Filed Under: Opinion, US | Posted: 02/27/2008 at 9:25AM
Comments | Region: New Mexico | United States
We can now give “campus rampage” killers and their lot a name: American Misanthropes. What’s unexpectedly unsettling about them is coming to realize (a) we created them, out of a toxic pot of existentialism … and (b) these killers look an awful lot like us.
by Donald Croft Brickner
So-called “campus rampage” murder sprees have their roots in American culture.
At this stage of what’s a devastating and all-but-unique American phenomenon, both authorities and citizens alike are finding themselves hard-pressed to argue that our cultural influence isn’t a key contributor to these shootings.
Unexpectedly, though, that could be good news.
We can turn back the tide of these deadly events — but the changes required will demand our willingness to not only look at ourselves squarely in our mirror, but to markedly alter our one-note notion of ourselves as helpless gene-coerced robots.
That’s not going to be easy to pull off — but, you know: there you have it.
* * * * *
It’s so obvious: if murder rampages are initiated by those who our investigating authorities have come to identify as “normal” (if self-isolated) citizens suffering from severe bouts of existential victimhood, let’s call it (which is how they slipped by under the radar of law enforcement), then the concept of “normal” has headed south very quickly while few of us were looking. This has all occurred in just a few decades.
That’s “existential,” as in existentialism — a philosophical movement that stresses individual existence and holds that human beings are totally free and responsible for their acts — which sounds pretty dead-on to many of its initiates, yet it also promotes many pointlessness-of-life issues … and is often served up with lagers.
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What’s taken place culturally has occurred despite the fact that only a tiny group of human souls actually knowingly practice existentialism, or even understand it.
Regardless, we’ve unconsciously embraced a lot of these implied suspicions, if not beliefs, and then parroted them back right back into acquaintances’ faces.
Have those of us who’ve stated any of this reasoned out what we’re saying? No.
We do this, too, because we’re endlessly exposed to cultural one-liners like, “you only have this one chance at life,” or, “all we are is dust in the wind” – or, that big discussion-ender, “shit happens.” So, we silently accept a lot of these sound bite beliefs as life’s givens, and in most instances for no other reason than because we’ve heard them repeated over and over again publicly.
Existentialism’s cynical implications also can seem pretty compelling — especially if we’ve had a bad day.
Still, not only are these beliefs spouted endlessly in our TV ads, say, but they’re casually promoted in just about every secular university classroom in the Western world.
“You only go ‘round once in life” is less a statement of ontological theory than it is one of support for a random, existentialist void — whose time has come to expire.
* * * * *
Existentialism, in and of itself, does not promote murder. But it’s not a satisfying or happy way of looking at life, either. So when our emotions become invested in this world view and take it seriously, cynicism and a loss of real hope or meaning begin to grab hold. Before we know it, our views on life and living have imploded.
Existentialism’s built-in system of ethics — stating human beings are responsible for their individual acts — is a self-policing mechanism that almost no one actually practices, even among practitioners. Why? Because it’s like, why bother? There’s no point in even getting out of bed in the morning, our emotions quickly decide.
So, first, we become sad — then we turn cynical, then angry, then filled with rage — and after that, a handful of us transform into murderers … particularly when push comes to shove, in front of what’s already become a darkly competitive and malevolently gossiping cultural backdrop.
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By way of broad-strokes illustration, then, here is the existential process as it unfolds on the emotional level — the only level in which such aberration matters:
In transactional analysis terms, the afflicted among us begin their slide into dread by entering into an emotionally-rooted state of, “I’m not okay, you’re not okay.”
Their self esteem had already begun to erode due to a number of cultural factors.
Simply put: if there’s no point in me being me, then there’s no point in you being you. And if you’re promoting anything that smacks of hopeful beliefs, then you’re a deluded fool — and I detest you. You’re happy, I’m miserable — but I’m right.
This is the foundation of all that follows. Long-buried resentments surface. Anger has by then arrived, and it won’t go away.
And out of that psychological place — if prolonged, and left untreated (and one’s finances, say, are also a shambles; a primary silent contributor) — anger simmers into long-buried rage. Then comes this thought: “If I’m going down, I’m taking you with me.” It exists as a passing fantasy, starting out — yet it clings. It remains.
Then that state gestates, its afflicted persons pull back even further by isolating — and shortly thereafter (and this should never be a surprise), full darkness sets in.
The truth has ceased being spoken or even sought, by anybody involved, it must be noted.
In any event, just a hop, skip and a jump later marches forth our violent American Misanthrope.
At least the gun-toting version.
As an aside, by the way — the evolution of the car bomber is likely very similar.
* * * * *
Beneath our various cultural hatreds lie what, for many, is a surprise punch line.
American Misanthropy doesn’t begin and end with our home-grown mass killers.
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines misanthrope as, “a person who hates or distrusts all people.” That’s pretty straightforward — and by way of denial, atypical of today’s oftentimes still (for the time being) well-heeled society.
But, seriously — couldn’t the definition easily apply to most of us these days, no matter what our ages or backgrounds? Aren’t the majority of us really upset with an untold number of perceived affronts that engulf us, both major and minor?
Yes. We are — if we’re truly honest with ourselves. And that upset often will be expressed from atop a high horse of self-righteousness, whose stirrups are rage.
We Americans have become an effortlessly angry and finger-pointing population.
Webster’s definition, therefore, implies this surprise: Only a miniscule percentage of American Misanthropes are, or ever will be, murderers — even as the so-called “random shooting” phenomenon becomes increasingly commonplace.
Our campus rampage murderers are not alone in their hatred of Us. The majority of us have come to detest Us. So, our campus rampage killers aren’t just “them.”
They’re almost all of us.
And the relative few of us who don’t qualify are very likely insulated apart from all this New Millennium strife, thanks to substantial finances and (for the time being) an apparent safe environment. One suspects they are in a clear minority.
Pull back far enough, and we discover that we are the American Misanthropes.
It’s also no coincidence that so many of these massacres take place in our public schools, on our university campuses or inside our churches. More on that shortly.
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This American misanthropic phenomenon is a fairly recent one historically. By all accounts, it didn’t exist during the late 50s/early 60s. That was a gentler America.
It also has very little to do with drugs, alcohol, paranoid schizophrenia, passive-aggressiveness, sociopathology, or any other conveniently diagnosed “mental illness.”
Misanthropy does encompass these influences often enough, true — only there is no direct correlation between such aberrant influences and our myriad hatreds.
At the core of most misanthropy is a terrible widespread hubris: the failure to recognize our neighbors’ failings in ourselves.
Put another way: culturally and individually, we far too often consistently lack any manner of meaningful humility at this time in our history.
Can this all be that simple? The Deadly Sin of Pride is to blame? Basically, yes.
* * * * *
Some examples of non-murderous misanthropic hatreds include the following:
Ugly or titillating gossip, anytime, anywhere; back-stabbing office competitions, no matter how neatly-weaved into the fabric of corporate America; cyber-bullying; ugly unprovoked verbal or physical attacks aimed at those perceived as different in all classrooms (and communities); and racial, religious and even philosophical “concept” prejudices — the latter thriving behind a lead wall of tenure, it finally has to be acknowledged, on just about every major university campus in the U.S.
Whenever we dismiss (and thereafter ignore) anyone out-of-hand for failing to live up to “normal” standards, we behave like the misanthropes we’ve become.
We’re nastily judgmental far far too often. And what part of “nastily judgmental” doesn’t incorporate rage?
“Nasty” isn’t just being angry. Nasty and vicious are synonyms. Both terms exist in the world of spitting-drool rage — and no amount of smiley face dissolves them.
People who live in glass houses… We’ve been taught to behave better than we “normally” do.
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As to our killers’ focus on specific institutional settings as murderous backdrops:
Is it not now apparent that something awful had happened within the confines of our universities, schools and churches that later prompted so many disgruntled active or former members — now severely emotionally-ill — to exact some kind of hideous revenge on both those institutions and their participants, as a payback?
Do these shooters truly care who — or what — they hit? Often they’re reported to not aim all that carefully at their human targets. So, isn’t it possible that property damage works almost as well for them? It’s not that abstract an idea. “Raging against the machine” actually means … what?
In any case, isn’t it long-past time we asked all — all — of these very questions?
And isn’t it also time we acknowledged that we’re all in this together?
* * * * *
That’s why it’s now become so important for us to begin to better define “this.”
Who are we really? Where do we come from — really? As has been argued in previous treatises, there isn’t one philosophy or religion on the face of this planet that’s got “it” mostly correct — but that hasn’t stopped philosophical/religious proponents from insisting that they do. Wars, not so surprisingly, usually result. Worse, few such proponents ever try to upgrade what are obviously entrenched and contrary perspectives to most of the rest of us. That’s deep-dish hubris.
It’s our prideful and false sense of exclusivity and superiority that must finally be addressed. Only then will we be able to itemize the mechanisms behind these terrible aggressions. Cyber-bullying is just the latest manifestation of a cultural hubris that’s cauldroned to the surface of our awareness.
When we finally feel shame for having created and promoted this dysfunctional culture, it will mark the first moment when our mummified layers of pride begin to peel away, and at long last crumble in our hands.
Must we all remain silently compliant until we finally get our noses bloodied, but-good, first?
When you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
Twirling, preening sword wielders — that’s far too normally who we’ve become.
And probably for the time being, anyway, that’s all we’re likely to remain.