It’s hard not to be emotionally touched by the tragedies of this past week, even though most of us do not know the victims, survivors or the criminals. In that way we all share in the very impersonal nature of the mass shootings in nearby Clackamas, Oregon and far away Newtown, Connecticut. I think the impersonal nature of these crimes wants something from us and beg for some sort of understanding. We cannot look to reason though to explain them, nor to seek an end to them. For these crimes are not reasonable, for it is not reasonable to murder strangers, especially children.
The next few days will be filled by our mutual attempts to understand and to fix this cultural problem, however we each come to define that. I too am guilty of wanting to know… something, anything… that will help me to reconcile raw feeling to desire for reason. My curiosity tends to revolve around finding out about the killer. I can’t help but to want to know more about him, to try to make sense of how someone reaches a point in their life when murdering strangers ends up on their “to do” list. But all of my attempts to know the killer have not yet led me any closer to understanding something tangible about their motivations for such heinous actions.
The media will flood us with images- tempting each of us to fill the hole in our hearts left by utterly incomprehensible events. The political football will be thrown back and forth to score points for legislative solutions. I believe our troubles go much deeper than that. It is as if we have fallen into a deep, dark well and have lost our sight. Perhaps where there is no light we must first learn to live in the dark. For now I think I’ll try to live with the sadness as best as I can and, as the Benedictine monks say, “To keep death before one’s eyes daily.”
I realize too, that I share in the guilt of our dying culture, even or especially as I make these reflections public. For the record, it’s worth noting that I don’t see what I offer here as a solution, but more as an acceptance of my feeling of powerlessness over the very big picture of our place in time. Below is the post I wrote after the Aurora, Colorado movie house murders in which I speak to the attack these crimes bring on public places:
Of course we want to know why anyone would plan and execute a horrific mass murder of strangers in an American movie house. We want to know why so we can understand it, fix it, and not live in fear for our lives and the lives of those we love.
But senseless murders happen all the time, and to strangers, so what makes the Aurora, CO shootings so different? I suggest that crimes of this nature, those that take place in colleges, schools, fast food places, churches and now movie houses, destroy our expectation of safety in the most public places our culture. These are the places in which we gather for safety, or entertainment and to enjoy the experience of otherness. They are built, preserved and used by and for all of us- our much needed common ground.
I would even go so far as to say they are by modern standards, sacred places. It is their very sacredness that makes the crimes committed in these places all the more horrific. As much as we are horrified by the senseless loss of life, we also feel terribly violated and shocked because of where the murders take place. Killings of this sort are not only targeting people, but the places and our expectations of what those places have come to mean to us.
These crimes have a very impersonal sense to them. Maybe that is why we keep telling the stories of the victims and the survivors. The psyche insists on personifying the act in which the killer attempts to depersonalize, which is demonstrated by his capacity for murdering strangers. We cannot allow, nor should we let the killer’s real crime, his failure of relationship, to have the last word.
There is no reason you can give to explain the motives of someone who is not only killing people, but killing places and killing our culture. It is not reasonable to intend to kill people whom one does not even know. We cannot look to reason to understand mass murders of strangers. The killer, oddly enough, resists personifying and even through the notoriety that the crime brings remains unrelated; a stranger.
Perhaps, to begin to understand what is changing in our culture that might be decreasing our capacity for relatedness we can look to the dark side of modern technology with its increase in mediating our interpersonal experiences- in which we do not have to relate to others, face to face, with flesh and blood humans that talk back, disagree, love and hate us. As it becomes more and more possible to live life without having to truly engage each other in the struggle for survival- we need to remember what our face to face need for each other does for us, how it tempers our sense of self and our world with the one thing we can never live without – otherness.
“Forty nine reasons all in a line
All of them good ones all of them lies.” Stephen Stills
1) He was born that way
2) He was abused as a child
3) He is mentally ill
4) He was heart broken
5) He was evicted from his apartment because he couldn’t pay the rent
6) Not enough gun control laws
7) Too many gun control laws
8) Obsessed with video games
9) He was on drugs
10) He wasn’t on drugs
12) He was rejected from a job with the police
13) He was rejected by women online
14) He had a desire to achieve noteriety
15) Unable to form satisfying sexual attachments
16) He was the Joker
17) He thought he was in the movie
18) He was a classic lone wolf
19) He was having problems with his studies
20) He was clinging to his guns
23) He struggled to find work
24) He was a member of the Tea Party
25) He was a member of Black Bloc
26) Too much violence in the culture
27) He chose to do it
28) He was young and male
29) He does not have a conscience
30) He is a rampage killer
31) He is autistic
32) He was bullied
33) He is a Trekkie
34) He has crossed the Fourth Wall
35) He has identity confusion
36) He has Borderline Personality disorder
37) Urban life has messed him up
38) He is the face of the Constitution
39) He is the product of a sick and twisted society
40) He wanted to wake us up
41) He was a Psych major
42) He has Asperger’s Syndrome
43) He loved all the villains
44) He suffered academic frustration
45) He’s a terrorist
46) He wasn’t progressing
47) He was used as part of a conspiracy to justify UN arms treaty
48) My reason: See above post
49) Your reason here: ________________
Thanks to CSNY for 49 Bye Byes