I’ve been revisiting some of the foundational philosophies of Western culture and seeing how necessary to our current climate these thoughts are. I can’t help but think our current American culture is what Nietzche meant by “God is dead.” We have set up a surrogate god by praising patriotism and personal rights as a virtue over treating all humans as made in God’s image. Freedom to preserve one’s personal interests is the new morality.
A cult of conservativism (or any half-blind party loyalty) cannot bring salvation to a country divided, a society whose people cannot see beyond “us and them.” Your right to keep your firearms doesn’t preserve freedom if we are raising children who become lone wolves keen to lash out on those who carry different beliefs.
Every time a mass shooting happens (which is woefully frequent these days), what’s the first thing we want to know? What is the shooter’s profile? In other words, we want the suspect to be one of them, not one of us.
If he’s not one of us we can attribute the atrocity, the anger, the violence to something clearly outside of our own beliefs. We can rationalize it as a threat outside of us. When it’s someone who doesn’t “fit the profile” in our minds, we struggle to find reasons that he isn’t one of us. We rush to find the differences between him and “normal Americans” instead of acknowledging the common denominator.
We find the ways in which he was troubled that we should have noticed sooner, the way that he didn’t quite belong. (Oh, see? He was never really one of us.) We can shift the issue to something that isn’t so threatening to our core beliefs–such as guns or skin color or abnormal psychology–instead of the deep-rooted problems within our society that we’ve cultivated for so many generations.
And yet we always insist on morality. Every time this happens the suspect is “clearly an evil man.” It is an act of evil. Of terrorism. Of Islamic extremism. Until it’s domestic. This is an act of mental illness if it’s a white man, in which case he’s the victim of something beyond his control. We insist that we should have seen that he was crying out for help.
Well, what creates the kind of person who will fly under the radar with so much hatred in his heart and an Anarchist’s Cookbook under his bed? An arsenal in his closet? What creates a person so out of touch with others that no one would notice? Why so devoid of humanity and love?
Who bred this lone wolf?
Where was that moral fortitude in his upbringing and education? Where was the failure to instill empathy? Who or what ought we to hold responsible for instilling a sense of entitlement, selfishness, and hatred in place of kindness and equality?
Hate and all of the various “isms” that stem from it is a symptom of fear, insecurity, ignorance, and selfishness. Superiority is a delusion of those who, for whatever reason, don’t know what love is and can’t see beyond their own interests. Love and inclusion require humility. Hubris divides. Hubris rationalizes gunning down dozens of innocent people.
It takes the kind of strength that only comes from humility to recognize that you are not better than anyone, that others have intrinsic value. In normal human psychology this is something we all should have learned in early to mid-childhood.
No matter what ethos you have cultivated, we must insist that human beings are more important than ideologies. If your head knowledge leaves no room for the sanctity of human life, your education has failed you. We must cultivate the life of the heart along with the life of the mind.
Otherwise, what’s the point of living?
Perhaps this goes through the minds of those who, after taking lives, decide to take their own. They may have a keen sense that something is missing, but don’t have people around them to help figure out just what that might be. They’re missing an empathy network; their heart longs for it, but its absence creates confusion. Confusion without humility results in anger. Unchecked anger without empathy creates a person capable of seeing others as disposable.
Perhaps we simply need to cultivate the ability to recognize when someone is becoming a lone wolf. That requires being actively tuned in to other people.
Secondly, we need to cultivate the courage to call it out when we recognize the lone wolf tendencies creeping up within the ranks. This applies to any kind of social injustice, from sexual harassment to gun violence. It’s easy to overlook flaws in people of your own tribe. We don’t want to see ugliness in our own. But we have to. We have to recognize and correct the bad in order to foster the good.