Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Diagnosis

Another mass killing echoes in our collective consciousness this week, for a while, at least.

It's spun differently this time, as we chatter and screech in our social media trees like startled monkeys.  It is misogyny, this time, that has become the focus of our #hashtag uproar.  We also note that the killer had a small collection of guns, one of which was used in the killing.  And he was privileged--wealthy and lacking nothing materially. These are all certainly part of that horror, but his darkness seems deeper and more indiscriminate than all of those things taken individually.

Yes, he was a virulent misogynist. And yet four of the six dead were men.  Yes, he loved the easy power of the gun.  But half of those who died--his roommate and his friends, all Asian, all men--were stabbed to death.

There is more at play here.

The crass, hateful, and starkly self-absorbed rantings of the latest "killer-of-many" were remarkable only for their strange shallowness.  This is not the Unabomber, caught up in some falsely "noble" fantasy of bringing down the machine.  This was just a soul that had fallen in on itself like a black hole, lost in a remarkably banal hatred.

"Girls don't like me, and I desire them. That makes me feel powerless, so I'll kill all of them."  Like rape, these murders were just about power.

That was as far as his ethos went.  He had become blind to everything else.  At no point in his rantings, in his feedback loop of solipcistic self immolation, did he ever think that perhaps people did not like him because he did not like them.  He had lost awareness of women--or other men, really--as persons, as sentient and self-aware beings.

If you view people as soulless objects and/or projections of your own frustrations and hungers, they don't like that.  So. Very. Simple.  And yet that most basic knowledge was not in him.

"Girls don't like me."  It's so stupid, such an impossibly stupid thing to use as a justification for shattering the hopes and lives of others.  But as that dark old Boomtown Rats song goes, what reason do you need?

Ultimately, there are no valid reasons behind such horrors.

It was striking how little got through to him.  Those who view such hateful behavior as best dealt with with a good solid beating had their swing at him.  Police reports show that'd been tried.  He'd acted out, drunk at a party, striking and pushing women.  The other partygoers had beaten him to the ground, and kicked him into submission, as others called the cops.  That only deepened his hatred.

Those who'd talk it through, exploring feelings?  That failed, too.  He'd been in and out of therapy, as his concerned parents had tried to break through his increasingly toxic isolation.  He's mentally ill, in need of help and healing.  That was the thought, and at least it was hopeful, trying to set a life on a restorative path.  But those interventions, unless they cast a clear alternate future before a blighted soul, can do little.

I hear talk of mental illness being the cause, and yet I'm not sure it's so easy.  His rantings are not the word-salad of the schizophrenic.  He was able to mask it, easily, when confronted.

They were not incoherent. They represent an internally cohesive way of viewing the world. I have known many people living with mental illness, struggling with clinical depression or mania or any one of the many ways our complex brains can malfunction.  They do not yearn to harm others.

What was at play in Isla Vista represented an ethos, meaning a set of enacted beliefs that gives a person their integrity.

There is a name for that state of being, one that we seem to have grown strangely coy about using.

Evil, that word is.

We worry that this seems harsh, and that it seems judgmental.  Yet if there is good, there must be evil.  If we affirm that compassion, mercy, justice, lovingkindness, and graciousness are states of being that constitute a way in which we should live, then there are also ways in which we should not live.

Misogyny, for instance, is evil.  I would name it as such.  It is evil to simultaneously despise and objectify half of humankind.  Fetishizing violence over others is evil.  It is evil to desire the harm of other beings as an affirmation of your own power.  If we take those memes into ourselves, we become them.  We actualize them.  We are them.

Is it a sickness?  Yes, of sorts, but not necessarily one that's part of our individual meatware wiring.  Evil has to do with software.  It's learned.  It's socioculturally installed and updated.

It is chosen, then chosen again, carved into us until the furrow in us is so deep that we lose ourselves in it.

That is true for human beings, and for cultures as a whole.

It has always been our curse.