I will try to tread carefully and briefly in my remarks. I admit I am in a state of reaction to an event. I have not necessarily taken time to ‘process’ what has happened.
But that is in part my point. We are so good at ‘taking time to process’ in order that we not blurt out ‘irrational’ remarks. We are overly committed to waiting, when shocked by an event, until we can say something that is ‘measured’, that sounds ‘mature’.
And by that time, nothing we say will be from the heart – that is part of my deeper point. Avoiding coming from the heart may be appropriately reasonable. But given enough practice, it risks a pathological form of emotional detachment.
I – like untold numbers of others – am especially stupefied, stunned to the depths of thought, by reports that three Oklahoma teenage boys, for no reason other than possibly boredom, have, on a summer’s day, allegedly shot and killed a person jogging in their town.
“According to police, Jones said that the teens decided to kill someone “for the fun of it.” (Voice of America, attributed to Reuters)
Since the person they allegedly killed is not ‘just anybody’, but is an Australian sports student at East Central University in Oklahoma, the horror is somehow all the more impossible – and that, too, is a deeper point. What difference does it make what the victim’s personal back-story is?
The victim was ‘anybody’ who happened – it appears from accounts – to have attracted attention of three youth psychologically detached from whatever it is that prevents random killing as a way to deal with boredom. Their detachment was so deep that the shooting was not entirely spontaneous.
Each of these youth, by photo, is/was a normal, promising, young American. I find myself wishing I could confront the boys in my own living room or back yard. I feel like grabbing each by their shirt collars and yelling in their faces: “What the h**l were you thinking!!!”
I can scarcely let myself ‘connect’ to the actual alleged murder. My reaction can scarcely rise above treating their behavior as if they’d pulled a more mundane stupid stunt – like driving the family car into a swimming pool.
“What the h**l” !!!”
But the alleged murder is real. Someone in a state of likely complete comfort and trust was minding his own business, jogging. Trees and fresh air in abundance. Might have felt an odd ‘ping’ in his back. And then he was dead.
Dead. Dead. Yep – dead.
Who are these accused boys? What is the world they inhabit?
When I ask these questions, I don’t mean what are their names. I don’t mean small town Oklahoma. I don’t mean who were their parents; and I don’t ask what attitudes about gun control did anyone have.
I mean ‘who are these young Americans’ and ‘what American world do they inhabit’. If it were only one shooter, there might be a reasonable explanation of ‘individual psychological disorder’. But when there are three – there’s no explanation but something about culture.
In a public statement on the killing, “… spokesperson for US Secretary of State John Kerry, Marie Harf, (said):
“The United States is deeply saddened to hear the tragic news of the death of an Australian citizen in Oklahoma,” … “This is clearly a tragic death, and we extend our condolences to the family and the loved ones. We understand that local authorities are focused on bringing those responsible to justice. Clearly, we would support that.”
What else could she say?
But think about the level of ‘detachment’ required to make such a ‘reasonable’, ‘measured’ and ‘mature’ statement.
When I hear the statement, I hear full detachment.
- I hear the same level of detachment from Marie Harf on the Oklahoma shooting that I hear when our government expresses regret for collateral death of civilian children, adults, and neighbors as a result of a drone strike.
- It’s the same tone – much the same phrasing.
- I hear the same, measured, detachment when my senators and congressmen explain to me why it’s ‘reasonable’ that the children, families, and neighbors of Iran live under tightening thumb screws of trade sanctions.
- And I hear it again when these same legislators explain why American pensioners, food stamps beneficiaries, and ‘Meals on Wheels’ recipients must do with fewer ‘entitlements’ – and that the military must be well funded.
- I hear the same detached reasonableness when explanations are given that corrupt bankers and financiers – and tax-dodging mega corporations – cannot be prosecuted, and that regulations and laws cannot bring these power players to heel.
- Mega-retailers, in similar vein, explain with smooth emotionally detached ‘reasonableness’ why employees must be held to part-time hours, and ‘ineligibility for benefits’ is pure accident of circumstance.
This is significantly the America that these three Oklahoma youth know as ‘home’ – an emotionally detached America, its culture and policies devoid of empathy and compassion.
- In another variation of the same detachment, these youth live in an America preoccupied with celebrity news that supports a highly profitable industry – an entertainment world that promotes detachment both hollow and violent.
- And yet another variation is profit seeking resource and hydrocarbon corporations that must ‘detach’ from ‘externalized’ costs and collateral suffering that comes about by violence to earth itself – and that offers detached “regretful” explanations for suffering resulting from industrial disaster, residential evacuations, and lingering toxicity.
By briefest sketch, these youth are young Americans living in a nation that practices little else but ‘detachment’.
Four people lost to thriving life in thriving community. One by death, three by ‘detachment’.
Families, friends, and all who have treasured the four are steeped in confusion and sorrow.
This may be a consequence of a culture such as we have in America – a culture pleased, at least until now, to rely on ‘detached’, ‘measured’, ‘reasonable’ restriction of empathy in order to ‘get things done’.
My deep sorrow, and yet my best to all – MaggieAnn
(Related in an abstract sense: Albert Camus wrote about this kind of detachment in his novel ‘L ‘Entranger’, (‘The Stranger’), published 1942: “…Meursault ultimately grasps the universe’s indifference towards humankind …”)
(See Also: August 23, 2013: follow-up post here – explores more of ‘who we are’ especially as culture, empathy, and detachment are influenced by economic realities of ‘ordinary citizen’.)