When the Horror happens, as it inevitably does, we look for the simple explanation, something to salve our fright and disgust.
So it is with the Colorado shooter. Some say he’s crazy, a madman that no law could stop. Which, sadly, is all too true. One of the virtues of our country is also a danger, that we are so free and open. That freedom, of course, comes with the risk that some will abuse it. But no imposed limit on the freedom will deter someone like that shooter.
Or we say it’s the degradation of our culture, that Daniel Patrick Moynihan had it right decades ago. Then, he said that our pop culture was “defining deviancy down,” that we are so inundated with the disgusting that it becomes commonplace and thus more acceptable. Which then leads to even more shocking behavior, and the spiral continues. We are a coarser society, and that no doubt can contribute to the madman’s propensity to act in the horrific manner the Colorado shooter did. We have kids at home playing the most violent video games hours at a time; who can actually believe that being immersed in that video violence wouldn’t have an adverse effect on some? Plus in a bizarre manner, our culture celebrates the shooter, giving him 24/7 notoriety, thus in his twisted mind giving him his moment in the sun.
Or we say, “Look, how can guns like the assault weapon he was carrying be even legal? Why does someone need to own a gun like that?” And they’d be right; our gun culture too often is absolutist, that any restriction is too much. One result of that is the weapons turned on us, used against our police or on innocents in a crowded Colorado theater. But we also know that a determined madman will not be deterred by stricter gun laws, no matter how much they are needed.
Or we say it comes from the dissolution of the family. Once again, there is truth to that. But all too often shooters like the one in Colorado come from loving parents, so while we know the parentless kids are almost certain to suffer as adults, we also know that a dysfunctional family isn’t determinative.
No, we look for the simple when we can’t explain the sudden burst of unspeakable violence we all too often are subjected to in our society. In the midst of chaos like this, we look for some comfort. But to highlight one reason in attempting to understand this evil, we are simply looking to point a finger. Maybe in the swirl of our society, the madman sent over the tipping point is the result of that swirl. Soon enough, we’ll know more about him, satisfying our curiosity, but also knowing that knowledge won’t prepare us for the next incident. Or the one after that.
Because maybe, maybe, author Joseph Conrad had it right a century or so ago in his masterpiece Heart of Darkness. In it, the novelist writes, “The mind of man is capable of anything -- because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.”
• Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.