23 July, 2012

It can happen to anyone

Last Friday at a midnight showing of the new Batman movie, a man dressed up as The Joker shot and killed at least a dozen people in the audience and injured perhaps 40 more. The similarities between this and other shootings, including the Columbine Massacre, the VA Tech tragedy and the troubled rampages that led to five dead in Seattle earlier this year and even the saga of the Unabomer are not lost on me, but I am still troubled because I don't know how these people are different than the rest of us. However, I realise that there is a difference and that somewhere along the line, these people snapped and thought that killing was ok. There are conflicting stories, but among the mentioned shooters, all of them were known outcasts. All of them had trouble communicating and/or were teased by others. The Unabomer decided to leave society but felt hounded by civilisation. Cho-Seung Hui felt tormented by his classmates. I don't know the story of The Joker, Mr. Holmes, but would not be surprised if his story were not somewhat similar. All of them had easy access to bomb making equipment and knowledge and rifles and/or artillery and all of them were more or less in good standing and so could easily access any of these things. These men, aside from The Unabomer were also quite young. Most of the mass shootings tend to be of men(not women), under 30, usually under 25. Their stories are all different but there are enough similarities to show a few red flags. The easy accessibility of guns raises a flag. Inadequate mental illness treatment and prevention is another flag that is also often raised. Glamourized violence in the media, to which the Colmbine killers, Mr. Holmes and Cho Seung Hui all seemed enamored with are all often blamed. And perhaps all of these things ARE to blame, in some form or another. I do not know. The thing that concerns me is what makes a person decide that killing, no, massacring ten or more people is OK. What makes someone lose touch with humanity and to themselves to that degree? That problem, and not the one of untreated depression, violence in the media or gun laws are what concerns me, although sometimes I wonder if they aren't all related, if they are all just part of a bigger picture, a picture of decay and alienation in the United States. But I digress. I want to make a point of asking the question of what makes a person lose the ability to empathise with others to emphasize that a) mental illness cannot be blamed for such faults and b) to show that the problems in these people and society in large are ALL of our problems. I grew up depressed, socially alienated, unable to fit in with the normal work world throughout my twenties and yet I never came close to the level of callousness of these men. I don't write this to illustrate MY superiority, but because I believe mental illness and stress are not the only things at play here. These men were terribly wounded, terribly alienated. Think how much it would take for you to completely lose your humanity. It can happen to anyone. Daily hatred from others, combined with systematic drugging and suppression, compounded by years of mind warping TV and film. Perhaps there were other factors. A lack of supportive family or friends. A sense of meaning or belonging. Our gun laws make it easier for these men to buy guns, but it's our society that makes them killers. Anyone who disagrees is in denial of their true nature and the possibility within all of us to become terrible monsters. It can happen to anyone.


Andrea Rouda said...

Oz, I just read this today. You make a lot of good points, almost all of which I feel too.

BUT: My good friend Bob, a man of 78, has been a psychiatrist all his adult life and was the director of a state mental institution for 20 years. Naturally we talked about this case of John Holmes, with me saying, "I guess he's mentally ill." Bob said flatly, and with great conviction based on his years as a therapist working with schizophrenics, bipolar, manic depressives, etc., "No, he is evil. Not all mentally ill people are evil, and not all evil people are mentally ill."

Now there is food for thought!

ozjthomas said...

I don't know. Maybe it is too soft of me and too liberal (although I'm more conservative than liberal) but I don't believe there are evil people and that it could happen to anyone, but we definitely choose what to do once all of that plays out. We can't just blame others for everything and allow them get away with murder though.