, sc. 1)

Roseburg is the approximate equivalent of a continental European small provincial town. It is the seat of Douglas County, in Oregon. It was founded in 1848 by a transplant from Michigan, called Aaron Rose who gave the town its name. He also converted his house into a tavern.

Of taverns there are now 21, with names such as “Loggers Tap House”, “Tee Pee Tavern”, “O’Toole’s Pub”, “Idle Hour Tavern” etc. (...and drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things… nose-painting, sleep and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes: it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.) (1)

Timber fuels the economy of the town, though trees don’t grow overnight, after they are cut – so unemployment is well above average. Which (tree cutting), is a parable of the absurdity of endless growth. Roseburg is connected via radio repeaters to 15 radio stations, 7 of which are religious.

The town caught the world’s attention for yet another mass-shooting at the local Community College, on October 1, 2015. A 26-year old student killed nine people, injured another nine and committed suicide after a gun battle with the police.

Scores of experts, pundits, politicians and talk-show hosts, full of wise saws and modern instances (2) have already delivered lengthy explanations. To repeat them would “last out a night in Russia, when nights are longest there.”(3) Besides, commentators and analysts are often skilled at whipping up nonsense as if it were cream.

Explanations and remedies can roughly be summarized as follows:

*** Trace back the cause to original sin – which was essentially Obama’s argument. It’s difficult here to suggest remedies, as the crimes of Adam and Eve are way behind the statute of limitations. The issue is better left to any of the seven religious radio stations mentioned above.

*** Too many guns around and there should be a background check on purchasers. The untouchability of guns is ingrained in the American psyche. Given that there are probably more guns around than people, and given the promoted popularity of gun-culture, the wonder is not that there are so many deaths by gunfire, but so few (10,881 to date, as I am writing this – see Besides, Oregon has already a mandatory background check, when purchasing a gun, and the mass-shooter in question, apparently, passed or would have passed the check.

*** More police in schools. They are there already, in many schools in the country. To soften the lexical impact of associating education with policing (and attendant arrest and incarceration), policemen in schools are described with an acronym (SRO, School Resource Officers). This follows a Pentagon practice of giving aseptic lexical codes to unspeakable actions, such as murder – on the (undeclared) grounds that a-septicity prevents emotions and the asking of questions about right and wrong.

*** Madness and the consequent need for more mental health care and psychiatrists. That mass-shooters are mad, in the ordinary meaning of the word, is unquestionable, “… for to define true madness what is it but to be nothing else but mad?(4) However, the remedy could quickly become worse than the disease. It is common knowledge that the habitual prescriptions for most mental conditions are anti-depressants (a euphemism for opiates and similar drugs). And it has rarely been observed that they are a cure. Rather, they mask the (mental) conditions and when the effect of the pills is over, the patient may even join the rank of the mass-shooters. Quite apart from the addition to the trillion-$$-plus so called “health-care” yearly budget, and the overall effect on already record insurance costs. And all this even disregarding the mischievous – but not senseless – maxim that he who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.

With an air of solemn sincerity, we could then conclude that the problem is intractable and put our interest to rest with quiet resignation. What cannot be eschew’d, must be embraced.” (5) While somberly meditating on an interesting statistic – between 1982 and 2011 the interval between mass shootings (with four or more dead) was 200 days. Since 2011 the number is 64, or three times as many mass shootings.

In the meantime, soon after the Roseburg massacre two other events occurred, which are not directly related, but may help us see the mass-shootings as expression of a larger phenomenon.

One is the willed bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan, a feat that may even surpass Goering’s imagination. The other is the publication (or leak) of the dictionary and Manual of Drone Killings. In which, for example, many (actually the majority) of the “collaterally killed” others, besides or in stead of the target, are coded as EKIA (“enemies killed in action”). It is a comprehensive formula that includes women, children and people attending weddings or funerals. And where the acronym, again, removes the suggestion of a mass-crime, given that the immediate reaction of him who hears ‘EKIA” is not to think of the victims, but rather of what it means.

Also, the second decade of the XXI century marks the 100th anniversary of the explosion of anarchism in America, which culminated in the electric-chair execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, for a crime they did not commit.

Anarchists’ bombings and current mass-shootings are obviously violent acts, but for very different motives. Early XXth century American anarchism was fighting for equality – however chimeric its hopes and expectations. It was a reaction to the savage and brutal conditions of the working class, notably in big cities – almost the mirror image of Dicken’s industrial London. Some may recall that 2011 marked the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Factory fire in New York, where 146 workers, mostly female, were burned alive because the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits – a common practice, used to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks. It was a foreshadow of 9/11, as many workers threw themselves from the window from the 8,9 & 10th floor.

Said Vanzetti at his trial, “We fight for a cause – not to be crushed by the keepers – we will never win without vanquishing them. They are mercenary, we are idealist – should a free man or a rebel allow them to do to him what they like?”

In fact, anarchists were self-funded and sacrificed some of the earnings from their hard work, to proselytize and propagandize their ideas and carry out what they perceived as a war of self-defense.

XXIst century anarchists do not fight for an idea – they are not idealists, they are individualists. Anarchism for a noble cause of equality has transformed itself into anarchism for the narcissistic desperation of feeling nobody, of feeling ignored, meaningless, pointless, worthless, wasted and valueless. Valueless unless redeemed by an insane and criminal act, where the death of innocent others will bring media presence, and therefore a kind of media glory, to the perpetrator. That is, death in exchange for the perceived glory of notoriety, as well as vengeance for the feeling of society-induced worthlessness.

In one of his last blog posts, the Roseburg terrorist admired the Virginia terrorist, who killed two news reporters on live television. He even encouraged readers to view the video that the Virginia killer had posted on social media, saying, “It’s a short video but good nonetheless.”

I purposely referred to the two shooters in question as ‘terrorists’, though the term is carefully avoided by politicians and the regime media. My 25 readers know why but, for the benefit of our international visitors, to call the mass-shooters ‘terrorists’ creates two problems that the ruling cabal must avoid.

A domestic terrorist act every 64 days makes a mockery of the trillions spent on the ‘war on terror’. And the ‘war on terror’ is a gift that keeps on giving to a selected few. In this philosophy, little is more profitable than wars and disasters. ‘Disaster capitalism’ is accepted as inevitable and self-evident, and even belongs to the current lexicon.

Secondly, calling the mass-shooters terrorists, may cause some to question what is the difference between nine people assassinated in a school in Roseburg, 50 wedding guests assassinated in Afghanistan by a drone operator comfortably seated in Las Vegas, and 22 medical personnel and patients exterminated by an air-raid on an Afghan Hospital.

Here is where false consciousness comes in. It can be defined as being or remaining unaware or immune to the causal effects of the convictions and beliefs imposed upon us by the prevailing ideology.

Sometimes a concept embedded into a story has more impact than a dry definition. I invite interested visitors to read Tressel’s novel “The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists.” It is a classic in social critique, published in 1914, and readable for free online. I will give the link at the end of this post.

The ragged-trousered philanthropists are a group of house decorators and painters who work under the constant terror of being terminated – especially as the boss’ superintendent gets a reward whenever he can hire someone at a cheaper rate than the already pitiful one paid to the employees of the firm. Termination entails actual hunger and destitution for themselves and their families, given the extreme difficulty in finding employment. It was a time when few prospered in the eye of wealth, while millions struggled with distress and toiled for bread.

In discussing their condition, the ragged-trousered philanthropists find justifications for their plight, arising from their ‘false consciousness’. Some attribute unemployment and low wages to the machines that have displaced workers. Others to foreign trade that fills the shop with things made abroad. Others believe that people should not get married until they can secure a job and a house, etc.

The protagonist attempts to convince them – with difficulty – that the justifications they brought forth are the result of a false consciousness, instilled by values and ideas accepted as unchangeable, unchallengeable and not worthy of verification. And that the only chance to improve their condition is to alter their consciousness and accept values that are radically at odd with their current mode of thought.

One hundred years ago, it took a world war with millions dead, the revolution of 1917 and the so called ‘red scare’, to bring about an improvement of the living conditions of the 99%. We may recall that the “New Deal”, Social Security, etc. was Franklin Roosevelt’s formula to “save capitalism.”

One hundred years later, the means for inculcating a false consciousness have blossomed. Besides the traditional (school and religion), the almost endless means of entertainment contain one or more messages to build or cement the modern equivalent of the consciousness of the ragged-trousered philanthropists.

From the many sources I will quote two examples. In the (apparently) very popular ‘American Sniper’ movie the protagonist, who enjoys killing, and particularly killing Iraqis, has poetic monologs as follows,

“My country sent me out there (Iraq) so that bullshit wouldn’t make its way back to our shores. I never once fought for the Iraqis. I could give a flying fuck about them… I loved what I did (killing people). I still do… it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.”

And, “Despite what your momma told you (Iraqis), violence does solve problems.” He says, “And we spray-painted it (“violence does solve problems”) on every building and walls we could. We wanted people to know, we’re here and we want to fuck with you. …You see us? We’re the people kicking your ass. Fear us because we will kill you, motherfucker.” Instilled message, “It is fun and cool to kill.”

The other example is the revolting comment of Hillary Clinton on the lynching of Gadhafi (here is the link to the 10 seconds video – None of us would speak that way even if the subject were a dog – let alone a human being and the leader of a country who wasn’t even an enemy to America. Instilled message, “Bombing, mass-killing, destruction and lynching are a laughing matter.”

I could continue, but won’t. He who has the stamina to follow the regime media will find daily instances of messages, which, altogether, instill the false consciousness in its modern version.

One interesting development is that the creators and builders-at-large of the current consciousness have no longer any compunction in treating their victims as complete fools. Just before writing this article, I watched a video snippet in which H. Clinton rails against the salaries of CEOs and other financiers – while she is paid 200,000 dollars plus for a half-hour talk to willing audiences at various colleges and similar venues. The message to be instilled into the (false) consciousness is that protagonism justifies the grossest lie and the most patent hypocrisy.

Besides, inequalities are seen as an impulse to the development of capital – therefore they must be preserved, fostered, nourished and developed with any and all available instruments.

Is it possible to change the consciousness of the modern ragged-trousered philanthropists? I would say no. Still, I will take each man’s censure but reserve my judgment (6). I consider myself an imperfect, but zealous inquirer after truth.

By and large, I am afraid, changing consciousness closely equates to travelling to an undiscovered and unknown country. Which, as we know, puzzles the will, and makes us rather bear the ills we have than fly to others that we know not of. Thus our false consciousness makes cowards of us all. The (however feeble), hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought, and the currents aimed at reform turn awry, having lost the name of action.(7)

Which may also explain why the “left”, to all intents and purposes, is dead. While its self-appointed heirs (e.g. Clinton, Sanders etc.) “… mock the time with fairest show; false face must hide what the false heart doth know” (8).

  1. Macbeth
    2. As You Like It
    3. Measure for Measure
    4. Hamlet
    5. Merry Wives of Windsor
    6. From Hamlet
    7. From Hamlet
    8. Macbeth

In the play. The first quote, “The undiscovered country….” is part of Hamlet’s most famous monolog.

Link to the book, “The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists” ->

Link to the complete post on the American Sniper, “License to Kill” ->

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  • SCJ

    “Is it possible to change the consciousness of the modern ragged-trousered philanthropists? I would say no. Still, I will take each man’s censure but reserve my judgment (6). I consider myself an imperfect, but zealous inquirer after truth.”

    I hope that this is caused by something in your own consciousness of the modern ragged-trousered philanthropists . I want to compare this idea to the one that I believe was felt in respect to the ability of the peasantry being able to form a leadership part or be viable in the change of class consciousness before or during the Russian revolution , maybe I am wrong historically on this . Then later they did. If not then maybe this sheds some light away from your judgment . I must ask myself , who these modern types of ragged-trousered philanthropists are in todays world. Is it possible for the working class to consciously rise up against the capitalist system ? Is this why the revolution failed in Europe , because they chose to cling to that what was closer to what they were consciously familiar with , rather than move their society to an unknown ?
    I have been linked here before and thought provoking and enjoyable .