God Bless America? - The meaning of Aurora

The Aurora massacre challenges us to see what capitalism is doing to our communities and to fight for a socialist planet.
Two nights ago I watched a film called God Bless America - a paradoxical title for a violent though thoughtful reflection on our society where the alienated are pushed to breaking point and hatred, xenophobia and fear mongering are rewarded with obscene salaries and fame on a colossal level. Frank Murdoch hates his life. He find himself with his job lost because he sent flowers to a co-workers house when she was having a bad day, his daughter hating him for not pressuring her mother into buying her an iPhone, his neighbours harassing and abusing him and the tumour in his brain growing. He is alienated, in the very truest sense of the word. So he reacts – by killing those he holds responsible for leading society into a time of unparalleled baseness and non-sensical competitiveness. In one scene he shoots cinema goers for talking during a film.

And two nights ago James Holmes walked into a theatre, not as a patron, but with a ghastly plan for a Wednesday evening involving the 6,000 rounds of ammunition he had with him. Throwing tear gas and pulling an assault rifle from off of his shoulder, he began shooting into an audience. He also pulled a shotgun from behind him, one semi and one fully automatic pistol from either hip and emptied them into the cinema seating. 12 people were killed, including a one year old child with 58 people wounded on top of that, including a four month old baby. For the past 20 years events like this have been turning school titles and small town names into hideous obscenities with a disturbingly increasing regularity. Aramoana. Columbine. Port Arthur. Virginia tech. Fort Hood. Greysteel. Akihabara.

I understood what God Bless America was trying to say - that society is sick – but I did not expect to have this message confirmed so quickly and in such a way as it has been. Perhaps the shock, perhaps the outrage, or perhaps a mixture of both prompts several serious questions that have not been answered properly for decades. What does this mean for our society? Why were these people not cared for? Why were they not helped? How could we allow this to happen over and over again without doing anything substantial to ensure it is prevented properly?

The short sad answer is because all of these things are very expensive, and not in the interests of the ruling class. The capitalist bourgeois, the 1%, are not here to make anyone but themselves happy chappies.

In America the first of these mass shooting attacks began over 20 years ago in the early 1990's during the Bush Snr. years. Years of Ronald Reagan’s attacks on unions and social services in the 1980s then coupled with an economic recession took a heavy toll on people. During these years funding was slashed to mental health services, doctors’ fees went through the roof and another 800,000 people with no previous history of mental health issues went onto anti-depressant medication in the first year of his administration alone. In Japan it was the same story, except that instead of the demand for anti-depressants the demand for funerals increased due to suicide rates going up by 32%. The workers were shafted and the services they fought for, the services that many of them set up as community resources were sold off.

Here in Aotearoa it was no different. Decimated by Labour’s Rogernomics in the 1980s and quickly followed by the free-market fanatics of Jim Bolger’s National Government of the 1990s our workers were left defeated and demoralised. Real wages went backwards, redundancies doubled, then tripled. Union busting went unchecked. People were disillusioned and, much like Frank Murdoch in the film they snapped. All over the world, and by god when they snapped they stopped throwing trash cans through windows and began pulling triggers .Often when interviewed or their suicide notes read the perpetrators of massacres gave unsettlingly uniform answers, often along the lines of “Life was too much, there’s nothing for me, I just snapped” or “No one cares, so why should I?”

From these serious social defeats, there became a phenomenon so common and growing so rapidly that it became an epidemic. This epidemic is called alienation.

Alienation is a by-product of capitalism. Karl Marx’s theory of alienation describes it as “the separation of things that naturally belong together; and the placement of antagonism between things that are properly in harmony”. Class antagonisms and the destruction of community, Marx theorised, are central to the existence of capitalism and its social division between the workers and the bourgeois. These two things can most definitely be contributed to this latest tragic event, and all of those preceding it.

Community is not, and never has been, a capitalist value. Capitalism fosters the idea of the individual over the community and in some cases actively seeks to destroy communities if they pose a threat to its interests. For example, in Glen Innes the government intends to move upwards of one hundred state houses out of the area so that the land can be developed and sold for a profit. The mechanical repercussions of uprooting and then crushing a community are incredible. All sense of belonging that has been built for years will be gone. All sense of security, in one’s own home, will be gone. The people you have grown up with and their children who your children grow up with will be separated, all for property developers to profit. People naturally belong together, and in a suburb where a great deal of people are immigrants, to throw them to the wind after they have lived and worked together for so long is outrageous. This is how people like Frank Murdoch are created.

The class antagonism that capitalism relies on is central to alienation. You are trapped in your class. The poor stay poor, while the rich raise the rich. We are not able to create the massive amounts of wealth needed to pull ourselves out of the lower class. We are, as Lenin said “no more capable of pulling ourselves up on our boot straps as the capitalists are capable of self-sacrifice”. We become trapped. We feel trapped. We look for a way out. This may be music, drugs, alcohol or something more sinister. We may become so desperate that we turn to crime, and many do. We may mug someone. We may begin to harbour less than savoury thoughts, anything to escape reality. Some become withdrawn, some feel helpless. One day it mixes, everything you might have been planning suddenly comes to fruition – you shoot someone out of grief, or anxiety or out of some emotion that is impossible to explain. You are alienated, and a product of the capitalist regime because you just couldn’t get out of the fucking rat race.

The amount of James Holmes, David Grays and Frank Murdochs in this world is climbing. In the current system we live in, it is a matter of time until the next spree killing is committed. The bosses have no interest in our mental or emotional health, they couldn’t care less about how well your community garden is growing, or the relations between the communities are improving. No, the only time they take interest is when we say “NO!” and if we are to say it, let us not wait one more minute, giving some poor man time to plan another tragedy before we shout our objections.

Before he is gunned down by police, Frank Murdoch addresses the nation. He says “My god, America has become a cruel and vicious place. We reward the shallowest, the dumbest, the meanest and the loudest. No longer have we any common sense and decency, we have no shame. No right and wrong. The worst qualities in people are looked up to and celebrated. Lying and spreading fear are mighty fine, as long as you make money doing it. We have become a nation of slogan saying, bile spewing hate mongers. We have lost our kindness! And what have we to replace it, what have we become?”

The Aurora massacre challenges us to see what capitalism is doing to our communities and to fight for a socialist planet.

- George Mitchell, Socialist Aotearoa


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