Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Birth of Infamy

I've held off commenting on the events in Newtown, Connecticut because I wanted to see if anything new under the sun presented itself in the way of reactions. But it seems that it's, by and large, the usual litanies by the usual people, albeit with some variations here and there. The overall theme – again, as usual – is helplessness and mystification, and the eternal question “why”? Now, a cynic, or a strict existentialist, might say that if there's no solution, there's no problem – in other words, since there is no answer to the “why” question we ought to just quit asking it every time these things come up. But what is the alternative? The same parties will say that one just has to accept the absurdity and randomness of life; this is the “life sucks, then you die” point of view. In former times, this attitude was identified as fatalism – and Fate, with a capital F, was considered -- along with Fortune, also with a capital F -- to be a major determinant of existence, for weal or woe. (Interestingly enough, this attitude seems to have reached its highest development at the same time the Catholic Church was in its intellectual glory – in the late Middle Ages. It would be great if someone would come up with an analysis of this apparent paradox.)

So yes, we have the absurdity/fatalistic argument, which certainly reflects a mind set common among the lower ranks. “What can you do?” with a shrug. So it's an answer that's a non-answer, if you will... but it does seem to satisfy some people. Most everyone else, however, is not satisfied with that level of metaphysical anarchy, and they search desperately for cause and effect. We have the police tinkering with Adam Lanza's computer, as if somewhere in that magic box is a gleaming gem that will provide the answer. His mother is being psychoanalyzed, post-mortem – a job no respectable psychiatrist will undertake, but the press is eager to rush in. His entire life is being scanned and searched for clues – but as to what? Some connection between the existence of one solitary human being and an outbreak of random violence? We think we know what motivates people – the advertising industry certainly does, as do political parties – but when it comes to cases like this we are as strange and inscrutable to one another as aliens from another planet would be. The mental health industry claims to understand insanity – which they kind of do, but only in retrospect. I challenge any psychiatrist in the land to go out and find the next Adam Lanza before he cracks; it can't be done. Even the normal human mind is a deep, dark secret from all others – to say nothing of a mind that was, apparently, highly warped, disturbed, and gap-filled.

With that introduction, let's have a look at some of the common themes that have emerged from all this, as reflected in the press and on the Internet. The one I've already discussed, the absurdity/fatalistic theme, is actually not much in evidence; possibly those who adopt this model are also too apathetic to broadcast it. Or – maybe the implication that they should apply it more consistently to their own lives is too troubling. There are many forms of aloofness from the human condition, but in the long run they violate so many basic instincts that the person either comes back to earth or retreats into even more intense coldness and sterility.

Gun Control?

The most predictable theme – and the one that took the least time to appear – was, of course, the gun control theme – with all the obligatory comparisons of the “gun-loving, violent” U.S. with peaceful, humanistic Europe, etc. Well... aside from the tendency to forget that Europe has been in a state of war throughout most of its history, at least in some places... these comparisons are tiresome, because they assume that the U.S. is just like Europe, or ought to be, when in fact everyone who came here did so because they thought this was better than Europe in some way – more adventure, more opportunity, more freedom, a chance to escape the hangman... whatever. This country was settled by adventurers, opportunists, religious fanatics, ne'er-do-wells looking for a new start, convicts (escaped and otherwise), pirates, gangsters, sociopaths, Utopians, outright lunatics, refugees from war, famine, persecution, and pogroms... and so on. And we are their descendants; it's in our blood. So let's have no more idle talk about why we're not like Europe; I say praise be (in most instances)! Heaven knows, the Europeans have done themselves enough damage with their respective culturally-coherent, smug, complacent societies – what do they expect of us, being a crazy-quilt of wild and incompatible beliefs, habits, customs, races, ethnic groups, cuisines, languages, etc.? It's amazing we get along with each other as well as we do (the plus side of what I usually criticize as an “ideational” society).

I think the question that needs to be asked (and is, once in a while) when things like this happen is, would any level of gun control short of the most radical have prevented it? In this case, these were legal guns owned by a law-abiding person who happened to have a demented son, who stole the guns, and what followed followed. So in this case, only outright confiscation of all guns would have made a difference – and even then, when you confiscate all guns from all law-abiding (and sane) citizens, is that going to include all guns from criminals and crazies? Um... I think not. They could smuggle guns in from other countries. They could make guns.  (You can even print guns now -- how messed up is that?)  An underground gun manufacturing, distribution, and sales network would spring up. And so on. A disarmed populace is not really disarmed; only the people who can be trusted with guns are. The rest aren't. 


So yes, we are a violent society – it comes with the territory. It comes from the fact that we had to evict an entire race (the Native Americans) from most of the continent so that we could settle here. It comes from the phenomenon of slavery. Don't you think we're still paying for all of this, in the karmic sense? I certainly do. And our internal violence pales in comparison to what we inflict on other countries – in the name of ideas, as usual. What kind of debt, what kind of karma, do we build up by doing that? Did the attacks of 9/11 wipe the slate clean? I doubt it very much, and it only made our bad habits worse by launching us into a new era of empire-building. How many months did it take us to use up any – what I'll call -- “karmic credit” that we earned on 9/11? Not too many, thanks to George W. Bush & Co.

So no, we are far from innocent, as much as we fancy ourselves to be above reproach as a nation and a society. The neocon foreign policy program can be characterized as “Ideas Gone Wild” -- and I hardly need to mention that people elsewhere on the globe are unimpressed with those ideas and the way in which they are presented (via drone attacks, e.g.). So if 9/11 was push-back in the direct sense (which it may well not have been, but let that go for now), then Newtown may have been push-back in the karmic sense.

There, I said it. I'm not saying it's the only explanation, but that it might be a factor. After all, no less a personage than Michael Moore juxtaposed the Columbine shootings with the fact that a major piece of the economic base in Littleton, Colorado is a defense plant. To quote from the IMDb summary of “Bowling for Columbine” -- “Moore links the violent behavior of the Columbine shooters to the presence in Littleton of a large defense establishment, manufacturing rocket technology. It is implied that the presence of this facility within the community, and the acceptance of institutionalized violence as a solution to conflict, contributed to the mindset that led to the massacre. Moore conducts an interview with Evan McCollum, Director of Communications at a Lockheed Martin plant near Columbine, and asks him: 'So you don't think our kids say to themselves, “Dad goes off to the factory every day, he builds missiles of mass destruction. What's the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?"' McCollum responded: 'I guess I don't see that specific connection because the missiles that you're talking about were built and designed to defend us from somebody else who would be aggressors against us.'”

But we don't believe in “karma” over here, do we? It's a foreign concept – mystical... weird... spooky. The American way is that everyone stands on their own two feet, and everyone is responsible for their own actions and not for those of anyone else. Individualism! That's the key. Except... we still blame the South (today's South) for slavery, we still blame Germany (today's Germany) for the Holocaust, we still blame each other for racism and the plight of Native Americans and Hispanics, we blame the middle class for the plight of the lower class, we blame men for the plight of women, parents for the plight of children, capital for the plight of labor, everyone for the plight of Mother Earth, the Church for the plight of... pretty much everyone, and so on. So collective guilt is alive and well, and is the most popular theme in political discussions and campaigns. Whether it's about payback, revenge, reparations, getting mine, getting a piece of the pie, “it's our turn”... whatever, it's all about one portion of the collective having its way with another portion of the collective, in return for past offenses and insults. So what is “karma” but simply a less-direct, more metaphysical, non-political version of the same idea? Do we really know what laws rule the universe? We pretend to, but do we – really?


But! -- you'll say – certainly the guilty should be tracked down, tried, and punished, and made to pay their debt to society. But these children were innocent! And yes, it is curious that they were all of an age, and grade, just prior to the usual age for First Confession and First Communion. I'm not claiming that any of them were Catholic; I don't know. But in God's eyes they were true innocents – lambs without blemish, not unlike the Holy Innocents whose martyrdom we commemorate on Friday.  And if you're going to make a sacrifice, what is required, according to the Bible? A lamb without blemish. So were these children sacrificed? And if so, to what god, and upon what altar?

And that brings us to another theme, which, in short, was: “When you push God out of the (public) schools, something, or someone, else will move in to take His place. Walk up to a public school and it's the Devil who opens the door. So why are we surprised when things like this happen – as they often do, in public schools? They are temples of godless liberalism and secular humanism – they are occupied territory. And the Devil presents himself as an angel of light (or enlightenment) but quickly reverts to chaos, death, and destruction.” And why, in particular, do deranged maniacs of all sorts gravitate to public schools when they set about to do their dirty deeds? What's the attraction? Innocence, children – yes. But something more? Do we not already sacrifice our children's minds and souls on the altar of secular humanism on a daily basis? Are there not abominations occurring at all times behind those bland brick facades? Is not bonafide education being sacrificed in the interests of turning out robot-like, unthinking citizens of a regimented, socialized world? And let's remember, every mass murderer was once a school student – and most likely a public school student. (When's the last time an incident of this sort happened in a private or parochial school? I can't think of even one.) What happened to them there? What are they pushing back against? Why all the rage? (We actually know the answers in at least one case, that of Columbine.)

Better Off?

There's another theme which I'll call (in, I guess, a crabby way) the “they're better off” theme. And it's not unrelated to the “innocent” theme. The idea is that these children were snatched out of life before their time (bad), but are now in the hands of a loving God (good). And since they were all innocent, they are all saved – not a one of them had to be tempted, or to take a chance on going down the wrong path and living a life of sin. Well... it's a comforting thought, no doubt, but I can't help thinking that it's a bit off base. The off-base part is that God put us here, on earth, in time and space, for a reason – that salvation is not automatic – i.e. it's not an entitlement – but we each have to work it out for ourselves. I did say “work it out”, not “earn it”, because that would imply that the day will come when we will fully deserve salvation through our own efforts – which is not true. That day will never come. But it cannot, for that reason, be a reason for despair or apathy. So yes, these children have gone to God, but at the same time they've been deprived of one of the core human experiences, namely that of applying their free will to the discernment of good vs. evil, choosing the good, helping others to choose the good, and thereby being able to respond in a fitting manner to God's grace.

Who hasn't read of some deranged parent (usually a mother) who chooses to kill her children because she doesn't want them growing up in this sinful and difficult world? (In which case, why did she have them in the first place – yeah, I know, that's a quibble.) Who hasn't heard of any number of people (typically liberals and secular humanists) who refuse to even bear children (or who abort the ones they conceive) for similar reasons? But this is a refusal to grapple with the reality that we do, indeed, live in a fallen world... that temptations and pitfalls are everywhere... and that salvation is far from guaranteed... but that we are, nonetheless, expected to go forth, be fruitful, and multiply. It sounds absurd, unreasonable... even cruel. And yes, it takes faith. But evidence is not lacking. There are always good people, and good deeds, to be found even in humanity's darkest hours – any Holocaust narrative will confirm that. I often think that evil is easy to explain; what's tough to explain is the good. Why doesn't the human race, and the planet it lives on, go down the drain once and for all? Isn't this the consummation so devoutly wished by many of these “end times” or “chastisement” or “end of the Mayan calendar” buffs? Just wipe the slate clean and start over – or maybe not. So if God keeps the world going, “warts and all”, for the sake of the righteous (both living and unborn), we have to assume there's a reason. Either that, or we're smarter than God – and what are the chances of that being the case?

Consequences of Being Human

Another objection – and a popular one – to any faith-based argument is, “OK, so if we're all a part of God's creation, and even if there is such a thing as Original Sin and we live in a fallen world, why doesn't God do something about all these terrible events? Why doesn't He step in and prevent them from happening? Don't these events cause scandal, in that they make some people question their very belief in God? Isn't that what happened during the Holocaust – that so many lost their faith because they couldn't believe that a loving God would allow such things... but they happened anyway, therefore God must not exist, or must not be a loving God?”

Now, I don't know the answers to all this, and books have been written on the subject (starting with the Book of Job)... but I think that in some way it hinges on free will. If we have free will, but never have to take the consequences of our actions, then we might as well not have free will at all. We might as well be God's pet animals, or robots of some kind. But in that case, would we even have souls? Aren't the soul and free will inextricably linked? And if we had no souls, then we would not be the hybrid spiritual/material creatures that we are. We'd be animals, with no need for morals or any sense of responsibility. Then, in the natural order of things, God would have to create real human beings, with souls and a spiritual nature and free will. So there's no escape. Either we're fully human or we're not, and people who choose not to be fully human are not only defying God but violating their own nature.

So because we're spiritual creatures with souls and, therefore, with free will, we have to be allowed to take (if not always accept) the consequences of our actions – the good as well as the bad. And this includes, again, not only person-to-person actions, but actions against society and against God. And because it's a fallen world, the consequences of bad actions will radiate out and the innocent will suffer. The world will be contaminated. And we can, if we have any sense at all, quite readily look upon our works and see that, although some are good, many are bad. For every “random act of human kindness” there are multiple beatings, muggings, shootings, bombings, thefts, and so on. Even if all the good people in the world completely cleaned up their act and became perfect, there would still be plenty of sin, and thus an abundance of consequences of sin. And the good would suffer, perhaps more than the guilty (at least in this life).

It is apparently more important to God to keep our free will free, come what may, than to swoop down every time anything goes wrong and fix it. It's almost as if He were saying, “This is the effect of your sin, for which Christ died.” If we fail to be impressed, or are impressed for the wrong reasons, that's a sign of our lack of discernment at best, and of outright rebellion at worst.           

Mental Health?

Moving on to another theme – and this has gotten more press than I would have expected – namely “mental health”, and here it gets tricky because, as far as I know, Adam Lanza was never diagnosed as being mentally ill, nor was he ever referred for treatment. It seems that his mother was about to undertake something along those lines, but it's too late now. But here we have a distinction, because if Lanza was autistic or somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum, then he had a “condition”, and was not officially mentally ill – at least not as far as anyone knew. Now, truly autistic people tend, as far as I know, to be non-violent and somewhat passive, because they are mentally, psychologically, and emotionally aloof and removed from reality. So it sounds like Lanza was an extreme Asperger's type – with a lot of pent-up rage added on... a deadly combination, as it turns out. And where did the rage come from? Possibly from the very fact of his social and emotional isolation – he was perceptive enough to know he was missing something, and wasn't happy about it. And wow, what better place than a public school to aggravate that sort of thing – a place where everyone has to be fully engaged, and popular, and conforming to the popular norm, or be labeled a geek/nerd/dweeb/spaz/loser/whatever? As it was then (in my day), so it is now and ever shall be, amen. Still another reason why public schools are part of the problem, and why they tend to get targeted.

So... assuming that whatever was wrong with Lanza was unfixable (likely), could it have been managed better? And if so, whose job was it to get the ball rolling? His parents? His teachers? Social workers? Barack Obama? I mean, you know, if government is going to be everybody's nanny, and everybody's source of jobs, income, and health care, than it should certainly be able to manage situations like this and take care of these people before something bad happens. So yes – another theme, or sub-theme, is “Why didn't someone do something before it was too late?” Or, what happened to the social safety net (not quite as in demand in an upscale place like Newtown)?

Well... what do you propose? Spotting asocial, or antisocial, elements early on and nipping them in the bud? How? Forced therapy? Private schools? Sanatoriums? Camps? The Nazis would have taken the Lanza types and treated them to a good dose of exhaust fumes before they ever started making trouble. We allow abortions for any and all discernible pre-natal conditions; are we smart enough to spot Lanzas in utero? Does their DNA look any different? See... we're very big on “mental health”, and fall all over ourselves when it comes to people – especially children – with “conditions” or “syndromes”... but there is still apparently something wrong with our model when things go wrong to this extent.

(And I find it grotesquely ironic that one of the adult victims, Rachel D'Avino, was a “behavioral therapist” who had, at one point, been assigned to an autistic boy in a public school. I could be wrong, but I suspect that this was an example of what is called “mainstreaming”. Now... make no mistake, I fully sympathize with anyone who has a “special needs” child... but I've also heard horror stories about the disruption and chaos that can result when one of these kids is “mainstreamed” into a regular classroom – with or without a full-time tutor/adult companion. (And one can only imagine the cost of this sort of program. Any questions about why public education is so expensive these days?) I talked, a while back, to a former public school teacher who quit the profession because of this; she just found it impossible as a “learning environment”. Did Adam Lanza have a full-time tutor/adult companion? Was he mainstreamed? Who else is even asking these questions?)

Gun Rights?

Then we have the other side of the gun argument, with all of its many variations, including the one the NRA offered. If everyone has a gun, are we all safer than if only a few people have guns and some of them are crazy? You might think so, but the arguments go far into the night with no resolution. One thing is for certain – the Obama administration is going to “make hay” of all of this for whatever reasons, and we will be closer than ever to that inevitable showdown between the government and the “cold, dead hands” crowd who populate our rural areas. I have no idea how it's going to come out. All I can guarantee is that with every new instance of this sort (and there have been a few just in the last week) there will be another hue and cry from the anti-gun forces and another rebuff from the pro-gun forces.

And as far as the Second Amendment goes – regardless of how one interprets “a well-regulated militia”, a muzzle-loading musket hanging from a nail above the door was, basically, all anyone had in mind at that point. But that was back when our enemies had muzzle-loading muskets too... or bows, arrows, and tomahawks. And as to our own government? More muskets. And a few cannons. What we have now – another theme – is the citizenry, no matter how heavily-armed, against an oppressive government that has the most powerful and destructive weapons on earth. I mean, what are you going to do, take out a tank with a minnie ball? So that argument has been overtaken by events. Self-defense of a citizen against other citizens, however, is alive and well – and this area (Southwestern Pennsylvania) in particular seems to offer regular examples of homeowners repelling home invasions with deadly force. So in that sense, it works. But this “militia” business? I think that was more about the need for citizens, and not only the professional military, to bear arms in order to fight off foreign invaders or insurrectionists. It's hard to see a direct application of that idea in these times, unless you're talking about the Reserves – but hey, I'm no expert.

So, to sum up – I don't think Newtown is a conclusive argument either for or against gun control. It may be an argument in favor of a new mental health model, or at least new methods of implementation. And no, it's not about spending a lot more money on the schools, or on mental health – just spending it differently.


But that's just on the material side; we're not finished with karma yet. Another very popular Internet theme (totally avoided by the mainstream media, of course) was: What towering hypocrisy for Obama to shed a tear about Newtown when he happily sends out drones every day to rain down death and destruction on the people of Afghanistan, including children. And a similar point goes as follows – what towering hypocrisy for Obama, and other liberals, to shed tears about Newtown when they happily support the killing of unborn children by the millions. But is it really hypocrisy? Aren't Obama and liberals, and many others besides, simply showing another of the signs of living in a fallen world – the refusal to see other people as fully human, and part of Creation, and loved by God? Aren't we engaged in the same old process of “thinging” other people – seeing them as less than whole, less than human... as lower life forms... vermin... cartoons... wallpaper? Isn't this the attitude behind all ethnic cleansing, genocide, pogroms, concentration camps? We claim that we're not guilty of such things, but, again, look at our heritage when it comes to Indians, blacks, Hispanics... and so on. Even Japanese-Americans. “But those kids in Newtown were innocent!” Yeah, well... so are the kids in Iraq and Afghanistan. So were the Indian and black kids, and so on. (But at least Adam Lanza was not a racist! Or a sexist! Or a homophobe! He was an equal-opportunity mass murderer. Yeah... that's small consolation.)

The point is this. How many of us see all human lives, and I mean ALL, as being of equal value? I don't. I wish I did, and I'm working on it, but I have to admit that I'm like most people when it comes to preferring “my own kind”, and devaluing everyone else. And the farther off they live, and the more strangely they dress, and the funkier their diet, and the weirder their language sounds, the easier it is to see them as accidents... annoyances... lower life forms. So Obama and the liberals are not hypocrites – they're just sadly typical human beings, despite all their pretenses. They're no more humane then General Custer and his men; they just have more firepower at their disposal. And it's only when someone like Adam Lanza “brings the war home” (by which I mean the spiritual war between light and darkness) that their complacency is disturbed. It is only then that they venture to utter that otherwise-forbidden word “evil”. But the strange thing about that is that they don't believe in Evil, any more than they believe in the Good. For these are moral concepts, and godless people cannot have morality. All they can have is custom, and – at best -- “ethics”. But ethics ultimately boils down to politics – at least in our time. What are the criteria, except for “the will of the people” (as interpreted by their betters)? And can politics yield up any objective ideas of good and evil? No, only expediency. And you wait – this flirtation with “evil” will soon pass, and we'll be back to the same old litany: “Who's to say?” “It's all relative.” “It depends.” And the usual flurry of objections to “dogmatism”, “superstition”, and “legislating morality”.

So these endless cries of “why” don't reflect the fact that there are no answers, but that the answers that are available are unacceptable. People would rather be groping in the dark than turn on a light. They make the public schools serve their political and philosophical ends, then wonder why those schools turn into killing fields. One can argue for gun ownership just based on the doctrine of Original Sin – but if you don't accept that doctrine you won't understand that we live in a fallen world, and that it's the lot of man to be at odds with other men and to have a need for self-protection.

And it's not that they don't have their own doctrine of the nature of man. To liberals and secular humanists, the human race is a cosmic mistake... a mutation... a festering boil on the face of an otherwise pristine world. To people of faith, it's just the opposite – Earth was created, in time and space, as a temporary home and as a platform upon which we can work out our salvation – as individuals and as a species. Our failures in this regard redound not only on us as individuals, but also on us in the aggregate... and that includes the innocents. The only way to prevent, or help alleviate, suffering, is not to cause it – and even if most of us do not actively oppress, persecute, or attack other people, we are part of a system that does. So when the consequences wind up on our doorstep, we can scarcely be surprised. And even if we were each “an island, entire of itself” we are still part of the human race, which is fallen – and our best efforts cannot make it whole, but can at least serve as reparation. We can, at the very least, offer up these lives in reparation... but then we must make ourselves worthy of their sacrifice.


Anonymous said...

Nice piece of work, David. Much to reflect on.Thank you.

Cousin Bob A.

Andrew said...

I'll add my compliments as well.

To comment on just a few of your points:

I think privately owned firearms continue to protect citizens not only from criminals but also from government. The armed government representatives most people encounter are not soliders. They're police, and in many cases the citizen outguns the police. One example of how this actually impacts law is the fact that a night time search warrant is only granted by the special permission of a judge. Normally, you have to serve search warrants of a house in the daytime. Why? Because if you start breaking in people's doors in the dark, there's a good chance that a reasonable citizen is going to shoot you.

But even beyond police action, I would not underestimate the utility of small arms even against the US military. Of course the Army has vastly more firepower than the citizen, and many gunnuts to have unfounded delusions of turning their home into a stockade. However, many of the advantages of hi-tech military hardware are lost or minimized in urban, wooded, or mountain terrain. Case in point, the Taliban don't have any tanks. They don't have any cruise missiles. They don't have any jets or helicopters. For the most part they have rifles and pickup trucks, and yet they've held their own against the US military for a decade.

Now comparing the Taliban to Americans does have problems. The Taliban are fighting for something- to repel foreign invaders, for their religion, etc. We may not agree with some or all of their causes but they have causes and do believe in them. What do American's believe in? American Idol? The major thing lacking for some sort of militia uprising isn't military hardware, it's popular support and conviction.

Gun regulations will be accepted. Nobody is going to risk going to jail, let alone being killed because they can't buy another AR-15. Gun confiscation? That is a different question. It's one of the only things I can think of that might set up widespread armed resistance to the government in our country.

Hopefully we never find out how high the body count in such a scenario would be.

As as those condemning the shooting in CT being hypocrites or normal people, I think they can be both. Especially for a baptized Catholic who has renounced Satan and all of empty promises, isn't every act of sin an act of hypocrisy?

More specifically, the comments on the shooting are hypocritical in their aboslutism. While Americans, both "right" and "left", tolerate murder in the form of abortion and unjust war, they very often qualify their support even for the causes they believe in:

"Yes, I support a woman's right to choose, but I'm personally pro-life. I simply don't have the right to insert myself into a woman's painful and personal decision."


"Yes, war is horrible, but George Bush must know something that we don't know, so I support the decision to invade Iraq."

How do we know the shooters decision was personal and painful? It would seem likely. How do we know that he didn't know something we didn't know?

Raising these questions to try justifiying the shooting is of course stupid. Their just as stupid when used to justify the slaughter of babies and invading countries who have not attacked or threatened us.