Saturday, May 12, 2007

Hitchens: Suck it Up

Hitchens on the national response to the VA Tech murders.

A bit much, maybe, but he's right about some big swath of it, I'd say.

Most amazing part: the bit about Cornell ringing its bells thirty-three times, apparently putting the death of the murderer on par with the death of his victims...though what the president of Cornell says is so unclear as to be open to other interpretations.

[HT: mighty Armenius]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is an email message I received from a friend of a friend which seems to be on topic. I have permission to "pass it along."

Forwarded text below:

If I did still have a blog I would have written this on it this
morning. Feel free to pass it along if you are so inclined:


In Virginia today a bell tolled 32 times. 32 white balloons were let
fly like so many spirits bound for eternal salvation. A solemn
ceremony and a fitting sentiment, staged as the liminal turning point
for the tens of thousands affected that must now to continue with
their lives. Except that thirty-three people died that day –
thirty-three members of the Virginia Tech community were lost.
Thirty-three families are now left with an open wound in the shape of
a lost loved one.

By not sending a thirty-third white balloon to the heavens we have
denied Seung-hui Cho his humanity. And why not? It is far easier, and
far more comfortable to blame this terrible event on some supernatural
force, a Freddy Krueger or a Jason or an Osama bin Laden. So by not
ringing that bell one more time we have protected ourselves, turned
Seung-hui Cho into a demon we must save our children from, an
abberation to support passing stricter gun laws, and a reason to fear
mental illness.

How much more difficult it would be to face the reality that a human
being did these acts, how truly frightening to admit that he was one
of us. That a monster killed 32 students and faculty is a senseless
massacre; but that a confused youth was so lonely and alienated and
without guidance that he killed thirty-two of his peers before killing
himself is a human tragedy.

It is telling that, in his final words, Seung-hui Cho expressed
solidarity with the shooters of Columbine. We cannot continue to
dismiss this growing social sickness as randomness, voodoo or black
magic. We cannot continue to dehumanize the first among us to catch
ill by labelling them psychopaths and terrorists. Something is wrong,
and like it or not, we're all involved. So like it or not, it is upon
all of us to affect change, to be better friends, better neighbors,
and better parents. Like it or not it is upon us to question our
values for these are the values we teach our children. For it is not
just from their parents but also from their peers that children learn
to love and to hate.

By mourning only 32 we say that only 32 died. What's worse, we say
that we're not responsible. These are our children, not just your
children or his children or my children, but our children. It is time
we took responsibility for them together, or like it or not, 33 won't
be a record for long.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I'm not buying it, a-funk.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fair enough, not sure I do either, but food for thought.

My main attraction to the piece was its message that we do, often, tend to put awful, horrible things in a separate category that is simply defined as "bad" and therefore require no analysis or thought when trying to determine how to respond.

"Bad Men," and "Evil" and "Tyrant" and other similiar words are simply shorthand for justifying doing things and taking actions that otherwise would be rather obviously stupid. I'm not too much into getting rid of evil, I'm more into trying to solve problems in intelligent ways (using force, of course, when it is actually the smart thing to do).

1:44 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Part I:

I would think that mourning is for the living, not the dead. As if the family of the killer doesn't already feel ashamed enough, I don't see it necessary to omit him from mourning rituals to reinforce that shame.

It seems to me that if you are to omit him from such things as bell tolls, or whatever, you're saying he's less worthy of remembrance than others. If you're saying that, maybe we should investigate thoroughly the lives of those who were killed - I'm sure we could allocate points for good behavior and rank them accordingly, so we'd know who to mourn the most.

But that seems kinda pointless to me, as does making some sort of statement that we care less about the killer than we do the killed. The mourning is for the living. It would hurt his family even more to make public statements about how he shouldn't be remembered as the others are.

While one might feel that it's valid to be less sorrowful that the killer is dead and more sorrowful that the killed are dead, it doesn't help anyone to make that assertion, does it?

I'm also inclined to believe that compassion will help people more than hateful remembrance. If we view him as a victim of his own ignorance and wrath rather than just some horrible person who was out to get us, I think that it will send a better message to others who might be contemplating this very same rampage behavior. If they see that they are cared for and that they are loved, even after they commit such an atrocious act, those who are thinking about following in their footsteps might stop short of doing what Cho and others did.

I certainly don't think hateful remembrance and omission from mourning rituals will help in any way.

Part II:

I do agree, however, with the guy's point about people spontaneously acting sorrowful and spewing false sentiment. Everyone definitely feels the need to emote, and it drives me crazy. People need to realize that it's ok not to feel absolutely destroyed that this happened when you don't know any of the people involved, and you have no direct connection to the event.

What we really need to do is get rid of the morons on TV who do this and replace it with good discussion on what we can do to prevent future occurances, and how we can help those who are thinking about doing the same thing understand that we want to help. We just don't know what to do without their input, and that these rampages are not good input.

We need to open up an easy and effective way for these kids who feel the need to do this to be able to voice their concerns and elicit change. If there's a bullying problem, they need to have a public method by which they can get the problem resolved. If there's ANY sort of problem in which the child feels the need for change, that kid needs to have an easy and effective route he can take to make that change happen or figure out how best to fix the problem. Otherwise, they'll take it upon themselves to do it, and this is what we'll get.

11:58 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Sorry, Mystic, I've got no sympathy, as it were, for your part I.

I'm just going to assume that the points to be made are obvious enough that I need not actually articulate them. We could go through 'em if you want, but you can see 'em as well as I can I'll bet.

7:34 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

I don't. =\

Maybe I'm dum.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a bit of an old thread at this point, but I'll keep on keeping on.

W.S., your responses to both The Mystic and me sort of insinuate that we should both know what your response is.

I'm pretty sure I don't. You're not sure you buy what I posted, and you kind of say that we should all know at this point what your response to The Mystic would be.

Again, I don't. This is not a challenge, by the way, just a simple explanation that , no, I really don't know what you have to say about this (much less whether I would agree or not).

Not trying to goad you, just saying that really, truly, I'm not sure what you have to say about this. And if you keep it to yourself, that is fine with me, just trying to explain my mild confusion.

1:44 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I find it really difficult to believe that you guys don't know what I'm going to say here. In fact I'm absolutely sure you already do.

Murderers should not be mourned alongside their victims.

Stop the presses!

Hitler was also a tortured figure who committed suicide, but you'd have to be fairly thick to think his death should be mourned alongside, say, that of Anne Frank and the rest of the members of the holocaust.

I have great sympathy for kids who are outsiders. But that sympathy ends when they become the bad guys themselves. The VA tech shooter, may he rot in hell, would have been a sympathetic character if he'd have taken a different path. As it turned out, he inflicted more evil on others than he'd ever endured himself.

Fuck him. I'd be happy to spit on his grave.

It's not merely being a member of *homo sapiens* that makes your life valuable. Murderers are even more reprehensible because they were free to murder or not murder, and made the wrong choice.

This is the point at which more bleedy-heart types try to argue that he had no choice because he was insane. Possibly true, but a different point. And probably not true.

10:56 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

Well, again, I have two points addressing your post:

Point 1:

I don't see a compelling reason that murderers shouldn't be mourned alongside the dead.

You can be happy to spit on his grave and hate and loathe him all you want, but I don't see that that helps anything. It seems that if one is to believe that he is less worthy of pity than those who he killed, one must believe that he was better off than they were, right? One must think he had a better life, or a better ability to choose his fate, or whatever.

I don't believe he was better off than those who were killed in any way. He was far worse off. I'd rather be killed by a man gone insane with rage and misery than be the man who lived a hateful, miserable life. Obviously neither is good - both are terrible, but I'd still pick the former. If anything, the latter deserves more pity, it seems to me.

I'm not excusing his actions or saying they weren't awful, I'm just saying that someone who commits those actions has clearly led a horrible life - not necessarily because of his family, or money, or any external (I balk at that word, but it's the best I can come up with) factors, but the internal factors at play. He had to live as himself, and that was clearly a horrible existence - worse than a good, or even mediocre life cut short by a long, long shot.

Does that make absolutely no sense?

Point 2:

Also, as for the argument that he had no choice, I would pose this one:

1) The mindset required to commit an atrocity in which the lives of others and oneself are senselessly taken is a miserable, horrendously awful mindset to live with.

2) No one would willfully choose to live this way or to commit these horrible actions.

3) Cho chose to live that way and do those things.

4) Cho had no choice of which he was aware other than the one he took.

So I wouldn't say he had no choice, but I would say that he obviously wasn't aware that he had a choice. I remember being in a similar position, and I know for a fact that it was because I simply didn't know any other possible way to be or think. That's why I find philosophy and academic religious studies to be so important to the development of children - without it, you can become entrenched in a certain belief system and have no idea that there's another way to possibly think until you are shown.

Cho was not shown. I don't see how anyone could ever willfully choose utter misery capped off by mass murder over happiness, and therefore, I don't believe Cho was aware that he had a real choice about his situation.

The argument then, from me, is not that he didn't have a choice, but that he couldn't possibly make the choice he had because he clearly lacked the knowledge that the choice existed. For, if he knew that he had a choice, he would never have chosen the path he took. He lived in a world where he felt persecuted and wronged every moment of his life, and he probably went insane with rage towards those he saw as his persecutors, which obviously entailed the general population of the world, since he felt it ok to just go kill everyone he saw. They were all his persecutors, and he was the victim.


1: Hating Cho is failing to recognize that he is probably more deserving of pity than the victims. Certainly he did an awful thing, but that awful thing is clear evidence to me that he had the worse existence.

2: Cho either willfully chose to live a miserable, pathetic life instead of a happy life, or he didn't see that he had a choice. Anyone who would choose to live a miserable, pathetic life over a happy life is insane. You can't hate an insane person for doing things because they can't help that they do them.

So, either Cho was insane, and therefore not hate-worthy, or he was unaware that he had a choice, and he therefore lived a horrible life, capping it off with horrible action. That is pitiable, not hate-worthy.

Compassion seems the only sensible, constructive reaction, to me. It does not excuse the violence, and recognizes that it is wrong, but it does not return it with hate, which does nothing to better the situation.

11:43 AM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

And point one in the summary is NOT to say that the victims are not worthy of pity. The victims' deaths were horrible, and it was terrible. I'm just saying Cho deserves pity too - possibly moreso, because, while it would obviously depend on each situation, I'd rather live a good life cut short than a horrible life capped off by atrocious action.


Just wanted to make sure, even though I said it multiple times, that I'm not minimizing the tragedy of the victims, but that I am trying to show that Cho was a tragedy too, not just something to be hated.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Um, this is a joke, right?

This is not a serious request for an explanation of why Hitler should not be mourned alongside his victims, is it?

On the off chance that you're actually serious about this, you're going to have to find someone more patient than me to explain it to you... I've done more than my share of explaining why night isn't day and freedom isn't slavery...not sure how much more of that sort of thing I have in me...

8:28 AM  

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