Floyd Matson and Ashley Montagu wrote the book “The Dehumanization of Man” back in the early 1980s, attempting to explain the way in which narcissism and lack of social awareness were deadly in ways that we could never see coming. Anyone who has spent a minute in a debate tournament over the past three decades has been subjected to the “Dehum Card” that calls dehumanization the “Fifth Horseman of the apocalypse.”
However, a deeper read of the book reveals many other subtle explanations that have long gone ignored, including the analysis of the “common man” they refer to as “Edmund.” He’s a regular guy who feels lost and out of control due to the lack of attention he feels he is due. He can’t get a grip on what he feels or why he feels it, so he feels the need to lash out through a variety of wild, careening acts of fitful vengeance. Taint a Tylenol, kill a pop star or look at your wife and feel the blind, dark rage building, they write. He then sinks into the dark hole of nothingness, having felt as though nothing else remains.
After I finished my doctorate, with the outside area in psych, I went back and reread that passage and it started to make more sense. It came back to me today because it was the only way to make sense of both Dylann Roof’s attacks and why so many of us feel the way we do in its wake.
Not to do an “I am Dylann Roof” thing, like the chucklehead who did so in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, but most people feel an inner-sense of helpless anger at some point in time. Maybe it’s being stuck in traffic. Maybe it’s not being able to get a job. Maybe it’s the “hand to mouth” approach they have to take to survive. The loss of self-determination makes people lose hope and then lose equilibrium. It’s why we see road rage, office attacks and other forms of explosive behavior that defy logic. It’s why we see two women beating the shit out of each other in an aisle of Walmart, with one of them telling her kid to punch the other woman in the fucking face.
The loss of control. The loss of everything. It suddenly frees people from the strictures of reality and yields unreal consequences.
Friends of Roof’s said he had become increasingly agitated about African-Americans and how they were “taking over.” In the coming days and weeks, it’s likely we will see some building blocks that led him down this path. It could be anything, and speculation is stupid at this point. However, he had that “click” in his head that Brick used to describe during “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” where the switch flipped and everything just went cold.
He went to the church. He sat there. He waited. Then, with cool deliberation, he executed nine people.
He was quickly captured and returned to South Carolina, where he will almost certainly be tried, convicted and executed.
The problem with what happens next is that so many of us enter our own “Edmund” stage and we’re in an even worse situation.
Roof remains with us in body only, an empty shell that that we can’t touch. We want him to be hurt or remorseful or suffering or something.
We want him to feel what his victims felt in some microscopic way: Fear, panic, anxiety, something.
He can’t. And that only infuriates us further.
Perhaps the perfect example of this came in the mid-1990s, when serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was being sentenced. Rita Isabel, the sister of one of Dahmer’s victims, was testifying at his sentencing when she just lost it and went after him. She was flailing and cursing and trying to get away from the bailiffs.
Dahmer remained stone cold and silent. It was as if this wasn’t even happening.
Because to him, it wasn’t. And that only served to infuriate Isabel more.
Since we can’t get a reaction out of people like this, we seek to lash out elsewhere. Do I think the Stars and Bars should be flying over anything, other than the roof of the General Lee in reruns? No, but it’s not like if it weren’t there, this never would have happened. Give this symbolic bullshit a rest for now.
Do I think the gun laws in this country suck? Absolutely. We got rid of 48-hour waiting periods recently in Wisconsin because, I mean, Jesus, when you really need a gun, why should you have to wait? Think about this: The fucking BANKS will limit how much cash you can take out of an ATM in a day for “safety” reasons, but you can get a gun without any similar barriers. Still, if the murder of grade school kids by a whack job toting an arsenal didn’t get the NRA to stop sucking, this sure won’t. In fact, at least one of these assholes is doubling down on the “they had it coming” argument.
Do I hate the way in which media organizations covered this? Duh. They went back and forth between the “nothing could be done” handwringing to the “lone wolf” idea about this kid. Anyone ever notice that when a white kid goes on a shooting spree, we hear about one kid and one incident and how it’s so random but when a black kid gets killed by a cop or shoots someone, it’s indicative of a “culture of (FILL IN THE BLANK)” that really is the problem? I’m half surprised that CNN didn’t have “representatives of the white community” on for interviews or that Fox News didn’t spend half the day digging into the past of the nine victims, looking for petty theft arrests and parking tickets that might explain how “the victims are no angels themselves.”
We want S O M E T H I N G here. We struggle for whatever it is. We comb through every strand and every speck of this looking for something. We don’t even know what it is or why it matters, but something has to happen.
Cry, Dylann! You owe us that!
Give up, NRA! Your shitty lack of awareness MUST collapse this time!
GET THAT FUCKING FLAG DOWN NOW!
No. Nothing is going to happen that will give anything to us.
All that will come is the next time.
2 thoughts on “Raging at Emptiness.”
The short answer, as it has been for many decades, is “Don’t mourn. Organize.”
We don’t have to have a society where the Edmunds feel powerless and worthless. It’s structured that way now because it’s of benefit to certain people. We need to learn to ignore their toxic thinking, and get about the business of living with and for one another. Listen again to the people today who had the opportunity to address Dylann Roof. Those survivors of his mad rampage weren’t talking about revenge or punishment. Some of the reporting from the courthouse was genuinely puzzled by what they were hearing. Where was the blood lust? Where were the recriminations? Why weren’t people spitting mad, like they are on all the talk shows?
It’ll take a long time, but I have nothing better to do.
It’s a mild tonic, but I would highly recommend listening to the late David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” commencement speech.
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