Australia: Orlando massacre a symptom of the Age of Rage

The Orlando shooting was another random outburst of the madness that is resulting from the progressive breakdown of social cohesion. Toughen gun laws, prevent Muslims, decry hate crimes, declare a war against whatever the opposite of "freedom" is; it won't matter much, because it's too late for dealing with the symptoms. Michael Bradley writes.

This isn't about Left and Right; that's become a laughably false distinction. It's not quite apt, but "extremism" will do.

American extremists of the anti­societal kind love guns, hate gays, and don't much like Muslims. Muslim extremists of the anti­modern kind love guns, hate gays, and don't much like Americans.

Orlando, we may have not yet recognised, was a pivotal moment. Forty­nine people were murdered because they were partying, and gay, by a guy who was possibly gay (or at least obsessed by homosexuality in some form), had been radicalised online to an illogical and incoherent level of vaguely Islamic rage and who lives in a country where access to high­powered assault rifles is lawfully easy even for a person once on a terrorist watch­list.

At one level, murder never makes sense. "Normal" people don't kill other people. Mostly, though, even terrorist acts have at least an insane logic about them. We are presently observing the schizophrenic thrashings of a world trying to settle on what that logic, in the case of Orlando, may be.

Gay hate? Islamic terror? Gay hate meets Islamic terror with a dash of mental illness and too­lax gun laws, or is this the "assault on freedom" which has been reflexively referred to by Western politicians since 9/11 and was repeated by our own Prime Minister in response to Orlando?

The confusion is palpable, far more so than after Charlie Hebdo or the black church massacre in Charleston, or regarding the motivations of Anders Breivik or Man Haron Monis.

The US Congress, at the NRA's insistence, voted down a law which may have prevented the Orlando shooter from buying guns, in the name of freedom and constitutional right.

The American fringe, encompassing extreme Christian groups and basic rednecks, cannot work out what to say ­ some celebrate the deaths of so many hell­bound homosexuals. But the narrative of Islamic assault on our "freedom" does not sit alongside victims who, by many Americans' beliefs, deserved to die. Just not at the hands of a Muslim?

That Donald Trump chose to see Orlando as a vindication ­ "appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism" was his first response ­ certainly reminds us of how deep his narcissism runs, but his calls for the Afghan­born parents of the American­born shooter to not have been allowed into the US three decades ago are not really much less helpful than President Obama's defeated reaction or Hillary Clinton's demand for gun law reform.

Would that reversing the flood of guns (about 650 million of them in private hands around the globe, at last count) might make a difference at this point to a society so fundamentally broken as theirs? By which I mean ours.

Understanding our foundations

To understand why and how we are rapidly approaching a point of no easy return in the breakdown of society as we expect it to be, we need to know a bit about its foundations. It helps also to reflect just how weirdly asymmetrical our world is becoming: when I was a young adult, I assumed society was on a linear path to enlightenment. I would not have accepted as possible that hatred, bigotry and extreme ideologically­driven violence would be on the increase in 2016; that we'd be having a serious conversation about a democratic country refusing entry to people on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Western society has been, broadly since absolute monarchy of the Divine Right variety went out of fashion, built on a social contract of the kind imagined by John Locke. It assumes an interlocking set of human rights (life, liberty, property) and obligations (to protect each other's rights), with government established and maintained by us as a collective whole for our mutual benefit and changeable by us if it fails to serve us well.

History amply demonstrates how hard a trick that's been to pull off, but the relative prosperity and dominance of Western "civilisation" over the past centuries has been an impressive dividend from the shift to recognition that we're not here just to serve God or King.

Every society has always had a marginalised part; those who feel disenfranchised, alienated, excluded ­ due to poverty, geography, ethnicity, belief, gender, sexuality, political leaning or any of the myriad differentiating factors. That part now includes, in most countries, much of the majority. In America, white, Christian, working class males feel left out. We can see the beginnings of the same development here, and certainly throughout Europe.

American extremists, mostly white, male and Christian, have more in common with Muslim extremists than either side would like to think. The Orlando shooter, if he wasn't Muslim, would have felt entirely comfortable, we must assume, with the Westboro Church community or any number of other bigoted fringe groups. If he wasn't Muslim, how would the NRA's followers be describing him today?

This confusion of overlapping hatreds is explained by the other thing these extremists share: total dislocation from the societies in which they live. They assert, ferociously, their rights, as per the social contract to which their forebears signed up. They have, in many cases, a perverted understanding of those rights; thus the bizarre obsession with the right to own guns.

What's missing is the sense of obligation. Humanity has learned to appreciate the value of self­identity and taken to heart all that goes with it: human rights and ambitions. Selfishness came along for the ride. It was never going to be easy to properly balance our right to self­determination against our obligation to support each other. In the absence of religious institutions as the binding force, we've had to rely on universal principles regarding what it means to be human. We're not doing all that well.

Every democracy is feeling the consequences of alienation. Australia's desultory election campaign right now is a minor warning sign of how dissociated the general population is becoming from its own governance, and we're about the most stable democracy on earth. America is a long way further down the track towards disintegration.

Society is losing its functionality because the people are progressively losing their connection to it and whatever sense of responsibility they felt for it. What is left, in governmental terms, is a rump of a political class which sees and cares no further than its own nose. The rest of us retreat further into our self­preserving concerns. But, of course, that doesn't make for a workable society at all.

The anger we see everywhere is the result. It will continue to produce weird and sometimes horrific outcomes, which will be harder and harder to predict, categorise or understand. So Orlando, so Trump. So god knows what else.

Orlando was all it's been described to be: gay hate crime, terrorist act, personal insanity, gun laws gone mad, an assault on everything we hold dear. It was another random outburst of the madness that is resulting from the progressive breakdown of social cohesion and its replacement by dissociated rage.

Toughen gun laws, prevent Muslims, decry hate crimes, declare a war against whatever the opposite of "freedom" is; it won't matter much, because it's too late for dealing with the symptoms. The disease is a cancer, and it's eating society from the inside.

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