Disasters, Reason

Las Vegas, Mass Murder, and Explanations

Friday, 6th October 2017

From Oct. 6, 2017

The terrorist that perpetrated the killings last weekend in Las Vegas seems to me to represent a kind of turning point in the American experience of mass murder. To this point, there has always been an explanation that fits into the mass media’s/public’s existing way of seeing the world. The killer always left a note, or had a life history, that “explained” the actions.

Was it really an explanation? Of course not. Does it explain anything about the Orlando Pulse massacre to say that the killer believed in extremist Islam? No. Others do, and don’t kill people. Some Muslims who kill people might not be motivated by that at all. And, “extremist Islam” is a big umbrella term for lots of historical and present grievances.

The case before us, the murders of 59 people and woundings of 500 in Las Vegas, is more complicated. The perpetrator didn’t leave a note. He didn’t leave much of anything. There are no Facebook rants, no incriminating pictures. Might there still be? Sure.

But for the moment, we have no explanation, and that’s very troubling for a lot of people. Why? Because it means that we can’t find a way to externalize this person from us.

It’s been noted many times that if the killer is marked as non-white in some manner, he or she (mostly he) is automatically marked, and automatically externalized. If the killer was black, it would be an indication of the otherness of all blacks. That’s “their culture”, that’s just an indication of their inferiority, evil, sin, whatever.

But when the killer is white and male, the explanatory mechanisms look elsewhere. The first go-to place: mental illness. He was mentally ill. That externalizes him from the “us”, defined as civilized white straight society. There can’t be any evil within that space, so there must be something that externalizes it. Mental illness works nicely for that.

In this case, though, there’s no indication of that. So, we go for other possibilities. How about bad upbringing, bad environment? Ah, maybe we have something there. His father was on the FBI most wanted list, and was a criminal. Maybe it was upbringing.

And yet, there are brothers who don’t seem troubled at all. Plus, the killer had no criminal record, or brushes with the law at all. That explanation doesn’t work.

Well, poverty perhaps? Nope, that doesn’t work. The guy was rich. Emotionally distraught? Not much evidence of that, according to his girlfriend. Plus, it wasn’t a crime of passion – it was clearly planned out for a long time.

Maybe he just really hated the people who he killed. Maybe they wronged him in some way. But when you’re shooting at people from 400 yards away, you’re shooting at an abstraction, not any specific person. Plus, by all accounts he loved country music, and there’s no indication that he had any animus towards those he murdered. That won’t work either.

The usual go-to explanations fall away, and we’re left with the possibility that most “civilized whites” don’t want to consider – maybe he’s one of us. But no, that can’t be. We’ll continue struggling to find The Explanation, the one that puts him in his place, outside of us and away from us.

Those outside of the community which holds the reins of the media and most of cultural discourse, those people are rolling their eyes right now, and wondering just how deluded mainstream white society can possibly be? This possibility never occurred to anyone, that the society itself might be corrupt? Sure it did, but the mechanisms of keeping a story in place are powerful. We really, really want to believe in our own virtue, our own goodness and exceptional status. If this killer really was just One Of Us, that calls it all into question. We might have to think about the violence that lies in all our hearts, and not just assume that our natural condition is peace and love, and if someone who looks like us doesn’t exhibit that, there must be an explanation.

Maybe something will turn up. Maybe he’s got a safety deposit box in a bank or something, in which he confesses that he really hates country music. Who knows. Maybe we’ll go back to the comfortably numb status of not having to face the possibility that he really is us, he really is mainstream society, and there’s no explanation that will suffice to put him in a different place than that.

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