Millennium Post

Eye for an eye, bullet for a bullet

Eye for an eye, bullet for a bullet
About a year ago, a book called The Better Angels of Our Nature: the Decline of Violence in History and Its Causes by Harvard professor and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker was released to sharply divided critical opinion. While the mainstream media in the anglophone world, hailed the book for pointing out the supposedly taming influence of civilisation on ‘human nature’, curbing its primeval aggressive instincts, many on the left end of the political spectrum, notably the Oxford-based philosopher John Gray, denounced Pinker’s thesis as ‘nonsense.’ For Gray, and thinkers like him, Pinker’s argument was tantamount to soft-pedaling and sugarcoating the ongoing western-imperialist violence as insignificant hiccups in the otherwise perfectly healthy and wise period of the ‘Long Peace’, or the post-Second World War phase. 

What Steven Pinker blatantly ignores in his thesis is that the new American militarism is an unholy cocktail of reckless gun laws, arms race industry, military computer games, Hollywood war films, a virulently propagandist right-wing media that ‘guns for’ machismo, martyrdom and a punitive justice system that continues to evoke a uniquely contradictory public, intellectual and critical response. While Pinker believes that the age of ‘real wars’ – those fought between global superpowers for establishing supremacy, like the two world wars – is over, he corroborates his skewed idea by dismissing the protracted wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the civil wars and genocides in a number of African nations, clearly perpetrated by tyrants installed to serve Western strategic interests, as fought by ‘backward’ people, who have been ‘decivilised’ by their rejection of ‘Enlightenment Humanism.’ 

Pinker’s thesis points to a general blindness on the part of American public, that violence is something that exists ‘out there’, and is practiced by ‘evil’ people who are ‘others.’ This position sits well while straitjacketing acts of terrorism as heinous crimes executed by fanatic Muslims, Islamic fundamentalists, who are the enemy of the American nation, and therefore, garnering wide-scale public support to continue the policy of overreaction that is the war on terror. 

Needless to mention that this ‘violence is declining’ and ‘violence is out there’ notion also patently ignores the effects of the US ‘militainment’ complex that is the nexus of their military establishment, government agencies, film industry, video and computer games industry, financial institutions as well as the arms industry. This military-entertainment complex routinely churns out representations of combat, propagandist depictions of the so-called enemy, shows armed violence as justice, encourages a culture of paranoia and suspicion and promotes a sanctioned society of surveillance that works hands in glove with the politics of hyper-securitisation, wherein individual freedom and privacy are forfeited at the altar of national security. It is crucial here to mention that public opinion in America, and indeed in much of the Western world, draws a firm distinction between domestic acts of violence [which is perceived as perpetrated by an individual, who is psychotic, or a sociopath, but is basically non-ideological] and those of terrorism [which is mostly Islamic fundamentalist, or emanating from residual communist/fascist ideals: Chechen, Balkan, and so on, and therefore global and ideological]. However, it is a proven fact that the former outnumbers the latter in claiming its victims by a huge margin in US.

Curiously enough, some of the dual use games, co-produced by the military and the computer games industry, are released for both military training and commercial sale, thus not only promoting the militaristic ideals of neo-conservative sections of America, but also resulting in the militarisation of everyday life of ordinary Americans. 

Cultural critics, such as David Leonard, have pointed out how virtual war and shooter games elicit support for the war on terror and the imperialist practices of US, providing a platform where Americans are able to vent out their frustrations including economic anxieties, racial hatred, gender bias and misogyny and other forms of entrenched bias. Imperialism, racism, xenophobia combined with an immersive technology result in the repatriation of the superhero and/or crusader narrative, creating unrealistic faith in the transformative capabilities of military combat operations. In other words, glorification of warfare and near absence of the representation of lost wars or unresolved conflicts lead to a debilitating belief in military solutions to achieve total victory, ignoring the severe fall outs of such historical fallacies.

Additionally, the postmodern militainment industry has created a blurring of the border between real and imagined worlds, and as a result, our notions of reality and fantasy have become indistinguishable. Further, in the post-9/11 world, it serves a special pedagogical and allegorical function, in which the discourse of war, warfare is normalised and forms an integral part of the peace process. 

Most Americans who carry licenced guns do so out of the need to protect themselves from an unforeseen situation. While right to self-defense is the basis of the second amendment of the constitutional law that sanctions right to bear arms, what this indicates is that Americans live in the perpetual expectation of violence and aggression, which they hope to deal with counter-aggression and counter-violence. An eye for an eye, a bullet for a bullet. In other words, aggression is in-built in American psyche, and no one can say that it’s all imagined or resulting from some paranoid delusion. Violence is systemic and cultural in the world and not something that comes from out there, from the underdeveloped and ‘decivilised’ backyards of global civilisation.

Looking at US gun culture, it’s not an overstatement to say that arms culture is a foundational aspect of American society, National security and gun discourse far outweigh any other topic of discussion, except perhaps the economy. The shooter is lionised in films, comic books. Aggression and counter-aggression are written into law. America thrives on it. 

Violence is drawn out from the TV sets and flung out into the streets, spilling over into the churches, temples, bars, restaurants and university campuses. Violence, now a commodity perfect for private consumption [games, films, war footage, news] is felt viscerally. [IPA]
Angshukanta Chakraborty

Angshukanta Chakraborty

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