Last Friday’s Batman rampage has provoked the same inane chatter that typically follows one of these. The president claims to be shocked, though he can’t possibly be as aghast as his subjects are about the burgeoning drone program. Meanwhile, we see the same vacuous moral posturing from “left” and “right.”. Liberals prattle on about loose gun laws and violence in movies, whilst conservatives speak about the loss of religious values and the decline of the family. Very few people are willing to point to a general societal malaise, even after 20 or so of these outbursts since Columbine. This is because the prevailing personality on these shores is ego-driven to the core: so caught up in personal pursuits as to be unaware of the distress in their midst. The first tragedy, then, is the violent act, and the second is the unresponsiveness of society. Both of these are rooted in a hyperactive ego, aggravated by the forces of alienation, de-socialization and the heightened automation of American existence.
While many trumpet the primacy of the American individual, life is actually quite contrived here. Choice has been whittled down to a handful of corporate options, no matter what product or service you desire. And the choice of personalities is even starker. The younger generations are forced to select between a few brutal archetypes: jocks and nerds for boys, princesses and tomboys for girls. We can forgive the immature mind for such a narrow range. However, we cannot forgive the parents who fail to imbue a greater depth of perception in their children.
Naturally, no one wants to be the fuddy duddy. Thus, Americans spend their teens and 20’s fixated on being “cool”: an obsession partially promulgated and easily manipulated by corporate interests. That was always the essence of MTV: marketing a monolithic image of what it means to be accepted in this country. It is the most vulgar form of conformity masquerading as individuality. The free spirit of the American youth is just as much a sham as the worker’s utopia of the Soviet Union: pure propaganda.
We are no more individualistic than our counterparts throughout the West. Not to worry: we have them beat on a whole host of other measures, such as waist-lines, decibel level of speech, and insincerity of expression. All of these traits stem from the predominance of ego, right down to the bulging bellies. The American desires his dominance over a domain. Hence his particular vulnerability at the hands of the swindling mortgage brokers of Wall Street, who preyed on the retrograde commodity fetish of the suburban abode. The fatalistic ego, driven by the “will to power,” as Nietzche sees it, describes the contemporary United States. Its citizens see personal success and wealth as the prime attributes, and have generally retained naïve faith in the economic system to reward the most virtuous.
The disease of Western egoism is far more widespread than these shores, to be sure, but this is the epicenter. It is here where social frustration occasionally boils over in an otherwise properly functioning person, compelling him to go and spray a few hundred rounds of ammo at an unsuspecting audience. He sees a culture ravished by expressions of ego, wherein boisterousness is encouraged above all. James Holmes and VT killer Seung-Hui Cho were both described as introverted to the extreme. They each felt excluded on account of their personalities. This culture makes life difficult on introverts, as well as those that are simply more measured in approach: men are supposed to be loud, cocky and inane. They are meant to engage in fiery, yet baseless, chatter, yelling over one another in uncivilized fashion. The soundtrack of America is the noise of bad conversation: the subjects speak louder and louder until the tortured introvert provides the crescendo.
This violent outburst is driven by ressentiment: the externalization of personal resentment in an ego-driven outburst. The American believes in leaving a legacy. Typically, one’s destiny is finding a realm within which you thrive, and then achieving much wealth and recognition in that métier. When life fails to follow the determined script, some will naturally grow frustrated. Couple this frustration with an intense feeling of alienation and the subject becomes overridden with helplessness. They may then recognize their psychological descent, but feel too ashamed to seek help. The American man is not supposed to admit emotional failings, a sure sign of weakness. At this point, egoistical man, alienated and replete with feelings of resentment, becomes fatalistic man, and the rampage occurs. The process of leaving the legacy is complete.
The perpetrator has suspended disbelief, but so has society. The murderer believes that any consequences of his act, including death, are worth the price of achieving the ultimate release. Meanwhile, society believes that it still functions. The whole is legitimized by the foolhardiness of its incumbent parts. In this way, society echoes the madman. It externalizes its resentment of the violent act by dismissing it as aberrational. “Nature creates crazy people, and there is nothing we can do about it.” And this process continues ad infinitum. Egoistical society serves as the stage for the resentful fatalist: each mutually dependent and self-reinforcing.
Violence itself is a significant part of the problem, but only insofar as it serves as release. These young men were attracted to violence because it makes the loudest bang. They probably lack the sadistic tendencies of the American troops laughing as they fired away at innocent civilians from an Apache helicopter. They do not get off on violence the same way as cops smashing a baton upon the head of a dissident or malcontent. The killing spree perpetrators have merely resigned themselves to violence. Isolated, alone, and feeling inadequate, the bloodbath is their way of coming to life.
There are millions of others holding similar feelings of resentment and despair. Thankfully, most of them find ways to channel their frustrations into something constructive, like art, activism, or finding the Higgs Boson. Others take solace in the bottom of the bottle.
Either way, misery is widespread on these shores. When I first returned to the states after four years away in France, I could literally see the stress steaming off of people. The population is worried, isolated and fearful. They live from one gasp of breath to the next, incessantly focused on petty notions of social status and economic wealth. They see themselves as music or movie stars, while simultaneously believing they might be utterly worthless. The hyperactive ego causes exaggerated bouts of self-importance and self-loathing in quick succession. It is in this unstable framework that the American operates. As such, “shocking” is the least appropriate word to describe someone going bat-shit crazy. But the President knows that. He is just playing his role as utterer of drivel in this wounded society.