Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Little Less of this Convenient Aphasia

Here in the Boston Area one can still be shocked by the range of the bombing's impact. I just discovered, yesterday--so more than a week after the bombing--that I "know" a husband and wife who both lost a leg in the bombing. They live near me. I know their mother/mother-in-law from a women's political action group I work with.  I am also still encountering people who haven't seen me since the bombing and who need to relive it and unburden themselves of the part that people are still fixated on: the mystery of the evil.   Yesterday while I was downtown with Boston Children's Chorus one of the other mothers began bewailing the fact that the second bomber was "treated in the same hospital with some of his victims."  The room split between upper class/educated women (White and Asian) and working class/non white women--except the one who is half egyptian and married to an African American--on how much they priviliged a kind of sentimental urge over principle.  I was surprised to find myself not at all alone in explaining to the first woman, who was outraged by the Miranda warning and by the treating of the bomber at the hospital, that there are principles which need to be defended when you are talking about government action regardless of the sentiment of the mob or the victims.

But what struck me again in the coverage and the discussion, especially of the "evil" question--how could he? What kind of person would? How could he go to a party afterwards? Why don't they torture him to make him talk? is how compartamentalized people are about violence in this country.  Not only do they forget Columbine, and the shooting of Gabby Giffords, and the Aurora shooting and bombing event but they seem to forget (or never to have known) about the half dozen recent "discoveries" of bomb caches here in the northeast and the recent spate of bombing/arson shootings of firefighters.

Here's a couple:

A sniper killed firefighter Ryan Hummert, 22, and wounded two police officers in 2008 as they responded to a pickup and house fire in Maplewood, a St. Louis suburb. Later that year, a carjacker shot and killed off-duty St. Louis firefighter Leonard Riggins, who saw a car wreck and stopped to help, not knowing that the armed carjacker had crashed the car.
Roswell, N.M., Fire Chief Louis Jones, 46, died in March 2002 after responding to a house fire. As Jones approached the house, a man began firing, hitting Jones in the head and killing a paramedic. The shooter, a man with a history of mental illness, had set the fire, killed a neighbor, shot the neighbor's 3-year-old son and taken a 5-year-old child hostage before killing himself, according to a report from the Roswell Fire Department.

This was only brought to our attention because of the Webster shooting in which four firefighters were shot, two were killed, by some totally normal white guy with a grudge. I actually was looking for a set of "crazy domestic abuser found with enormous cache of weapons and explosives when wife turns him in" stories which I read in local papers up North (New Hampshire or Maine) a year or so ago but they were so far out of google range I couldn't find them.

This country is awash in guns and explosives and they are in the hands of some of the most mentally disturbed and morally bankrupt people we can imagine and most of them are fellow citizens, "natural born" Americans, and white people. But every one of these lunatics gets read his rights if he is arrested. And none of them are tortured.


  1. bewailing the fact that the second bomber was "treated in the same hospital with some of his victims."

    Indeed. There should be separate medical facilities for suspects and victims.

  2. Oh, Hai! Yes, it is quite interesting how little people grasp the nature of the principle that the government should not be able to do anything it wants with people it has seized. These are the same people who are rendered uncomfortable with the notion that prisoners in federal and state prisons need to be given three square meals a day, a bed, and medical treatment for chronic conditions.

  3. Sadly(?) I cling to the notion of innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. To compound the social discomfort with me, I find it unacceptable of me to publicly "give privilege" to MY emotions over reason in situations like the one you describe. Rather I would go into crisis intervention counselor mode (non directive techniques) or disengage. I find that reason in situations like this is pointless.

    Clearly you are well educated and as such I’m at a quandary if to offer a reasoned explanation given the nature of your responses on “no more mr nice guy “ or just the highlights assuming they deliberately truncated, leaving out the genetic/ biological/sociological factors not to complicate or bore.

    I consider “evil” as being relative to society not an absolute. I see it as a human created manifestation of our bestial instincts. Specifically a variation on the survival, ‘fight or flight’.
    I also view culture as simply the manifestation their shared survival methodologies. Each “culture has resolved *their* survival issues by emphasizing different aspects of those instincts and rationalizing them accordingly. Thus over time the culture have become familiar with therefore comfortable with those rationales. I hold the (tentative until proven wrong) view that we humans are the product of the vagaries our electro chemical basis. Notwithstanding the hither to not yet fully understood variation and also not fully understood fully influences, relationships (internal, external pre, during and post birth). Clearly we are all unique and most certainly more than the minimalist fantasy of “the sum of our genes”. Just as clearly we are more than our instincts (emotions) or else we are the naked APE.
    I hasten to add that the primary purpose of society is for mutual benefit *survival* and as such the society must exclude the most aberrant to achieve that. The law is to minimize the unfairness in equities that exist as a result of the “genetic +” variations and circumstances.
    I would argue that the bomber is one such case BUT it does not mean he is no longer a human. I t seems logical argue that it is in our (society’s) best interests to understand the circumstances that lead to this antisocial catastrophe, rather than emotionally pigeon hole it under a unhelpful and nondescript “EVIL”.

    To that end I’d suggest one examine “the first generation identity crisis”. At home one culture at school a different one. One should never underestimate the negative power/pressure of truly belonging to neither especially when added to puberty, a time of NEEDING to belong. The degree of conflict can be down to “genetic +” susceptibilities.

    too much? sorry

    If the answer is simple then the question must be wrong

  4. I guess I think that even your answer, Examinator, is too simplistic. In this modern world, and in the lives of the alleged bombers, there isn't any singular authentic "culture" to appeal to that can make their actions eithe rnecessary or unnecessary, explicable or inexplicable. Both of them were living in two separate worlds and both of them had duties, realities, fantasies and relationships which would make the bombing unnecessary and even horrifying--you can bet your boots that the other members of the Mosque they occasionally attended were horrified and that their personal friends and family members were horrified.

    I think you missed the fact that the "problem of evil" was not really my word, in this post but rather the problem as it was understood by the other women I was talking to. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. I don't find their motives very surprising or unclear--I agree with you about the "first generation identity crisis" and I agree with others that it was very likely a plan originating with the brother who couldn't make it in this world who seduced and overawed his younger brother. But that just pushes the problem off a little farther because although motiveless malignancy and a sheer delight in human suffering explains the older brother's decision it doesn't explain the younger brother's willingness to go along. I'm not really surprised by that either, actually, because 19 year olds lack understanding of the consequences of their actions and, when faced with consequences, retreat into fantasy and denial, bravado and dissociation quite easily. But for the people who knew the 19 year old--and there are a lot of them here--it does remain a question: "how one can smile and smile and be a villain." The thing that throws people most isn't that he did it its the singular piece of information that he left the bombing and went to a party that night. That seems to be incomprehensible to them. Its not, to me, but I am curious about it in a psychological and philosophical sense.

  5. Thank you for your response.
    I did understand that "the problem of evil" was the other ladies' term. What I wrote was the abridged version and was intended to address the issues you are most interested in. However I'm still trying to find the level at which to write here. I meant no harm or criticism of you.
    Clearly I am no wordsmith or do I claim any particular authority on anything.
    I do become uncomfortable when people discuss complex issues as they exist "in discrete bubbles" so to speak.

    I guess the issue I have with judging these young men either psychologically or philosophically is that to do so in terms of two 'dubious'(biased to your cultural imprimatur) value judgements.
    By that I mean that you seem to be saying that there is a transcendent universal right or wrong. i.e. "how one can smile and smile and be a villain."
    the second dubious implied assertion is that the Judaic/Christian morality is better
    To me both are easy to understand in abstract principals ( once one accepts the fundamental notion of the utter immeasurable variations on a biological/Genetic+ ( see epigenetics, Chromatin, the influence of “junk” DNA ,and Neuro psychology and neuro philosophy)
    BTW the list of influencing factors can only increase in line with our abilities to find them .

    "The Siphonaptera" Fleas.
    Big fleas have little fleas,
    Upon their backs to bite 'em,
    And little fleas have lesser fleas,
    and so, ad infinitum .
    His value judgement/priorities is different to that of the society in which he/they live calls acceptable. One could ask the same questions of every Banker or Capitalist (GFC, Bopal the heavy handed half truths of Monsanto selling seed to Indian Farmers thousands lost their means of support, (land) and 100's of suicides... et al. If it comes to that, how can Americans (or anybody) smile and go to parties knowing the utter misery, destitution, denial of human rights, deaths that they aid and abet (often by force) in God(s) only knows how many countries... In short it's all in the eye of the beholder.

    I would argue that any right or wrong is subject to the prevailing mores... infanticide was part of the Moriori
    culture .i.e It was a physical survival practice (population control), Trapped on as they were on *small * islands(Chatham Islands) in the Southern ocean 500 odd miles from the nearest land for 500 years. They remained peaceful no cannibalism or internecine tribal wars. Compare that to Rapa Nui ( Easter Island) they ate/consumed themselves virtually to a tiny remnant population after wars, extreme religions etc. Even the Maori from NZ had degenerated into barbaric practices . All three came from the same stock and all with similar dates. P.S. The Maori were told by the whiteman of the islands and where they were so the Maori “Conquered” them ( read enslaved and ate them). For all intents and purposes they are extinct no one knows their legends, dialect or how to interpret their carvings etc.
    Clearly I could go on with other examples of cultural (survival practices ) influencing mores/definitions of morality to prove my point.

  6. Part 2
    I think Jean Cocteau's book “Les Enfants Terribles” or Goldings book “Lord of the Flies” and even 'the Admirable Creighton” demonstrate the point well.
    I very much doubt that this young man will be found mentally ill i.e. has mind altering psychosis.
    In short there is no good or evil lest thinking makes it so.
    Having said that the practical issue of what is best for the “society” is that they (he) be excluded (jailed) .

    It is also clear to me that those women were emoting and as such they could need/benefit from some help to emotionally cope with the confrontation to their understanding and comfort levels. The real issue is to help THEM cope with the perceived threat of their world view. The young man was acting in terms of his.

    It is thoroughly reasonable to live in a society but not be *part *of it. i.e. Passport to me is for convenience not conviction. I view nationalism as artifice a means of the state to persuade people to take on values and actions they would not normally do. Dr Samuel Johnson once said “ patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” . I take that to mean if something can or is majorly justified by patriotism it's probably dodgy.
    Some of the biggest villains wrap themselves in flags and nationalism. The list is very long.
    Their real motives are far less noble.