I absolutely do not recommend that you read the blood-thirsty manifesto by the El Paso mass murderer, but, if you do, you will notice two main themes. First, he hates non-whites and wants them exterminated. Second, he despises commercial capitalism. That second point has not received much attention.
Now I must quote it:
Consumer culture is creating thousands of tons of unnecessary plastic waste and electronic waste, and recycling to help slow this down is almost non-existent. Urban sprawl creates inefficient cities which unnecessarily destroys millions of acres of land. We even use god knows how many trees worth of paper towels just [to] wipe water off our hands. Everything I have seen and heard in my short life has led me to believe that the average American isn’t willing to change their lifestyle, even if the changes only cause a slight inconvenience. The government is unwilling to tackle these issues beyond empty promises since they are owned by corporations. Corporations that also like immigration because more people means a bigger market for their products. I just want to say that I love the people of this country, but god damn most of y’all are just too stubborn to change your lifestyle. So the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources. If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable … I am against race mixing because it destroys genetic diversity and creates identity problems.
In American politics, there is this tendency to put people in either a right-wing or left-wing bucket. What can we say about a capitalist-hating white supremacist who thinks the solution to the environmental crisis is to slaughter people? There is a long tradition of eco-fascism (one of many species of radical Hegelianism) that doesn’t fit cleanly into either right or left; it is anti-liberal destructionism or straight-up exterminationism. It’s not the racism alone nor the environmentalism alone; it’s the combination. It is a toxic combination for any society that aspires to be free because it opposes freedom with blood-thirsty violence and the longing for totalitarian control.
David Brooks is also correct to describe this ideological view as anti-pluralism and anti-modern.
These movements are reactions against the diversity, fluidity and interdependent nature of modern life. Antipluralists yearn for a return to clear borders, settled truths and stable identities. They kill for a fantasy, a world that shines in their imaginations but never existed in real life.
The struggle between pluralism and anti-pluralism is one of the great death struggles of our time, and it is being fought on every front.
We pluralists do not believe that human beings can be reduced to a single racial label. Each person is a symphony of identities. Our lives are rich because each of us contains multitudes.
Pluralists believe in integration, not separation. We treasure precisely the integration that sends the antipluralists into panic fits.
Note too that the killer chose a shopping district with a Walmart to undertake his murder spree. “It is not cowardly to pick low hanging fruit,” the killer wrote in giving advice to his fellow members of the white-supremacist caliphate. “Don’t attack heavily guarded areas to fulfill your super soldier COD fantasy. Attack low security targets. Even though you might out gun a security guard or police man, they likely beat you in armor, training and numbers. Do not throw away your life on an unnecessarily dangerous target.”
Walmart was a target not only because it is low security; it also represented the thing he despised most, a thoroughly integrated environment where people from all walks of life cooperate in peace to their mutual advantage. Such commercial institutions are places where human dignity thrives. Walmart is the face of all the consumerism and corporate values of the market that he railed against in his screed. (They also sell a lot of the paper towels he so hates.)
This Walmart didn’t exist when I was growing up in El Paso, but this much I remember very well: it is through a vibrant commercial culture that this community coheres. As a border town with nonstop demographic evolution, the mix of language, religion, and ethnicity (for lack of a better term) might lend itself to tribalism and conflict. But through commercial institutions – through the very capitalism now denounced by extremists on the right and left – people come to understand each other, serve each other, and value each other.
Victor Rede, my best friend growing up, lived just across the street from me. His family origin traced to Mexico. I believe his father was an engineer at the military base. His mother was the most elegant woman who cared so deeply for her children (and me too!) and could cook like no one I had ever encountered. His world was very different from mine: different language roots, different religion, different ways of dealing with extended family and so on. Even the house decor was different from mine. I would stay over at his house and I recall staring at great length at the Aztec calendar above the fireplace, and wondering what it all meant.
I hadn’t known at the time but that friendship would have a profound effect on my life. It made me curious about other ways to think and live, new places to travel, new foods to eat, new discoveries to be made. What brought us together was geography but that is another way of saying commerce. His parents shopped for a house in a neighborhood with a good school, and it was my good fortune that he and his family landed just across the street from me.
The first time I met Victor, we were in line together at ice cream truck after school. We walked together after buying our treat and then discovered we were neighbors. Had it not been for that truck, the best friendship of my childhood might never had happened.
Victor is now a mighty chef and enormously successful. Growing up, he and I would work in the kitchen making cookies to bring to another neighbor, in hopes that this family would invite us to use their swimming pool because neither of us had one at our homes. It didn’t often work but the point is that together we learned the value of making things and serving others in our own interest. We thrilled in starting little businesses together (they always failed), building things, digging through the trash bins of the local malls to find treasures and reassembling them in silly ways. He taught me some Spanish and about family traditions about which I knew nothing previously. We loved shopping together and fantasized about our futures as creators and doing what each of us did well.
I’m guessing that Victor too knew that there was every reason in the world for us not to be friends, but the geographic proximity that commerce made possible meant that we never ran out of even better reasons to be friends. Commerce does this for people, every day, and every way, breaking down tribal barriers, helping us encounter traditions different from our own, giving us daily encounters with people to discover the dignity and humanity of people not like us.
This process of mutual encounters among different types of people is the ongoing work of the commercial marketplace, which is to say of capitalism. It grants us a daily reminder of the goodness of others, of their value in our lives, from all classes, races, religions, abilities, and languages. These are not forced encounters. They don’t happen because we are put together at the point of a gun, or intimidated to pretend to like people because we are being preached to by some civic-minded pietist. They happen naturally and normally out of our own interest in living a better life.
Look around your town where you live right now, and imagine it without commercial institutions: no coffee shops, no big-box stores, no grocery stores or restaurants, banks or anything else we associate with capitalism. Imagine that otherwise all your material needs are covered without them. What you end up with is a colorless world without human encounter besides kinship and other official events sponsored by public institutions. It would be dreadful. Unlovely. It could descend into hate. It could become dangerous.
The everyday human encounters of capitalism bring us into contact with a huge variety of people living pluralistic lives, and enhances human understanding. It incentivizes and rewards it. Here is the path for climbing out of the low-level existence of tribal identity into an enlightened world of mixture, integration, and prosperity.
And this is precisely why the hateful, the terrorists, and the totalitarians among us want to crush capitalism. They always have. It goes back centuries, really: ideologies of control and hate have targeted commercial life because of its best feature of breaking down tribes and substituting in its place an ever-evolving universal cooperation. The values capitalism promotes are the opposite of their nightmarish dreams. Which is why I say: if you want to fight hate, and protect life, celebrate capitalism and its main aspiration that everyone has the right to strive for a better life, and do so in peace.