Monday, July 23, 2012


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.


CHI SPHERE said...

In my last response to your first thoughts about Aurora I postulated that the suggestive power of violent video games can unlock or trigger the dark side in persons who already have outlets to violent or dark fantasies within their subconscious. I suggested that Soldiers and others who would slip the "border crossing between fantasy and reality" are growing in number along with the number of guns purchased each day. Often they are hand guns like the Colt 1911 45mm automatic pistol I was issued as a Navy hospital corpsman along with an M16 assault rifle. The killer used a Glock 40mm, and the AR-15 assault rifle which closely resembles the M16 and like it has a 30 round capacity but much larger magazines are available as we have learned he purchased.

The mass media exposure on our unconscious mind has accelerated exponentially in the last 20 years and the frequency of negative suggestions reaches most of humankind, especially within portions of our world where these 'automatic' weapons are literally laying about within the reach of many. "Two handguns, a shotgun and a rifle. That's the average male in Colorado," according to Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which advocates for firearms owners' rights.

The mass mediated world of powerful suggestive images and provocative alluring story lines causes us to question our cognitive vulnerability under stress or mentally unstable moments like during arguments or periods of grief or depression.

My son is bi polar and we have used this event as constructively as we can to explore the mechanisms that can trigger each of use to loose it for even a few moments. Of course the killer is deeply psychopathic and his psychosis gained momentum for a long period and I think it still appears to be growing. I just viewed his hearing where he sat with flame red hair looking bewildered and tired though I think he is working the whole system and this is just round two!

Part of psychosis the alteration of a person's ability to think clearly, make good judgments, respond emotionally, communicate effectively, understand reality, and behave appropriately. These are terms anyone who has been in therapy has explored as I have over many years of group and private therapy.

As you point out the internet allows for incredible access to nearly everything the world has to offer in a very short time without much critical scrutiny by anyone much less law enforcement or homeland security. In fact it may be this virtual anonymity that gives one so disposed as JH to move forward without notice remaining within his delusion, isolated and full of purpose.

I am contemplating my roll in all of this as you suggest. I do not so much blame JH's derangement as I question the factors that prevented those who have knew him at school, home and within his social
circles from noticing his transformation during the period before and after his withdrawal from a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado in June.

Perhaps he was very capable of hiding his instability. My other concern is that the media blitz associated with is heinous act will embolden others so afflicted to imitate him on some future date.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for all the thought you have devoted to this, Gary. The point I wanted to make is that we all need to go through precisely this process, and not accept the glib assumptions of the media.