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Are Mass Shootings Influenced by Our Institutions and Institutionalizing Effects Printer friendly page Print This
By Dallas Darling
Submitted by Author
Friday, Oct 6, 2017

As our nation struggles to come to grips with the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, not to mention many more that were similar but not as deadly, we all know there’ll be another one-and many more.

Because of this, it’s important to recall what the Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung wrote. Believing that “Personal violence is for the amateur in dominance, and structural violence is the tool of the professional;” he moreover maintained: “The amateur who wants to dominate uses guns; the professional social structures.”

In the meantime, do these social structures (institutions), determined by the ruling elites and which serve their values and purposes, institutionalize us by “making” us participate and eventually “lobotomized” members?

Institutions Live Through Us and Institutionalize Us

Most of us, like Stephen Paddock, the gunman who killed 59 people in Las Vegas and wounded over 500, live our lives without ever examining how our institutions enable us, or drive us to habitually do what we do and think what we think. And yet, institutions inhabit and shape how we think, feel, and act in the most existentially pervasive ways.

What‘s more, it’s not in spite of our social structures that we are who we are but precisely because of them, living in and through them. Just as they moreover live in and extend through us, they affect our interpersonal relationships and society as a whole. This not only goes for institutions deemed constructive and benevolent, but ones that are hurtful, destructive, violent, and even sometimes deadly.

Like many of us, Paddock was no stranger to institutions. Not only did he work for Lockheed Martin, one of the world’s largest defence industries used to fuel international conflicts and prop up ruthless regimes, but he was familiar with firearms and legal social structures.

Indeed, in a nation where normal gun owners have 17 guns on average, no wonder he was found in his hotel room with 23 weapons around him-and 19 more at home(1). Obviously, a gun industry had not only institutionalized him but made him somehow feel powerful and invincible, the determiner of life and death. Meanwhile, gun stock shares have once again skyrocketed, profiting the professionals.

Just as a military-industrial complex and gun industry may be more of a social structural problem than a “people” problem, so too are our legal systems. To be sure, two divorces-one bitter, and a lawsuit against a corporation that failed, revealed a justice system based more on profit-making than seeking truth and impartiality-let alone helping victims become whole and perpetrators better citizens.(2)

Social Structures and Politics of Natural Selection

Galtung thinks institutions, that “institutionalize” us and depend on natural selection, actually-and collectively-also determines our ideas, beliefs, and values. Not only are they integral parts of our human understanding and living, but it’s only through institutions that we function “fully.”

Since the ideals and aspirations tied to individual success in the U.S.-the American Dream of prosperity-are institutionally produced as well, professionals prey on the fact that not everyone can achieve them through legitimate means. They know race and social class, or habit forming devices such as gambling, can act as barriers. A lack of money indeed means that legal routes to prosperity can pres sure people to commit crimes.

Consequently, Paddock was not only institutionalized by dysfunctional “immediate” and “distant” social structures-family and government, but by a highly competitive, conspicuously consumptive, and sometimes violent casino-like society. To be sure, and in a rapidly changing economy, he moved often and never experienced job security-perhaps even job satisfaction. What’s more, he escaped into a world of gambling and opioid use.

In addition to never knowing his father, a supposed psychopath and bank robber once sought by the FB I, he was addicted to high-stakes gambling.(3) But such high-risk, adrenaline rush strategies, where there exists an insatiable appetite to achieve a certain economic standing and social status-and which few of us can ever afford-can be costly.

Questions also remain about his finances and business transactions, including the wiring of thousands of dollars overseas and the upkeep of several properties and recent purchase of an expensive home.(4) Did institutions of high risk gambling, like video poker which is known as the “crack cocaine of gambling,” and investing and debt, whether personal or publicly financial, also lead to extreme measures.

Meanwhile, and similar to millions of other Americans, there’s reports he was on some form of serotonergic antidepressants and opioid analgesics (SSRI). Such psychotropic drugs are commonly known to have influenced other mass murderers.

Social Structures of Their (Elites) Making Impose Limited Choices
Given that society is determined by the way social structures are organized by the elites, including the many myths that serve to buttress them, many remain either “silently" brutalized and crushed, or “quietly” feel humiliated and helpless. Moreover, and according to Galtung, institutional power is always repressive, even while it appears to be acting in the interest of the individual.

Indeed, most state and local institutions in the U.S., which once expanded to include the welfare of their citizens, are now concerned more with managing and domesticating the lives of people and their material products. Neither do they see people as full-fledged citizens.
As a result, was this this mass shooting not only about gun control legisl ation that we refuse to pass-on behalf of the NRA and gun lobbyists, but also about access to mental health care that Congress continues to gut.
What’s more, how will the minute-by-minute “blanket coverage” on the mass shooting massacre by the media’s institutions-mainly for ratings-impact those who watch and try to live what they see?

Or why did the secret White House talking points reveal a sense of deflection and avoidance regarding gun laws, stating such phrases as “We’ll look at gun laws as time goes by,” or “let’s gather the facts before w e make sweeping policy arguments for curtailing the Second Amendment.”

And just as reports are now coming out that Paddock was “unstable,” including a “drinking” problem that’s influenced and funded by a commercialized liquor industry, does his instability not describe some of our very cherished institutions that we live in and among or put our trust in?

Sadly, institutions vested on fear and violence, or threats and manipulation, is not an effective way to govern-or model.

Social Structural Violence Is Alive and Well

Johan Galtung is also known for the theory of structural violence-the systematic ways in which a regime prevents individuals from achieving their full potential. He consequently warns that it’s not only relevant for Americans to understand how they live in a republic and an empire, but how they’re admired for its republican qualities yet loathed by its enemies abroad for its military aggression.

In other words, U.S. social structures and institutions sometimes display creativity and benevolence and freedom and liberty, but can also dish out arrogance, violence, hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

Perhaps the real meaning in this horrible tragedy is that by our sheer membership and participation within many of these-and other-corrupt and destructive institutions, we all share some kind of complicity.

And even though it’s fashionable to say only the shooter had blood on his hands, or his was an act of pure evil, the category of evil must alw ays be seen not as something that naturally exists but as an arbitrary construction, the product of malevolent, injurious and dehumanizing institutions.(5)

To be sure, just as absolute power corrupts absolutely, so do absolute social structures and corrupt institutions. They can also become psychopathic, institutionalizing a collectivized citizenry distinguished by mild to extreme aggressive, violent, antisocial thought and behavior and a lack of remorse or empathy. In realizing this, perhaps this is what it means to address our “radicalization.”

Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for

(1) “Was Stephen Paddock Normal? Many Gun Owners Keep 17 Firearms On Average, by John Haltiwanger. October 3, 2017.
(2) “Nothing S tood Out About Stephen Paddock Before Las Vegas Shooting, People Who Knew Him Say,” by Emanuella Grinberg., October 2, 2017.
(3) “Las Vegas Shooting: Stephen Paddock Was a Wealthy Gambler Who Owned Home in Four States,“ by Barbara Linston. October 3, 2017.
(4) “Las Vegas Shooting: Stephen Paddock Had 42-Weapon Arsenal-Police Seek Motive,” by Danny Boyle, October 3, 2017.
(5) Atkinson, Sam. The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. New York, New York: Penguin Random House, 2015., p. 208.

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