What is the deeper reason behind what appears to be a sudden spike in the number of random and/or mass shooting episodes in Umrika lately? Nobody appears to have a definite answer and everybody I know who is or was in Umrika has an opinion. Certainly, the easy availability of mil-spec arms and ammunition is one reason. But is that all?
Like many of my peers in the ‘70s, I wanted to go to Umrika (meaning white Western phoren), and I wanted to get there quick. The movies that reached India, the cousins who had already made it there, the brightly coloured magazines, the gifts that reached us somehow, the sheer abundance of everything, the huge cars, women in skimpy clothes – so many reasons and more, right? And yes, cola plus burger, not to forget.
I had not even crossed my teens when I managed to achieve my dreams on my own steam. Multiple times. Both coasts. And then the rest of my life, especially the media and technology part, kept me going to Umrika like people go to their “native place”. As a first generation zero restart refugee in India, I had no specific “native place”, so somewhere in the sub-consciousness Umrika was ready to become my new “native place”.
What did I see in Umrika? Milk and honey, supermarket shelves groaning under everything, for example – you went to buy something as simple as eggs and milk, and there were simply dozens of choices of fresh eggs and milk in just the smallest of supermarkets located in or around one-berth port towns which nobody else in the world except seafarers loading wheat had heard of. Kalama, Longview, Fort Vancouver (not Vancouver BC), these were just on one trip to Umrika.
“What do you do with the eggs and milk when they are no longer fresh”, I remember asking, and was told, “they go back into the animal feed.”
There were many more Umrikan experiences. The Great Lakes was something else again, visited by very few tourists, granary to the world. Also manufacturer of beer from all that surplus grain. And likewise the Gulf of Mexico ports, with over-fed Umrika on one side needing huge oil terminals, and right next to it the poorer Mexico, socialist Cuba as gate-keeper and the poorest West Indies known more in India for cricket.
Nothing in the world displayed the extremes of wastage and poverty more than the Gulf of Mexico seaports.
In all this, California fascinated me the most, and simply getting to the Golden Gate Bridge, crossing it, and coming right back to the ship which was then in a small port near Seattle became a “must do”. People go to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower or whatever, my friends and I wanted to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and have nimboo-soda in Sausalito. Did it.
After some time, having “done” pretty much most of North Umrika by sea, I found myself reaching North Umrika by air via different mid-points. Across both Atlantic and Pacific options. With 2 or 3 days en-route at locations that included all the Arab airports, Moscow, Zurich, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Seoul, Tokyo, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Vancouver BC – it became like a contest to find a new routing with new stop-overs. Non-stop flights were of no interest to me – I had to take a stop-over.
And in all this, the single point distillate that emerged was simple – nowhere else in the whole wide world did I see more wastage than in Umrika.
And When Wastage Becomes Freedom
Let me say one more thing – having been in commodities and ship-broking too, I can understand wealth, and to a certain extent, can tolerate extravagance. But wastage, from a childhood spent in running to the milk-booth for that precious bottle before running back home to have a bath and then make it to school, or using that tyre on a scooter for its 3rd re-tread – was like a red rag to a bull as far as I was and still am concerned.
The really big commodity brokers, and their stories are only just beginning to emerge, the people who really control the world regardless of politics – one thing across their mannerisms and mansions that I observed – was a reluctance to approve wastage. Unlike in the world of internet paperless and other paper commodity traders. My world of technology was all about spend first and earn later.
This aspirational for wastage, big everything and then over-supply as well as over-stocking some more, was at its highest in Silicon Valley Umrika. And a lot of this wastage depended on the concept of “freedom” – the freedom to keep snatching commodities, especially but not only fossil fuels, from the Rest of the World.
You see, technologies now marched forward to enable everybody to spend first and earn later. Payday loans, where you spent your future salaries, and gambling loans, where you mortgaged everything you possessed, became the norm. At interest rates which Tagore’s Kabuliwallah would have been proud of.
So what has that got to do with mass shootings? Please try to understand the psychology of a person in debt, and beyond that, a complete society or culture in debt. Simply put – they get violent with whatever they have. Sticks, stones, old tyres – but in Umrika, guns.
My take is that this lemming rush for wastage was one thing when it was based on existing assets. But over the last few decades, technology has made it easier to get into debt than ever before, to further encourage wastage. The paper commodities of money and thus gaming, debt, loans and more, meet the physical commodities which need to be manufactured and then bought in ever increasing quantities.
I see it catching up with the urban middle class in India also. 1 family, 2 people, 3 cars, 4 refrigerators, 5 bedrooms, 6 computers, 7 stereo systems, 8 credit cards, 9 loans to be serviced and then on the 10th day, there is a power cut or the price of fuel goes up or, as in the case of California – we learn about a shortage of baby food, milk and water.
This huge visible wastage, miles and miles of new and used cars waiting for customers in parking lots while “food deserts” mean that poorer people in Umrika have to drive 20 miles each way just to buy fresh food while paying about double the price for petrol and diesel that we pay in India, for example – but using gas-guzzlers that consume 4 times the amount, it takes a toll on the minds of people, is what I have seen in the past.
Now, my opinion? Those people are coming out with guns. Getting into debt for wastage suddenly seems like the wrong aspirational dream.
Very briefly – in the rest of the world, when there is a shortage, society seems to come together to consume less. In Umrika, where there never were really any shortages for a few centuries – they tend to consume more.
And those that can’t, they pick up guns, it seems?
Nowhere else in the world have I seen more visible wastage than in Umrika. That is my observation. They call it “freedom” for some reason. Wastage is how I see it.
Bullets are now cheaper than food, so bullets are used to waste an already wasted people.
(Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.)