Of course we ask the agonized why, when faced with the kind of atrocity we witnessed in Aurora, Colorado. We search for explanations to the unexplainable, for answers to the unanswerable. But let's not look for answers exclusively outside ourselves. For myself, I often find it more honest to look to the dark side of my own heart and soul. Like every other human being, I imagine, I nurse fantasies; in my case, thankfully, they are generally benign. And I generally manage to acknowledge and respect the border between fantasy and reality. The perpetrator of the killings at that showing of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, James Holmes, apparently did not. But it's too easy, I think, to satisfy our need by portraying him as a deranged and alienated monster; and more painfully instructive to see him in some part as ourselves.
It's interesting to note that the obsessive fantasies Holmes enacted would not have been imaginable fifty years ago. I'm not so naive as to "blame" Hollywood movies, comic books and video games. Millions indulge in them every day without resorting to the kind of violence they delight in--whether online or in the theater. The human imagination is for the most part perfectly capable of differentiating its projections from the events of the real world. But it's surely true that our culture has enabled and expanded the range of imaginative possibility, the space in which the individual mind can invent its own fantasies.
And there is another aspect of our culture that opened the door of actual possibility to Holmes's actions: the Internet. Fifty years ago, it would have been impossible for him to assemble, it seems without arousing suspicion, the weaponry and ammunition needed to enact his tragically destructive dream. The Bell telephone system and the US Postal Service would have made his task a lot less secretive and anonymous, and of course infinitely more time consuming than online ordering and Fedex. Our culture has created the means by which the border crossing between fantasy and reality is now quick and easy to achieve with the click of a mouse.
As I said earlier, we all have fantasies. It's not much more than the turn of an on-off switch in the mind to make the conversion of fantasy into reality, and the obsessive mind is a powerful tool indeed. When I suggest that James Holmes is ourselves, I mean that this fatally misguided young man inhabited the same world as the rest of us, the culture we have created. The Joker, like Satan, is merely the manifestation of the darkest corner of every human soul. To neglect our own Joker is to risk becoming what James Holmes horribly became: the man with the direst of fantasies, and the means to make it real.
Which is not intended to excuse his actions. Each one of us is responsible for the choices that we make and the actions we pursue. But it's equally important to remember at such times that the culture we have chosen as a species to create is no accident, but rather a mirror reflecting who we are. We should not let the opportunity pass to take a good look at what we see there when it's held up for us--but I very much fear that we will. It's simply too tempting instead to blame the derangement and alienation of the perpetrator and to forget that we, too, have a role. That I, too, have a role.