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Gun Violence In Canada Essay Contest

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America, long addicted to building prisons and incarcerating minorities marginalized by class and race, has now become equally obsessed with war and a war economy. And, moreover, it appears that many Americans have become desensitized to the fact of such violence.

Violence in the United States has also become a commodity mined for profit, exhibited daily in a tsunami of reality TV shows, crime dramas, Hollywood blockbusters, and the endless consumption of first-person shooter video games. As shared responsibilities have given way to shared fears, communities have seen their schools, airports, detention centres, and social services remodelled after elements of prison culture, if not also privatized. These spheres that formerly offered social protection now produce their own brand of violence against students, immigrants, the poor, and others marginalized by class, race, and ethnicity.

What has emerged in the United States is a civil and political order structured around the problem of violent crime. This governing-through-crime model produces a highly authoritarian and mechanistic approach to addressing social problems that often focuses on the poor and minorities, promotes highly repressive policies, and places undue emphasis on personal security, rather than considering the larger complex of social and structural forces that fuels violence in the first place.

Far from promoting democratic values, a respect for others, and social responsibility, a governing-through-crime approach criminalizes a wide range of behaviours, and in doing so often functions largely to humiliate, punish, and demonize. How else to explain young children in U.S. classrooms being handcuffed and removed from school because they violated a dress code or committed some similarly trivial transgression?

The United States is a country gripped in a “survival of the fittest” ethic, and the consequences involve not merely an amplified hypermasculinity and hyper-punitiveness. Perhaps even more destructive has been the emergence of a toxic formative culture in which matters of ethics, justice, and social responsibility are entirely absent. The result is a society no longer able to hold power accountable, produce citizens capable of caring for others, or offer the conditions for young and old alike to be able to think critically and act compassionately.

Social justice in the United States has taken a bad hit, and its distortion can be measured in the vast inequalities that characterize all facets of everyday life from the workings of the criminal justice system to the limited access of poor and middle class people to decent health care, schools, and social protections. Injustice is also clearly visible in a government that separates economic costs from social costs, while selling its power and resources to the highest bidder.

What can Canadians learn from the ongoing violence spreading across America and the way in which this debate is framed largely through a discourse about gun culture?

The Harper regime seems to have learned very little from the American experience and is increasingly making crime one of the central platforms of its mode of governance. It is similarly calling for criminalizing more and more behaviours that should be dealt with as social problems, not criminal behaviours. It repeats the American script of supporting mandatory sentences, tougher crime laws, and harsher sentencing for young offenders. This is the same punitive approach to crime used by the United States in dealing with drug enforcement, which has resulted in the largest prison population in the world and a crime-control complex that is as racist as it is dysfunctional.

The call for more repressive crime laws is not the answer to dealing with violence in Canada. The Canadian government needs to get to the heart of the social, economic, and political causes of violence. The Canadian public needs to talk more about how and why violence is increasingly becoming central to its mode of governing.

Such an approach would address the necessity of understanding the emerging pathology of violence, not just through a discourse of fear or isolated spectacles, but through policies that effectively implement the wider social, economic, and political reforms necessary to curb the culture of violence and the institutions that are sustained by it.

Of course, the Canadian public needs to do more than talk. It also needs to bring together educators, students, workers, and anyone else interested in democracy in order to create a social movement. A well-organized movement will be capable of changing the power relations and vast economic inequalities that have created the conditions for symbolic and systemic violence in Canadian society.

Henry Giroux, a U.S. citizen, is Global Television Network chair and professor in English and Cultural Studies departments of McMaster University.

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