Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Why doesn't Taiwan have more rage killings?

The Memorial City House of God, next to the train station in Houlong, which apparently was a hospital once.

Metro killer: 19 arrested for threatening copycat attacks...*sigh* Many people complaining that the present of police on the Metro, some with assault weapons, is not making them feel safer. One man's action has cast a long shadow over one of the world's best, safest metro systems, and now everyone must suffer.

After deploring the leap to blame various things, Daniel Lin at Thinking Taiwan observes:
Mass random killings are a form an extreme violence. Although we have yet to identify any strong predictors to explain such complex behavior, we can reasonably assume that it is driven by multiple biological, psychological, and social factors. Witch-hunts and the facile categorization they engender can discourage efforts to establish a systemic approach to identifying high-risk individuals.
In simply the best work on rage killings of the last couple of decades, Going Postal, Mark Ames did in fact identify the source of the problem: America's toxic work culture. Jeff Sparrow at Counterpunch ("Rage Killings in a Neoliberal World") brings it together...Sparrow is talking about the recent killings in California, but he could well be talking about the ones in Taiwan.
As I’ve argued before, the most interesting attempt to historicise the rage massacre comes from Mark Ames’ book Going Postal. Ames’ title reminds us that, in the US, such killings were once synonymous with postal workers (a historical fact that now seems almost quaint). That’s why he identifies the rise of rage massacres with Reaganomics: he suggests that neoliberal reforms to the postal service reduced job satisfaction, placed employees under unbearable stress and transformed workplaces into cesspits of toxic bullying.

Signfiicantly, when Ames’ interviewed massacre survivors, some expressed a remarkable sympathy for the shooters, while very few surprises at the crimes. They’d expected something to give, they said, even if they hadn’t known quite what.

Ames notes the migration of rage massacres from the workplace (in the 80s) to the school (during the 1990s), a trajectory that followed the generalization of neoliberal principles into the US education system. In their suicide notes, school shooters also referenced prolonged bullying, as the entrepreneurial values of mainstream American culture found schoolyard expression in concentrated form, and the gulf between the school’s winners and its losers became more pronounced and more significant.

Like the workplace gunman, the teenage killer embraced mass murder as a brutal and incoherent expression of social despair.
The really interesting question for Taiwan is not that we have rage killings, but why we don't have more of them here, given the long working hours, stagnant incomes, and relentlessly competitive educational and work environments. There's no single factor, but many working in tandem. Some might be....
  • the lack of guns and sociocultural identification of guns with manliness and manhood
  • the ruthless ability of Taiwanese to exploit themselves ever more strongly. My Facebook feeds are filled with posts from my former students, now drones at the bottom of the corporate ladder, admonishing themselves to work harder, and the general cultural belief in the efficacy of hard work
  • Taiwan is still in the first generation of the class revolution that has redistributed America's wealth away from its working and middle classes upwards for the last 30 years, and the young are still to a certain extent supported by the enormous wealth gained during the Miracle Economy years.
  • the educational system trains the young to accept long hours of work under arbitrary authority as normal.
  • outlets: Taiwanese can relocate to China or remain in masters degree programs, since so many have four year degrees.
More could be said. I wondered if Taiwanese were more prone to suicide than mass murder, but if you look up the numbers, Taiwan and the US are pretty comparable....
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13 comments:

Anonymous said...

As much as you hit the nail on the head in most of your articles, you missed a key point on this one....

This is why we have so much trouble with youths in America.

I'll bet the subway slicer was medicated....just sayin'

Michael Turton said...

Haha. I dunno. There's a lot of things....

FOARP said...

Guns are the real issue causing spree-killings in the US, not nebulous terms like "neoliberalism".

We might also reflect that, at a time when the free market encompasses most of the world, murder rates are falling throughout the world and have been for years. They do, however, remain stubbornly high in countries like Venezuela (a "socialist" country where every year more people are murdered than in the EU and the USA combined).

Readin said...

Taiwan has million people. America has 300 million. Estimating because I'm lazy...for every 14 mass killings in America there should be only 1 in Taiwan. How far off is that?

The suggested reasons are interesting in that they all seem to be based on the idea that increased freedom and greater responsibility for oneself leads to increased violence.

Did America have a lot more mass killings back before the New Deal? Were the Soviet Union and Communist China relatively free of mass killings?

The best explanation I've ever heard for mass killings and a lot of other modern psychological problems is that people have too much free time to worry about small things instead of being focused on supporting themselves and making a better life. I'm not saying I want to go back to the old days, but I do suspect that while a lot of psychological problems used to go untreated, a lot also never became an issue because people were to busy working during the day to have issues and were too tired at night to lay awake thinking about issues.

Michael Turton said...

We might also reflect that, at a time when the free market encompasses most of the world, murder rates are falling throughout the world and have been for years.

True, US murder rates are at 1960s levels. But rage killings like these recent ones are a modern event. The rest of your comment has nothing to do with rage killings, of course. A pretty typical FOARP comment, actually.

Michael Turton said...

00 million. Estimating because I'm lazy...for every 14 mass killings in America there should be only 1 in Taiwan. How far off is that?

If that is true, then Taiwan should have at least a couple more, since the US has had 70 in the last few decades.

Michael

blobOfNeurons said...

But rage killings like these recent ones are a modern event.

No they're not. It's just the modern version of "running amok".

FOARP said...

@Michael - Hmm . . it's possible to consider spree-killings as being in a class by themselves (in which case, why argue that their cause is something generally present in society?). A second approach is to consider them as merely the statistical tip of murders as a whole, and those as being the tip of the iceberg of murderous impulses that most people experience occasionally but do not act on.

My own personal experiences (an acquaintance was murdered by her boyfriend, like most murderers he did it on pure angry impulse, and pleaded guilty) and the cases I read when I studied law, have made me a firm believer in the second proposition, although obviously you have to take account for the invention of a kind of ritual surrounding spree-killings over the last couple of decades.

https://www.utexas.edu/features/2005/murder/index.html

http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/ascii/vfluc.txt

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/17/graph-of-the-day-perhaps-mass-shootings-arent-becoming-more-common/

StefanMuc said...

Part of the problem could be the attention heaped on the murderers by the media. These people either grave attention, or inspire copycats who do.

Unfortunately there is money to be earned by making this into a media circus, so as a result the warnings from psychiatrists are ignored.

Charlie Brooker did a very interesting segment on this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PezlFNTGWv4

Obviously it's not practical (and not really desirable, either) to ignore these events completely, but perhaps some measures could be taken. E.g. I see no need to ever refer to the murderer by name.

Anonymous said...

Ineptitude. Socially we are expected to conform to demands placed on us by our peers etc. etc.. When we fail to live up to those expectations, people are shunned by society and made to feel as outcasts. Social misfits internalize their inadequacies and become hostile to the authority figures, peers, or those who place the demands on their ability to conform or live up to those expectations. Given the right individual under misguided circumstances, and you have a chemistry for disaster.

Readin said...

Two points Re the statistics:
Are counting thimgs like bars being set on fire so a large number of people die?(i remember that happening in Taiwan)

You say Taiwan should have at least "a couple more", but I think that with a population of 23 million "a couple" is not statistically significant. (i haven't studied statistics deeply so i could be wrong)

Sorry about the caps, im using a pad instead of a keyboard and it is a pita to tpe this way.

Mike Fagan said...

"Guns are the real issue causing spree-killings in the US..."

If Jeff Sparrow in that Counterpunch article is correct that such killings are characteristic of the past 30 years or so, then your claim cannot stand; if guns are the "cause" of spree-killings, why is it that there weren't such spree-killings in earlier times despite the widespread availability of guns?

Mike Fagan said...

"A second approach is to consider them as merely the statistical tip of murders as a whole, and those as being the tip of the iceberg of murderous impulses that most people experience occasionally but do not act on."

That is somewhat ambiguous. You either mean to say that most people occasionally experience the impulse to murder someone, or that most people occasionally experience the impulse to mass murder. Which is it?

If it is the first, then that is categorically different from cases like Cheng's. I recently experienced the impulse to beat to death the man who poisoned my dog Shao Bai, but naturally I had more than enough sense to restrain myself. Cheng experiencing an impulse to butcher a bunch of random strangers on an MRT train is a completely different thing. It seems to me disingenuous to argue that they are part of the same statistical "iceberg".

If you meant the second one, then I don't for a moment believe that is true except for a handful of sociopaths.