Monday, January 7, 2013

Sandy Hook: Diagnosing our Society's Illness

by Daniel Lee

The tragedy at Sandy Hook last month has left a lasting impression on the hearts and minds of the working class here in Oklahoma and around the nation. The senseless killing of children and teachers by a mentally disturbed young man is yet another chapter in the increasing pattern of savage violence of the past few years. In this time of grief and sorrow, it is natural to seek to make sense of the senseless, to look for answers to the problems which are becoming endemic to our society. We, the Communist Party of Oklahoma, offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of this tragedy.

The Smoking Gun
This incident, and others like it, such as the murders in Aurora Colorado, and Virginia Tech, shows us several problems, which we, as Marxist-Leninists, see to be originating from the same source.  First of all, there is the fact that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes were severely mentally disturbed individuals, whose conditions went untreated for many years, despite their parents’ futile attempts to get help for their sons. Adam Lanzana’s mother fought the school district to get help for her son’s Asperger's syndrome and other emotional issues. James Holmes’ mother told police they had the right man when he was captured and acknowledged his history of schizophrenic mental illness. Seung-Hui Cho’s parents turned to a local church for help, after unsuccessfully attempting to deal with his mental illness throughout childhood, but by the time he began attending Virginia Tech, it was too late. Each instance shows the same failure in our society – the failure to provide adequate mental healthcare for the mentally ill, just as we fail to provide adequate healthcare for much of the working class in our country.

A History of Neglect
Since the Kennedy administration, the government had mandated that mental health care be made available on par with regular health care for Federal employees in the Community Mental Health Centers Act of 1963 (which became available to low-income workers through Medicare after 1965). By the Carter years, legislation was passed expanding and bringing much needed reforms to the system under the Mental Health Systems Act in 1980 which made federal funding a priority for homeless and impoverished citizens with mental illness. However, the next year, Regan rescinded the act, and slashed funding for mental health services, which continued to decline through the Bush and Clinton years. More and more mentally ill people were institutionalized in the prison system or became homeless. It was the next generation however which showed a more disturbing trend – school shootings. The late 1980’s saw a drastic rise in school shootings, but it was the Columbine massacre in Littleton Colorado in 1999 which brought the epidemic to nationwide attention.  Since that time, there have been over 25 incidents in schools alone. Other shootings to grab national headlines have included the DC Beltway sniper (suffering from PTSD) and the Uni-bomber (schizophrenia).

The Real Problem: Capitalism
The root of the problem lies within the core of our society. The lack of proper physical and mental healthcare is symptomatic of a system which shows no regard for people, only placing value on property and profit. Workers in the capitalist system are made into automatons, producing endlessly without receiving the fruits of their labors. When one of them breaks or is defective, they are replaced by another, readily waiting to sell their own labors in order to survive. Our capitalist society uses up and discards working people as trash – and then is surprised when those pieces of discarded humanity fail to conform to society’s rules. This symptom is called the theory of alienation. As Marx put it,

“The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power, and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated, this means that they cease to exist in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and in the reality of an inhuman existence.” – Marx, The Holy Family

Until we address the base problem of the alienation caused by Capitalism, we will continue to have shocking incidents such as occurred at Sandy Hook or Aurora. Gun control will not solve the problem – guns will continue to be available, either legally or illegally, and if a gun is not available, Oklahoma knows through painful experience how much damage household items and a Ryder truck can cause. To cure society’s illness, we must destroy the disease – Capitalism itself.

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