Tuesday, June 14, 2016

After Orlando: observations in the moment

There are at least forty-nine people who will never see their loved ones again, who will never enjoy a latte, see the latest blockbuster, spend a day shopping or at the beach, go to work, or do anything else. Why? Because they were gunned down in cold blood at a nightclub in Orlando by a man who had somehow convinced himself that killing as many gay people as he could was a good idea.

After the fact, there are plenty of people trying to climb inside this man's head (he's dead too, shot by police). He's a domestic terrorist, he's an ISIS sympathizer, he's a homophobe, he's a self-loathing homosexual, he's evil, he's mentally ill, he's all of these things and more.

Whatever else he is, he's a cold-blooded murderer, that much is certain. His actions, regardless of his motivations, were pre-meditated. He showed up at a gay nightclub in Orlando looking to deal out as much death as possible. Whether or not he thought he might escape from this alive is largely immaterial, for he certainly knew he'd likely end up dead in short order, one way or another.

And he's far from alone in this regard. Other people have made this same decision in the recent past and no doubt more will continue to do so in the future: to purposefully kill a bunch of innocent people in service to some ideology or point of view, inspired by politics, religion, bigotry, or just plain hatred.

The morning after, the day after, the week after, there is talk about "how," and "why," to be sure. But mostly this talk is limited, insofar as it goes no farther than finding reasons so people can be outraged and indignant. And there's talk about prevention, but mostly it's about gun control. And of course, there's the talk emanating from politician and their ilk, who use such tragedies to push agendas or to score political points.

What there is very little of is talk about how and why individuals manage to convince themselves that these sorts of massacres serve a purpose, are—for lack of a better way to say it—good ideas. The shooter in Orlando—one Omar Mateen—is, or rather was a thinking person. He was a son, a father, and at least at one point, a husband. He had a job, he had a family, he was seemingly a part of society. We are learning more about his past, to be sure, and there's apparently a lot of hate in that past, but hate isn't—or at least it shouldn't be—a permanent aspect of existence. Lots of people hate. All. The. Time.

Yet for some, hate becomes a critical and omnipresent aspect of their existence. How and why?

There is also the issue of goals here. Mateen is dead. What did he actually expect to accomplish? What do any of these killers, these terrorist-types, hope to accomplish when their deaths are almost a foregone conclusion? If they imagine they're helping to change things, for whom are they doing this? Because they aren't going to be around. Or perhaps they want to be remembered, they want to be famous. And that's something I just can't wrap my head around, this desire for fame or infamy.

If I go out in a blaze of glory, I'm gone. The fame I accrue is meaningless to me necessarily because I'm dead. There's no actual payoff in this regard. I won't ever know that I'm famous, that I'm remembered (and this is no less true of everyone else who is so determined to achieve fame; at the end of the day, it's a Pyrrhic victory, at best). Why isn't it enough to live life as best one can?

Yet for some, fame is critical; being known has become their chief goal in life. Again, how and why is this happening?

The modern world is a big place, full of many, many people. And as compared with the not-so-distant past, it is very, very different. I think—per the writings of Hannah Arendt—that modernity is effectively detaching many people from day to day existence, that they are losing their links to humanity. And I think these are the people who are subject to being drawn in to twisted ideologies and belief systems, that these are the people where hate festers and grows. And I think this confluence represents the key to understanding why there are people who are willing to commit mass murder, to feed their hate, to justify their ideology, and to secure their piece of history, their fame as it were.

And I'm not sure there are solutions for any of this. But if there are, we're never going to find them if our after-the-fact conversations continue to be as limited as they currently are.

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