Mark Ames

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond, which has been thrust into the headlines following the events at the Virginia Tech campus earlier this month. Sadly, this book will become topical every time there is another large-scale massacre in an American school, college or workplace.

The Californian-born author, who is based in Moscow where he runs a satirical English language newspaper called eXile, puts forward the theory that the mass killings seen in offices and schools are not the work of deranged ‘wacko’ individuals but people who are victims of the social and economic conditions (such as Reaganomics) they are subjected to. Often surprising and always challenging, Going Postal draws deep comparisons with the events during the age of slavery in the United States.

Going Postal was published in 2005 in the USA and has recently been released in the UK too.

Going Postal outlines a theory that the ‘rage killings’ in America’s schools and workplaces are more than just the work of unhinged lunatics. You say that social and political conditions are a key factor – can you explain this theory?

Everyone keeps crying “Why?” after each rage massacre. For 20 years now they’ve been repeating this “why” as if they plan to really answer it. My question is, “Why the hell are you still asking why?” We know from FBI and Secret Service studies that there is no way to profile rage murderers in workplaces or schools. That’s because every type of person has carried them out. We also know that this type of crime has a specific time and place, a specific context: mid-1980s America. So I propose we profile the socio-economic conditions, and what changed in 1980s America, as a possible cause. Then it becomes fairly obvious. Since the Reagan Revolution, life has become quantifiably worse for most Americans – more work, less pay, far less leisure time, less security, exponentially greater stress, a massive shift of wealth from the middle-class to the very top layer of the plutocracy, all whitewashed by a culture that celebrates these violent appropriations as if it’s all just swell, and only losers complain. Just to give one telling statistic: in 1978, CEOs of large US corporations made on average 30 times their workers’ salaries; by 2001, CEOs made 571 times their average workers’ salaries. American workers work 184 hours more per year than 30 years ago, but they earn almost the exact same in real terms, with far fewer benefits. Management consciously instills fear and stress into their workforce in order to squeeze more and more for less. Obviously this creates an unbearable situation. And unbearable situations sometimes lead to violent reactions. This type of crime began in the mid-1980s in the workplace, that is just as the Reagan Revolution’s effects first started taking place, and has spread ever since. The same dynamic of increased stress and rage worked its way down to the schoolyard, where they prepare you for a life in the workplace, with the same tragic results.

Have you been accused of making excuses for inexcusable crimes?

Yes. There’s been an enormous amount of resistance and anger to my book’s thesis. I just saw a blogger who posted a death threat against me for supposedly justifying the Virginia Tech massacre. The infamous bully from Columbine who tormented the two killers before their rampage emailed a death threat to me and my family earlier this year. A writer for The Observer (newspaper in the UK), Ed Vulliamy, accused me of being immoral and “post-modern” which he contrasted to his own genuine tears which he shed for the victims, as if that alone was an argument. Most of the resistance to my book is expressed like Vulliamy’s: Going Postal offends me, therefore it’s immoral, and if it’s immoral it can’t be valid. End of argument. A lot of other people, however, have told me that the book is so obvious and significant that they sort of made it their mission to get as many people as possible to read it.

Surely rage, in different forms, has always existed but today it’s possible to kill a lot of people very quickly thanks to the weaponry available. America is unlikely to change its gun laws so do you see a continuation of mass killings in schools, workplaces and colleges?

Rage hasn’t always existed in its current toxic American form, I completely disagree. Rage and anger dominate talk shows, movies, pop culture, media, politics, Internet forums, etc., much more than just 20 years ago. What has always existed in America is easily-accessible weaponry, which is why you can’t finger guns as the underlying cause for these murders. So again, I ask, what changed in the mid-1980s to give rise to this crime? Or rather, why is there so much resistance to even considering the possibility that this new violent crime has a socio-economic context? The reason for the resistance is that it hits too close to home. It means admitting that most of us are suckers and slaves for allowing all of this incredible transfer of wealth and leisure over the past 30 years without fighting back. It means admitting that we live worse today than we did 30 years ago, and that those who have fought back might have logic to their violence. So long as the culture still refuses to question the socio-economic transformation over the past 30 years, so long as it officially continues to celebrate it as “inevitable” and strengthen these awful trends, rampage massacres will continue.

Do you believe the mass media fundamentally misunderstand rage killers?

The mass media sees its role as something like a giant Hallmark card. Even the Russian media isn’t as idiotically censored as America's when it comes to covering its tragedies, and Russia has real censorship. Over and over, the American media vilifies the murderer(s) in cartoonish ways, and plays up the afflicted community’s alleged “binding together.” In reality, nearly all rampage massacres are followed by some of the ugliest community behavior imaginable, revealing a society that is grotesquely cold and driven by petty malice. Many schools where rage massacres took place, including Columbine, have had threats and shootings in the years since. What’s interesting is how much censored sympathy exists for the rage murderers both in the workplace and in schools. If the media explored this sympathy and the complaints from survivors about how they were abandoned in the aftermath by their communities, they’d start to understand why rage murders happen.

Are rage killers always men? Is this a male phenomenon?

No. There is a commonly-held misconception debunked by numerous studies, including the US Secret Service, that the killers are white male loner-losers. More often than not they are men and they are white, but a great number have been African-American, Asian American (such as Cho Seung-Hui), Latino, even Native American. There have been women rage murderers both in the workplace and in schools, including a woman who massacred six at a post office near Santa Barbara, and a woman who killed her plant manager at a battery factory in Vermont. In schools there have been girls who either carried out shootings or were involved in big Columbine-style shooting plots. Just last week a 15-year-old girl was arrested in New Jersey for threatening to shoot up her school. In any event, most violent crime of any sort is carried out by men.

Have your opinions been in demand since the Virginia Tech massacre?

Yes, I’ve had more radio interviews and requests to do more articles. I have, coincidentally, a piece about the ‘going postal’ crime in the current issue of American Playboy. Incredibly Playboy took my article off their site after Virginia Tech because their web people complained that it seemed “exploitative.” That tells you a lot about American culture’s giant head-in-the-sand act, when Playboy is afraid of being exploitative by publishing an article which attempts to explain the crime. Just show ‘em more tits and ass, and hopefully rage murders will go away!

Why are you happier working in Moscow rather than Manhattan?

It’s getting harder to work in Moscow in the current political climate, but I’d be happier pretty much anywhere, even some godforsaken shit-hole like Tomsk-7, rather than in Manhattan. Like a friend of mine says, Manhattanites are the new hicks of America. They’re incredibly hokey and they’re charmed by their own hokeyness. I find the place utterly oppressive. If you’re interested in a life dedicated to discovering “undiscovered” ethnic restaurants while chatting about golf and indie rock bands, then Manhattan’s the place for you. As for me, if I move home, it’ll likely be to Los Angeles. It’s the most aggressively-vile place in America, and somehow I find that less frightening than Manhattan.