A Review of Mark Ames’ Going Postal

Mass shootings have been in the news a lot lately, but they are certainly not new. Neither are the debates about what instigates them. In 2005, Mark Ames, an ex-pat and founder of the Moscow-based irreverent rag the Exile, published his controversial explanation in Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine and Beyond.

In Going Postal, Ames compares modern day office shootings to the slave rebellions of yesteryear, and skewers the culture of greed and cruelty that he believes breeds massacres like Columbine. Ames divides his 280-page book into six parts, each dissecting an aspect of the American culture of office and school violence.

The layout takes the reader on an eye-opening ride through the experience of an office massacre, back to the days of slavery, the history of office shootings and their ties with Reagan era economic reforms, the corporate culture that breeds such violent reactions, and finally, how that culture has infected our schools and children.

It is important to examine mass shootings in historical context because they seem so much a part of modern life people forget mass shootings were extremely rare prior to the 1990s. They started in the ’80s, and didn’t become a national phenomenon until the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Guns and violence have always been a part of life in America. What changed in American culture to bring about such dramatic expressions of violence in places long considered “off limits”?

Ames argues it is not mental illness (per se) or availability of firearms, but the workplaces and schools themselves that are to blame. “Everyone today agrees that slavery caused slave violence, and that inner-city poverty and pressures breed violent crime. Why is it so awful to suggest that offices, such as they are today, breed office massacres?” he asks.

His premise that most human beings docilely accept even the worst conditions, rationalizing them as “just the way things are,” is disheartening but an observable reality. In our country, he argues, only the “insane” lash out against the status quo. The “rational” grudgingly accept their lot in life, or like the character of Stephen in Django Unchained, cooperate in order to have a little more.

However, the guilty verdict Ames hangs around former president Ronald Reagan’s neck is unconvincing. American culture may have changed in the 1980s, but does a presidential administration really drive cultural change any more than religious institutions, the media, and the entertainment industry? Reagan seems like a convenient (and politically motivated) scapegoat.

Going Postal goes beyond the usual debate over gun control to propose that maybe something is wrong with our society. For those frustrated with the predictable reactions from media talking heads and politicians in the wake of every mass shooting, Mark Ames has written a book that, while certainly controversial in its conclusions, is at least looking at the issue from a radically different perspective.

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