I find my usual foolishness interrupted this week by a story out of America -- the senseless shooting at a Denver, Colorado premier of the latest Batman film wherein twelve people were killed and fifty injured.
Shortly after the start of the special midnight showing of the film a masked gunman stepped in front of the screen, released a canister of noxious gas into the aisle and began firing into the sell-out audience. His weapons were an automatic rifle, a pistol and a shotgun.
Barely three years out of America, I read these reports with a sinking sense of déjà vu, with a sadness that seems to remember itself and that aches anew in my heart like a keen recollection of a tragic loss, a complex admixture of sorrow and regret and bafflement and anger and hopelessness and malaise.
What has happened here? And what is happening again and again in a country that once was and should always have remained a beacon of encouragement and hope, order and safety, strength and well-being -- an example to the world and a model for mankind? What is the disease that has infected a nation’s psyche and spread through the years like a malevolent cancer -- from Gacy to Dahmer, from the son of Sam to the hillside strangler, from the zodiac killer to the Columbine teens -- this miasma of recurring madness from the darkest side of the human condition that births and rebirths itself so prolifically?
It becomes less than shocking. It becomes familiar. It becomes predictable -- again, like a cancer -- such that we find ourselves reading the same news, viewing the same network broadcast. The dates and places have changed, the various particulars, the number of deaths -- but it has happened before, and then again and again, and we know by now, in the most unsettling way, that it is sealed in the land and that it has spread to the core and that it is killing us little by little by little. We are all in that audience, we are all of us victims, we are all of us murdered by the hand that we cannot stop, nor indeed so much as comprehend. What fertile soil has been provided in America, and why?
I am an American -- and I am discouraged, I am ashamed, I am lost, I am heartbroken, I am afraid, I am remorseful. I despair. Three years in Bali, three years from my home, I had almost begun to forget, had almost begun to heal, had almost begun to feel proud again. And now this. Now this.
We see violence in the world, we see violence in Indonesia, we see intolerance and bigotry and cruelty and murder; and we tend to respond with a moral surety, somehow conferred by the western lands from whence we came. We judge from the lofty seat of freedom, tolerance, democracy, social equality and the rule of law.
And yet as a least denominator of reason we cannot fail at this point, having been reminded in this one sad incident which yet remembers the many, that political, that religious, that cultural violence all arise from some concept, some reality which, though hateful and unwanted, yet lies within the realm of sanity. Yes, there is a reason for these more common sorts of deaths and the reason is well within the grasp of the common intellect. Papuans are killed because of political unrest, Ahmadiyah sect members are killed because of apostasy, Moslems in Myanmar are killed because of prejudice, Christians in Jawa are killed because they proselytize, villagers in Bali are killed because of a land dispute, seamen in the South Pacific are killed because of an oceanic dispute. And so on, ad infinitum.
It seems somehow sadly, ironically comforting to know that violence with reason is still the norm, no matter how abhorrent such a norm may be. We are relieved to know, God help us, that people kill with explicable intent. But what is there to say about a lunatic in a mask, a psychotic young man in full body armour who imagines that he is the Joker in a Batman movie, who imagines God knows what of his innocent victims, who arms himself with rifles and pistols and bombs over a period of months, planning, preparing and finally hatching his idiot masterpiece of incomprehensible insanity? What foundation can we invent, what mission devise, what ambassador can we send to the womb of madness?
What to do but wonder and puzzle? What to do but weep, if still able. What to do but query the deaf heavens -- What in God’s name has happened to America?