We must face the truth of violence in America

TWO MORE mass murders in America in the space of 24 hours, and President Clinton has acknowledged that there may be a bit of a trend here. He has warned Americans that they are becoming too tolerant of violence, saying, "I don't think we understand fully just how much more violent the United States is than other countries."

I don't suppose he himself understands fully just how tolerant other countries are becoming of American violence, either. In April, when the world woke up to news of the Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colorado, commentators across the globe began theorising hysterically over what it could all mean and how it could be curbed. Now, in November, after news of more shootings has broken every few weeks, few people bat an eyelid, let alone bat a cultural conclusion around.

Why is it that in the space of only seven months, the news of repeated mass murder in the world's most powerful democracy and dominant economy has become so uninteresting? While our general appetite for information about all things American remains insatiable, our reaction to these stories has become as lip-serving as the news of any supposedly insignificant tragedy in the developing world. American deaths are usually considered to have news value second only to British ones. But the serious matter of the US's burgeoning ability to breed battalions of lone gunmen seems to be something we feel we can no longer usefully comment on.

It is partly down to America's own stubborn paralysis. While, clearly, the easy availability of guns isn't the only thing that's wrong with a culture in which people regularly feel the need to massacre a bunch of work colleagues or schoolmates, it doesn't take a genius to work out that the right of every American to bear arms is a right for which many innocent people are paying the ultimate price.

What is the point of any further soul-searching, when the world's most powerful democracy falls at a hurdle as simple as this one? While Top- Man-on-the-Planet bleats that what he needs to see is sensible gun legislation from Congress, the rest of us marvel at how monolithic, and how utterly unable to generate positive momentum, the land of the free has become.

And if even this symptom can't be treated, what is the use of attempting to identify and combat the deeper causes of this awful malaise? Let's all just sit back and hope this madness all around calms down a bit after the turn of the millennium, seems to be the attitude of Congress. I'm sure the residents of Seattle are finding that pretty easy to do, as they muse about on whose back porch the man who walked into a boatyard and shot four men may be lurking.

But there are other conclusions, just as banal, that can be drawn from this spate of killings. Yet they are hardly worth mentioning, so unable are we to transform our knowledge into action. It's hardly worth pointing out that all of these killers have been men, and that it would therefore be uncontroversial to suggest that the sex divide is alive and killing.

Equality among the sexes is not a goal worth fighting for. But a far- reaching and honest critique of male behaviour - and not just towards women - is long overdue. So far it has been left to women to provide this, but really, they're the last people qualified to do so. Get a grip, guys, and start taking a good look at yourselves and the kind of world your freedom creates. Or rather, don't.

Since the guys can't even get together and apply enough self-analysis to come up with the conclusion that maybe not all of them are entirely to be trusted with vast armouries just for fun and pleasure and good times, then the idea that they might be able to undertake a vast evaluation of what masculinity is, and how it can be utilised most creatively, is as likely as the media deciding to leave Chris and Geri quietly to get on with living happily ever after for a few months.

Another trend among these killings, which again is gently played down, is that while all sorts of motivations, from anti-Semitism to white supremacism to hatred of religion, have emerged as the moving force behind various sprees, the most common scenario is revenge attacks from those who feel excluded from school or from work.

A sacked 34-year-old killed three former colleagues in Alabama, after having been fired. He walked into his old office and shot two former workmates, then drove to the headquarters of another previous employer, where he claimed a third victim.

These murders came just a few weeks after Mark Barton had beaten his wife and children to death and then gone on a killing spree at two brokerage houses in Atlanta, Georgia, where he had lost almost pounds 100,000 as a day- trader. He shot nine people.

In California a former employee at a small software company returned to his office to shoot and kill one former colleague, and threaten many others at gunpoint, before shooting himself.

Then, of course, a couple of days ago in Honolulu, Byron Uyesugi, worried about losing his job as a photocopier repairman with Xerox, calmly went into his office and murdered seven workmates before giving himself up to police after a five-hour sojourn in the company car.

As for the Seattle killings, no one seems to know the motivation for the murder of two men and the maiming of two others. The killer was not a former employee, but it seems unlikely that the incident was totally random, and entirely unconnected with their work. If this sounds far-fetched, consider that in America murder is now the second largest cause of work- related deaths after car accidents. Now, while it is true that this may not be surprising - guns and cars are dangerous, and ubiquitous in US society - the fact is that although the vast majority of these killings were perpetrated by outsiders committing robberies and assaults, just over 60 were the result of "office rage".

This doughty little statistic might be easy to dismiss if it were not for the reams of evidence suggesting that it is the tip of a monumental iceberg composed of work-related stress, office bullying, rudeness and bad temper among employees, and rampant exhaustion through overwork.

While in this country we're not actually taking pot-shots at each other - well not that often - the degree of unhappiness and dysfunctionality in the workplace is running high, too. Once more the blindingly obvious can be stated - that Western patterns of work, now being duplicated across the globe, make people miserable and societies destructive.

Except that again, just as in the case of US gun control, the vested interests are too powerful for us to feel that self-examination is appropriate for them. It is easier to dismiss increasing numbers of people as lone nutters than to consider that maybe you can usefully judge the health of a society by the proliferation and mind-set of its psychopaths.

It is easier, too, to accept the sacrifice of more and more people, not necessarily to violent death but just to cripplingly hard lives, than to try to assail the tough and leathery carapace of political process and work out different strategies for society. In America the gap between rich and poor is even wider than it is here in Britain. In both countries it makes for dangerously disgruntled, unco-operative and destructively lawless citizens.

In some respects this trend appears to be on the turn in the US, with important indices of dissatisfaction such as crime rates and drug misuse finally on the decline. That is not yet the case here, although it is fervently to be hoped for.

But if the price of this kind of progress is a more virulently nihilistic tendency among a smaller but more heavily terrorising minority, this would continue to suggest that the societal model isn't quite right. Or maybe everything will just calm right down after the turn of the millennium. Better not ever bother with tending to the most obvious of symptoms until this one's ridden out. After all, the juggernaut of Western progress has never been for turning.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial