There’s an ideological gap between Stephen Paddock, the shooter in Las Vegas, and the so-called AntiFa protestors of Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists that’s about as big as the Grand Canyon. However, the gap in psychology is not so great and that’s worth examining in contemplating the events two months ago in Charlottesville and a few days past in Las Vegas.
“The concept of toxic masculinity is used in the social sciences to describe traditional norms of behavior among men in contemporary American and European society that are associated with detrimental social and psychological effects. Such ‘toxic’ masculine norms include dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance [emphasis added], and the suppression of emotions,” says Wikipedia.
When it comes to Las Vegas and Charlottesville, I think we should be talking about toxic white masculinity and middle class white men who, whether on the “left” or the “right,” owing to a measure of social mobility and privilege, are able to travel across the country to take part in violent protests.
Toxic white masculinity is exhibited by overgrown white man-boys running around with guns, as they once scampered about the house as children armed with toy guns and dressed up as army soldiers or cowboys. And this is seen on the left as well as the right. Groups that have labeled themselves AntiFa or John Brown Gun Club or Redneck Revolt are popping up these days and saying they want to create a “left wing gun culture,” which I have a few reservations about.
This recent photo from the Redneck Revolt website is exactly what I mean.
This sort of thing is irresponsible and dangerous for many reasons. Putting it briefly, the meaning of the gun and gun culture in America is inextricably linked to settler colonialism as a system of violence. Firearms in the hands of white men are signifiers of a psychological response that is tied to the American imperial project that began in 1492.
The idea that a slapdash congregation of white middle class Millennials can reverse that strikes me as a tad far-fetched, particularly after five centuries of white gun culture being joined at the hip with robbing Indian land and pillaging foreign countries. But the “left-wing” Millennial crowd seem to have no idea, based on my discussions with them, of how gun culture in this country is part of a wider constellation that includes rape culture, homo/transphobia and racism.
They appear to think that they can instantaneously repackage this aspect of Americana in the same way my mom used old Sears catalogues to make collages when I was a kid. This is as ridiculous as seeking to separate the hammer and sickle from Communism or the swastika from Nazism.
I want to be clear that all this is quite different from people of color, women, the poor and members of the LGBTQQIA+ community defending themselves from personal attacks or police violence, which occurs so casually and randomly these days. I’m directing my words to middle class white men who think they are going to somehow transform American gun culture.
As a queer man who has journeyed through the entire wringer of pain, rejection, and abuse of both self and others in the name of these notions of white masculinity, I know what I’m talking about. Quite simply, you will not change American gun culture. Gun culture will change you. End of discussion.