The Real Reason for Mass Killings is the Death of Religion
If “social justice” is replacing religion as our central morality, it must work harder to define its rules.
There have always been massacres and shootouts, but mass killings, the kind where a lone, isolated gunman kills as many random individuals as he can, only began tracking in the United States in the 1890s. It is fitting that the very first mass shootings should begin at the turn of the nineteenth century, just as it became clear that industrialization would supplant religion as the organizing force of Western life. Ultimately it this replacement of religion by industrialization, and more importantly the moral vacuum that resulted, that is the cause of the chronic societal disease that is mass killing.
The problem is not that religion has been replaced by industrialization, but that industrialization (manifested as globalism today), lacks an articulated moral framework of its own. What has developed in the absence of religion is a science-centric, a-religious, compassion-based morality called “social justice” that now stands in the place of a God-based code.
Social justice is not wrong in and of itself, but it becomes wrong because its rules are both unclear and over-enforced. Go ahead and test it out. Ask yourself “how does a good person act it today’s world?” You’ll probably find yourself using vague words like “compassion” and “empathy,” but those are far from prescriptive principles. We’re trying to operate a society without any categorical rules about human conduct. We are lacking a Ten Commandments of the Globalized World. All we have is this underdeveloped notion of “social justice,” the staunchest proponents of which are often the least human people we know.
Social justice refuses to define itself—perhaps due to its obsession with inclusion—and thus makes forming communities along ideological lines virtually impossible. This leaves many individuals tormented, isolated, and prone to violence. Thus, mass killings are always committed by individuals with confused identities who suffer from a pronounced lack of community. Religion, for all its oppressive manifestations, was at least concrete enough to let people decide whether they were in or out.
Does Social Justice Have Any Rules at All?
Social justice says that if you need God to scare you into doing what’s right, then you’re probably a bad person. You should do “good” and “right” simply because you are “good” and “right.” And if you aren’t, your retribution will occur not in the afterlife, but here on Earth. If you’re evil, no one will like you and you will have no friends. You will be isolated, jobless, and alone and Hillary Clinton will sneer at you as she shimmies on by.
But the part that gets glossed over is which specific behaviors make you evil. Are you supposed to open your house to a friend in need, or are you supposed to practice self love? Are you supposed to not be racist or is it okay to exclude white people? Does being a feminist have anything to do with slave labor overseas?
The term “social justice” originated with the Catholic Church in the 1840s to mean “a new kind of virtue necessary for post-agrarian societies.” Indeed, that is exactly what it is; a new moral regime that’s developed to provide purpose to individuals in an industrialized, globalized world that is no longer structured around the nuclear family. The central premise is stated as “the fair and just distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges throughout society,” but that tells us nothing of the concrete rules, of its spiritual underpinnings (or lack thereof), or even of its nature as a reaction to industrialization. All social justice seems to say about itself is that good actions are those that seek to make society more equitable. But what does equitable mean? What does the world look like when that goal is achieved?
With its focus on equity, the current Western ideal of social justice has come to mimic the a-religious morality of the USSR, where “implanting of religious belief” was banned, but a class-obsessed moral code was enforced to a much greater degree than the religion before it. The hazards of this sort of politics-rooted pseudo-religion are under-taught in the West (because our central moral cautionary tale is Hitler, who, while also the purveyor of a Godless pseudo-religion, is remembered solely for ethnic injustices). The problem with that, as Jordan Peterson describes in the below video, is that there is little consciousness of the dangers of morality based on politics and class resentment.
American social justice is less economically Marxist and more culturally Marxist than the USSR version. It is absolutely obsessed with race and gender, and comes down hard on white men for their historical privilege, no matter their economic or ethnic background. Strangely, social justice’s core concept of “white privilege” seems to extend even to historically enslaved and genocided white groups who were once victims of institutional racism themselves.
This is a good illustration of the dangers of an underdeveloped moral framework. First, the lack of concrete rules means that people end up being guided by emotions, emotions that they aren’t encouraged to control. Second, without an underlying code, autobiographies and novels stand in for the aphorisms of a codified morality. The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Beloved are incredible works of art, but they aren’t bibles and they aren’t meant to be. Without a clear statement of principles, these emotional and highly subjective works become treated as rule books, and racial justice becomes codified as racial resentment. Since Martin Luther King was fighting against white oppression, the rule becomes “always fight against white oppression,” even when there’s no white oppression to be found. In those situations, white oppression must be fabricated or else we lose our moral purpose. Even great philosophical social justice works like The Second Sex are not prescriptive, but reactionary.
It seems to me that it should be easy for social justice to create categorical rules for itself. For example, if you wanted to enforce racial equity, the rule should simply be: “NO RACISM OF ANY KIND. EVER.” That would certainly go along with MLK’s aphorism, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” But the purveyors of social justice resist laying down such a rule. Social justice thus becomes used to sanction supposedly moral behaviors that no sane moral code could possibly support, e.g. “All people of this skin color are bad.”
When your only texts are subjective autobiographies, novels, and reactionary contextual philosophies, virtually anything is allowable. It thus becomes impossible to either adhere to, or critique, the tenets of social justice. It becomes impossible to even evaluate where you, the individual, stands in relation to social justice as the dominant moral framework of society.
How This Relates to Mass Killings
From the beginning, mass killings in the United States have had little to do with politics. Despite politics being cited occasionally as the superficial reason for them, like they were for this week’s shooting, remember that there was a shooting right before that which had another, different superficial reason and another before that with yet another reason. Believing that each of these killings has a random, unconnected cause is certifiably insane.
Zoom out for a moment. One day you feel fine the next day you are covered in red dots. You’re smart enough to realize that each pock, though it appears separate, is connected to a singular problem. Diagnosing each different mass killing with a different cause (whether its mental health, guns, politics, fundamental Islam, racism) is like attempting to find the cause for each chicken pock one by one. In reality, mass killings are the symptoms of a singular societal disease. So how did this disease begin?
When they started at the turn of the 20th Century, mass killings were extraordinarily rare, misunderstood, and poorly-reported, and there’s not much information available on early cases. We have to wait all the way until 1949 for the first well-documented mass killing, when Howard Unruh, a 28 year old veteran living with his parents, a religious Christian and uncloseted homosexual, was thrown into a frenzy by the harassment of his Jewish neighbor. He then proceeded to shoot and kill 13 random people on the streets of Camden, New Jersey. Unruh, a reported racist, later said that he was motivated in part by his neighbor’s hassling him for being a homosexual.
The identity confusion! The lack of community! Even though this occurred almost seventy years ago, Unruh’s profile closely matches mass killers of today. He was both Christian and gay, both oppressed for his minority identity and oppressive of others for theirs. This was a man who did not know where to fit. The morality of the globalizing, industrialized world provided him with no rules to either to actively obey or disobey. Any semblance of spiritual purpose in his life was muddled, and he could find no one else like him to share the void.
With past moralities, almost entirely religious, you knew where you stood. Either you were a Christian or not a Christian, a blasphemer or a believer. That allowed for a secure identity and for you to easily identify and gather with others who shared your position. The problem with social justice, in its obsession with inclusion, is that it attempts to encompass everyone yet gives them no rules to adopt or eschew.
It thus becomes impossible for relatively purposeless men like James Hodgkinson to find peace by either adopting the purpose offered by a moral order or refusing to. In the absence of a community to serve and rules to follow, the yearning for purpose becomes so great that it starts attaching itself to fixations imputed by a principle-less media or a lawless internet. Republicans are evil. Or black people are raping white women. Or women are all whores.
The lack of a concrete moral order creates a psychological turpitude in which a man can be gay, racist, and religiously Christian all at the same time, and in which that man can feel so isolated that he takes out a gun and kills 13 people. Western Muslims aren’t radicalized towards violence because industrial society excludes them, they’re radicalized because it insists on including them while giving them no clear instructions for opting in or out. Many people living in our industrialized, globalized, a-religious society are stuck without any identity outside of that of a cog in the machine of industry. They ultimately become cancer cells: lacking the DNA code of the host, they become destructive free radicals.
To be clear, I am not advocating for the return of organized religion or some sort of regression to the Dark Ages. The backwardsness of societies that live under Sharia Law prove that attributing a pre-science moral framework to modernity is a bad plan. What I mean is that whatever the core morality of the modern world ends up being, social justice or otherwise, it must define itself. It must codify itself. It must let us know what its categorical imperatives are so that we can hold it accountable, and so that we can formulate our own identities in relation to it.