Sunday, April 05, 2009

Some Resistance to the Left's Pittsburgh Narrative

According to Dave Neiwert of Crooks and Liars, today's shooting of three police officers in Pittsburgh to fear-mongering about guns from freak-show conservatives like Glenn Beck and the NRA:

Some of the early reports out of Pittsburgh indicate the man who shot three cops today was fearful that the Obama administration was going to "take away his guns."[...]

He feared an Obama gun grab? Gee, I wonder where he could have heard that.
Indeed, a story replete with NRA-style fearmongering about the looming "grab" -- which has been fueling a run on guns at local shops -- ran just three days ago in the Pittsburgh Tribune..

Prominent liberal blogger Digby followed up Neiwert with further reflections the dangers of fanning gun zealotry.

This is one of the weird fault lines in American politics --- the police who have to face the armed citizenry and the macho right wing zealots whose only answer for anything is for everyone to carry more guns. It's incidents like today's that bring home the fallacy of that argument in living color -- the cops are all armed and three of them got mowed down today by a gun nut.

The black helocopter crowd went underground during the Bush years, blithely unconcerned with the Cheney police state, (which proves just what a bunch of gullible tools they really are.) They only get aroused when someone tells them a liberal is in
office and so it's time to stock up on weaponry to repel the jack-booted thugs.

I don't want to say that the focus on the NRA and wing nuts is mistaken, but I still think there should be some resistance to this kind of strictly political narrative in favor of some reference to the rural-urban and class fault lines in this country.

Starting with guns, I'm bothered by the question of whether or not Pittsburgh shooter Richard Poplawski would have thought that Obama was "coming to take his guns away" even if the NRA never existed.

Looking at it from an Eastern Kentucky perspective, I'd have to say the answer is yes. Guys like Richard Poplawski would worry about liberals "taking their guns" even without the NRA and other fear-mongerers. Out in rural areas like this one, guns are many things for the guys who own lots of them. Guns are hunting instruments where hunting is often an orgy of drunken recklessness. Guns are also fetish objects for heterosexual guys who are more comfortable with their "buddies" than women. Likewise, guns are an important way in which guys mark out their symbolic distinctiveness from a lot of the cultural authorities who've judged them, including public school teachers, preachers, the educated people they think look down on them, and the city-dwellers who view rural people negatively.

I want to expand on this last point a little. I've lived most of my life in rural areas of upstate New York and Eastern Kentucky but have also spent a lot of time in urban or intellectual areas like Philadelphia, Portland, Oakland, Chapel Hill, NC, and Ann Arbor, MI. The liberal intellectual types I hang out with in places like Philadelphia have often been condescending toward the rural areas around them. But the condescension doesn't have a lot of energy to it because people in cities give so little thought to the rural areas around them. I remember one television station in Philadelphia once ran a special series on "the rest of Pennsylvania" so people in Philly would have an idea of the state outside Philadelphia, its suburbs, and Pittsburgh.

This is one reason why the "they're coming to take out guns" fantasy would be virulent here even without the NRA. People in areas like Eastern Kentucky and rural Pennsylvania know that middle-class and educated people in the cities have little use for guns. They also assume that city-dwellers have the same animus for them that rural people have for urban areas. The rural people I've known can't believe that people in the cities just don't think about them that much. When I'm talking with a "they're coming to take our guns" guy, that's precisely the point I make--they don't care about your guns, they don't care about you, and they don't care about Eastern Kentucky.

But nobody ever believes me. People in rural areas believe that Obama's coming to get their guns because they assume that they're important to Obama and can't believe they aren't.

It's also important to think about class in relation to these kinds of shootings. Three of the recent shooters had failed to establish any kind of solid footing in the working class. Binghamton shooter Jiverly Wong was ridiculed for his poor English and recently lost his job. Pittsburgh shooter Richard Pawlawski got involved in fist fights with his neighbors, washed out of the Marines for attacking a drill sergeant and also lost his job. Alabama shooter Michael McLendon didn't do any better with the Marines or the local police force, was involved in some sort of family dispute and had lost his job before he shot up his family and neighborhood.

All of these guys had failed with their class aspirations and weren't doing any better at their fall-back positions either.

All of them also seemed determined to commit suicide as they planned their shooting sprees. Richard Pawlawski called a friend to tell him he was going to die as he got ready to shoot the first wave of cops to come to his door. In a way, the impulse isn't surprising. What kind of self-respect does our culture offer to men or women who are struggling in the ways these guys were struggling? Not much that I can think of. Most people I know would think of these kinds of guys as "losers," "dumb-asses," "assholes" or some other pejorative term. I wouldn't be surprised if they all thought of themselves that way as well. There isn't much respect for working-class life in American culture. There's even less respect for not succeeding at working class life.

I imagine that Neiwert and Digby are right about fear-mongering on the right having a significant role in relation to the Pittsburgh shootings. But I also think it's important to resist viewing this kind of event strictly in terms of political manipulation. The fear-mongering of the right has an impact in the context of the larger patterns of people's lives and it's important to keep these larger patterns in mind as we think about these kinds of events.


CBL said...

In light of this, I had an interesting set of experiences last week while in Lexington with friends for the afternoon. I went along with them as they visited a number of gun stores, and I was shocked at the crowds of (white)men haggling over guns (lots of assault weapons) and buying ammunition. We even had dinner with a friend of a friend who is a militia member.

You are correct in pointing out that the NRA is not a big influence when it comes to Eastern Kentucky. Much of the sense of unease is homegrown, more "organic" in the Gramscian sense. The rumors about Obama "taking away your guns" have the character of urban legends.

My sense of it is, this panic (for lack of a better word) is grounded in three things. 1)This is the first Democratic administration since 9/11, so there is a vague sense of unease that Democrats will be "soft" on security issues. 2)Most people don't understand the complexity of our economic problems. 3) Obama is an African-American, and Southern white men in general have an issue with African-Americans in positions of authority.

And, as we can see, these fears are turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anonymous said...

This is a little off topic...well, maybe not so much. But a while back I remember you writing about Cracker Barrel and employee discrimination against hiring African-Americans.

On Sunday, I was thinking about that while at the Mt Sterling Cracker Barrel. Admidst the sea of suit-and-tie evangelicals, who were very much enjoying their lunches, I noticed that there were no African Americans working there. Not one. There must have been at least 15 waitresses because it was packed out that day, and they were mostly younger ladies. And I've been there on numerous occasions this year, and it is always the same.

The more I sat there, the more angered I got because I'm quite sure that there's active discrimination at that restaurant.

When you believe there's discrimination going on, what do you think is the proper reaction? I hate doing nothing when I see things like this.


Anonymous said...

Why don't we just ban or control Facebook or limit press coverage of these narcissistic nutbags? Quite a few do love going out with press releases in the mail, right? What's the little old first amendment, right?