Monday, July 23, 2012
Movie Theatre Massacre, July 19, 2012
This morning I woke up to another television breaking news story of human brutality. As the reports came in about the bloody attack at last night’s midnight showing in Aurora, Colorado, of the third Batman film from Hollywood, “The Dark Knight Returns,” I learned more and more about the event itself, and the young man who was the agent of the bloodshed. I tried to explore the dark scenario in my mind and speak to myself about how it might have happened.
We’ve lived in Japan so long that the notion that a person can go to a store and buy a whole arsenal of high-power weapons seems insane to me. Many of our Japanese friends have asked us incredulously where we keep our guns. They know how we Americans love our guns, along with the Second Amendment to our Bill of Rights. The fact that I was born in Oklahoma, famous for real and pretend gunslingers, makes our friends’ question to us about our guns quite reasonable.
Ironically, I come from a long line of pacifists, who were opposed to violence of any kind, even to the spanking of children. My father and some of my uncles were conscientious objectors during World Wars I and II. I never went hunting or had a gun of any kind. But I always knew how violent I could be. My passions always were right on the surface of my life. I knew I could kill. In my dreams I did it with pleasure.
My Church of Christ upbringing kept me from acting out my fear and anger, although I was pretty sure God sympathized with me and protected me from my enemies, just as He had with the Jews in the Old Testament. Stories of His punishment certainly kept me in line. I was transfixed at the gory scenes of torture (including the crucifixion) in the illustrated family Bible.
By third grade I had just about figured out that the stories in the Bible were just that, stories, and I was determined to enlighten all my playmates about what was actually real. (They were especially disappointed to hear there was no Santa Claus; and some parents were ready to burn me at the stake as a heretic!) Nevertheless, I loved the Abrahamic stories and Grimm’s fairy tales dearly, or at least the morals they taught about living.
I learned about death at eleven, when my grandmother Taylor died of a heart attack and my best friend Robert died of polio. Death became a constant puzzle in my life from then on. I was a child piano prodigy, and was locked in a competitive and stressful career as a concert pianist until I collapsed backstage after a performance, when I was seventeen, and I thought I had died with my career.
It was at that low point in my life that I began to consider whether I should “be good” or do whatever I felt like, which often was not good. Fortunately the impulse for goodness was stronger than the one for evil and depravity. I don’t know why. Perhaps out of fear, even though I had pretty much erased the vengeful God of my youth from my consciousness.
Until I was introduced to sitting quietly in Zen Buddhist temples in Japan (which was a requirement for getting my hands on documents necessary for my doctoral research) I think I thought I could think things through. What I had done was to get clear on how I could do whatever was legal and get ahead in life. My lying, manipulative and violent self whispered in one ear and my peaceful, reasonable and legalistic self spoke loudly into the other ear. But the two selves were one me.
That two-sided me was gradually and gently quieted by a sound and perception that emerged after I first glimpsed my “death” on my sitting pillow. I didn’t know what to call it. I knew it wouldn’t be accurate to call it God, because a lot of my Christian and Muslim friends have “God’s will” on their side (after the death of a loved one or in a contest to find a parking space, etc.) That is not what I heard and perceived. It was not even a voice, in the usual sense of that word.
What I experienced (and continue to experience) is a genuine sound (of both sorrow and joy) that seems to come from all sentient beings. The perceptions are likewise composed of all form, distinct and yet perfectly combined in time and space. Notions of right and wrong, self and other, heavenly and devilish, up and down, light and dark, past and future dissolve into nothing.
I sometimes describe this indescribable sound+perception as the voice of the universe, when I’m gone. It’s not very practical, so I have to do the best I can to “translate” it in my everyday life. In any case, my translation could never be a set of rules to force on anybody. But I think I am most useful when it is in control of me.
If I were not controlled I would do whatever it took to buy stuff I want. Nobody would matter. I would be the master of my domain. Occasionally I might give something to charity, but that something would never amount to the something I gave to myself. Never! And my stuff would be the envy of everyone.
I would also chew up people I disagreed with and spit them out. They wouldn’t have a chance. My sense of outrage at evil would equip me with the ability to rip it up every time I saw it. My killing skills (learned in Asian martial arts) would be working overtime. I would be Superman, Spiderman and Batman (even Wonder Woman) unleashed. Ayn Rand herself would have to get out of my way.
I would bask in the acclaim from those who approved, but I would squelch any criticism before it had a chance to grow. Anyone who disagreed with me would be nailed to the wall by my tack gun. Rendered harmless. Tongues and hands (and a few other parts of the human anatomy) would be hung on my walls like trophies.
I would outlaw music that makes me sick (most everything except Mozart and Brahms), and the esthetics I espouse (too complicated to characterize here) would rule supreme. People would not be executed for their religious beliefs, but I would kill them myself if they killed anyone in the name of their particular idiotic faith.
When the universe speaks, the “myself” that I know so well turns out to be everything, everyone, every idea, every act, and every sound, smell, image, and dream that anyone has ever imagined. What a revelation! All the people and things I hate are me. Along with all the people and things I love. Now I have to consider who it is that hates or loves them. Could it be me? But who am I?
First I must begin with the me that religion or reason shaped. There is right and wrong, good and evil. Of course! I must be on the side of the right-and-good; so I must fight the wrong-and-evil axis. I and they, me and them … it’s all so clear. But to do all this I most surely will have to kill, punish, imprison, maybe even torture. There are just wars, after all! My resentment (over whatever has wronged me) may indeed cause me to walk into a crowded theater and kill people. The blowback from my actions (a concept developed by the CIA and truly explained by the late Chalmers Johnson in his books Blowback and Nemesis) will most certainly result in more and more conflict and bloodshed in the world.
And that is why I am a Democrat: because Democrats have less faith in human nature than Republicans. “What do you mean Democrats have less faith than Republicans in human nature?”
This is the response some of my friends and students have had to my “A Fair Balance” essay (posted on Facebook and my blog.) They ask me, “How do you know?” And my response is simply, “Because I know myself.”