Social Endorsement of Violence

Recently, a clerk at a 7-11 nearby, across from the Crest theater on 165th and 5th NE, was shot in the back of the head in the early morning hours. The store wasn’t robbed, the motive is unknown. This particular clerk was the nicest most pleasant person you could want to know.

That same weekend four people were shot in this area, all separate shooters, all unrelated incidents. One involved a love triangle, another involves a bar altercation that got out of hand, and the last was a cab driver found shot dead in his cab.

In Canada, people in the bars get drunk and get into fights, but generally a black eye or a few bruises, occasionally a broken nose or jaw results, shootings and stabbings are rare contrasted to the United States. That’s not to say things never get out of hand there and become fatal, but in Canada it’s the rare exception, in the United States it’s the norm.

I understand the reason for the violence in the United States. I am frustrated with the inability of other people here to get it. It’s really very simple. We, as a society, endorse violence. We have the largest military in the world and we are not hesitant to use it to achieve economic or political ends. We are one of the few industrialized countries in the world to still use the death penalty.

You might make an intellectual distinction between killing citizens of your own country and another (I do have a problem making this distinction, to my way of thinking humans are humans, I had no choice over what country I was born into, neither does anyone else). You might be able to make a distinction between state sponsored revenge (calling capital punishment “punishment” is absurd, punishment is something you administer in order to alter the behavior of the punished, capital punishment is state sponsored revenge, nothing less). But on the emotional level, people do not make this distinction.

If you become emotionally comfortable with killing criminals and people in other countries, you become emotionally comfortable with killing anyone if you feel sufficiently motivated, which in a state of anger and rage many people do.

If we take revenge by taking someone’s life that is convicted of killing, then we are no better than them. Even killers and people who commit the most heinous crimes have mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and possibly even children, who in spite of what they have done, love them and are hurt tremendously when the criminal is put to death even though they had no part in the crime.

When DNA testing became widespread, approximately a third of the people on death row subsequently had their convictions overturned when DNA evidence proved them innocent. How many innocents are still being put to death?

Florida and California have temporarily suspended killing people because “improper” administration of lethal injections might be causing them “too much pain”. How much pain are their relatives going through? People that didn’t even have a part in the crimes? It’s alright to cause totally innocent people the worst pain they could possibly suffer but we worry about the injection causing the person being put to death too much pain?

And then military adventurism, we have killed around 100,000 Iraqi’s, maimed maybe three times that many. We’ve lost over 2,000 of our own troops, but that number is highly manipulated, for example, when a soldier is critically wounded, flown to a hospital in Germany, and subsequently dies there, they don’t become part of that body count. In previous wars, our military was responsible for supply lines and security, but in this war we’ve contracted it out to private mercenaries. Over 10,000 of them have died but they aren’t counted either.

And why are we doing this? Originally President Bush tried to tie Iraq to the destruction of the twin towers in New York. The CIA found no evidence of any such tie. Then we accused Iraq of having weapons of mass destruction (and we don’t?) and that was the excuse for invasion, but no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

Oil was the thing a lot of people opposed to the war suspected was our reason for invading Iraq. I believe they are partially correct, but not in the way they think. Here in the United States, we have no shortage of oil. We in fact have more oil than all of the middle east combined. However, the oil that we have is expensive to extract and expensive to refine.

The Iraqi oil is largely what is known as sweet light crude. Sweet means it has a low sulfur content which means that sulfur doesn’t have to be removed from the final product in order to meet air quality regulations, thus saving refining expenses. And light crude means it has a larger portion of smaller chain hydrocarbons that are most useful.

The crude that exists in the United States tends to be heavy, meaning it contains mostly long chain hydrocarbons that need to be “cracked” into shorter molecules in order to be useful. The crude that exists in the United States tends to be sour, meaning that it has a high sulfur content that has to be removed in the refining process further increasing the expense of refining it.

There is a large pool of light sweet crude remaining in the United States, but it is difficult to get at because it is below granite bedrock and thus requires very deep drilling and drilling through rock. This is the oil that abiotic theory says should exist there, hydrocarbons that have come from the depths of the earths mantel, primordial carbon and hydrogen combining in the absence of significant oxygen under great temperature and pressures to become the mix hydrocarbons we call oil.

As difficult as it is to drill this type of oil, it is this abiotic oil that has allowed the Russians to become the worlds second largest oil producer, and for a short while before the government clamped down on Yukos, the worlds largest producer. The Russians have been able to extract this deep abiotic oil sufficiently economically to be competitive on the world market.

Then we have tar sands and oil shale. In these two resources we have about five times as much oil as all of the middle east combined. Both of these have been difficult to extract, however, there are now small companies extracting oil from both resources. They have been able to do so for under $15 a barrel. Canadians have been able to extract oil from their tar sands (they also have huge reserves in Alberta), crack it into smaller molecules, remove a large portion of the sulfur content, and sell it as light sweet crude, and they’ve been able to do the entire process for under $15/barrel Canadian (about $12 US).

Like Venezuela, we also have huge deposits of heavy crude in California. Venezuela has become a large oil producer extracting this heavy crude, cracking it to form lighter crude, and then selling it on the world market. Our oil companies will not build the necessary refinery capacity to process this heavy crude.

So when we are awash with oil, what are we doing in Iraq and the middle east in general? The answer is more complex than one might think. Extracting oil in Iraq costs only about $4/barrel, not including of coarse the military expenses but those are paid for by the tax payers here. It’s light sweet crude which means the thirty to fifty year old refineries here are able to process it without modifications.

But that’s not the real concern. The real concern is that Iraq and other middle eastern countries who have nationalized their oil industry can undercut US and UK based oil companies on the world market and they would no longer be able to command the ridiculous $70/barrel price they are getting for oil. Preventing this from happening means keeping the middle east destabilized.

This is all human life is worth, maintaining the profits of US and UK oil companies. Given that is it really a surprise that United States citizens are willing to take life so indiscriminately?

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