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February 22, 2013

Dorner Revisited

Posted in: Uncategorized

When I first heard about the Chris Dorner story I rolled my eyes – blood in the water brings out the media sharks who have to swim or die because thinking is too hard. But worse than the vapid callous infotainment press was the cheering from the cheap seats. Dorner was a hero for shooting cops? The lumpenproletariat’s candy-coated derangement, I thought, must have reached a level Mike Judge could not even imagine.

Then I read something that changed my mind. A piece written by Mark Ames of NSFW Corporation.

Ames has spent considerable time pondering shooting rampages even writing a book on the subject. In his article he offers an alternative explanation or rather an explanation for why Chris Dorner and others “lose it.”

[A]ll this focus on Dorner’s spectacular ending has obscured the real story about what sent Chris Dorner over the edge: workplace abuse, racial discrimination, and a legitimate claim of wrongful termination. In a nation where workers have fewer legal protections than workers in many developing nations, low-level employees like Dorner have few rights, little power and almost nowhere to turn.

Ever since the Reagan Revolution of the 80s, popular culture has neglected labor problems in favor of violent epic fantasies, even though more and more Americans suffered worsening labor conditions in their own lives, privately and alone. Wrongful termination and workplace discrimination are devastating problems for each and every victim, yet collectively we’re infinitely more worried about police state fascism and getting assassinated by armed drones, thanks to media and pop culture conditioning. Labor and workplace problems are considered boring, even embarrassing.

Obviously I disagree that the police state and drone killings are not important issues, in fact, they actually are not separate issues from workers rights at all if you consider workers rights to be human rights. And not to put too fine a point on it but one of America’s most lucrative labor markets is prison labor – so the State now has an interest in arresting you to put you to work. Yet, there is something to be said about the neglect of stories focusing on the truly horrendous nature of America’s current wage slavery system. Prominent intellectual and activist Slavo Zizek when commenting on Occupy Wall Street noted he found it ironic that in the 21st century people were on the street protesting for jobs, saying the chants should have been “Exploit us! Exploits us!”

Workers in America have few to no rights, is this a catalyst for the shooting sprees we are seeing?

Ever since “going postal” massacres first appeared in the public sector, in US post offices in the mid-1980s, they have tended to follow a familiar script. The murderer “snaps” for no apparent reason; official culture blames it all on Hollywood or guns, never explaining why these workplace massacres only appeared in the mid-late 80s; and later, as it turns out, there were a lot of reasons for the gunman to snap.

If you profile the workplace that created the murderer, rather profiling the murderer’s psychology, you will often find a pattern of shocking workplace abuse and of top-down mistreatment of employees, culminating in the “going postal” rampage. The consequent killing spree will target supervisors, fellow employees, and anyone associated with the institution that the abused employee blames for having crushed him (or her).

It is an interesting argument, especially as Ames details Dorner’s history in the LAPD particularly his termination which is now under investigation. Maybe the mystery around all these rampages is not so mysterious – ill treatment and stress. Is is such a stretch to consider disrespect a cause for violent conflict? Though it is not surprising that Ames’ argument has found no audience in the corporate media, it would directly impact the owners. They want the mystery and the blood not the boredom and the cost of better working conditions.

The worker stress argument is also worthy of consideration. Not just the disrespect workers often feel from having no power at their respective workplaces but the nature of contemporary work itself under Neoliberalism – notably its precarious nature. Mark Fisher of Gonzo Circus offers precarity as the true paradigm for Neoliberal worker exploitation.

At the most simple level, precarity is one consequence of the “post-Fordist” restructuring of work that began in the late 1970s: the turn away from fixed, permanent jobs to ways of working that are increasingly casualised. Yet even those within relatively stable forms of employment are not immune from precarity.

Many workers now have to periodically revalidate their status via systems of “continuous professional development”; almost all work, no matter how menial, involves self-surveillance systems in which the worker is required to assess their own performance. Pay is increasingly correlated to output, albeit an output that is no longer easily measurable in material terms.

For most workers, there is no such thing as the long term.

Is this insecurity also a contributing factor? The constant fear of losing the job you hate and the meager monies you need must cause stress but more than that an inability to even enjoy the “leisure time.”

It isn’t only work that has become more tenuous. The neoliberal attacks on public services, welfare programs and trade unions mean that we are increasingly living in a world deprived of security or solidarity. The consequence of the normalization of uncertainty is a permanent state of low-level panic. Fear, which attaches to particular objects, is replaced by a more generalized anxiety, a constant twitching, an inability to settle.

Who needs a culture of dependence when you can have a culture of worker terror? David Graeber likes to point out that a good portion of the work done today in America is to deal with the consequences of overwork – therapists, hospitals, spas, the self-help industry. Not to mention the jobs keeping people form misbehaving – loss prevention, surveillance, security guards and, of course, police officers. Quite a system we have.

In Dorner’s case you would think he would be one of the few workers that had job security by being a police officer. But according to Ames the workplace was extremely precarious as Dorner faced the decision to turn in one of his superiors for kicking a suspect in the face. His superior told him not to report the incident and Dorner had to decide if he wanted to follow the formal rules of reporting a fellow officer for misconduct or follow the real rules of LAPD omerta. He chose the later and was terminated.

Nothing that happened to Chris Dorner excuses what he did – a malicious and disgusting shooting rampage that killed many innocents along with those who, even if guilty, did not deserve violent death. But in light of yet another shooting rampage it seems like an appropriate time to put everything, including working conditions, up for consideration as a contributing cause. Maybe better treatment at the workplace can help prevent further bloodshed.


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