16 February 2013

Facing the Killer: On Murderous, Suicidal Rampages in the U.S.

Sandy Hook. Columbine. Aurora. Tucson. Blacksburg. Fort Hood. The names of these places ring out in popular memory as the sites of seemingly random, heinous atrocities that seem to occur with increasing frequency these days. Gun-related violence and death is a hot-button issue at the moment, and for good reason, as the U.S. leads the advanced capitalist world in a trait that is singular in its stupidity: allowing “the market” to work its magic by disseminating, unchecked, huge numbers of guns to an extremely unequal, class-riven and deeply racist society that also worships violence, murder, and mayhem in its popular culture. In this context advocating gun control is the only sane thing to do. However, it would be a mistake to say that the U.S. just has a “gun problem,” because the U.S. has a murderous, rampaging killing-spree problem.

Let me be clear. Every day dozens of people are killed in this country, mostly minority youth and mostly in the poorest and most economically devastated neighborhoods of the major cities. This chronic social crisis only appears in the establishment press as statistics, or else as an ongoing, existential situation that can only be managed but not really addressed. Its root causes and conditions are clear and have been extensively documented. But this ongoing disaster is not the topic of this post, which is another horrendous phenomenon in which the U.S. also leads liberal societies: the individual, suicidal, heavily-armed murder frenzy that seems to be happening about once a month now, on average.

Adam Lanza; Jared Lee Loughner; Seung-Hui Cho; Stephen Holmes; Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. I could go on but it's unnecessary. They stare back at us through blank expressions in mug shots, school pictures, or family photographs that circulate through the media and that seem to vaguely hint, but only hint, at a capacity for cold, calculated mass murder. The difficulty in understanding seemingly irrational atrocities of such enormity, and of potentially comprehending the motives behind them, is unfortunately an old topic. However confused she may be as a political theorist, Hannah Arendt knew enough to see that Eichmann, during his trial in Jerusalem in 1961, was going to be a tough nut to crack. And the revelation, after the Second World War, of the true extent of Nazi war crimes was so traumatic that it set off an intense debate about whether or not one could – or should – even try to explain such heinous crimes, a debate that continues to this day. But it seems to me that to chalk up what the Nazis did to “pure evil,” to some metaphysical force that lies dormant within humanity and is inscrutable in its essence, would be literally the biggest cop out in history (I am aware that some people still make this argument). It seems to me that we are in a very different but still analogous situation with the unconscionable acts of our home-grown mass murderers, insofar as we have to ask: what on earth is driving these people to do this?

Of course there is no easy answer, but the fact that this is so doesn't mean we shouldn't try. And there's definitely plenty of bullshit to go around on the topic. Idiots, for example, argue that the phenomenon is completely explainable by the killers' obviously deranged mental states. While the people who commit these crimes are obviously of unsound mind, to reduce the entire problem in such a way is to absolutely psychologize it and remove any possibility for social explanations. Further, it can't even begin to explain why these mass killings seem to be happening so much more frequently these days. Other, academically accredited idiots suggest that, hey, modern civilization looks pretty good if one compares it with violence levels in previous forms of civilization, so let's stop all the hand-wringing and give thanks for the civilizing achievements of modern liberal democracy. Such quietism is not only indefensible but is frankly absurd in the face of the sheer enormity of these atrocities.

Philosophers, I'm afraid, aren't much more helpful than evolutionary biologists in this regard. Predictably, the folks at the NYT's “The Stone” blog have mostly turned the issue into a philosophical debate about gun control, rather than an inquiry into possible explanations for why this is happening. The only attempt at some kind of cultural or social explanation in that series, by Christy Wampole, tries to account for these events as essentially a reactionary form of identity politics, suggesting that they are pointing to some kind of crisis in white, heteronormative masculinity. While there may very well be a crisis in white male identity in U.S. culture today (see here), it seems exceedingly tendentious to suggest that this is somehow the motivating force behind these massacres. Why, for instance, would such a crisis manifest itself in this specific form? This is unclear in the article. However, it is worth mentioning that Wampole at least recognizes that gun control debates and arguments for reform – as important as they are – don't address the underlying problem, which is why this keeps happening over and over again. Fighting for tighter gun control is of course important, but we should not let that fight displace the question of why we have this problem in the first place.

Popular thinking about social problems in the neoliberal age evinces a peculiar pathology that is historically specific. As previous posts on Permanent Crisis have argued, social life at different stages of capitalism has been characterized by distinct ways of imagining or apprehending the social whole, or of envisioning the relationship of oneself to that whole. The neoliberal age can be characterized as pervaded by the imaginary of the individual aggregate, or by the idea that the “social whole,” such as it is, is essentially composed of atomized, self-sufficient egos who are connected to one another primarily through the medium of individual choice. This is a key characteristic of the foremost types of knowledge production in our society, whether in the realm of social science (rational choice theory, orthodox economics), government (the reduction of the citizenry to an aggregate of “consumers”), or the public sphere, insofar as the latter is remade into a fragmented assortment of marketing niches that encourage people to translate public issues into the language of private interests. The neoliberal age, in other words, is marked by a recrudescence of the desiring, autonomous, rational individual of classical liberalism as the basic cellular unit in a society integrated by “the market.” This inextricable coupling of the liberal individual and the market, in its neoliberal form, is the effective dissolution of “society” as a social category, as in Thatcher's dictum, “Society does not exist, only individuals do.”

Thus the neoliberal social imaginary is animated by a manner of thinking that condemns it to obscure or misrecognize the irreducibly social and historical dimensions of things, particularly when they go horribly wrong. Indeed the production of this misrecognition is itself an integral aspect of the neoliberal form of society. But this recent wave of shooting sprees cannot really be accounted for without at least some attention to the ways in which they are specifically social products, and to the degree that this is true, to continue ignoring that aspect of it will condemn us to blindly reproducing it. One way to get at this problem is to actually pay attention to what these people say about what they're doing and why they're doing it.

The motivations behind the recently deceased Christopher Dorner's one-man war against the LAPD, for example, were exhaustively detailed in a “Last Resort” letter he left behind. While the letter shows that the guy was clearly undergoing some kind of mental collapse, it also is an astonishingly lucid account of the reasons for his deep hatred of the LAPD, particularly its viciously racist, unaccountable culture of violence and opportunistic corruption that victimizes the very people who live in the communities it supposedly “protects.” Here is Dorner on the LAPD:
The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse. The consent decree should never have been lifted. The only thing that has evolved from the consent decree is those officers involved in the Rampart scandal and Rodney King incidents have since promoted to supervisor, commanders, and command staff, and executive positions… Are you aware that an officer… seen on the Rodney King videotape striking Mr. King multiple times with a baton on 3/3/91 is still employed by the LAPD and is now a Captain on the police department? … As a commanding officer, he is now responsible for over 200 officers. Do you trust him to enforce department policy and investigate use of force investigations on arrestees by his officers?
(For background on the infamous Rampart division, see here.)

In passages like these Dorner is really only pointing out what everyone should already know: that the LAPD is permeated by an insular, self-serving culture of racist oppression. Dorner describes at length the unhinged white-supremacism of the people he worked with on a daily basis, recounting times when he physically confronted other officers about their anti-Semitic or anti-black attitudes. White supremacy has historically been central to the raison d'être of the LAPD as an organization, but would you know this or even have a sense that it is what Dorner was talking about if all you read about the issue is Buzzfeed's “Everything You Need To Know About the Former LAPD Cop on a Killing Spree”? The article tells you precisely nothing you need to know for understanding why this is actually happening.

Here is Dorner again:
I am an American by choice, I am a son, I am a brother, I am a military service member, I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed, slandered, and libeled me. I lived a good life and though not a religious man I always stuck to my own personal code of ethics, ethos and always stuck to my shoreline and true North.
The patterns of identification here are not irrelevant: Dorner “chooses” to be an American, he's a son, a brother, he participates in various identities, one of which is an individual who has lost all faith in “the system” that has betrayed and alienated him. The system, in fact, has become completely irredeemable in his eyes, leaving as the only solution its purification through violence. Elsewhere, he talks about how his actions are a “necessary evil” to correct these endemic conditions of corruption, to effect “substantial change” in the LAPD. The reason Dorner draws the conclusion he does is there seems to be no other option for him, no other mode of redress for the enormity and depth of the problem. The structural function of the police in upholding a racist regime of urban domination is clearly recognized, yet his conclusion does not consider the possibility of mass mobilization as an agency of social change, because for him the individual is primordial – it is the fundamental cell of social life. If what neoliberalism constantly tells us is taken to be wholly true – that individual choice is all that matters and that society is simply the aggregate of all individuals – then genuinely collective solutions to endemic social problems are effectively off the table. So one votes. Or, if one's circumstances are desperate enough, one lashes out in extreme and spectacular acts of violence.

None of this is meant, of course, to excuse what Dorner did, nor to suggest that we should understand events like this as a pure reflex of environmental or structural factors. But any attempt at explanation that wholly ignores these factors is partial at best and criminally one-sided at worst.

I've focused on Christopher Dorner because he's only the most recent example of what is quickly becoming a regular feature of U.S. society, and also because he left us a detailed account of his motivations that sheds considerable light on them. This is not so for every case, and indeed some of these atrocities really do seem to defy any attempt at rational comprehension – how does one even begin to account for Adam Lanza, for instance?

But this same galvanized imaginary, based as it is upon a Manichean division between a crusading individual and an endemic, alienating structure of power, can be seen at work in some of the other mass-killings that we've seen of late. Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson shooter, was under the impression that the U.S. government was irredeemably corrupt insofar as it was backed by what he called “infinite currency,” i.e. central banking. His peculiar brand of homicidal lunacy was shaped by a crackpot, conspiratorial imaginary – the conspiracy apparently extended down into the very grammatical structures of language itself – but it's important to understand its structure, because it does have one. In his focus upon an intangible, abstract currency conspiracy as the locus of oppression and alienation, and his extremely non-coincidental targeting of Arizona's first Jewish congresswoman, Loughner represents an atavistic return of the virulent anti-Semitism that marked the era of classical liberalism. As some writers have pointed out, anti-Semitism in its various forms is a recurring misrecognition of the abstract domination of capital, which, insofar as this domination becomes identified with an intangible, Jewish conspiracy, prepares the ground for violence against actual Jewish people. There are many complex historical questions regarding the origins and persistence of anti-Semitism, but for the moment it is important to note that it is generally attractive as an ideology during historical periods marked by especially savage and unmitigated capitalist domination, such as the periods of classical liberalism and neoliberalism, and in contradistinction (only to a limited extent) with Fordism.

Dorner and Loughner are criminally insane. Their insanity takes a particular form, however, that is historically and socially specific, and that at least partially accounts for why they did what they did. The dissolution of the material bases for the kinds of collective imaginaries that marked the Fordist stage of global capitalism has given rise to a social imaginary, or an apprehension of the social, that is grounded upon the coupling of the “individual” and “the market” as the dominant ontology of social existence, and which seemingly erases the possibility of collective solutions to endemic, structural problems. Within this configuration, the experience of alienation is bound to take certain forms, and when this characterizes the experience of someone of unstable mental constitution, people are bound to get killed. 

This is a social pathology that is far from being wholly inevitable and arbitrary. Rather, it is very much an expression of the increasingly unmediated barbarism of an economic and cultural order that, for many different reasons, alienates people and makes them feel alone in the world. With a culture industry that ceaselessly glorifies violent spectacle, a constitution that appears to grant a non-alienable right to own guns, and a coalescing regime of long-term political-economic austerity that is sure to discard more and more people as superfluous, it is only a matter of time before the next Christopher Dorner or the next Jared Loughner appears once again in our midst. We can, and should, keep advocating for gun control, but the problem will not entirely go away until we change the form of society that engenders it.


  1. i agree with a lot of your points, but your flippant response to pinker is off base. he's not arguing that we should do nothing, he's just making a factual claim. you say that gun violence "seems to be more common", but when you crunch the numbers, that turns out to be not necessarily true. why just go off of what "seems" to be true?

  2. "Why has violence declined so dramatically for so long? Is it because violence has literally been bred out of us, leaving us more peaceful by nature?" "This seems unlikely." "Violence has declined because historical circumstances have increasingly favored our better angels."

    "The most obvious of these pacifying forces has been the state, with its monopoly on the legitimate use of force."

    "Another pacifying force has been commerce, a game in which everybody can win."

    (quotes from Pinker's WSJ opinion piece linked above)

    B.T., it is indeed legitimate to note that violence has, on the whole, declined. But how does Pinker show an understanding of the problems that we face at this historical moment. I would argue that not only does he not show a good understanding of these problems, but that he cannot understand the present, because his conception of society is inadequate.

    Pinker's understanding of "historical circumstances" is deeply incoherent. What is the state if not the creation of human beings? How can the state exist above and beyond the reach of human nature when humans have brought it into being and continue to perpetuate its existence? We can say the same thing for commerce, except that it's even more absurd for Pinker to suggest that commerce exists above actual individual human interactions since in some respects it is a far more decentralized process than that of state power.

    It is of course very perplexing that society can contain such seemingly contradictory tendencies as mass killings and impulses towards peaceful coexistence and a greater good. Pinker's notion of human nature is so conservative that he is forced to suggest a state or processes of commerce separate from human nature that can nonetheless be brought into being by and through human actions to temper the evil tendencies inherent in human nature. To my mind this is a contradiction internal to his notion of human nature that is not resolvable.

    Rather, the idea that we are trying to promote on this blog, following the critical social theory of Marx and others, is that these contradictory tendencies are explained by an imminent logic of society itself, that the structure of social relations themselves contain contradictions that surface in the types of phenomena discussed above. Therefore we don't have to reduce human actions to a set of rules called 'human nature,' but rather we can begin to understand how, caught between contradictory forces, humans, whether individually or through cooperation with other, try to attain the freedom promised by society while just as often having their freedom taken away by the selfsame society.

    Most importantly, we gain a perspective from which we can adequately deal with the _fundamental_ contradictions of modern society, such as the fact that, in a time of absolutely unprecedented productive powers and ability to satisfy human needs, the lack of work is still a crisis.

    Obviously this isn't meant to be a full defense or explanation of our approach, but I hope that through our posts we will continue to show the utility and plausibility of such a form of analysis.

  3. The kind of spectacular, highly individualized mass killings that Paul is talking about actually are happening much more frequently in recent years. Not just in the US, either - China has seen a number of similar attacks. In addition to the more fundamental issues that Deckard brought up, this is also something that Pinker has no way to explain. I think that was Paul's point.

    The problem with Pinker is that he, like most social scientists, can't appreciate history as anything other than a different configuration of independent and dependent variables. His clumsy and mechanistic explanation for the overall decline of social violence shows this clearly enough. But beyond the inadequacy of the explanation, this also means he can't conceive of a reversal to the current trend. Like most social scientists, his expectations for the future consist of an indefinite projection of current trends forward in time.

    But if we look at his graph of war dead, we can see the hints of a more dialectical explanation. The two huge upticks in mass death coincide suspiciously with the collapse of what we've been analyzing as regimes of accumulation. The lowest levels of violence coincide with those periods in which a given regime of accumulation (Fordism in the 1950s and 1960s, neoliberalism in the 1990s and twenty-oughts) had consolidated itself, integrating people into its self-reproduction by offering them forms of life and of consciousness that reinforced each other.

    As contradictions within a regime of accumulation build up, the process of integration starts to work in reverse, and social life begins to seem more and more absurd, meaningless, or intolerable to more and more people. Since we now seem to be in the midst of the protracted collapse of neoliberalism, we shouldn't be taking satisfaction in the decline of mass violence, we should be terrified that it will stage a dramatic comeback.

  4. Well, that pretty much summed up the fundamental issues, so as the OP I only have a couple of clarifications. In the post I'm not talking about the level of overall social violence, which has indeed gone down over the long arc of history; the thing I'm trying to account for is a specific social phenomenon, which are the raging homicidal frenzies that have indeed become a more common feature of U.S. life in recent years. This is evidenced by the fact, among other things, that 10 of the 12 worst mass-killings in U.S. history as listed in the Washington Post article above have all happened since the 1980s. We could dismiss this as coincidence, or we could try to socially explain it. So it is this increase in a very specific type of extreme violence, not violence as such, that I am concerned with and that I'm trying to at least lay the groundwork for socially explaining.

    I was probably too excessive in my dismissal of Pinker and his ilk as being quietist, but, that said, his conception of the relationship between human nature and society is really problematic. If, following Pinker, one presupposes as a point of departure a basically Hobbesian view of human nature that posits humans as naturally antisocial, vicious, violent, and so on, then of course it makes sense to see the pacifying influence of state, commerce, etc. as good things. But it would be only a short step from this assumption about human nature (already deeply problematic for the reasons Deckard mentions) to the perverse conclusion that Dorner, Loughner, and other mass-murderers are merely expressing the anti-social "essence" that lies dormant within all people. If this kind of behavior is always a potentiality, then it follows that one could not ever really be totally rid of it. I think that would be an atrocious position to hold, but I don't know if Pinker has any other option, given his views.

    Rather than arguing endlessly about substantial definitions of human nature, which has gone on forever and will continue to do so, Permanent Crisis is trying to understand social phenomena in a way that connects human subjective attitudes, ideas, values, etc. to the historical, structural forms taken by society as a whole, and the ways that they historically shape and reciprocally influence one another. This kind of analysis is much stronger, I think, than any explanation that would try to explain social phenomena through a recourse to the "natural," apparently eternal properties of human nature.

  5. I think that blogs like this one would benefit from a less flippant approach to their ideological adversaries.

    I see that you now cite some data to back up your assertion that murderous rampages are now more common, although I'm still a bit skeptical. If it is indeed the case that a certain kind of murderousness is on the rise, it must still matter that murder on the whole is on the decline. Even a basic look at the numbers in places like Chicago will show that murder is not at an all-time high, and is actually closer to a historic low.

    Of course, since he is an ex-anarchist who writes in part to counter many leftist arguments, I don't expect Pinker to get a warm welcome here. But a serious account of arguments like his would be quite interesting to see in a place like this.

  6. It does matter that violence has fallen overall, but that wasn't the question Paul was trying to answer. And though the post wasn't about Pinker, I think we did a pretty good job in the comments pointing out huge problems with his arguments and offering at least the beginnings of a different and far more satisfying explanation for his empirical findings. If you think otherwise, go ahead and raise the issue.

  7. Well, is it so inconceivable that I would find something valuable in both Pinker's arguments and the ones given here?

    As you say, there are slightly different questions being asked by Paul vs. Pinker. I do think it's possible that there is a tendency toward individual lashing-out today, rather than mass violence. At the same time, there is a longstanding trend toward reduced levels of violence throughout the world. Yes, short term spikes could be possibly explained with reference to the quasi-Marxist argument that Walker advanced here, referring to "crises of accumulation."

    Just as plausibly, though, it may be that a tendency toward individual rampages could actually be related to an overall, long-term decline in violence. In the past, one could participate in mass movements that had a tendency toward violence, whether communist parties, fascist parties, or even smaller scale terrorist groups like the Red Army Faction. Today, these options are not nearly as viable. Thus the tendency to lash out alone.

  8. Paul did actually distort Pinker's thesis, I should add. Having read much of Pinker's (very long) book, the existence of powerful states is not the main driver of violence's decline in recent centuries. Neither is commerce.

    The most important factor is actually the spread of Enlightenment ideals, i.e. the propagation of new social norms. So regarding the fall of domestic violence rates in recent decades, he cites the social effects of feminist movements, which are more important than state legislation.

  9. B.T.: "Just as plausibly, though, it may be that a tendency toward individual rampages could actually be related to an overall, long-term decline in violence. In the past, one could participate in mass movements that had a tendency toward violence, whether communist parties, fascist parties, or even smaller scale terrorist groups like the Red Army Faction. Today, these options are not nearly as viable. Thus the tendency to lash out alone."

    In fact, if you read carefully Walker's "quasi-Marxist" argument, you will see that what you wrote here is substantially in agreement with the position that has been developed on this blog. You might refer to this post: http://permanentcrisis.blogspot.com/2011/08/apprehensions-of-social-aggregate.html
    and this one:

    As I understand Paul's argument, he is trying to examine the connections between neo-liberal forms of subjectivity, created in and through the current forms of social relations, and the particular phenomenon of mass killings. This argument isn't merely "just as plausibl[e]" as Walker's argument, it's actually related to it in that it examines social phenomena as arising from temporally specific constellations of social relations, or, in other words, regimes of accumulation.

    You've also attributed my comment to Paul. I quoted Pinker's arguments about the state and commerce. I don't know what he wrote in his book, but he wrote the article that I quoted, and that Paul had linked to, so presumably it's fair game. Pinker does go on to add a third reason for declining violence in addition to the state and commerce, though he doesn't suggest that there is any hierarchy of importance among them:

    Pinker: "A third peacemaker has been cosmopolitanism—the expansion of people's parochial little worlds through literacy, mobility, education, science, history, journalism and mass media. These forms of virtual reality can prompt people to take the perspective of people unlike themselves and to expand their circle of sympathy to embrace them."

    I might well have quoted this section instead, because if anything it's far more absurd that human beings are participating in "virtual realities" that are nonetheless entirely distinct from their human nature. Pinker goes on to say of the historic trend of declining violence, "And a better understanding of what drove the numbers down can steer us toward doing things that make people better off rather than congratulating ourselves on how moral we are." If we can agree with Pinker that a better understanding of society is necessary to effectively confronting social problems, then we will have to reject Pinker's incoherent framework and seek out one that is adequate to really getting to grips with the vicissitudes of human history.

  10. I realize that I'm not in disagreement with everything that's written here. I'm not arguing that this blog is nonsense.

    But I do think that I may have taken the argument in an unexpected direction. The tendency to lash out alone among the "criminally insane" may be a sign that there are no longer criminally insane mass movements to latch onto, like say gangs of brown shirts. So how is this a sign of "increasingly unmediated barbarism" in our time? Not saying we don't have problems, and that I'm not sympathetic to some of your arguments, but I wanted to bring this up.

    I agree that the point that states are not separate from human nature is an important one, and so does Pinker. From the book: "When it came to violence, then, the first Leviathans solved one problem but created another. People were less likely to becomes victims of homicide or casualties of war, but they were now under the thumbs of tyrants, clerics, and kleptocrats"(58).

    Still, the claim that state societies are less violent than non-state societies is mainly an empirical one, not merely philosophical. He draws on evidence from hundreds of scholars, but I'll give one example. In a forensic study of dead bodies from before the Columbian contact, it was found that 13.2% of hunter-gatherers died with signs of violent trauma, while only 2% of those who died in Central Mexico had signs of trauma. Central Mexico was of course the site of the brutal Aztec state.

    However, the decline of violence since about 1600 is actually a different story from the one about transitions away from non-state societies, which were mainly hunter-gatherer societies. It's the Humanitarian Revolution, basically Enlightenment ideology, that tackled the problem of state violence.

  11. Right, so this issue of Enlightenment ideology perfectly illustrates the problems we have with Pinker. He simply has no way to explain why the completely unprecedented ideas that characterized Enlightenment thought suddenly came into being and soon became hegemonic in Europe at the moment they did. And he has no way to explain why such an unusual group of ideas became compelling to a larger and larger number of people around the world in the three centuries since.

    Leaving aside the complex and varied ways that Enlightenment thought has come under attack since the Depression, and leaving aside the crude correlation-mongering that characterizes Pinker's attempt to explain social life, I certainly agree that Enlightenment thought is involved in the decline of violence in important ways. But if you can't identify the reasons that human consciousness has changes so radically in the last several hundred years, then your explanation is incomplete at best.

  12. As to the incompleteness of Pinker's description of the decline of violence, I can definitely agree.

  13. So to take a slightly different tack here, what if we consider the trajectory of political violence during the post war period as a trend that eventually transitions into the current form of seemingly inexplicable mass killing? Political violence in the post war period was plausibly connected to the real possibilities of changing society, as we can see from the number of successful revolutions in this period.

    But it also seems that as those real political possibilities diminished as we moved into the nightmare of empiricism that is neo-liberalism, the violence became more and more irrational. We go from anti-colonial revolutions in Asia (beginning before the war, of course) and Africa to political terrorism in the west (Weather Underground, SLA, Red Army Faction) and increasingly horrific forms of Communist revolution (The Shining Path.)

    Of course, this is a very sketchy analysis. To forestall any misunderstanding, I'm certainly not pining after the days of 'effective' political violence, which seem in any case unlikely to return. But rather than seeing a sharp divergence between the Fordist and Neo-liberal eras, we can rather see a longer-term inflection.

    This also isn't to say that current mass killings are really inexplicable or meaningless, I think that it's at least potentially useful to see them as attempts to achieve social change in a time when that change seems impossible, in other word a sort of tiger's leap beyond the horizon of our age. And of course, this was more or less how I read Paul's point in the first place

    It's interesting to consider whether that inflection looks anything like this chart that Walker shared with me:

    The data certainly has problems (what is the effect of increasingly effective trauma care on assault deaths?) that are addressed in the comments, but it is nonetheless interesting to look at.