Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mass Murder

What to say about an event as unimaginably awful as the mass murders at Virginia Tech? It seems inadequate, almost impertinent to bemoan the loss of life, to express sadness for the families of those who lost loved ones… as though a few words could in any way reduce their suffering. An action so monstrous, so heart-rending, so cruelly random is virtually beyond comprehension, let alone the pale compensation of pious homilies—no matter how compassionate. “Our hearts go out…” echoes emptily in this dark pit of senseless, rageful depravity to which the human soul can sink.

It’s natural, I suppose, to search for explanations—and for someone to blame. The media have been busy doing both. From what I hear, the main target for blame has been the campus police, as though they should have anticipated the rampage that was to follow, on the basis of what reasonably might have seemed an isolated incident. Through the intermediary of the media, there is no shortage of second-guessers asking them why did they not “lock down” the campus after the first shooting. As though this were a simple matter, as though these fallible humans should have been gifted with infallible clairvoyance.

More to the point, though, it's clear that a vital system failed, allowing enough cracks for a man like the deranged Cho Seung-Hui to slip through. According to the news I heard today, he had drawn attention to his potential for violence in a variety of ways and had even at one point been committed--though I have no idea how briefly. Despite police reports and referrals for psychiatric counseling, and despite faculty and peer warnings of predictive behavior, the system apparently allowed no way to remove the clearly disturbed young man from the path of murder and self-destruction. Do we blame those who designed the flawed system? Where do we find them? Perhaps we should rather set about the task of fixing insofar as possible it to circumvent such tragedies in the future.

As for the explanations, I predict that one and one, in this case, will never make two, nor two and two make four. No matter how complete a psychological profile may be made of the young man who perpetrated this atrocity, it will always remain an irreducible mystery. As Pascal wrote so many years ago, “The heart has its reasons which reason will never know.” It seems that sometimes people snap, particularly people who lack the skills to give expression to those inner tempests of emotion. Whatever has been building up inside in the form of pain and rage simply explodes, and woe betide anyone who happens to be within range of the explosion or its fall-out.

In such a circumstance, we hear a great deal about prayer--an intercession that springs, surely, from the compassion of which the human heart is capable, and one which assumes the presence of some external power that will respond in the desired manner: to bring relief or consolation to the bereaved. For one who, like myself, has trouble with deities, I suppose that the practice of metta is the closest thing to prayer, but it's done without the intermediary. To send out metta--"May they find consolation, may they be spared further pain and suffering"--is an simple act of compassion that goes from human soul to human soul. For me, it will have to suffice.


Carly said...

The Accomplices: Sundance George and Butch Reid and the Virginia Tech Massacre

by Greg Palast
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

He had accomplices. Don't kid yourself: 23-year-old Cho Seung-hui didn't forge his two little pistols in his smithy shop.

He had a dealer, a guns-and-bullets pusher-man who put the heat in his hand, took the kid's money and pocketed it with a grin.

"Whether you are looking for a pistol for affordable training or simply the excitement of shooting, the P22 is the pistol for you!"

That's the ad on the Walther website for the student-reaper, a Walther .22.

Not that Walther, or its fellow murder-maker, Glock, which crafted the other Weapon of Student Mass Destruction, the Glock 7mm, kept all of the killer kid's money. The gun makers religiously tithe a portion of their grim reapings to their friends in Washington.

This report isn't about gun control legislation or the right to bear arms or any of that sideways crap. This is about a group of co-conspirators who dropped two killing devices into the hands of someone who shouldn't have had access to a plastic spoon.

But before we bring in the suspects for questioning, let's pull back the camera lens for the bigger picture. Because what we saw at Virginia Tech was just a concentrated node of a larger, nationwide killing spree that goes on day after day in the USA. Eighty-thousand Americans take a bullet from a hand gun in any year. Thirty-thousand die. That's one thousand shooting deaths off-camera for each victim at Virginia Tech.

Sundance Bush is right now at the school for his photo op. The President is, "saddened and angered by these senseless acts of violence." But will our senseless and violent President do anything about it? He already has: On July 29, 2005, the US Senate passed, then Bush signed, a grant of immunity from lawsuits for Walther, Glock and other gun manufacturers.

Now, corporations that make hand-guns can't be sued for knowingly selling firearms to killers. Like that? No other industry has such wide lawsuit immunity -- not teachers, not doctors, not cops -- only gun makers.

Here's how Cho got his guns. It's a story you won't hear on CNN. It begins with something known as, The Iron Pipeline. At one end of the Pipeline are states like Alabama where gun laws are loosey-goosey. Gun makers including Glock stuff the 'Bama end of the pipe with far more guns than can ever be bought legally in that state, knowing full well that the guns will be illegally shipped up the pipeline into states where gun laws are tougher. Virginia law prevents "gun-trafficking"; in Alabama, they could care less.

In every state in America, a bar owner is liable to lawsuit if a bartender serves too many drinks and a customer dies in an auto accident. Hand a chainsaw to a child, you're in legal trouble. Until Bush signed the 2005 protect-the-gun-makers law, the same common law against negligent distribution applied to firearms.

Bush was aiming at Stephen Fox. Steven can describe feeling pieces of his brain fly from his skull after a mugger shot him. He's permanently paralyzed. A jury charged the makers of .25-caliber hand guns with negligent distribution -- and Bush went wild.

He was especially worked up because the City of New Orleans sued the gun makers for the cost of hospitalizing cops shot by armaments pooping out the end of the Iron Pipeline. The NAACP joined in the suit with the effrontery to demand the gun-pushers alter their marketing programs to keep their products out of the hands of maniacs and murderers.

Do the gun manufacturers know their .22's are being used for something other than hunting long-horned elk? Every year, the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency sends 800,000 requests to the gun companies to trace weapons found at crime scenes. As Fox's attorney told me, criminals are a much-valued, if unpublicized, market segment sought out and provisioned by these manufacturers.

But they're safe, the gun-makers, even if we aren't, because of Bush's immunity law. But Sundance Bush didn't act alone. There was Harry 'Butch' Reid, leader of the Senate Democrats, riding shotgun on the immunity bandwagon.

The Walther .22 comes from Austria. Hitler came from Austria, too. The Glock 7mm student-slayer comes from Germany. With the legal protection handed them by Bush and Reid, the two Teutonic weapons profiteers can skip free of legal judgment with that line well-practiced by their countrymen: "We were only taking orders -- for our product."

carly said...

Noted: Mark Strickland at Learning Works.

I listened to your idea about outrage in art being too difficult for the shopkeepers selling adornment in their commercial galleries and was thinking of your art of outrage ideas this morning. I am thinking about what forms outrage can take in art, when I drew this oracle, that I thought you might find interesting. Ideas here cross lines with Buddhism and your own.

Art. This first advice relates to Grace, which distinguishes adornment from art that lets the original material stand forth, beautified further by giving it form. An idea embodied also in Zen Buddhism.

"In human affairs, aesthetic form comes into being when traditions exist that, strong and abiding like mountains, are made pleasing by a lucid beauty. By contemplating the forms existing in the heavens we come to understand time and its changing demands. Through contemplation of the forms existing in human society it becomes possible to shape the world."

"...beautiful form suffices to brighten and to throw light upon matters of lesser moment, but important questions cannot be decided in this way. They require greater earnestness."

This counsel relates to reaching a position for movement, such as arriving at a place to make art that is not adornment.

"It is very difficult to bring quiet to the heart. Buddhism strives for rest through an ebbing away of all movement. The Book of Changes holds that rest is a state of polarity with movement as its compliment. (the basis of yoga). True quiet means keeping still when the time comes to keep still, and going forward when the time comes to go forward. In this way rest and movement are in agreement with the demands of the time, and thus there is light."

"Keeping still is the end and the beginning of all movement. In the back are the nerve fibers that mediate movement. If the movement of the spinal nerves is brought to a standstill, restlessness disappears. When a man has thus become calm, he may turn to the outside world. He no longer sees in it the struggle of individuals, and he has that true peace of mind which is needed for understanding the great laws of the universe and for acting in harmony with them. Whoever acts from these deep levels makes no mistakes." (spirit)

"The heart thinks constantly. This cannot be changed, but the movements of the heart, a man's thoughts, should restrict themselves to the immediate situation. All thinking that goes beyond this only make the heart sore. One should not permit his thoughts to go beyond his situation."

lesson for Tuesday, Book of Changes

They call him James Ure said...

Metta is indeed more practical to me then prayer and makes more sense.

It's much more personal then saying you've put in a request for compassion from an invisible deity.

Anonymous said...

Here at my own University, a few of my teachers have reacted with concern about Virginia Tech. My French teacher told us that for the past several years she's been pushing for some form of standardized plan to have some of readiness should something like this happen, but the security department doesn't seem to be interested in doing anything. I don't know what it is about some people that makes them want to turn their heads away from a problem, rather than admit fallibility and settle the situation proper.

carly said...

1. Accountability and money. Why should any security department do more than they do, when they will make the same amount of money and when something happens, not take much blame?

2. Peter, is metta practical? Or is it metaphysical? And how does it work exactly? Is it the same as "putting out a good vibe"?

Mark said...

I think a common misconception about prayer in Christianity is that it is primarily viewed as a means of expressing yourself to God. God will do what God will do regardless of my agenda for her. Thus, prayer can't really be a way for us to tell God what to do outside of ourselves. Prayer, in my eyes, is primarily a means of bringing ourselves into God's presence so we can be open to what he wants to change in us. Through prayer, we can become at peace with a situation so we can "put off a good vibe" for others around us, kinda like metta. In the end, I think God is more concerned about changing us and helping us realize our potential as human beings. Just thought I'd throw that in there.