Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Mass Murder and Self Delusion

"THIRTY-THREE DEAD” read the headline as I collected my paper from the doorstep. “Gunman massacres 32 at Virginia Tech University and then kills himself.”

Another day, another madman, I thought to myself, as I made my way to work. And I thought little more of it. No disrespect to the victims or anyone affected by this atrocity. It’s just that I try not to expend time thinking about horrible stuff that is beyond the ability of humans to predict or prevent.

I don’t ask “why” every time something bad happens to strangers. I don’t look for reasons and I don’t look for cures. I just accept it and move on. Maybe it’s because I’m a male and we have the neat ability to compartmentalize stuff. May it’s because I’m an insensitive clod and uncaring lout. Or maybe it’s just because, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that sometimes bad things happen to good people and, quite often, life just isn’t fair.

Sometimes I feel very, very alone. Few others appear to think this way. In fact, everyone seems to think that every problem has a cause and society has an obligation to find that cause and take care of it so nobody else gets hurt.

Most people, it would seem, are not satisfied with simply acknowledging that sh*t happens. They want to examine the sh*t and poke through it looking for small undigested bits of food to analyze. It’s as if they believe that through their analysis they will somehow be able to design a diet that produces sh*t that smells like roses. Sorry folks, but some people turn to sh*t no matter what you feed ‘em. Nothing to see here. Move along.

A gun man goes on a rampage. Gun control fanatics poke their heads out of their grant funded burrows and claim that nothing like this would happen if only we would ban guns. Gun advocates, on the other hand, claim that the killer would have been stopped short if all students were allowed to carry concealed weapons. Anti-drug zealots point to the fact that the killer was on some sort of pharmaceutical. Therapists and psychoanalysts speculate about his childhood. Community activists use the opportunity to demand that the government put more social programs in place. A spokeswoman for some toilet tissue company claims that if the murderer had only wiped his bum more often with their pillow-soft toilet tissue, he never would have been in that ghastly mood to begin with.

And then there’s the famous “reverse blame” trick. The killer was an immigrant from South Korea. South Korea's Foreign Ministry reportedly expressed condolences and said South Korea hoped that the tragedy would not "stir up racial prejudice or confrontation''. Hmmm, now where have I heard that before? Wait….I know, we hear it from Muslim community leaders every time some whacko Islamic nut-job kills people here in the West. Apparently it’s all the rage these days whenever there’s an attack by someone of a non-white persuasion to turn it around and pretend to be scared of a backlash. It never happens when the killer is white though and the victims are not. You’d never hear a representative of the white community begging a non-white community to please restrain themselves from “racial prejudice or confrontation”. After all, that would suggest that the non-white folk could actually think racist thoughts. And as we all know, only white folk are like that.

In any event, I digress. Aside from the fascinating social and political overtones that mass murders typically offer, I really don’t think too much about them. And, I firmly believe that trying to figure out 'why' these things happen is often neither useful nor sensible. Punish the perpetrators when these things happen. That's pretty well all we can do.

After having our so-called experts study human behavior and social constructs for decades, we are still no closer to stopping stuff like this from happening. The lunatics still pop-up from time to time to make the experts look ineffective and useless. Sometimes I think that the experts are really nothing more than social activists with degrees - more interested in invoking social change than actually finding a solution. That said, they do, however, serve one useful purpose: They make us forget our powerlessness. They make us feel like there’s something we can do to prevent the next big one. And, like self-deluded fools, we buy into it.

Quick: name me an important Canadian value. Strength? Naw. Honour? Nope. Courage? OK, stop it, you’re starting to crack me up. No silly, the most important Canadian value, next to tolerance, is compassion. Sigh.

Everyone wants to be compassionate. No, wait, I mean everyone is expected to be compassionate. So, everyone does their utmost to make everyone else think they are compassionate. And would a compassionate person deny some nice research scientist a tax funded grant so she can do more research on why people behave badly and kill other people? Of course not. Why, that would be positively un-compassionate.

OK. I know what you’re thinking – “What a heartless goof this guy is”. As if we are really that different from one another. In reality, the only difference between me and you, is that I’m not fooling myself into believing that I am something I’m not.

If you are like most people, you probably think of yourself as compassionate and caring. You don’t like to see others suffer. Me neither. But that doesn’t make me (or you) caring and compassionate. It just makes us normal, self-absorbed people, capable of occasionally furrowing our brows and displaying short bursts of quasi-empathy. Daily I pass homeless people in the street. Momentarily I feel bad for them, but I don’t take any of them home. Do you? Daily I read about murder, rape, starvation, abuse and genocide in the papers. Momentarily, I feel sorry for them, but It doesn’t affect my appetite or my sleep. Does it affect yours?

I seem to be incapable of feeling anything other than a brief, distant touch of something remotely resembling sympathy when strangers are killed. All I really care about are people who are part of my life. It’s sad about the dead students in Virginia. It’s a sad thing. But it’s not a sad feeling for me. Not particularly. If I was to feel sad every time a complete stranger was murdered, I’d be a pretty dour guy. Do you know how many people get killed every day around the world? Enough to make feeling sad for them a full time gig. And who wants to go through life like that? Better to just be a self-absorbed, pitiless cad. And best to be honest about it. I may be a pitiless cad, but at least I’m not self-delusional.


Blogger RightGirl said...

I know you're not heartless, INP. And I pretty much agree - we only care when it makes headlines, so we can hardly say we're compassionate people, can we?


10:37 AM  

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