This is a very short opinion piece on the massacre leading, so far, to 12 deaths — as of today, considered “one of the worst mass crimes in recent history” which occurred in Aurora, Colorado.
First, I want to remind readers that my perspectives are on social justice and social change and looking at history and relations of power, accumulations of dominance and resistances that create our lives. I do not, detract from the deep sorrow and anger I feel, in various ways, about how this has occurred and the deaths and injuries and traumas that have come about.
This piece is very short and meant to be evocative, provocative. I never speak of final conclusions and opinions that close off things and ideas. I do not speak from a psychologized, or Christian or Muslim moral perspective, where “Good versus Evil” and “Crazy versus Sane” binaries rule. I do NOT start there, nor do I begin there. Those moralities and structures of dividing individuals, societies, dreams, and ideas, are not something I care to participate in. Nor do I think they lead to social change or social justice. Moral and Psychologized binaries always —ALWAYS– lead to more incarceration and more killing, more death sentences, more self-superior kinds of ways of dealing with the complexities of our lives.
Revenge and Roman gladiator coliseum mentalities still rule much of public emotion and reasons for setting up our “civilized” laws in a now globalizing colonizing mentality. Disciplining and punishing (yes, I mean to evoke Michel Foucault’s famous book on the matter of internalizing violent structures through prison architecture).
In popular imagination, especially in the US, we have been culturally self-taught to believe that emotions are emotions and there are the sick and the unsick, the civilized and the uncivilized, the cruel and the nice, the crazy and the sane, the good and the bad. We deal with it through the idea of either redemption and rehabilitation, and/or punishment or a combination. Sequestering and putting to death. Our creativity is gone. What rules are the moralities we think are deep and real and true, and the moralities and spiritiualities and psychologies that we think we know and maintain and protect so dearly, even at the cost of arguments and fights at the dinner table and the ex-communication from groups, of friends and family-members that we love.
Let’s face it, modern civilization suffers from the “being right and good” syndrome. Since we supposedly know these things, or can rely on “experts,” we make EASY EASY conclusions. This means we don’t have to think. We have lost the necessity for complex thinking. Simple-mindedness is often valorized in US societies. Being “Real” is often how this is languaged.
People want answers.
To have answers, means that any answer, any answer, will lead to further questions and further answers. I do not believe that things have “finished.” Nor do I believe that the massacre that occurred “began” within James Holmes, the violent accused shooter at the movie theater in Aurora, or only within the shooters who killed at the 1999 Columbine High School spree in Colorado, or within the killer in Norway at the campsite approximately one year ago. Yes these rampage killers are the carriers and shooters.
I have been just as saddened, in addition to the shooting and the deaths, at hearing the news reports and talk shows and reading the various articles across the board, in the US and in English language mostly everywhere, on how so many people around the world have begun to think alike on subjects such as death and life.
The same tired reactions and words and phrases and platitudes and moralities have circulated. The same things I heard just after Columbine shootings and just after other mass rampage shootings, are being publicized and circulate. We listen to the moralities of Left and Right politicians. We listen to the church leaders and Hollywood personalities and song stars and talk show hosts.
People who shoot come from each one of us. As we go shopping and care or not care for our own children and friends, as we say or not say things everyday, as we care and don’t care about certain people, we isolate. In isolation, we accumulate cruelties that circulate.
Picking oneself up by the bootstraps–as an individual–is a norm nowadays. Being normal, we do not question how it looks and how we perform these things. In short, we are responsible for the violences that occur in societies.
We want the already-cruel, legalistic, bureacratic, psychologized, condescending, moral institutions to take care of “those people” so we can continue with our lives, as if our lives were rich and meaningful. We try, but often we are fooling ourselves. And further, we forget that we are fooling ourselves, convinced of our sureness, our goodness, our moralities.
The more thoughtful and intelligent people and thinkers and artists, have warned that our societies are in a deepening and darkening place. It is not “normal” or “natural” or a product of “God.” It is because each of us are not putting enough of our intelligence and creativity and strength into the complexities and changes required to take care of ourselves. Almost everything these days, are in the hands of institutions. When this happens, our own thinking is constricted, assimilated, and quite unresponsive to what is required.
People nowadays talk of being “smart” but who speaks of being “wise?” Wisdom is something people don’t even understand anymore, from where I stand. Compassion is seen only as something sentimental and kind and somewhat condescending. Ooooh….you poor thing. For those people like James Holmes and other people such as the Aum Shinrikyo Religious leader in Japan, who led the group to kill in the Japanese subways, we are not supposed to have compassion for “them.”
In this way, we ourselves are divided within ourselves. We can learn a bit from some of the writings of Buddhism, where compassion is not compassion without the sword that cuts through bullshit and delusion. It is strength. And Wisdom is a cold and calculating “Rationality” that views itself “higher” in the presumed hierarchy of human experience than compassion and kindness and that it is an “opposite” quality – and therefore sometimes “in the way” of “true” wisdom. Being “irrational” is the same as being insane, for many people, or a lower and “feminine”way that is unwanted. This is left over from the Victorian era and mass colonization, the destruction of the feminine and the enshrining of SEXISM into our moral structures. It keeps things rational and therefore these things are artificially separated into separate compartments. In Buddhism, this must be seen through. Wisdom is not wisdom without compassion. Compassion is not compassion without wisdom.
The hierarchies that we perform in our lives are lived out in how we foreground something or background something, how we ignore some things while prioritizing others, how we know some things and how we perform with this unknowing. If contradictory things arise simultaneously, or are complex in any way, we may label it “confused” or “ambiguous” and therefore unwanted. We “kill” an other.
First we must assume/presume, create that “other” that must be squashed and put away or looked-down upon. Whether it be communities, people, beliefs or ideas, or ways of living and thinking, the civilized first-world nations and now almost every nation, has their own ways of doing this game of dominance and oppression. To ourselves within us, to each other, and to that other.
Massacres and rampages are certain forms of the outcome of this, in a sociological angle. No matter how we “understand” James Holmes, we still do not understand or accept what we have become and how, not James Holmes and the other monsters that WE CREATE through ignorance and uncaring, sentimentality and cold rationality, self-created moralities.
Massacres and rampages will continue because we as a society, ignore their causes. The causes are not located in the individual that perpetrates, so that institutions can make money and gain credibility through scientific study, therapies and incarceration and death machines. The society that created that person or persons who perpetrated, is us. There are a myriad of causes and conditions we must deal with.
The violences we do, come also as ripples from the violence of our nation-state. War and genocide built this nation, as much as resistance to dominance. How we face up to uneasy complexities of nation and individual, various shades of history within us, is a big question. We must face how we have internalized the nation. Americans feel that nationalism is what others do, but never acknowledge it within their own selves and lives and the structures of cultural realities.
And still, there are those who are deeply Christian, even if they are not religious at all, or even believe in religion.
I speak of how so many think that humanity is “inherently” evil, or bad. Originally all humans are like this, according to that one snippet of Christianity. Psychologically, a person usually internalized this from the structures (moralities and behaviors) of our cultures. Colonization, first of this land in the US, and globally, has spread this kind of internalized oppression and made it normal. Even the “good” things we do are meant to destroy good because in a deep deep place, there is that thought that we are “no-good” and we “always mess things up” and that the world is dark. This is reinforced by modern socio-economic systems that delay and thwart our dreams, keep us slaves to the machine of money-making and money-spending. We have to pay for WATER!!! But hardly anyone is protesting on a mass scale. Paying for water is not a “natural outgrowth of history or God.” Or we know this, but tell ourselves that it is futile to resist, like it’s some act outside of human power and human privilege and the power of those that make the rules of violence. This his how we are responsible for giving the worst kinds of power and isolation and killing, their dominance in society.
There are many who are sensitive, very sensitive to what I’m saying. Some act out. It cannot be suppressed for too long.
Yes there is danger. But it doesn’t happen by itself. Rampage killers are created by our society. We must take care. If they are monsters, so are we. We are intimately linked to what is happening.
Things can change. But there needs to be further energy to make those changes. But I’m afraid that there are so many people who are purposefully or by proxy–sadists, that social change will be slow in coming. By this, I mean that there are so many people who divide the world into victim and perpetrator, and that there is joy in seeing someone put to sleep or put away into prison so they feel safe….not understanding that these are lives. The subconscious internalized colonization operates: I love it that they are in prison! I love it that they have been put to death! Or… I don’t like it but they deserved to be tortured. Some people won’t learn without violence. What goes around comes around. All the platitudes of our democracy.
All the sadism passing as superior morality. All the violence.
Prisons and mental institutions and hospitals and psychiatrists’ offices. These four things seem to be the ONLY THINGS many people think of, that will take care of society.
I say, each one of us do. It is a painful request and a painful process to undertake. Listen to ourselves, we are not easy and we don’t agree. This is precise place where we must start. Others cannot be convinced. So what do we do?
I’m glad to read your thoughts on this, Fredrick, and I agree — there should be compassion for everyone, including the shooter, and including those who are presently unable to feel compassion for him. My reaction to the shooting is very much colored by my reading in the days before the incident, neuroscientist David Eagleman’s book Incognito. There is a chapter in there about the neurological causes for actions like mass shootings, which may include anything from what we refer to casually as “the guy’s crazy” to undiagnosed tumors that disable the parts of the brain involved in suppression of violence and impulse control. I think science can help us here, and I think you’re right too, that trying to create a healthier society (as individuals, and collectively) is another key.
Thank you for your comments. Although I must clarify something. I did not advocate for more compassion. I advocate RE_THINKING what compassion is, its history, how it is performed and to shift it to something that can be included in social justice work instead of as another form of appeasing the traumatized and the poor. Compassion needs to be re-thought. We don’t need “more” of the kind of compassion we have these days.