This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Sunday, 25 November 2012
Looking Down The Barrel
The more I learn of the circumstances (including the contradictions in the official account), the more I read of Cho Seung-Hui’s murderous rampage through the dormitories and classrooms of Virginia Tech, the more it seems that this is a fit case for in depth study. OK, I am not a sociologist, but neither are 99.9% of other bloggers going on about it anyway.
Not just of the shooting itself (and did he really line them up execution style? Did he really? What were they doing, not running? Execution style, over and over again, room after room?), but of how the world – particularly that part of the world I see daily - reacted to it, the possible causes and the circumstances that led to a deranged young manshooting his fellow students and teachers dead over a period of hours, in two separate attacks.
The facts are well enough known by now – at least, there’s not much likely to come out that will actually suddenly throw so much light on the whole thing people are going to go “Oh, how could we have been so blind? It’s all clear now!”- as I said, though, there is enough to go on and make some theories and maybe reach a conclusion or two.
Now, we read that Mr Cho actually spent the two hour interval between shootings sending a parcel of video clips and photographs to the media. I’m sure I couldn’t tell you how he managed it, unless he used some unmanned drop off like a post box – or he managed to change out of his killer gear, seen in all its lethal flashiness above, and back again. Did he stand in line at a post office, guns, shooter vest, and all? Did he have an accomplice post it for him?
I think one may be more or less certain that most, if not all, of the material he posted was prepared before the dormitory phase of the shooting. So he had it all planned. And if it is true that he was – you know – emitting warning signals, why wasn’t he intercepted in this age of “security”?
Besides, we know something of his history by now. This was not a stable person. Even before he went on his current spree, he had made everyone round him uncomfortable with violent imagery and writing, weird behaviour, and had been referred for psychiatric counselling. And this is the sort of flaming lunatic who can walk into a store and buy a gun, presenting a credit card, along with unlimited hollow point ammunition, and walk out again, no questions asked.
Can one still say there is nothing very, very wrong with gun ownership laws in the United States?
In 2001, America went to war after (alleged) Arab terrorists from Al Qaeda (allegedly) hijacked four planes and flew them into the World Trade Centers (sic) and the Pentagon. The total death toll in that alleged attack, if I remember right, was about 2800 odd. Well, in that same year of 2001, there were 29,573 deaths from firearms, distributed as follows by mode of death: Suicide 16,869; Homicide 11,348; Accident 802; Legal Intervention 323; Undetermined 231.(CDC, 2004) - check this site. The number of non fatal injuries weretwo hundred thousand. So, if 2800 deaths caused by an alleged terrorist attack can be the excuse for a global rampage that has so far killed unknown thousands of Afghans, 655000 Iraqis (and that is a figure dating back to last year) and something like 3300 American troops, what are four times that number of deaths in homicidesalone? Not worth a War on Guns?
What are the primary excuses for retaining gun ownership? Why would anyone want to own guns anyway?
Now, I am no sympathiser of the National Rifle Association or of any gun nut. So obviously I will not be unbiased here. But so far as I can see pro-gun arguments boil down to the following:
The Second Amendment Argument. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution says “"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."
Now that amendment was passed in 1789 – a time when the existence of the US was precarious, resources were scanty, a standing army was not a reasonable alternative. It was just a hundred years since men and women were being hanged in Salem, Massachusetts, for "witchcraft" because the Bible allegedly said "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (No matter that it was just a mistranslation of the King James). It was also a time when slavery was legal, and the genocidal extermination of Native Americans was not just allowed but positively encouraged, with bounties paid out for scalps. In later days Jim Crow laws were to be passed in the US, segregation would be enforced in Southern states, and till the late sixties interracial marriage would be banned in several states. No less a person than that great liberal, Abraham Lincoln, would say: “I cannot conceive of a future where the Negro will live in equality with the white man."
Yet, where are all those laws now? Segregation is formally dead (though after Katrina we all know the reality is a different story…). You can’t go scalp hunting Sioux any more. You can have a black wife and still not be arrested, and she can sit in the front seats of a bus if she wants. And witches open websites and have magazines.
So what the hell has a 1789 law, which was meant as a replacement for a standing army and not as a free for all to hand out guns to everyone, got to do with the present? What's so sacrosanct about it? Nothing.
And is a militia necessary today? Er, I don't exactly see anyone invading the US in the near future, with weapons limited enough that the "citizen's militia" can take them on, can you?
2. That guns are a “part of US culture”.
Hoo boy. That’s about the worst cop out I have ever heard. I might as well say that there have been cultures promoting human sacrifice. And there have been, many. Just because many people choose to buy guns does not ipso facto legitimise them.
In fact, those who advance this argument are also those who are more likely than not to choose to drive fuel-guzzling, environment destroying SUVs, treat the world as a disposable commodity, and promote “individualism” as the alternative preferred to “state interference” even when the alleged state interference – for example, providing efficient public transport services in lieu of SUVs – is to the common good. It’s not just arrogant – it’s contemptuous of humanity.
3. The hunting/outdoors argument.
All right. Now this is the twenty first century.
We do not, in this day and age, have to hunt for survival. Certainly not in America. All hunting does – all any blood sports do – is degrade the participant. Even Blair the Poodle recognises this and banned the centuries-old “sport” of fox hunting in Britain. And when “hunting” includes gizmos to allow even the blind to go hunting, you know that this is just pandering to bloodlust. Where biodiversity is dropping worldwide, “hunting seasons” and “licensed shooting” are just tokens – feel good attempts to pass off the indefensible as permissible.
4. The self-defence argument.
Well, when I mentioned here that perhaps gun nuts would blame the students for not being armed so as to shoot the shooter, I thought I was being sarcastic. I never in my wildest imagination thought that the argument would be seriously advanced. What would be the logical culmination of this theory? That everyone should pack heat at all times, so as to defend themselves?
This argument, done to death, claims that guns deter criminals. I don’t actually think so (a robber busts into your house, and you begin fumbling for the key to the gun cabinet, and then begin stuffing in cartridges, and he stops and watches you do it so you can blow him away. Yeah, right) . But apart from that, I can prove the effects of keeping weaponry in the house for “defence”:
The issue of "home defense (sic)" or protection against intruders may well be misrepresented. Of 626 shootings in or around a residence in three U.S. cities revealed that, for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense (sic) or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides (Kellermann et al, 1998).
Uh-huh. It would seem to me that you'd be better off being unarmed at home and taking your chances.
(Now, about both arguments taken together. I mean numbers 3 and 4 above. Let me - for the sake of argument - grant that I accept the basic premise that hunting and self defence are reasonable grounds for weapon ownership. So in what way does hunting justify the ownership of an automatic rifle, for example, or self defence the ownership of a Magnum? And why would any person be allowed to buy as many weapons as they want? Why would anyone own literally hundreds of weapons? For hunting?)
5. The “civil war” argument.
I never actually heard of this one before this morning. It seems that if you try and restrict gun ownership, you will have a civil war on your hands. Uh…didn’t the domestic terrorists in the US, the Branch Davidians and the Timothy McVeigh lot, own guns? And if you have something like 30,000 people dying annually from gunshots alone, what civil war could do worse than that?
I guess it would not be amiss to repeat what I’d once written about Indian gun laws: I can’t just go out and buy a gun. I would first have to apply for a gun licence, undergo thorough police checks, and then perhaps I would be granted a licence. With that licence I could buy only what it permitted me to. That might be a single or double barrelled breech loading shotgun (no pump shotguns for the civilian), or a rifle or handgun of 5.56mm (.22) calibre or lower. Also the number of cartridges I am permitted to buy are rigorously restricted and I have to account for every one, returning the used ones if I want to purchase any more. Of course it does not stop people from acquiring illegal weaponry, but it does stop the average person from going on shooting sprees after an argument with the wife. Many as are the things wrong with India, I strongly support our laws on gun control.
Now, it is certainly true that we can’t blame gun ownership alone for the shootings. Many other countries have as high rates of gun ownership as the US, but they do not go on murderous sprees. But those countries – Switzerland, for example – comprise citizens who don’t think they have a right to do exactly as they please. They don’t have a primitive frontier mentality. If one has to give a gun to someone, I’d rather hand one to a Swiss than to an American.
Then there is what Cho actually said on his video. Among other things:
"You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today ... Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."
"You just loved to crucify me. You loved inducing cancer in my head, terror in my heart, ripping my soul."
"Your Mercedes wasn't enough, you brats. Your golden necklaces weren't enough, you snobs. Your trust fund ... your vodka and cognac wasn't enough. All your debaucheries weren't enough ... to fulfil your hedonistic needs."
"When the time came, I did it. I had to."
Come…suddenly it no longer seems an utterly senseless shooting. Suddenly it seems to have some ground, some response to the conspicuous consumption of the capitalist dream-turned –nightmare where (thanks, Malcolm)
Those 300,000 wealthy individuals each received 440 times as much income as the average person in the poorest half of the population, nearly doubling the divide from 1980.
But since that is hardly a problem that can be seriously faced up to (it would destroy the individualistic, materialistic society and impose a caring, mutually supportive one if you had to set it right) it's much more convenient to just call this a "senseless crime." And when it will happen again after a few months, when another someone goes off the rails, it will be another "senseless crime". It's all happened many times before.
As for a culture of violence, checked out Hollywood recently, or childrens' video games? If you want to reduce violence, let's begin with them, shall we?
Now, let’s cut the cackle. It’s a deliberate lie that a “democracy” should allow its citizens to bear arms if they please. Even US certified democracies like the UK and Australia ban or restrict gun ownership, as do, for example, Germany, France (oh but they are cheese eating surrender monkeys) and Italy (but they’re losers who cut and ran from Iraq). And as for “democracy”, since when did the Bush regime care for what the American people want anyway? Check out the latest popularity ratings for the war on Iraq?
Now for our media. It seems as if the two Indians who died, a student and a professor, were martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the good of the nation rather than just two people who were in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and happened to get shot. They are plastered all over the media. The only thing I haven’t seen is a call for sanctions against South Korea – yet.
Incidentally, I do agree that I am going on about this while 312 people have been murdered in Baghdad by car bombs and elsewhere in Iraq, and that seems more urgent news. Yes, that is a point. But the same people who occupy Baghdad and have inflicted untold miseries on the people of Iraq are the ones who put guns in the hands of children, teach them to kill, and then are “horrified” when the guns are turned on them instead.
Cho Seung-Hui did kill all those people. I just wonder how many fingers apart from his were on the trigger.
While surfing YouTube – a process that ended with my import of thisvideo, I came across a lot of drivel, abuse, and non sequiturs. I personally got targeted by a none-too-grammatical lady who calls herself redhead6868 – whose theme song seems to be “I’m older than u (sic), therefore I know better, sweetie, and I own guns and my husband hunts FOR DEER (sic)”. OK, so there is no effort involved in blowing redhead6868 out of the water (and, no, I did not go to the effort of finding out how old she is). I’m talking of the others.
In the first place, let me just go over the fact that Cho Seung Hui may have been an ethnic Korean, but he lived in the United States since the age of four. He grew up in an American milieu, watched American movies, presumably learned to drive at the regulation American age of 16, learned to shoot as any “red blooded he man” American (as distinct from namby-pamby liberals) would, ate American food, and imbibed American values. I find it rich, therefore, that he should be racially targeted as an Asian – and there should be fuming rhetoric as to how the “gooks” should have been killed by the “Japs” back in World War II. Going by that sort of “logic”, then, after Timothy McVeighblew up the Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma City, killing 168, people of Irish origin should have been targeted (were they? No.Arabs, who had nothing to do with it, were). (As an aside – our ever-toadying Indians are at it again. On the website known as Sepia Mutiny, the hangout of Indians resident in the US, some are going to great pains to say that we are South Asians, as distinct from East Asians, and hence “blameless”. I suppose no one among them has heard of the Reverend Martin Niemoller.)
Now, Asians, whether South or East, are rather different culturally speaking than the West. I mention this simple fact because, somehow, it does not seem to have entered the minds of most people. We Asians (and the Russians too) are much more family oriented. It is not a matter of shame to us to head to the bosom of the family when we have problems. I don’t mean this to be patronising, it’s just a statement of fact. How does this affect the current issue?
Well, all of us have problems and grievances. All of us have times when we want to withdraw from the world, or lash out at it. Some of us (I am one) are loners by temperament, we internalise our problems, but when it gets too much for us where do we head? To the family. No one is ever no longer a part of the family in an Asian society. You may live a continent away, but you are still part of the family, and your actions reflect on the family’s “honour”. This is why Cho’s family is so obviously distressed and apologised to the American people for his actions. An average Western family would have gone “It’s awful, but it was what he did, we are not to blame.” But Cho, brought up in an American milieu, did not go to his family with his grievances. He bottled them up till they exploded in slaughter.
Obviously, now, Asians also have psychopaths like – for example – this guy here. But they are almost invariably serial killers, not what I would call binge murderers like Cho. The serial killer, as any psychologist or criminologist will confirm, is a special breed. More usually than not he is of above average intelligence, whatever his conceived motives, and is very careful to space out his killings and tries not to get caught. He does not operate in a murderous frenzy triggered off by an inability to handle pressure. Unlike the binge murderer, he is not actuated by grievances that tip the balance of his reason beyond all thought of self preservation.
When we read or listen to Cho’s video manifesto, his anger against the “hedonistic” lifestyles of his peers is obvious. Listen to him: “Your Mercedes wasn’t enough, you slugs. Your trust fund wasn’t enough, you snobs.” He claims to have been picked on and humiliated, and to have been forced to have done what he did (uh – back in school I was obese, picked on and bullied, disliked for my alleged “intellectualism”, mocked for my ineptness on the sports field and inability to get girls to fall for me. Did I pick up a weapon? No. But if I had had access to a weapon, there are times when I might have. I very seriously doubt it, though). You can’t call his rampage senseless, anyway. He had grievances and he went to great pains to tell the world about those grievances.
Of course, now, it no longer matters at this stage of proceedings whether the grievances are real or imagined. For the person involved, they are real and more than real. They are so important that they are literally a matter of life and death. An Asian, under these circumstances, would likely seek refuge in the bosom of the family, or, failing that, commit suicide – a lonely suicide. But Cho, whatever his ethnic origin, was no longer psychologically an Asian.
And what of his grievances? The average person in the US is under intense pressure to prove himself. Proving himself, more than anything else, means material success. If you don’t have wealth, you are nobody (and we Indians are headed the same way, fast). Cho, the son of supermarket workers, already psychiatrically not quite all there (as his family claims, he was autistic as a kid, and as his fellow students claim, his behaviour was bizarre), looking around him and finding conspicuous consumption and the irresponsible display of wealth. For an inherently unstable person like this, the pressure to perform, to match up, is potentially too much. In Asia one can step back and take a breath, but not so in the US, not unless you don’t mind being labelled a failure.
So, Cho was an unstable young man under intense psychological pressure. What could he do about it? Denied the option, by his upbringing, to go take refuge in his family (even if he wanted to, that would be “unmanly” by US standards) he took the way he could.
And about that way – as I said, I too was bullied and abused. I wanted sometimes to get hold of a weapon. But could I? No. I don’t want to have to repeat ad nauseam what I said already about gun laws in the US, but it stands to reason that Cho, had he not had ready access to firearms, would not have run amok with a bread knife. I’ve already talked enough about gun laws in the US. Check my previous two posts (linked above) if you want to refresh your memory.
Somewhere I once read that one in every four people in the US has appeared, at some point, on television. Television is the road to recognition. If you’re nobody, if you’re famous for absolutely nothing but being famous, if you are, say, a Nicole Richie or Paris Hilton, get on TV and your reputation’s made. Cho’s video manifesto was tailor made for TV. He wanted to go out with a bang so loud as to live forever on TV, and get movies made about how he went out in a blaze of glory like Billy the Kid. He’s very likely to get his wish.
And that’s another thing.
Now, of course, while I am on this topic of TV and – by extension – video games and movies, what is the staple? Violence, violence, and yet more violence. Video games are all about violence – can anyone name a non-violent video game in recent memory?; the most loved movies are ultra-violent ones like Blackhawk Down, much appreciated by the dickless weapon worshippers, of whom more anon. Compare and contrast European television and movies to American ones to see how violence is not necessarily the route to high cinematic art. Oh yes, I do realise that films and videos are not to be taken seriously. I realise that, you realise that, but millions of people round the globe don’t necessarily realise that. Fantasy and fact get blurred, all too easily.
Now a guy who keeps shooting men and women on a video screen naturally gets somewhat used to the idea of pointing a weapon at someone and pulling a virtual trigger. But that is not necessarily all he does. For in the US, hunting is something anyone who is not a pinko liberal commie faggot Islamofascist traitor terrorist lover is brought up into; getting a gun is not just easy, but is a rite of childhood’s end, as is learning to use it. In other parts of the world, a teenager who shoots animals would be regarded at least as a potential danger and certainly as an oddball; in the US he is taught to shoot animals, usually by his own father. Once one begins killing, killing comes easier and easier. Inflicting death becomes a pleasure in its own right. A way to get your rocks off. And also a way to feel empowered. You’re ground down at work? So what? You can blow away a bull moose! Nimrod the Hunter had nothing on you!
I have always held the theory that people who love guns are monumentally sexually insecure – guns are the weapon worshipper’s way of tackling his penis envy, as is driving SUVs, the traffic equivalent of the gun. Now I do agree that until someone points a gun at someone and presses the trigger the gun is unlikely to kill or injure anyone, but the fact that thirty thousand people die yearly from gunshot wounds in the US shows that guns do get pointed and triggers pressed remarkably often. That’s nearly a hundred times aday.
It’s odd also that the same gun worshippers are most likely to support stopping the Iranians, for example, from possibly, at some remote distant future time, getting their hands on a nuclear device, even if they show no signs of wanting one, because of the alleged potential danger; but show no compunction about keeping actual and real dangerous weaponry right by their side.
In what other country of the world would an aspiring presidential candidate (Mitt Romney) lie about owning guns when he does not, and about going hunting when he has never applied for a hunting licence? Anywhere else in the world, whether a politician owns a gun or goes hunting is either irrelevant or else actually counterproductive. And as the governor of Montana (I think) – a Democrat to boot – said, “I probably own more guns than I need, but not as many as I want.”
In what other country would the right to own deadly weapons become a factor on which elections are won and lost?
The most potent irony in this is the simple fact that Cho – a mirror, as he is, held up to society – will become a product furthering that society. I can already see the books being written on him, and by next year there will certainly be one or more movies in the pipeline.
What will not happen is either a ban on guns or even reasonable control. That’s so, uh, anti-freedom. To quote Donald Rumsfeld, “Free people are free to do bad things…” I guess shooting holes in people is – by that standard – expressing one’s freedom. Rather like freedom of speech.