“Violence is as American as cherry pie.” –H. Rap Brown
A personal reflection on yesterday’s events by Surly1. Discuss this article here.
This past summer, my daughter came over for dinner one summer night and brought a friend to meet. She made it clear her guest was not “that” sort of friend, but a person of value nonetheless. “Nathan” (not his real name) was a slight young man, with shoulder length hair and a bespectacled, quiet manner.
Nathan and I spent much of the evening in pleasant conversation, albeit I strained to hear much of his part of it. When he spoke, which wasn’t often, you had to listen intently: his words barely reverberated in a quiet room. He was a young man of unfinished dreams. He was interested in ideas. He was intensely curious. He spoke of going to St. John’s College in Annapolis, to pursue a curriculum based on the great books. He was the best man at a wedding that I photographed, for two other friends of my daughters’. Yet whether it was his own struggle with sexual ambiguity, or his relationship with his father, or a lack of the ability to dance to the music of the spheres, we will never know.
Before Thanksgiving of this year, Nathan took his own life.
Last weekend, the neighbor told me about the daughter of neighbors up the street (not known to me) who had likewise committed suicide.
Stories of the suicide of young people are all too frequent, and always deeply troubling. Every community, every news cycle, every day brings us a news about premature death stalks young people. And then, the news of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut. We’re told that the shooter was intelligent, nerdy, a Goth, remote, autistic. We’re told he had Asberger’s. We’re told he might’ve suffered from a personality disorder. We’re told investigators seek the motives of this young man, who took his own life after shooting 28 people. We sit mesmerized by the blue light of evening talk programs and watch mental health professionals infer motives from the shooter’s reported actions, this in the absence of any other evidence. Sock puppet politicians gravely intone they are “shocked and saddened” by the days events, (a trope which should earn the next utterer a blow to the head with a seven-pound hammer.) We are told by that God did not protect the Connecticut shooting victims because prayer has been banned in schools. (This mouth breathing opportunist apparently went to the “never let a good crisis go to waste” school of public relations.) We are told that we have to have a big, principled discussion about gun control, as if that might actually be permitted to happen by Wayne LaPierre.
We are told repeatedly what to think. Never are we invited to ask questions. We never ask about the quality of life in the schools or in this rapidly declining country. We never discuss the future prospects of a generation. We never challenge our spending priorities. We never debate why we can spend billions overseas, most of it routed to the pockets of transnational corporations, but we can’t afford to build bridges or schools at home. And, most of all, we never discuss the irony of a Nobel Peace Prize winner dealing death from above via drones and a private kill list.
“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer.” — D.H. Lawrence
The unwelcome convergence of suicides close to home with yesterday’s news has led some of us who still retain a capacity for outrage to wonder aloud, “what the hell is going on here?”
And then you realize that none of this matters.
Screams over the intercom, 28 dead. Another violent rampage. Dozens of shattered families. This on the heels of another shooting earlier in the week in Oregon, and right before police in Bartlesville, Oklahoma arrested an 18-year-old high school student who was planning a school-shooting massacre plot.
A road man for the Lords of Karma might observe the bitter harvest of a culture steeped and marinated in violence. Others might cite our moral vacuity. Had we any sense of history, or capacity to consider more than the next quarter’s earnings, we would behold a culture which, in the space of a generation, has embraced both torture and drone bombing of civilians as “business as usual.” (All justifiable in the name of the “war on terror”, citizen. Get used to it.) Others will, like clockwork, cite the absence the absence of God and the Bible. Others will cite the need for new gun laws. All will have a point.
None will examine the bloody, beating Heart of Darkness that is this rapacious, flesh eating capitalist monster that devours all in its path. Having taken homeowners’ houses, dreams and lives (Google the story of Norman Rousseau), we have now begun to devour our children. What better symbol for the end game of the financialization of all aspects of human endeavor, in which human beings are turned into “head count” and “human resources,” and hopes and dreams into profits and losses.
Can there be a more to-the-point indictment of the utter soullessness and moral bankruptcy of the American enterprise?
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
–William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1 Scene 2
So much search for motive. We will not soon know the motives of this, or any shooter. What far shore of mind must a human being inhabit to take the life of another? And these incidences are happening more frequently. How many data plots do we need on our collective cognitive map to understand that there is something very wrong here, that goes beyond one or two disturbed teens? The rate of people killed by guns in the US is 19.5 times higher than similar high-income countries in the world. In the last 30 years since 1982, America has mourned at least 61 mass murders. There have been 27 such events–27– since Columbine.
In Virginia, we survived the slaughter at Virginia Tech several years ago. The good citizens of the Commonwealth were left to try to puzzle out that latest act of wanton violence that led to 33 deaths and many more injuries. The ensuing conversations led to a conclusion of mental disturbance on the part of the shooter, a period of solemn mourning, and a good week a discussion of the proper role of guns in the society, after which the issue was shelved, per usual. There was some discussion about the shooter being a “collector of injustices,” an assessment which may have come closer to the truth then the FBI might have realized.
If mass murder and suicide is the symptom, perhaps the disease needs a name. Authors such as Paul Levy and Jack D. Forbes have explored a psychological disease observed by indigenous peoples informing self-destructive behavior on the part of European-based peoples. Some call it wetiko, others “malignant egophrenia.”
Indigenous people have been tracking the same “psychic”virus that I call malignant egophrenia for many centuries and calling it “wetiko,” a Cree term which refers to a diabolically wicked person or spirit who terrorizes others. Professor Forbes, who was one of the founders of the Native American movement during the early sixties, says, “Tragically, the history of the world for the past 2,000 years is, in great part, the story of the epidemiology of the wetiko disease.” Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a “psychosis” in the true sense of the word as being a “sickness of the soul or spirit.” Though calling it by different names, Forbes and I are both pointing at the same illness of the psyche, soul and spirit that has been at the root of humanity’s inhumanity to itself.
Wetiko/malignant egophrenia is a disease of civilization, or lack thereof. To quote Forbes, “To a considerable degree, the development of the wetiko disease corresponds to the rise of what Europeans choose to call civilization. This is no mere coincidence.”[vi] The unsustainable nature of industrial civilization is based on, and increasingly requires violence to maintain itself. Genuine “civilization,” in essence, means not killing people. Referring to the lack of “civility” in modern society, Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilization and responded by saying, “I think it would be a good idea.” It makes sense that native people would know about malignant egophrenia, as they were both oppressed by, but weren’t, at least initially, under the “curse” of modern civilization. Being under the sway of modern civilization can feel like something foreign to our nature is being imposed upon us, as if we are living in an occupied land. Modern civilization suffers from the overly one-sided dominance of the rational, intellectual mind, a one-sidedness that seemingly dis-connects us from nature, from empathy, and from ourselves. Due to its disassociation from the whole, wetiko is a disturber of the peace of humanity and the natural world, a sickness which spawns aggression and is capable of inciting violence amongst living beings. The wetiko virus is the root cause of the inhumanity in human nature, or shall we say, our seemingly inhuman nature. This “psychic virus,” a “bug” in “the system,” in-forms and animates the madness of so-called civilization, which, in a self-perpetuating feedback loop feeds the madness within ourselves.
Whether new age or old, literature informs us of the danger within. As we wage slaves scrape a living from the gears of the machine, in order to earn the privilege of additional consumption of things we don’t need, we often rub up against that within us that stops us from expressing our full potential and whatever creative genius might lie within. Is that “herd think,” that groupthink that enlists us in endless cooperation, and co-optation, and that leads us to a slaughter? It may be that these shooters are merely a physical manifestation of the psychic horrors that are embedded in our morally bankrupt culture.
“We have a companion for life…We have a predator that came from the depths of the cosmos and took over the rule of our lives. Human beings are its prisoners. The predator is our lord and master.” Don Juan, in Carlos Castaneda
There are echoes of this in the Bible as well. The Gospel of John refers to the devil as “the ruler of this world” (14:30; 16:11), and Paul speaks of Satan as “the god of this world” (Cor. 4:4). The Gnostic Gospel of Phillip, talking about the root of evil that lies within all of us, makes the similar point that unless this evil is recognized, “It masters us. We are its slaves. It takes us captive.” (II, 3, 83.5-30)
Many chafe at the lessons of biblical Christianity. Yes only the blind and deaf could possibly fail to see the existence and the works of capital E Evil in the world. If evil exists, good must logically exist as well. If the devil exists, and his existence can be inferred from his works, then God must exist.
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come and see!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.
— Revelation 6:1-2˄ NIV
So we continue to search for answers. But that search will be in vain as long as we fail to acknowledge the reality and the consequences of this way of life, a dreamscape of horror inseparable from our ego and our own inner being. The wetiko “cannibal” culture is destroying us; as we militarize and financial lives, extract the last drop of oil, poison the aquifers and eat food manufactured by pesticide companies, the wave of suicides and shootings remind us of the culture of death that invests all of us. Our young people are being sacrificed to Mammon at an escalating rate: several dozen this week alone. Mammon is hungry. What we fail to realize is that we are offering our own children up for sacrifice. There is no difference between “theirs” and “mine.”
In Revelation, we are told that the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are released after the Lamb of God opens the first four of the seven seals on the scroll in God’s right hand. This action summons forth four beings on white, red, black, and pale horses symbolizing Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, which visit a divine apocalypse upon the world as harbingers of the Last Judgment. Perhaps the shooters in these serial killings constitute a Fifth Horseman, a herald of sorts, announcing the coming of the promised Four, and the End of Days.
If wetiko is baked into our beings as a legacy, stemming from the “original sin” of agriculture and “dominion over all things,” then our challenge, and our work, will be to determine what it is that we do about it. Which is hte work of this website. It is quite clear that we are almost out of time.