Dulling of the Senses to Violence

There used to be a time when the faintest whiff of violence or social disorder would send people into a panic: schools would shut down, airports close, tourist facilities dry up, travel agents go out of business, and red alerts seal off national borders. Today all that is ho-hum, business caries on as usual; let’s just mourn the dead, make speeches to gain political capital, arrest a few people (if they haven’t killed themselves already), let loose emotions on social media, then pick up the pieces, and carry on. The lingering signs of tragedy would only be that of decaying flowers on a site where blood had recently been spilled.

I remember the disruption following 9/11. Even the economy went into recession, leading to two regional wars in the Middle East and the excuse for one of the largest government spending sprees focussed on anti-terrorism, with oil and commercial contract grabs on the side to compensate the spenders. They said the world changed on that occasion, and it did. Canadians needed passports to travel to the USA for the first time, deadlier terrorist organizations emerged making the Taliban look like boy scouts, countries like Iraq and Afghanistan became dysfunctional and still are, and the Arab Springs blossomed, leading to more dysfunction in those areas and to floods of refugees pouring in through cracks in foreign borders that once protected the western world and kept the poor at home.

Today we have a new sport: lone gunmen, bombers or truck drivers who can do as much damage collectively than those 19 men who orchestrated 9/11. By October I had lost count of the number of mass shootings in the US for this year alone (mass shooting defined as more than 4 people killed per attack) – Google reminded me: 273, by the 274th day of the year; and if you cut off the “mass” and extend that to just shootings, that number exceeds 46,000. And around the world, bombers, knifers and truck drivers are taking out civilians willy nilly. How can you police everyone on the street, anyone of whom could be a deranged killer? Is the person in the subway seat next to you a mass-murderer?

Others—gun-lobby supporting politicians, for instance—try to capitalize on the carnage and say that this mayhem is the price we pay for freedom. What freedom? The freedom to carry anachronistic guns in a developed society? These politicians advocate that everyone should have a gun (so that their sponsors can sell more guns) as a deterrent to any madcap shooter firing at random. But the proliferation of guns has only seen the proliferation of the number of shootings. Welcome to the Wild, Wild West(ern World)!

This total loss of control, or rather the surrendering of control by the masses, is what leads to the “I don’t care anymore” attitude and this attitude may eventually, and ironically, weaken the mass-murder’s hold on us. When everyone just picks up, dusts off, and carries on, it will be the killer who will be asking himself, “Why the hell am I doing this? The only person getting hurt is me. These people just don’t give a shit.” We may be seeing that already: Las Vegas resumed its 24/7 -365 days per year party just two days after the worst mass shooting in recent US history.

I am reluctantly looking forward to this dulling of the senses to reduce the violence, since nothing else has worked. All other forms of anti-gun lobbying, demonstrations and protests have not shaken the resolve of the gun manufacturers, their clients, and their political toadies. When bullets keep bouncing off people’s emotional hides, making no dents, that’s when the neutralizing will happen. But what does that say of what we will have become? An insensitive world. And what will the bad guys go in search of next? Something more shocking, something to cut beneath our thickening skins and continue to raise the age old attention-seeking cry: “Look at me!”

The Savage within us

I get sent “interesting” videos by friends, fans and strangers, but a couple I received recently turned my stomach.

One was of a raid by soldiers on a village in a country that will remain unnamed; the soldiers—for they were uniformed—arrived in this dusty main street of the village on a busy market day, disembarked from their vehicles and promptly went about shooting every man, woman and child in sight who were going about their peaceful business. The grim footage was covered by a handheld camera that traversed every slumping body until there was no more movement; if a limb moved, it was machine gunned into submission. The lack of sound made the film all the more ominous. For a while I wondered if this was a staged video, but the graphic looks of surprise and horror on the faces of the attacked would have challenged even the most brilliant Hollywood movie studio. The soldiers then nonchalantly got back into their vehicles and drove away. But wait – the camera man was still alive – I was watching his film. He must have been planted there ahead of time to make this record. They (whoever they were) wanted the world to see this! And the video was serving its purpose, making its rounds. It had landed on my laptop.

Then a few days ago I received a video (why do they pick me?) of a young girl in another unnamed, fundamentalist country being stoned to death by a bunch of bloodthirsty men. This clip included sound, and the fury of the mob was blood•curdling. I had to delete this file the moment I figured out what was going on, it was just too savage. But not before I saw this young man in the foreground taking pictures of the incident on his cell phone, very deliberately, finding the right angles for maximum coverage, going about his business in a routine fashion—another reality video in the making.

I tried to put these incidents out of my mind and prided myself that I now lived in a civilized country, with layers of moral conduct so thick that none of this shit oozed out here, that my escape from the Third World once upon a time had been a Great Escape indeed. And then I read about the gang rape of a 16•year old in BC, in my Civilized Canada, which was videotaped, You Tube’d and Facebooked, and my desolation was complete. I desperately tried to rationalize that maniacs worked in mobs in the lesser developed world and only as isolated freaks in our “civilized world”, and so from a numbers standpoint, we were still better off. But then I realized that beyond the act itself, there were millions of voyeurs watching these incidents (over and over again sometimes), continuing to assault and insult the victims, and that they lived in every part of the world, developed and underdeveloped alike. I quickly descended from my moral, civilized•world high•horse and realized that we are indeed in bad times—all of us.

Please – friend, fan, or stranger – if you are reading this – do not send me this stuff again! I get your message. If you intended me to blog my condemnation about these incidents, I am doing it right here, so don’t send me any more of this human detritus which only serves to remind me (and you) that deep down we are still a bunch savages, some of us coated only a smidgeon more with layers of civilized and socialized behaviour than others. William Golding, you were so damned right when you gave us The Lord of the Flies!