Earlier today I read the manifesto of the El Paso shooter. I did so because I wanted to understand him. Understanding doesn’t mean empathy or sympathy. I don’t feel bad for the guy and one need not feel much of anything at all to gain understanding. I just wanted to know what he made of what he did. I won’t link the manifesto here and I really don’t know the ethics on these things and I figure the people that want to find out more that might read this already know how to operate google.
He organized the manifesto according to his political reasoning, his economic reasoning, and his personal reasoning for why he decided to drive to El Paso and open fire on people he believed to be immigrants in a Wal-Mart. As for the political and economic, he gives a pretty basic story. Elected officials, both Democrats and Republicans have betrayed the American people. I found interesting that he names what this betrayal looks like: handing over the functions of the government to “unchecked corporations.” The Democrats pander to immigrants in order to build an unbeatable voting coalition as white baby boomers die off and immigrants replace them in the voting booth. They do this because corporations have bought them. Republicans, he says, don’t offer much hope either. Some within the party get the scope of the problem, others have sold out to corporations.
I find this really interesting. At one point he writes “pro-corporation=pro-immigration” and that the problem is that politicians, save for a few Republicans, “prioritize corporations over our future.” He envisions a future in which corporations use immigration to impose control over the American people and the two political parties have betrayed the American people by going along with them.
He then moves to the economic. As he sees it, automation will replace up to half of the jobs in America at some point in the next two decades. Because of this, the government will have to institute some sort of universal basic income to keep people out of poverty and the fact that so many immigrants, both documented and undocumented (my terms not his) reside here threatens the government’s ability to provide for American citizens in order to prevent civil unrest. He writes, “Joblessness in itself is a source of civil unrest.”
Again, the corporations step in. They want more immigration because when immigrants get here, they work for cheap, but then their kids buy into the American dream, go to college, and then take higher skilled jobs. Throughout this section he references the intense competition for not just meaningful work, but work that just pays enough to live on and all the while corporations keep bringing in more competition in order to keep wages down. This is just what corporations do and he’s already established that they’ve bought off the politicians.
He seems to grasp “credentialization,” the concept that getting better credentials in order to compete in the marketplace has changed education. Essentially he sees that corporations bring in a ton of new competition all the way through the system. They compete for low-wage jobs and eventually grades and high skill, high education jobs. He writes, “This has led to a generation of indebted, overqualified students filling menial, low paying and unfulfilling jobs.” The next sentence is worth thinking about: “Of course these migrants and their children have contributed to the problem, but are not the sole cause of it.”
Climate change exacerbates all of this. He just accepts that individual Americans won’t change their lifestyles and so climate change becomes an inevitability. The point, then, if Americans are to survive at all is to deport a lot of immigrants, deter them from coming here in the first place, and send a message to corporations that they can’t keep bringing people in. He writes, “If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.” He hoped that by shooting people in Wal-Mart immigrants would leave or think twice before coming here. In this sense, these murders were only slightly more extreme of the bi-partisan consensus.
At this point, you can easily say “Bullshit. The dude just hates Mexicans and wanted to kill a bunch of them.” Fine. Maybe so. I find it fascinating that he even says to some degree that migrants as individuals don’t deserve as much blame as Americans often give them. To some degree they live at the mercy of economic forces and corporations as well and so his actions make rational sense within the story that he believes. He says that Americans accept the death of foreigners all the time for the sake of protecting the American way of life. He believes his actions fall in line with those killings. One day people will see that his killings were justified to protect Americans and the American way of life, and if that sounds crazy to you keep in mind that he’s 21 years old and has heard that basic message for his whole life when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan, the police and ICE. As he puts it, “Our government has killed a whole lot more people for a whole lot less.”
He believes a story that says that in order to further their own enrichment corporations have bought off the major political parties in America and that they use those politicians to bring in immigrants because that furthers their economic interests. On the micro level this damages individuals by creating more and more competition and on the macro level it leaves America unprepared to care for their own through things like universal basic income and universal healthcare. He believes that without getting rid of a massive number of immigrants, America will collapse, and if killing some of them in public will deter them, he’s done his part to save America.
He eventually gets to his personal reasons and the first sentence he writes there has hung with me all day. “My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist.” I’ve written elsewhere about working with teenagers and the pressures and anxieties they face in middle and high school. This guy is a product of No Child Left Behind and then Race to the Top. From 3rd grade on, he’s taken high stakes tests that his teachers told him determined his future. I bet that in 5th or 6th grade he had to start filling out a plan for his career and mapping out the schools he’d need to go to in order to make a decent enough salary to live on. He’s 21 now and sees that it’s not possible. It’s done. All that pressure, all that work, and it’s not going to pay off. There’s no future and people without a clear path to a future that makes sense get desperate. The future he was sold doesn’t exist and he not only has to blame someone but has to do something about it. Maybe he wants to rescue an America that doesn’t really exist and never did. But It should tell us something that the only way he can imagine America getting better is for him to kill a bunch of people in public and that he can work through his nerves to do it and can acquire the weaponry to do so.
I’m not saying any of this justifies the killing innocent people, but if these are more than random acts of hatred to be cured by random acts of kindness, we have to deal not only with the politics of it, but with the logic. “Why did doing this make sense to this person, how did they have the power to do it and what’s a world in which it wouldn’t make sense and in which they didn’t have the power to do it?” should be our guiding question and that’s true not just for this guy but for pretty much anyone with power that uses it to destroy human life.
I find all of this terribly depressing because I feel stuck. I saw so many people post and tweet about how this means we should vote, but I can’t imagine individual votes making much of a difference. I feel pretty powerless and if you're honest I bet you do too. It’s because we are pretty powerless.
Earlier today I read this short piece by Kim Stanley Robinson, “Dystopias Now.” In it, he writes that we’ve got plenty of dystopias, plenty of visions that heighten the sense that things are bad and can get worse. According to Robinson, we lack utopias, worlds that aren’t here yet and that could actually be better. He also writes that dystopia isn’t the only enemy of utopia. There’s also anti-utopia. Dystopia says “things will get bad.” Anti-utopia says “things can’t get better.”
I think we face the problem of neither neither dystopia nor anti-utopia, but partial-utopia. We live in this suspended middle where things at the highest level of power won’t change. The corporations this shooter worries about will stay powerful. They are powerful. They have bought off the politicians. Recently a friend of mine tried to encourage me to vote realistically. He said, “I’ve got bad news, the revolution isn’t around the corner.” I replied, “So we’re screwed?” to which he said “Well yes and no.” That’s it partial utopia. Are we screwed? Well yes and no. In this way, the injustice, the horror of these shootings gets incorporated into the status quo. Things will not get too much better so don’t get your hopes up. But they could get worse. Like that shooter pretty much all of us have accepted that corporations run America which will lead to climate disaster and so
The shooter’s manifesto is a work of partial-utopia. He envisions universal basic income and universal healthcare and a world in which corporate power is curtailed (by the threat of shooting the shooting of immigrants) to American people’s needs. But that version of utopia requires the exclusion of millions of people that will suffer the harms of climate change. He believes that everything that deters them from coming to America is justified to secure a utopia for a particular people, ones that can realize the future that had been promised them. This is a real break from typical actual utopia imagining but is quite typical under capitalism. As Sheldon S. Wolin puts it, “For the most part, although not always, past theories of utopia were unambiguous: their realization did not depend upon the misery, insecurity, and dependency of many but was supposed to preclude those evils.” The shooter’s is a utopia for some, Americans segregated off by race to avoid cultural mixing, and a dystopia for others. He accepts that if anyone’s to have a future that exists at all, he’ll have to kill people to make it happen.
But if his is a partial-utopia, it’s one amongst many. The vision of the Democratic party in this country still contains a proper role for corporations, so long as they’re better regulated. Just four years ago, their candidate for president declared that universal, single payer healthcare would never ever happen. Our previous president accepted that killing people via remote control planes kept America safe. These are all partial-utopias because they tell all of us that we just can’t provide healthcare for all, but also that America is already great. It’s not anti-utopia, because things could and will get better. They just won’t get that much better and there’ll have to be a good bit of bloodshed along the way.
We need utopias right now. The shooter said he had been prepared for a future that doesn’t currently exist. But the future never currently exists. That’s why it’s the future. We could have a world with universal healthcare, the elimination of poverty, the social ownership of the means of production, a drastic reduction in inequality, the empowerment of women, racial minorities, and the end of oppressions that all stem from the structures of capitalism. We could have a world where the guy that shot up a bunch of people at Wal-Mart doesn’t have access to guns but can also understand that he has options other than shooting immigrants in a Wal-Mar to save himself and people he cares about. We could have a world that prioritizes our (and that our is an expansive one) future over that of corporations. I think we should have such a world. I can’t say for sure that that world would have fewer mass shootings, fewer wars on all scales. But I’d take my chances because without a full utopia now these partial-utopias are going to get a lot of people killed.
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