From the Obvious to the Obscure 4/22/07

And why would anyone connect the recent Don Imus flap with the more recent and tragic Virginia Tech murders? First let me rant by voicing my objections to the media’s constant use of the term “massacre” to describe Seung-Hui Cho’s murderous rampage. Although an accurate word to describe the carnage, to my mind it elicits a powerful hot button response from most people, which is perhaps desirable from a cutthroat journalistic point of view. It smacks of the same type of media manipulation that creates the scenario of competing news outlets running footage of banal interviewers asking meaningless questions of strictly ancillary figures simply to prevent viewers from changing channels in the rare circumstance that a competitor might be broadcasting anything more germane on the topic. The major “news” media broadcasters will run 240 straight hours of a story in fear that their competitor might run 241. A massacre is easier to sell than a murder, even a mass murder.

Primarily the term massacre focuses on the act rather than the perpetrator. This has some level of merit. Ultimately, though, it implies that the perpetrator, to the media, is only valuable in terms of the act. He has no value as a human, only as perpetrator of a massacre. When perceived as a murderer, the act and the perp take on a more balanced level of importance. A murderer is still a human. By focusing on the act rather than the actor the media can run feel good stories of how wonderful the victims were while reducing the actor to stock interpretations of sickness and depravity. It makes for good theater but does little to address the societal problems raised by the act that must needs be addressed by maintaining the humanity of the murderer in balance with the humanity of the victims. Enough of my rant.

What I care to espouse is the relationship I perceive between Don Imus and Seung-Hui Cho. The sociopathic acts of each involve mental disorder and the first amendment. In legal circles the presence of a mental disorder in the perpetrator of an offense cures a multitude of ills. Mental “illness” is in and of itself a viable defense strategy. There is a tendency in American society to create distance between the actor and the act by any number of means, the least of which is certainly not the insanity defense. In its most benign becoming it manifests in the ” I didn’t mean any offense. I was only trying to be funny” defense of Don Imus and countless other bigots before him that point to a momentary insanity, a lapse of taste rather than the expression of systemic hate it nearly always truly represents.

In this instance the perp is already famous and seeks to pass himself off as “I’m only human. If I wasn’t so famous you would have never known about this. What about everybody else who did this?”. The offense was, to the perp, a nearly non existent short blip on the screen of perception, barely registering at all and not worthy of the symbolic scrutiny it is subject to.

In the second instance the shocking remarks are “ex post facto” relative to the shocking events. In this case the revelations are from someone who has, through extreme force of will, made themselves famous through the heinous act they retroactively justify, “nobody understood me, I was abused, why didn’t anyone listen. See how powerful I really am”.

In both cases the fame of the speaker, whether earned through tears, sweat or blood, moves the acts into the realm of the symbolic exemplar. They are both individual expressions that project into our collective consciousness to the degree that we see both ourselves as individuals and ourselves as a corporate culture within them. We relish in examining at length the rationales and motivations. Unfortunately we mostly concentrate on how different they are from us instead of how closely they resemble us.

One could say that the primary, and quite significant difference between the two acts was that in the former case only a few women’s pride was hurt and in the latter over one and a half score of people lost their lives with the accompanying ripple of dramatic effect on literally thousands, from loved ones through vicarious acquaintances. Death, however, does not only transpire on the physical plane, as dramatic and painful as that may be, but also on the mental and spiritual planes, to as consequential effect.

Such transgressions of the heart, and not the body, may not have the same initial impact as the violent removal of many lives from this mortal coil, but have virtually the exact same effect on life wholly considered, when we realise that the reality of ideas is the only possible precursor to the reality of physical existence. That is, when ideas are murdered it is only a matter of time that the loss of those ideas brings a meaningful and measurable loss, a murder, to the real world. Left unchecked, if Don Imus’ comments had deterred even one of the Rutgers basketball players from becoming the doctor or teacher or lover she was meant to be, because of shame or self doubt, it could be considered a type of murder, especially from a Christian concept of that soul’s value to the corporate body of Christ.

Although it is very much less easily perceivable than in the Imus case, the Cho situation marks an issue relevant to the first amendment. That the statements were made by Cho after the fact does not mark his remarks any less in the purview of the amendment than Imus’. What is relevant about each is although both were, are, and always will be, under the American Democratic Republic’s Bill of Rights, free to say what they said, they are also, implicit in the sense of “to each right a responsibility”, responsible for the consequences of their remarks. This is the soft underbelly of human rights, the concurrent and immutable responsibility that accompanies that right.

It would suit us to consider the responsibilities that coexist with our rights. Second amendment rights would include dialogue about the appropriate use of personal firearms. Instead of absolute arguments over punitive measures dialogue on the issue would center on appropriate use, a positive response to the use of weaponry having a real chance of discovering something that may contribute to the advancement of society rather than the personal gain of politicians and/or the lobbyists who are so often their puppeteers.

There will always be a gap between the appropriate nature of the relationship of a right to it’s mirror responsibility. This is the price of freedom. We cannot prevent 100 percent of improper gun use by citizens with the implicit right to use them. But a clear national discussion of the coexistent responsibility of rights would go a long way to identify potential opportunities for abuse, and that national dialogue should carry the same weight as that addressing the parameters of the right to begin with. The considerations of balance between the individual and the state are often dependent on the balance between rights and responsibilities and privileges and duties.

In essence, both Don Imus and Seung-Hui Cho have personally suffered the consequences of their expressions, to varying degrees. What cannot be lost in the accompanying dialogue surrounding each case should be the complicity of society in creating the circumstances allowing such egregious affronts to our allegedly civilized nation. Both of these “crimes” one civil, one criminal, reveal substantial flaws in the current fabric of what passes for society. It is my contention that the “crimes” are equally damaging to the planes they directly effect, i.e. physical and emotional, and should be treated with an equality of concern.

Both of these acts demonstrate a failure of society in toto. We have allowed for the creation of an underclass in which the perception of certain women as “Hos” is acceptable. That we deny association with that underclass does not forgive us our responsibility for it’s effects on real people. That we tend to worship “naughty” and/or “cutting edge” entertainment to create a false relativity to measure our own failings against for the sake of finding ourselves worthy does not relieve us of responsibility for the psychic and future fracture of human endeavor caused by our desire to laugh at the expense of other’s loss. That we still cannot, or perhaps more correctly, refuse to see mental disorders as real and true diseases and not as vague but concrete character flaws does not forgive us for not developing effective, socially acceptable and uniformly accessible means of assisting the mentally disordered that do not carry a permanent stigma, a stigmata that bleeds just as in those favored by God, beyond the ability of the afflicted to control. That violence is still widely and uniformly considered a perfectly viable and yes, desirable, method of conflict resolution continues its traditional and child rearing based use, serving as a primary bane to our many attempts to govern in a civilized manner without the constant threat of warfare from the individual fistfight to national efforts to effectuate genocide.

As long as we, as a culture, fail to recognize and address our own corporate creations as causal to the cancers that we widely try to blame on the unfortunate individuals who succumb to the traps so readily set for them, then we will have precious little chance of ever growing out of the amoebic stage of our spiritual evolution both as beings and as a society. It is increasingly difficult for me, and so far as I can tell, many of my peers to withstand the ignorant power of our own shortsighted and often cruel manifestations.

Unchecked, we will continue to chastise the individual practitioners of these sociopathies and not consider the welcome smile that accompanied the creation of the space they occupy. Without a national self evaluation of conscience we will continue to create gulfs between us and those who cannot quite handle the pressures as well as we do. It was they who failed, not us, not as individuals or a culture. Passing the buck to the famous or the dead or both can only serve us so long. It is a petri dish overflowing with the ripest of mediums in which we foster the societal bacteria that fester and infect us, from which we vainly attempt to disassociate or hide with analogous make up and turtle necks.

I, for one, have had enough.

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