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Order from Chaos...

Over at The Unrepentant Individual, Brad brings a little bit of order from his own personal experience of chaos, and in the process manages to express something about the seemingly senseless violence our society seems plagued with that I've always known but never articulated

Specifically, that what we call senseless and irrational violence is not necessarily senseless or irrational at all.  It may be evil -- a conscious desire and decision to hurt others.  But it is rarely random... instead, there is usually a cause.  Not a justifiable one, but still, something more than a bad roll of the dice that day.

In fact, I would bet that a large number of single-perpetrator, multiple-victim public shootings begin with the same four words: "My life is over."

Notice that I don't say end with those four words.  No, begin with them. 

The fact is, there is a fairly narrow path to success in America, at least for the media-promoted and generally accepted type of success.  You go to school, do your best, go to the best college you can get into and your parents can afford, get a degree in something, and then go out into the world to do... whatever.  It almost doesn't matter.  But there are a couple clear ways to fall off of this path, and one of the big ones is to get caught committing a serious crime -- serious in the sense of social disapproval.  Something for which there can be no forgiveness.

Obviously, this means drugs.

Who hasn't filled out an application for employment that solicited statements about drug usage?  And no matter how carefully the fine print states that an affirmative answer will not necessarily be a bar to employment, we all know that the first people crossed off the list will be those who admit to using drugs.  Even worse than employers who ask about drugs are those who test, randomly or uniformly, for drug usage.  It's possible to lie on a form easily enough if there's no way to check it; it's something else again when one Monday you walk into work to see the smiling technician asking for a urine sample, and yes, it's too late to call in sick that day.

How much worse, in the era of our seemingly omniscient State, would be an actual conviction of drug use? 

The State never forgets, and its databases are easily and routinely checked.  A conviction for drug usage is likely to be a practical, if not absolute, bar from any job that involves trust, responsibility, or intellectual ability.  And if the conviction should pass the level required to make it a felony, the convicted can expect to be permanently denied the right to vote, the right to own a gun, and the privilege (such as it is) of holding a government job; if he's lucky, someone may eventually extend enough trust to hire him as a fast food specialist or Wal-Mart Partner.

For someone whose entire life has been spent trudging down that gold-bricked road to the American Dream, it's understandable why a felony drug conviction -- or any of the other, smaller but still intimidating roadblocks -- might be greeted with those four fatal words: "My life is over."

As in the incident Brad described, if that sudden roadblock has a cause, it makes sense to be angry at the person who caused the problem.  It makes sense to want to harm that person.  It is clearly wrong, and evil, but it is fundamentally understandable.  Revenge is a completely human emotion.  And when there seems to be nothing else left, when an entire life's purpose and effort has been demolished, how can we claim not to understand that it seems, to the one facing the wreckage, to be worth a life in return?

And once that decision has been made, it is a very small step to go from one life to many.  Especially when the real culprit, the real enemy, isn't the one particular individual who added one straw to break a camal's back, but is instead a society that knows no mercy, no forgiveness, in the pursuit of a remorseless, politicized justice?

Perhaps what we are actually seeing in these seemingly random, multiple-victim public shootings, is something much less random than it appears.  Perhaps they are acts of revenge against society, in the form of its nearest and most convenient representatives. 

Perhaps we ought to be asking ourselves whether our society's insistence on the straight and narrow path is doing more harm than good.

These are just some thoughts that the Virginia Tech shooting brought to the surface.  Details of that shooting are still coming out, and this essay shouldn't be considered as a response to that event. 

UPDATE: It's been a year since I wrote this, or just about.  For much of that time I wasn't blogging, so this post was still near the top of the blog when I opened it up again this morning.  Rereading the words here, they are still thought-provoking, but there's a slightly different angle.  If our own mass-killings are at least in part the product of a society that can ruin lives for victimless "crimes", how much of the terrorist murder-suicide impulse is created by a tremendously repressive and frankly horrifying society?  Not by our foreign policy, but by the fact that middle-east cultures are in many ways driven by hatred, violence, and repression. 

If your culture demands that you hate yourself for your natural human desires -- your sexuality, your desire for freedom, your desire for material comfort -- then such self-hate may be unavoidable.  How else could a human being respond, save by learning to hate the oppressive society in which he finds himself?  America makes a convenient scapegoat, but for most people in those nations it is a distant thing with little direct effect on their lives.  The hatred for the immediately repressive surroundings, and the sheer hopelessness that such repression produces, has got to be a huge factor in the willingness to blow up people and places.

Jealousy may also be a factor, if a sublimated one.  If the more "western" areas in a middle-eastern nation are able to enjoy their decadence while most citizens remain repressed... I can see how that could breed hatred and jealousy.

2007-04-16 21:41:08.0 by TriggerFinger. 0 comments

Already!

ABC News has a poll up asking about gun control and whether it should be linked to the shooting.  Despite linking to the poll directly from a story about the shooting, and despite rather inflammatory poll questions designed to produce the desired response, when I voted the response was undoubtedly not what ABC News was expecting:
There are at least 29 confirmed dead in the shooting at Virginia Tech University, making it the worst campus shooting in American history. Law enforcement officials believe the gunman was firing at least two 9mm semi-automatic pistols.

Do you think this incident is a reason to pass stricter gun control legislation?

No. Violent shootings are isolated incidents and it's irresponsible to link them to gun control.
30,332
Yes. This shows the violence that can occur when someone has access to handguns.
12,994
I'm not sure. I need more information.
1,064
Total Vote: 44,390
I should note that that graphic above is probably a snapshot in time, and won't update if the poll results change.

I didn't want to jump straight into this issue, even though I knew it was inevitable eventually.  But there you go.

2007-04-16 21:40:57.0 by TriggerFinger. 0 comments

Only the Left...

... needs an official code of conduct to tell them that making death threats, racist and otherwise offensive comments is wrong.  The rest of us already know to be polite, and not to tolerate offensive behavior in others.

2007-04-10 20:39:23.0 by TriggerFinger. 0 comments

Walter Murphy and the No-Fly List...

There's a lot of attention being paid to this account of someone being added to the "extensive-screening" list for allegedly political reasons.  There's frankly no reason to get excited about it.  I mean, let's consider what we know about the incident:
  • A individual, who may or may not be a distinguished professor of law, is given extensive screenings and security checks at an airport.
  • He claims to have been told fairly inflammatory reasons for his being on the list, reasons that would amount to political intimidation if true.
  • His luggage was lost on his trip back.
  • Nonetheless, he was allowed to fly both ways.
So, what actual penalty was this person subjected to?  He was searched more closely than the average joe, but so are lots of other people.  He wasn't barred from his travel, he wasn't hurt, and he doesn't even allege something seriously invasive (such as a strip search).

So, in other words, he was delayed a little bit.  That's not going to add up to a lot of damages if he sues.

Now let's consider what we don't know:
  • Was his record actually as clean as he suggests?  We just have his word on this.
  • What did he say at his anti-Bush speech?  Was there anything that could be interperted as a threat?  We don't know the content of this speech, and the "angry left" can get pretty extreme.
  • Was he actually on the list -- or just someone who has a similar name?  There have been many cases of people with the same name as a terrorist being subjected to close scrutiny even though they did nothing wrong themselves.
  • If he was on the list (as himself), was he put there for his speech?
  • Was his luggage deliberately lost as a means of intimidation and harassment, or was it simply lost due to incompetence or misadventure?
The only source we have for all of the really inflammatory stuff in his account, even taken at face value, is an anonymous TSA/airline employee.  What are the odds this person actually knows why and how people are placed on the no-fly list?  What are the odds he would discuss the real reasons with someone actually on the list? 

In short, this story would be an appalling abuse of power and violation of the First Amendment... if, and only if, the majority of the allegation in the account are true, including especially and necessarily those allegations regarding the political motives for placing Mr. Murphy on the list.  Absent those motivations, which as described are not proven and in fact not even credible, there's not really any story here.

It's just someone who got selected for additional screening and attributed inflammatory reasons for the selection, whether on his own or with prompting from someone else.

The real story would be on what criteria the no-fly list actually uses.  Not what it allegedly uses, but what it actually uses -- with evidence. 

Part of the problem with the no-fly list and other security measures under our present government is that we don't know what they are and what criteria they are using to select the maybe-wolves.  That secrecy makes it very hard to evaluate the measures for whether they make sense, and whether they violate Constitutional rights.

So, perhaps the individual involved here should sue to determine whether the reasons he was given for his selection were accurate.  If they are accurate, he's probably got a story worthy of national attention -- not to mention a nice settlement or judgement.  But until then, forgive me if I don't get all excited and worked up.

All we really know here is that someone was delayed for a few hours and was given an inflammatory explanation for why. 

UPDATE: Someone else thinks the same.

2007-04-09 22:55:38.0 by TriggerFinger. 0 comments

A favorable editorial in the Washington Post...

... about the Parker case.
Categories

2007-04-08 14:33:38.0 by TriggerFinger. 0 comments
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