July 22, 2012

The Nauseating Grief of Diseased America

Some years ago, I saw a man in profound emotional distress. The sobs which wracked his body had caused him to collapse to the ground, so weak did they make him. Every few minutes, he emitted a howl of pain, a sound so piercing and unnerving that I hope never to hear its like again. People passed the man in the street. A few of them would pause for a moment, looking awkwardly in his general direction, as if they thought that perhaps they should offer aid in some manner. Then they all walked on. The man remained on the ground, helpless in his immense pain.

After approaching him very slowly, taking care not to move too quickly or unexpectedly, I gently took him in my arms. "I'm here," I kept repeating. "I'll help you in any way I can. I'm here." I held him for many long minutes, softly murmuring the phrases over and over. He eventually began to breathe somewhat more normally. "I'll help you if I can. Please tell me what I can do."

"It's just..." He offered the words so tentatively that I could barely hear them. "It's just...?" I quietly asked. After a few more minutes had passed, he managed to tell me what had upset him so deeply.

A bus had been taking a class of 30 children from a local elementary school, together with three teachers, on a school outing. The bus had veered off a mountain road -- no one had been able to determine why exactly -- and plunged into a ravine. Everyone on board was killed. I had heard the story, of course; everyone had.

"It's just so terrible," the man said. "So, so terrible. All those lives ended so needlessly. All those families torn apart, some of them never to recover. So many possibilities for happiness and joy ended." He was slowly gathering his strength again. "It's monstrous," he said with great emphasis. "How is it possible that such monstrous things can happen?"

I consoled him as best I could, but I took care not to offer empty words of comfort. I told him I recognized that nothing could ever make such events acceptable, that many of the wounds caused by the tragedy would never heal. He seemed grateful that I didn't try to deny or avoid the horror of what had happened.

We talked for several more minutes. Finally, I had to tell him that I needed to go on to a meeting I was expected to attend; I couldn't miss it. But I gave him my card, and I wrote my personal cell phone number on the back, telling him to call me if he wanted to talk about this further, or about anything else at all. As we were parting, I asked him his name, and he told me. I paused for a moment, and looked at him more carefully. Yes, it was the face that went with the name I had been reading about. I somehow managed to mask my realization -- although there was a moment that gave me a bad fright, when I thought he had noticed the change in me that I hoped I had disguised, but it mercifully passed -- and we offered our final goodbyes. I turned away and began walking down the street.

Fortunately, a police car was parked at the corner. I took a deep breath and slowly turned around just enough so that I could glance behind me: the man was slowly walking in the opposite direction. I walked over to the police car and told the officers the name of the man I had just been talking to, and pointed him out to them. They caught him a few minutes later; he was arrested without incident, and without any attendant violence. Later that day, I explained to the police how it was that the man had told me his name. I never made it to the meeting; given the circumstances, everyone understood why.

The man I had talked to and consoled -- the man so overcome with grief that he had been rendered utterly helpless -- was a serial killer who had been sought by law enforcement for over five years. They were certain he was responsible for at least 40 deaths, although the actual number was undoubtedly higher. They were never certain they identified all his victims; he refused to help them in that effort. But he did explain how he chose his victims: he knew, he stated very simply, that the people he killed were bad. How did he know? What was his standard for judgment? He never answered those questions; he seemed to assume the answers should be as self-evident to others as they were to him. But his own victims included children -- yet he regarded them as guilty in the same manner as the adults he killed. And all the people he had killed were completely ordinary. They were no better, and no worse, than you, or me, or tens of millions of other people. His victims weren't famous or prominent in any way, not before he murdered them.

I keep remembering the man as I first met him: collapsed on the ground, sobbing in pain that seemed entirely genuine. Perhaps it was genuine in some way I cannot grasp. He considered the victims of the bus crash to be innocent, as opposed to those he murdered, whom he regarded as guilty beyond all doubt. I came to realize that the mind has an infinite capacity for rationalization and compartmentalization. He apparently recognized no connection whatsoever between the victims of the bus crash and the victims of his crimes. Grief was the appropriate reaction to the bus tragedy, in his view; for his own victims, he never expressed any regret or pity, in even the smallest degree.

But I wonder now. I wonder if I will ever believe someone who tells me he feels immense grief for a tragedy that has befallen another human being. How many cruelties has he himself delivered or excused, cruelties that were undeserved and needless? Does he feel grief about them? I wonder if I will ever trust anyone again. For it seems to me that most people have splintered their minds and their consciences in the same way the killer had. Most people have chosen to shatter their souls so completely that they can never be made whole again. Can such people ever be believed about a matter of great moment?


That is fiction. The awful tragedy in Colorado is not. I do not wonder about the terrible, life-altering grief felt by those individuals immediately affected by these ghastly events: the families and friends of those who were killed and injured, as well as those who were trapped in the theater during those terrifying and endless minutes, together with those who live in Aurora.

But I do wonder about the national paroxysm of grief, the generalized scream of pain offered by every politician and public official from president to trash collector, the public lamentation and wailing, the sickening enthusiasm shown by political tribalists from every point in the spectrum for scoring disgustingly cheap points off the blood-spattered corpses of the victims. Yet that isn't honest of me: I don't wonder about such public displays at all. I view them with deep loathing and contempt. I consider them, without exception, to be the symptoms of irretrievably damaged, narcissistic psychologies. Those who engage in such public displays and political positioning are vile and despicable in a manner that is close to impossible to capture in words. I emphasize again that I am speaking here not of those immediately affected by this tragedy, but of those people who have no direct connection of any kind to the victims and their families.

Out of a multitude of facts that I could offer to explain my judgment, I offer this, from an article in the Asian Tribune about civilian deaths in drone strikes ordered by the United States:
CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004 – 2012

Total US strikes: 321

Obama strikes: 269

Total reported killed: 2,429 - 3,097

Civilians reported killed: 479 – 811

Children reported killed: 174

Total reported injured: 1,169-1,281

US Covert Action in Yemen 2002 – 2012

Total US strikes : 41 - 128

Total US drone strikes: 31 - 67

Total reported killed: 294 - 651

Civilians reported killed: 55 - 105

Children reported killed: 24

US Covert Action in Somalia 2007 – 2012

Total US strikes: 10 - 21

Total US drone strikes: 3 - 9

Total reported killed: 58 - 169

Civilians reported killed: 11 - 57

Children reported killed: 1 - 3

We know that these figures are far from complete, just as we know that the numbers of innocent human beings murdered by the United States government are far, far higher, even if we restrict ourselves to murders in recent years. This is true not only because the U.S. government carries out operations in more than 75 countries around the world. Do not forget the genocide in Iraq.

I say, "Do not forget..." -- but the truth is far worse. The U.S. government -- and most Americans -- have never recognized the genocide at all.

Consider the staggering number of murders of innocent human beings committed by the United States government -- and ask yourselves how many Auroras those murders represent. I have tried to make calculations of this kind before: using conservative estimates of the deaths in Iraq, the murders in that country alone represent a 9/11 every day for five years. An equivalent number of Auroras would be much higher.

Listen for the public lamentations about even a small fraction of these deaths. Listen as carefully as you can. What do you hear? Why, nothing at all. These murders of entirely innocent human beings don't matter at all to most Americans. They most certainly don't matter to anyone in the U.S. government.

Can anything be worse than this loathsome silence? Perhaps one thing can be: the assertion by President Obama, and by the U.S. government, that he and they have the "right" to murder anyone at all anywhere in the world, for any reason they choose -- and that they need never disclose any details of their murders, including the fact that they have ordered them. This is the assertion of absolute, unanswerable power. It is the same claim made by every slaughtering monster in history.

This monstrous crime, what is in fact an ongoing, systematic series of monstrous crimes, is greeted by near universal silence in America. The U.S. government orders an unending series of Auroras: it ordered an Aurora last week, it will order an Aurora this week, it will order an Aurora next week. Almost no one cares. Almost no one even notices.

With these facts fixed firmly in our minds, consider these words spoken by Obama after the events in Colorado:
Now, even as we learn how this happened and who's responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers; they were husbands and wives; sisters and brothers; sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.

And if there’s anything to take away from this tragedy it’s the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it’s not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it’s how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.
Keeping in mind the murders regularly committed by the U.S. government, and the murders of innocent human beings regularly ordered by Obama himself, we must recognize that these remarks are the equivalent of the expressions of grief offered by the serial killer in my fictional exercise. These are the remarks of a man who has suffered an irreparable break with reality, a man who who has rendered himself unable to connect obviously related facts. If Obama genuinely meant these comments -- if he understood how these remarks apply with far greater force to him ("we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this") -- his realization of the monster he has allowed himself to become would reduce him to gibbering incoherence for the remainder of his life. In varying degrees, the same is true of any individual who remains in the national government at this point.

More generally, this is American culture today. Like the killer in my story, many Americans hurl themselves with fundamentally false, deeply disturbed enthusiasm into public demonstrations of grief over the needless deaths of some human beings -- those human beings they see as being much like themselves, when the deaths happen in what could be their own neighborhood. As for all the murders committed by their government with a systematic dedication as insane as that of any serial killer: silence.

But every murder committed by the United States government, every murder ordered by Obama, represents a tragedy exactly like Aurora to someone. But it is not someone most Americans happen to know or recognize -- even if only to recognize the person as a fellow human being -- and it is therefore as if it never occurred.

So I wonder. I wonder if I will ever trust anyone again.


Five years ago, after the Virginia Tech murders, I wrote about many of the issues raised by these recent events in: "The United States as Cho Seung-Hui: How the State Sanctifies Murder." Tragically, that earlier discussion has lost none of its relevance. I therefore commend it to your attention, perhaps especially with regard to the excerpts from Albert Jay Nock's Our Enemy, the State.