Shock and Awe in Aurora
Explosions, flashes, smoke, cries of pain, and then only the mourning wails of survivors.
James Eagan Holmes, the individual who planned and executed the massacre at the movie theater in Aurora, was fifteen years old when the invasion of Iraq began with what was described as "Shock and Awe." This is the time when a boy is learning how to be a man, what is respected and what is despised, what emotions can be acted on and which have to be repressed, how to meet the challenge of navigating the uncharted world that lies before him.
Was James watching the coverage of the war on CNN that evening, the description of the thousands of missiles that would reign down on the cities of Iraq, with the knowledge that some will land on people like his family who will be killed or maimed. I remember that day, and hoping against hope it was a feint, a strategy to make a final demand on Saddam Hussein to concede even more, not that he could do much more than he had been doing. I didn't believe that this carnage would be unleashed on a country never attacked us, and was in a virtual state of surrender, accepting every demand for inspection and disarmament made by us
What did James take away from this? Most of us, I will say men because mass murder is still one activity that is exclusively masculine. Most men make the transition to adulthood in some way or the other. In some subcultures infliction of violence is a rite of passage. We know that some street gangs demand such against the hated group with different colors down the street. Within such a group, not to belong is unthinkable, even if homicide is a requirement.
We who have made it to adulthood have resolved the contradictions of life, found a way to channel our anger, repress our rage, express our impulses with various degrees of success. For others it is a lifelong challenge. Like James, I dropped out of a Ph.D program in Psychology-Neuro didn't exist then. And as outgoing as I am today, then I was more studious, not connecting too well with my associates at Columbia. I adjusted; and like James before yesterday, my greatest breach of the peace has been a few traffic violations over the years.
But I know rage. I've felt it, and been amazed that it could take over my being. At a given point, release, acting on this, is anticipated with an almost orgiastic pleasure. It's part of human wiring, perhaps more so in men than women, but that's another discussion. Among men, mass murder is not only acceptable, under certain conditions it is required.
Power comes in many forms: from having the ability to order the destruction of a foreign regime to being part of a select profession that has credentials to describe and then prescribe human behavior. This was the power that James was close to achieving, a Ph.D that would have made him Dr. Holmes, someone who could be seen as an expert on events such as the one he perpetrated yesterday.
But he was not going to achieve this particular niche of authority as he was being pushed out of his program. His withdrawn personality would not be seen as wisdom but as a sign of disorder. His identity was being lost, and what was left. No friends, no intimates, and now no respect.
Or it could be something else. It could be like the case of Charles Whitman, who shot fifty people from the tower of University of Texas in 1966. It turned out that he had a brain tumor that was enough to affect his own wiring, From Wikipedia:
He was also affected by a court martial as a United States Marine, failings as a student at the University of Texas, ambitious personal expectations and psychotic features he expressed in his typewritten note left at 906 Jewell Street, Austin, Texas, dated both July 31, 1966 and later by hand "3 A.M., both dead August 1, 1966".
Charles Whitman, like James Holmes, was losing his identity, his authority, his power. While Whitman had an observable condition, "A glioblastoma, which is a highly aggressive brain tumor, which .....may have played a role in his actions," we will never know what could have affected Holme's brain, as it most likely is in the complexity of billions of neuronal connections that he was hoping to be part of understanding.
We all struggle, some more than others, each in our own way. I blog. I write for unknown people with the hope that a few may read and be affected in some way. Ironically, I share this activity with one of Holme's victims, Jessica Redfield, who may be, in her easy social interactions the antithesis of the man who took her life. She appears to have written only two blog articles, the first being an incredible expression of her emotions when she missed by minutes being a victim of another mass shooting, and so describing what she must have felt when this actually happened to her six weeks later.
Her other article is more whimsical and self revealing. As a budding sports journalist she compared her relationships with men with different hockey teams. This one caught my attention:
The Quiet Guy: That is the guy who shows up to some of the parties but never really says anything to anyone. You often forget he’s even there. He stays out of the way and waits for his moment to shine. I’m talking about the Columbus Blue Jackets.
According to all accounts, this was the persona of James Holmes, the invisible man who faded into the woodwork. The latest news reports is that Holmes not only was withdrawn in person but had no "digital footprint" no social media, no personal blog, no political website....nothing.
There probably doesn't exist any targeted preventative for mass slaughter, and thinking so may only be counterproductive. There's only so much security that's possible, and as we have now seen, there is always a weak link to be exploited. It may be that all we can do is share our own unique humanity, giving what we can to those who may be left out, those suffering from quiet desperation. It may be only a smile, or a brief conversation, showing some interest and maybe some empathy.
This shooting has brought a one day suspension of the presidential campaign where the escalating acrimony seems to be too resonant of the tragedy in Aurora. Perhaps when it resumes, there will be a new sensitivity to the possible effects of the metaphorical character assassination of the attack ad culture on those who are on the edge.
We on this site believe in political action to make a better country and world. That's admirable, but also difficult to achieve. We interact with various people, including those who are withdrawn, perhaps troubled, and in need of human contact. We will never know when such connections makes a difference, in a single life or many. But for those who can, make the connection. I still remember those who did so for me a half century ago with great fondness and appreciation.