Unlike Virginia Tech gunman Cho Seung-Hui—a sullen misfit who could barely look anyone in the eye, much less carry on a conversation—[Steven] Kazmierczak appeared to fit in just fine.
—Deanna Bellendi, Associated Press
Why? Why did this rage massacre at Northern Illinois University happen?
Why did Steven Kazmierczak, "armed with three handguns and a brand-new pump-action shotgun he had carried onto campus in a guitar case," step from behind a screen on the stage of a lecture hall at NIU and open fire on a geology class, killing five, wounding many more?
The explanations are a repeat of the ones we hear after every other massacre, leading nowhere: gun crazy, evil perp (Nazi, anti-Semite), didn't take his meds, broke up with girlfriend … none of them are satisfying, none of them lead us anywhere except away from genuine examination.
In my book Going Postal I proposed looking at these uniquely American and uniquely post-Reagan massacres without cheap moral blinders. Look at the setting of the crime, look at the people who live in that setting, and look at the genealogy of the crime.
These rage massacres began in the mid-1980s in post offices, one after another, all seemingly "senseless." Mass killings like the 1986 Edmond, Oklahoma postal massacre which left 15 dead, were quickly transformed into water cooler joke material: The phrase "going postal" replaced "having a cow," and the clash between the Happy Days-era mailmen and the dawning age of rampaging maniacs was too absurd, and seemingly safely confined, to be spared this pop culture transformation into cheap black comedy. What was overlooked until subsequent Congressional investigations was why postal workers were killing themselves: as a result of President Nixon's "market reforms" of the US Postal Service, the union lost the power to strike, and stress and harassment reached unbearable levels. The massacres, it turned out, were essentially logical outcome of the sort of Reaganomics squeeze that would subsequently ruin the broader American corporate world.
By the end of the 1980s, the water cooler crowd started getting shot as well: workplace massacres spread like a nasty virus from the postal service to the wider private sector, and they haven't stopped. The "going postal" jokes were told with increasing nervousness. Workplaces transformed into little Atticas, with surveillance cameras, badges, armed rent-a-cops, along with snitches and mutual suspicion. Reaganomics took Nixon's experiment with the postal service and applied it to the entire country: unions were crushed, and the onetime 9-5 American workplace was transformed into a 60-hour week pressure cooker, with slashed benefits and stagnating salaries as the reward. The last 30 years have seen the most grotesque wealth transfer in a century, as all those slashed health insurance and pension benefits and stagnating wages for those lucky enough not to be downsized meant an enormous chunk of the American wealth pie was "freed up" and transferred over to the offshore bank accounts of America's re-emerging plutocracy. In 1978, CEOs made an average of 30 times their workers' salaries; as of a few years ago, CEOs made well over 500 times their workers' salaries.