I did a particularly poor job of moderating the comments for Saturday's "Open Mike," and I wanted to apologize to the TOP community for that. I just lost heart for the subject. Didn't want to pass along some of the more problematic comments I received, didn't have the energy to process the ones that needed modification, didn't have the stomach to read more. Mea culpa.
Ed. Note: What follows is off-topic and might be offensive to some. If you come to this site to read only about photography, understood! But don't click through. Your choice.
An interesting coda, however. I was coming home from a Christmas party last night and happened to come across President Obama's Newtown address on the radio. It was a moving speech, and I was duly touched. He's a gifted speaker.
But one thing is blatantly missing from the reactions to this latest massacre of innocents: judgements and condemnations of the perpetrator. President Obama was speaking to the survivors, comforting them. He hinted at the need for political action—speaking to the whole nation, in the sense that we are all survivors. He said nothing to or of Adam Lanza.
It bothers me when people call this a tragedy. Wrong word. It's a crime—if you want something stronger, an atrocity. And of course the mental and moral cripple who perpetrated it has put himself beyond human punishment; but that's no excuse not to address him in our responses to the shooting.
A little story: when I taught high school, one year I made a photographic mural of the graduating seniors. I set up a studio and shot groups of three to six seniors per frame, enlarged the prints, and displayed them end-to-end in a hallway. The effect, of course, was of all the seniors arrayed in a long continuous line. People liked it.
Then some clown defaced it. Crude boobs were drawn on the images of several of the girls, with ballpoint pen, like bathroom grafitti.
I asked for, and received, permission to speak before the whole school. I spoke for about ten minutes (doubtless far less eloquently than the great communicator Barack Obama), expressing my outrage that my artwork had been vandalized, talking about the effort I put into making it, the trust we need to feel in a shared community, the feelings of the people whose pictures were defaced, and demanding that the skulking perpetrator, who had done wrong (I was adamant about that), come forward and apologize for his infantile, insulting, thoughtless behavior.
After the assembly, a pair of lower school teachers approached me. They were virtually sniggering, and I used that word precisely. "You're really naive," one of them told me scornfully. "You're not going to get your apology. Whoever did that is never going to come forward."
I stared at the woman in disbelief. This was an adult, an educator, and she didn't understand what I was doing?
I had little expectation that my vandal would ever come forward. Moreover, I could not have cared less if he did or didn't. I was addressing him, but I wasn't talking to him.
The reason we need to address Adam Lanza—and judge him, and condemn him—has nothing to do with him. It has everything do to with communicating our society's values to the whole society, and, specifically, to address the next school or movie theater shooter...the troubled and morally unmoored individuals who are out there in society obsessing on evil fantasies and contemplating evil actions.
It's politically incorrect to call Adam Lanza a madman, crazy, mentally ill...the feeling being that other mentally ill people, most of whom are not criminals, will feel implicated by association. Bollocks, I say. Just because Mussolini was an Italian doesn't mean all Italians are Mussolinis. Adam Lanza was mentally defective. He was a moral cripple, an evil little troglodyte whose brain was swimming in its own fetid destructive fantasies. It's a tragedy (that word again, maybe a little more appropriate this time) that he was born to a woman of manifestly poor judgement who was a gun nut.
Fantasies of power—which is what many of our popular entertainments are—are most appealing to weaklings. Why does anyone think men beat women? Because they feel weak, and beating a woman makes them feel stronger and more powerful. Strong men don't beat women: they have no need to. Similarly, fantasies of rage and power and domination are only appealing to the ineffectual and the weak, people who don't possess the courage and pride to stand up for themselves in more ordinary ways. Adam Lanza was most likely far too weak and cowardly to stand up to his mommy like a man. He was far to weak to pick any opponent other than the very weakest and most defenceless. That's a measure of true, deep cowardice.
Moreover, though he might have possessed some sort of gloss of intellectual ability, he was deeply stupid. He could have been helped, if he'd been man enough, human enough, to know he needed it, and to face up to the emotions of submitting to it. He didn't understand that his vile fantasies were only fantasies, and that impulses, even horrible ones, are common in humans and do not have to be turned into actions. He didn't understand that whatever stressful, unreconcilable feelings that were torturing him didn't necessarily have to last forever. People grow up. Situations change. Crises fade. He didn't understand that he could have worked his way out of wherever he was in his thoughts, that he could have demanded help and gotten it: help that would have been real, that might have gradually allowed him to feel better.
These things need to be said too...because that's how you teach and communicate values. Nobody cares about Adam Lanza; good riddance to him. The only sad thing about him is that he didn't just kill himself and leave others out of it. But there are other Adam Lanzas out there. The stick of harsh condemnation and the carrot of meaningful relief need to be held out to those people.
But on this subject, all of our leaders, political, moral, and spiritual, are utterly silent.
That's a tragedy.
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
A book of interest today:
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Robert Goldstein: "It is entirely possible that Adam Lanza was schizophrenic, which means that he had a biologically defective brain. To such a person, moral will does not even enter the picture, because his picture of reality is so deeply distorted. Thus, it is not possible to shame him into behaving better. The same may not hold true, however, of other potential murderers with less severe mental disabilities. They may be susceptible to social pressure which makes the killing of innocents totally unacceptable."
John F. Opie: "There are too few who are willing to actually speak truth about what happened. Thank you. I was studying psychology in the 1970s (yes, it dates me) when deinstitutionalization started up: the arguments were never convincing, to me, and the sheer arrogance of that profession led me not to follow a career as a psychologist. The real fact is that the murderer (I won't bother calling him alleged) was enabled by the lack of a functioning mental health system that keep people from developing into homicidal maniacs.
"Fundamentally, deinstitutionalists back then argued that society had made these people sick (most specifically, American Capitalism) and that society had to be confronted with the sickness of its own culture and take care of those who would otherwise be a danger to society and themselves. Locking away your society's failures was considered to be cowardly and their success in deinstitutionalizing those who really needed to be in institutions—largely by closing those institutions down—is a major cause of homelessness and violent crime like this.
"The deinstitutionalists were fundamentally wrong and we now see children paying the price. I don't have any pat answers and patent solutions: there aren't any. But the deinstitutionalist path is obviously, fundamentally, pathologically wrong."
Mike replies: I agree. It's one of the worst legacies of JFK, who had a big hand in getting that ball rolling. Functionally, we now tend to wait until mentally ill people commit crimes and then send them to prisons; prisons are now our de facto mental institutions. (Many of the rest, as you mention, are on the streets.) It's ironic that that can be quite rightly labeled a sickness of society.
Eric Rose: "My first wife suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. She had good days and some really awful days. She also would become extremely violent. Both the health care system and the justice system failed me. Once divorced I took the kids and disappeared (I had full and exclusive custody). Her problems were not her fault and I hold no ill feelings towards her. She had absolutely no control over what she did. The scenarios playing out in her mind were vivid and absolutely real to her. Unfortunately ours and yours mental health systems are severally underfunded. Spouses, parents and in some case siblings are left to fend for themselves when trying to deal with these serious and for the most part uncontrollable situations. To vilify the kid and his mother is a cheap shot in my opinion. While I agree with you that having guns in the house was a major lapse in judgement, I am sure in other respects the mother was doing the most she could given her circumstances. People with severe mental issues can cross the line from just being "nuts" to violent in a blink of an eye. If this is the first time this happened to this kid then there is nothing his mother could have done. Until we find out more I would give her the benefit of the doubt."
Paul Amyes: "It is too easy to blame this incident on mental illness. I worked for almost 20 years in hospitals for the mentally ill, usually in locked facilities dealing with the most acutely unwell. The number of people who act out violently is very very small, the numbers of those who kill is even smaller and the number that go on to kill multiples of people are infintismly small. The mentally ill are us. Sure they may have problems distinguishing reality from unreality, they have difficulty with correctly interupting stimuli, but they are human beings. There is no direct correlation that says if you are mentally ill then you will become a mass murderer.
"Why do these things happen? Well, it is hard to say; there are many things that can push an individual towards this. I have no experience of the U.S.A. so I'll speak of where I do know: Australia, Israel and the U.K. Modern western society is pretty uncaring society. Our politicians frequently talk of winners and losers. The pressure is on from a very early age expecting children to grow up and be successful in everything. The constantant bombardment of advertising of material goods is designed to make people disatisfied and quest after certain brands as they will signify that you have made it, and if you can't afford it somehow you've failed. More and more demands are placed upon people. There isn't enough time in the day to meet work and family commitments.
"Our society glorifies violence. Look at what the average person watches for entertainment. Hollywood pumps out thousands of hours of mass murder a year all in the name of entertaining people. Computer games desensitise kids to killing. The most powerful people in all these forms of entertainment are the ones who kill the most people. As a society we've become obsessed by death.
"Into this toxic mix throw substance abuse. The war on drugs was a complete waste of time and effort. People who have addiction problems need help not punishment.
"So get a big spoon mix all these ingredients together throw in easy access to weapons of mass destruction, because that is what a modern assault rifle is when used against the helpless, and then add an individual who is not able to deal with this as effectively as you or I, and something goes bang.
"Yes it is a crime, it is an atrocity, it a tragedy and the reason why it is so because all those people, and I include the perpetrator here as well, did not have to die. A more tolerant society with easy access to good health care, an education system that looks not only to turn out kids with qualifications but to also help them become healthy well adjusted adults, a reduction in the amount of carnage that young people will witness as entertainment and finally a reduction in the numbers and types of firearms that can be held will start to see thses kinds of events become less and less frequent.
"These killing sprees are the symptom of a sick society, not sick individuals, and it is time that society took stock and addressed the problem."