Friday, November 6, 2009

Are we losing our collective minds?

A man shot 6 people in Orlando today, killing one. Yesterday's death toll at Fort Hood is high - is it up to ten yet? In the days before, police dug up 10 dead bodies at a man's house in Cleveland. And, I'm sure there are many other murders that happened recently that didn't make the national news. Here in Maine, a man attempted to kill his mother, killed his father, dissappeared for a few days and then showed up a truck stop, where he had a cup of coffee. When the police arrested him, he asked that they allow him to pay for his drink.

Since Columbine, now ten years ago, people have been asking "what's going on in America?" We were asking that question before then, when there was a rash of disgruntled employee murders, which spawned the expression "going postal."

I do think we've lost our collective minds, but this country was forged in violence, and we also celebrate it at the same time we let out our collective gasps of horror, so I'm not surprised when these things happen. We love our mass murderers. Last year, Newsweek had a cover story about mass murderers that had a two-page graphic spread where we could see the body count of all the famous killers. Each dead person was nameless - just an icon somewhat like the ones we see for men's bathrooms. I could imagine a would-be nutjob wanting to beat the record.

Then there's the television shows. Every night one can watch a show about killing. I'm not immune, even as I ask myself "why am I watching this?" On Criminal Minds this week, we learned about enucleators, people who gauge the eyes from their victims. There's enough of them to warrant its own term. This episode was the stuff of parody. Who thinks up these things? Let's see - there's a young boy who lives with his father and leaves school after the 4th grade when the mother died. Dad's a taxidermist. Mom had retinosa pigmentosa (an eye disease that causes blindness). Boy loves hunting. Dad dies and boy tries to do taxidermy but he's no good at eyes, so he goes out and kills people to get "good ones." Wow - those writers sure know how to come up with a plot!

Okay, I know this seems like it's beside the point, but I don't think it is. It screams of desperation to find a new reason for murder, a hunger for understanding that's misplaced (and displaces) real analysis. Well, that's entertainment. How many motives and scenarios can one come up with?

The truth about murderers is that, for the most part, their motivations are fairly mundane - not the stuff of mystery - abusive backgrounds, mental illness, triggers in the environment that cause an unraveling of control.Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of "evil."

All this aside, I do think Americans are in a strange emotional place. Anger and resentment are high. Folks like Limbaugh and Beck are fueling those fires. Unemployment, which I suspect (as do folks who know) is much higher than what is reported. The endless wars are taking their toll on those in the military and their loved ones. The future doesn't look so rosy. When someone "snaps", even as we may profess shock, we can also understand why.

I have no conclusion. I'm only ruminating. It's a gray and gloomy day. We've had our first snow and it doesn't look pretty. The big tree branch that holds our main bird feeder fell down and is sitting in the wet snow looking sad. I'm wondering where I can hang it up. My house needs a good cleaning. No, don't worry, I'm not going to snap and go kill someone because I'm overwhelmed by chores that need doing and a lack of work, but it does make me think of people who do.

Painting note: Octave Tassaert "An Unfortunate Family" 1852


BitterGrace said...

I ruminate on this one a lot. Not that I really get anywhere with thinking about it, but I find the question irresistible. There are so many reasons for all the violence, but one that doesn't get discussed much is plain old loneliness. Many of the mass killers live isolated lives, and I think there's a false assumption that they isolate themselves because they are sick. On the contrary, I think the isolation of contemporary culture is part of what makes them sick.

jmcleod76 said...

You see, my eye injury phobia is completely justified! "There's enough of them to warrant its own term."

Actually, given how unhappy I think most of us are, the thing that really surprises me is that more people aren't murderers.

Oh, and the last count I heard on Fort Hood was 13.

Anonymous said...

Maria is totally right, isolation makes even fairly normal people unbalanced. People that have a good social "net" around them and feel loved and satisfied in their relationships, rarely have a need to go out and murder.
Oh, and another thing. Guns should not be so easily accessible to lunatics. It just makes it way too easy.