My thoughts on Bowling for Columbine – though written a while ago, I thought it timely to re-publish in light of recent gun violence. Bear in mind that this was written 10 years ago. Eerie.

I went to watch ‘Bowling for Columbine’, a refreshing experience. This movie was actually treading on people’s toes. Not all the right toes and a little too softly, but treading nonetheless. Various culprits were identified and dealt with accordingly. The greatest triumph, I believe, was the show of people, or more to the point media, power, when confronting the retail store that sold the bullets used in the massacre with two survivors of the same.

Not that the withdrawal of bullet sales achieved much in the greater scheme of things, it was more the fact that ‘yes, we can’, as people make a difference.

That change of policy or directive can only be achieved, however, when it really does not matter. Some ten million people around the world marched against a pre-emptive war on Iraq. A marvellous show of civic action and an incredible effort of organisation, to be sure. Yet, the impact it had on policy making was minimal to non-existent. Bush ‘respectfully disagrees’ and intents to do what he sees as vital for US security, Howard referred to the protesters as a mob and thus robbed the marchers of any integrity. I attended the march in Sydney and must say that I saw no mob. There were families, the elderly, students and interest groups of various shades, but no mob.

What we are living through right now are interesting times. Times we’d much prefer to read about in history books or, better yet, pretend did not happen at all. Our resources are soon going to outstrip demand, certainly in the fossil fuel sector. If I recall correctly, I recently read that if we are to continue to consume in the manner we have become accustomed to then we will soon (within the next 100 years) need a second planet to exploit – just to maintain our standard of living.

All the major players are aware of this. So, what is happening now is the need for all the powers that be to attain as favourable a position, globally speaking, as possible. The race is on to secure oil, gas, coal, uranium and most importantly water. The nation (or nations) that control(s) the majority of these resources will be the winner. Sorry, no second place.

Sure, it is all dressed up nicely in the fight for freedom, our way of life, the moral imperative (Blair’s last straw), the fight against terrorism and so on and so forth. I recommend to anybody who has access to the Fox news channel to watch it. It is staggering.

I do not advise to watch, though, if you are not a student of history, or blindly believe what you are told on the six o’clock news.

There are vested interests in the mass media to portray the current situation in this light. Firstly, there is the profit motive. The people that own the media are usually the ones that would need to be investigated. They are tied to major corporations, political parties and so on. They have no interest in reporting on the world as it really is. If you were in power, you too, would do your utmost to maintain the status quo.

Secondly, and this ties in with the first point, bad news sells. Simplistic messages, easy to understand conclusions, catch phrases and action sell. The western world at large and the US in particular have become ‘lazy brained’. Nobody wants to think. If you have a mortgage, 2.3 kids, a TV, car payments, job insecurity and the Jones’ to keep up with, thinking and analysing are luxuries you have no interest in acquiring.

How else could one possibly explain phrases like ‘axis of evil’, ‘evil doers’ or ‘fight for freedom’? They belong in the vocabulary of a pre-schooler.

This leads us to the question of how to address it properly. Sure, there are terrorists (or freedom fighters, depending on your affiliation and position on the timeline), and they are certainly committing heinous acts. The question is, why do they do it?

Why would anyone choose to blow themselves up, fly a plane into a skyscraper or become a target for the world’s most powerful nations?

Are these people insane? Do they have a death wish? Maybe they are genetically predisposed to violence. Maybe there is a racial factor. (Arabs are violent, aren’t they? I mean it was on TV, right? And you just can’t help Rednecks or Blacks.)

Timothy McVeigh, Martin Bryant, Mohammed Atta, Yasser Arafat and Osama bin Laden are all evil, right? And this evil is biblical in its dimensions and just as ineffable. It just is and we, the good people, must fight it.

We need to address the root causes of this violence. Poverty, fear, helplessness, lack of future prospects, perceived or real ills done to them in the past or present and denial of basic human rights are, I would say at the top of the list of motivators for young men and women to join a cause. It does not matter what form the expression of violence takes or what part of the world it is committed in. For that moment of release you feel empowered, you are striking back, you are, once again in control of your destiny, you are being heard. And at that point it does not matter whose bidding you do or if you were entirely self-motivated.

This brings me back to ‘Bowling for Columbine’, throughout the documentary the question was asked, why the US has such a high rate of gun killings. No one satisfactory answer was found. The basic motivation could not be revealed.

Americans admire the rugged frontiersman, the self-made millionaire, the rebel without a cause. Maybe that is because of the nature of the people that founded the US. Jefferson did say that the tree of liberty needs to be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots.

The right to bear arms was guaranteed to all citizens, no one dictator would ever rule over the land of the free and the home of the brave. The militias are the direct descendants of that mindset. The war of independence forever imbued the USA with a very strong sense of self and the rights of the single man. The ultimate expression of that individual freedom was the right to own a gun and use it to defend ones interests.

The US values above all else the myth of individual achievement, you can do anything, if only you try hard enough. But what if you fail, what if you do not have the admiration of your peers, or the success TV promised you. In the states failure to achieve these goals can be devastating. Life at the bottom of the pile.

Ah, but you have a choice, fast money, dangerous life styles, glorified gangsters, the way of the gun. Or an unleashing of your frustrations on the outside world, as it happened in Columbine.

I would like to mention Japan, a country with a very tough school system. Students fail frequently and in Japan the results are much worse for the students, loss of face, dishonoured families and the implied inability to achieve an adequate standard of living.

Amazingly, the Japanese student does not go, ordinarily, on a killing spree. He\she commits suicide. This is indicative of the fundamental difference in the perception of self worth I mentioned earlier. The American student, in most cases would choose a form of self expression consistent with the American ideals of individualism. The Japanese student having failed, removes him\herself quietly, and in line with traditional beliefs, from the collective.

I realise that this does not hold true in all cases, but I believe that this line of reasoning provides a good guide for further thoughts on the matter.

One thing that bothered me (in ‘Bowling for Columbine’) was the comparison to other countries. It was stated that other countries had firearms in abundance and as bloody, if not bloodier, a history as the states. Germany, Russia, Great Britain and Japan, since they were cited, committed their great bloodbaths not as individuals but as a collective, while violence and murder are no strangers to these countries, they do not have as individualistic a streak as the states. The great heroes of American folklore are overwhelmingly violent outlaws or violent lawmen. Not so in other countries (I know this is a blanket statement but consider people like Marx, Tell, Goethe, Bismarck, Napoleon, DeGaulle, Churchill etc, none of them espoused individual violence.)

Other states had to create the myth of their nation at the cost of individualism (Germany, Japan and the former USSR are the best examples of this). It was hard work to create those nations and still is as the Middle East and other areas of fairly recent nationhood can attest to. Indoctrination started in school and continued throughout life, usually with only a few focal points (the party, a leader, a religion etc.).

By the same token, it is easy to observe the failure of this nation creation exercise. In places where the myth was not strong enough, the nation would fall apart if certain factors or parameters were removed. The best and most recent examples are (again) the USSR, Yugoslavia and the CSSR.

The documentary made a further point. This, I think, might be the most sinister and startling observation of the entire piece.

Media, particularly in the US, has become a merchant of fear. News is filled with terrifying images; blood soaked half truths, sensationalism for the sake of ratings and little actual news worthy content. Americans are being scared into a fortress mindset. The only safe place is the US of A and everyplace else is filled with bloodthirsty extremists. But even that is no longer true. Now the only safe place is your reinforced concrete bunker, stocked with gas masks and sealed with plastic sheets and duct tape.

The development of this fear is most intriguing.

After WW1, the US withdrew from the international arena, leaving the newly formed League of Nations to flounder and thus helping to usher in WW2. In WW2 something odd happened. It was the birth of the myth of America as the saviour of the world accompanied by the rapid decline of the old order.

(Any good historian will agree that it was the USSR that broke the back of Hitler’s Armies. Doubtlessly, the American intervention hastened the end, but doom was already on the horizon for the Third Reich.)

The US understood that this was a watershed in history. It also recognised the other emerging major power, the Soviet Union. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were warnings directed at the Siberian Bear.

The US had chosen a path of direct interference and military development. A path that is ultimately going to lead to the fall of the mighty empire. (America had always been keenly aware of this fact, thus most of its endeavours were of an economic nature and by definition America-centric {eg Monroe doctrine})

With the growth (but by no means creation) of the military industrial sector, America initially experienced a boom – as did Hitler’s Germany – and expanded its sphere of influence at a rapid pace. Former enemies became important trading partners and two blocks crystallised.

More and more capital was pumped into weapons development and related industries, raw materials and free access to foreign markets (which in essence, is now free market policy) became paramount.

The communists were a great threat. A sinister, atheistic enemy, far away.

An enemy that lasted for decades and brought staggering profits to the coffers of the few. That enemy waned.

New enemies were needed, people needed to be afraid of something for the gravy train to continue rollin’.

In quick succession we had the Arabs, South American drug lords/dictators, internal right wing fanatics (by the way, what was David Koresh’s crime?), the Chinese, general Islamic fundamentalism, Iraq, North Korea and finally old Europe.

None of these proved to be as successful an enemy as the good old communist threat.

Now we are seeing threats in the news that are vague, lack credible proof and make even the staunchest republican wonder privately if it has not gone a little too far.

I think Americans would miss something if there were no enemy to be ready for and defend against; and I also think that Columbine is a direct expression of this skewed perception of the world, the corruption that the American way of life has become.

In the years to come there will be fewer and fewer enemies, yet there will be more and more paranoia in the collective psyche of the American people.

This paranoia is firmly entrenched and tended to with great love and affection by those who wish to maintain the status quo. They own the media and means of production, they own the financial institutions and they control the biggest guns, in effect they own the people.

Yes, they were wrong…

I was bullied in school. It still breaks my heart when I see it. There is a lot of anger in me because of it. Bullying me these days would be very bad for anyone’s health. I wish I could take all those kids by the hand and tell them how special they are and how the adversity will make them stronger. Unfortunately, this is not always true.