Las Vegas/Sutherland Springs: Heightened Contradicktions

In our numbed reactions to constant mass shootings we’re pulled into tracking which ideological side has produced more homicidal maniacs. Our wish to absolve ourselves of responsibility hints that we’re feeling it in some way. The inkling of collective guilt we get when confronted by news of horrific violence isn’t right on exactly, but it shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s a complement to empathy. We wish we could do something. At the same time we unconsciously wonder at what we did. Unexamined and then repressed this anxiety may, in turn, devolve to a less than humane rush to determine a shooter’s race or politics—a habit of mind we’d all be better off ditching.

The shootings in Las Vegas and now Sutherland Springs underscore the need to kick that habit. The mass murderers’ apparent lack of ideological motives upends the usual discourse. After the Las Vegas shooting some argued that focusing on the lack of motive was obfuscation—white privilege itself had struck and slipped its own presence. That’s not inconceivable—in light of the alt-right’s growth, terrorist acts by white supremacists need to be taken with the highest degree of seriousness. In doing so, however, we may be seizing on reified concepts to explain the behavior of criminals with blank slates. I wonder if we’re explaining/exploiting moments of horror in something like the way Trump uses ISIS-inspired attacks to further his Islamophobic ends. Perhaps, when the shooters say nothing, we should believe them.

When we resist that urge to tally up murder we can start to consider the common denominator of all these shootings (from the left, right, and out of the void). There is an obvious one—guns. Curtailing weapons that have no civilian purpose would undoubtedly curb the number of mass shootings. These shootings, however, have been dragged into the broader argument about the merits of the left and alt-right in general. When Cernovich tweets that the Sutherland Springs shooter looks like Antifa, saying we need stronger gun control is kind of beside the point. This is a gun issue, which needs concrete political action, and it’s some kind of mental health issue.

Maleness is the other relevant thru-line. The plight of the modern, usually white, male has been brought up repeatedly in the past few years. This plight isn’t tragic, unique, or even exceptionally compelling. Focusing on it too much may exacerbate the problem of male self-importance and absorption. If Americans look back on our society in two hundred years from a better place, maybe they’ll see our time as a stage that led to Western Civ growing the fuck up. The heavy trouble with guys, though, lies in the fact that this particular demographic isn’t just trashing themselves—they’re causing havoc for society as a whole. We’re overwhelmed by the crises of male adolescents and young adults. We need those males to take up the arduous task of examining themselves without blocking their own sight.[1]

What would it look like if young men tried to put themselves into the shoes of their mad brother-shooters when mass killings occur? To use the separating distance to grasp the proximity? The shoes might not fit exactly, but we do have our own sizing system. Risking such an identification rips away our prized defenses. But I wonder if we have been unable to address these shootings because we’ve refused to take the perps’ walk with them. For young white males, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see ourselves, our very worst raging, glory-hogging selves, in these apolitical mass-murders.

Alpha-male and cuck exist on a spectrum—go far enough in one direction and you end up where you started. I see Stephen Paddock, Devin Kelley, myself—raised on a diet of gender-based expectations and promises that have turned out to be lies. Whatever image of masculinity we locked on—rock star, gangsta, wealthy businessman—the joke has been on us. But the millennial male takes himself too seriously to laugh. All we have now is harshed mellow. Even friendship, fraternity, trust—whatever—is mediated through the cold smartphone-screen of postmodernity. And fine, that’s modern life—the surround all un-special people are born into. But somehow there was a miscommunication. American men are all but assured they’re a “chosen people.” But now, between the idea and the realization of male entitlement lies the shadow of everyday life.

My license picture from a couple years ago is only several shades off of Devin Kelley’s old mug shot. Same numb, distant look in the eyes. Same unkempt beard. Same fat, resentful white flesh. I’m not saying I understand whatever was going on in his head before he took the lives of twenty-six human beings. But we exist on the same continuum. I experience the same bruises to the ego that tilt certain soulless souls into insanity and murder. I don’t know from the inside what it’s like to callously prep for an act of terror—but that’s what scares me. There’s holes in my future-memory. As an angry white male myself, how can I tell I haven’t already wandered unwittingly towards that unholy event that seems to lurk in our genetic unconscious? That’s not who we are, who I am—until, I guess, it is.

With that awareness, though, I can start to retrieve some of those memory-holes. There’s a grey sky and half-dead trees—the same as any late-fall morning. But those small details which normally confirm the world’s banality now seem to cry out against the deadly magnitude of my plans. My diseased and festering Self pushes me on at breakneck speed toward the inevitable, permanent abyss.  On this day, though, all those unnoticed events—birds swarming blankly on/off a telephone wire—also offer micro-moments in which to change course. But the psychotic will of the ego wars against its own eclipse. In the grasp of that ego’s dejected projections, mere stillness becomes a radical act. But life uncelebrated seems unbearable—a mundane castration. The freedom to stop becomes an intolerable threat. Infamy seems the only means of survival.

But I lose my bearings for a minute and realize it’s over. The act’s already done. Through fitful spasms of icy adrenaline I see the faces of those around me—the human beings whose paths I’ve erased. Some are hung back, lifeless—some stare straight at me. I tell them I had to do it. I’m Devin Kelley now—I storm out the building and towards the fated denouement. Psychotic male resentment runs in a diagonal line against reality. When the two intersect, and the extent of the lie is revealed to its zealot, a bullet to the brain is the only option left. I followed the dictum of the Self to the end of the hard line only to find suicide and madness. How can the Male achieve power and glory in this fallen world? I spent my life and others’ in chewing over that one. But, as the saying [2] goes: wrong answer, wrong question.



1 Which is why we have to enlist the help of “outsiders”, who understandably are not exactly disinterested.

2 Well, it was said. Okay: