Collect for the Ascension

Grant, we beseech thee, Almight God: that like as we do believe thy Only Begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Men and Monsters, Part I

Why? McVeigh told us at eloquent length, but our rulers and their media preferred to depict him as a sadistic, crazed monster who had done it for the kicks. 
—Gore Vidal, on the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 
It was Adela, yet it was not. It was her height, and had her movement. The likeness appeased Wentworth, yet he did not understand the faint unlikeness. He was up to her now, and he knew it could not be Adela, for even Adela had never been so like Adela as this. That truth which is the vision of romantic love, in which the beloved becomes supremely her own adorable and eternal self … that was aped for him then. The thing could not astonish him, nor could it be adored. It perplexed. He hesitated.
‘Who are you? You’re not Adela.’
The voice said: ‘Adela!’ and Wentworth understood that Adela was not enough, that Adela must be something different even from Adela if she were to be satisfactory to him, something closer to his own mind and farther from hers. She had been in relation with Hugh, and his Adela could never be in relation with Hugh. He had never understood that simplicity before. It was so clear now.
—Charles Williams, Descent Into Hell

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Trigger Warning: Terroristic Language and Ideologies

On Monday the twenty-third, in Toronto, a man named Alek Minassian drove a van into a crowd of pedestrians and killed ten people. He faced the Canadian police, shouting ‘Kill me’ and apparently pointing a gun at them (it was later determined he had none), but was taken down without a shot by the incredibly brave Officer Ken Lam, and is now awaiting charges for his terroristic murders. Immediately before the spree, Minassian posted this on his Facebook page:
Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!
And, like a number of other people, I’m left wondering, What the fuck is going on with men in America right now?

Minassian was part of the self-styled online ‘incel’ movement, a portmanteau-abbreviation of involuntary celibate. I call it a movement only for lack of a better word. It isn’t monolithic or doctrinaire. For many, participating the incel community seems simply to be an expression of loneliness and depression in the face of sexual frustration, and some incel forums police radicalism quite strictly. But there are others in the community who pass from experience to philosophy, arguing that desirable women—‘Stacies’—are shallow and cruel, and only respond to muscular, alpha-type men—‘Chads’—whom the incels cannot become due to poor genetics. Incels, they reason, are thus deprived by an unjust social hierarchy of the sex they have a right to.

This might sound like an unfair caricature of even the lunatic fringe. It isn’t. Here is some of the milder content from ‘BlkPillPres,’ screenshotted by journalist David Futrelle:
This shit right here [the Toronto attack] is lifefuel for me and exactly what I was talking about, too many ER [Elliot Rodger] guys are using guns so its expected and they get taken down very quickly these days, not only that but having these killings only take place with guns makes normies feel safe. … You can’t ban hatred, hatred is all it takes to go do a mass killing event. This is literally what I asked for, somebody finally breaking the mold … ER doesn’t always have to be violent, it just has to be strategic and punish normies in some way, they need to be in constant fear for EVERY ASPECT OF THEIR LIFE …

I won’t horrify you with more of this satanic filth, and I sure as fuck won’t link to their website. Suffice it to say that it does not improve as it goes on.

Now, obviously men like this are outliers—if this were normal, what we’d have is not ghastly news stories, but civil war and socio-economic collapse. And obviously not all of the incel community is this way; a lonely young man can have any number of grievances, justified or not, without turning to violence to resolve them. And even among young men who get, in one way or another, radicalized, [1] not all turn to violence nor go this far. But the fact that these outliers are common enough to be noticed at all is what’s creepy and frightening, and it would behove us all to know what’s happening.

There are a number of stock answers, for this and other explosions of violence in our time, that I find rather unsatisfying. The language and identity of victimization that can be found in a lot of Incel forums, and indeed in a lot of contemporary culture. The tendency of some feminists to rail against men indiscriminately. The misogynistic male sense of entitlement to sex. The culture of death, fostered by euthanasia and abortion, that degrades all human dignity into human usefulness. Toxic masculinity and its impossible standards. Lack of gun control. Class warfare. Video games. Smoking in bed. Sunspots. Neap tides. eBay.

Any or all of those things could be contributing factors, but my gut’s telling me that no one of them, nor the sum of them, is the whole story. Now, from here forward, I’m embarking on a speculative examination of what the underlying problem may be. I doubt I have all the relevant facts at my disposal, and I welcome others’ input; nonetheless I’ll go ahead and speculate, because if we all just sit around with our thumbs up our asses for fear of being wrong, nothing will improve.

Let’s take a step back. Starting with the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, there have been at least eighty mass shootings or terrorist attacks (foiled or successful, minor or major) on American soil, an average of one every three or four months for the last twenty-five years. These acts of violence have come from many very different sorts of men [2]: differing ethnic backgrounds, religions, parts of the country, and professed principles. Ravening, sexually motivated hatred of attractive women and of the men who sleep with them seems to be a comparatively new motive, while racism (principally against blacks), outrage over killings in the Middle East at the hands of the US military, homophobia, and anti-abortion wrath are long-standing culprits—though school shootings seem to present a much more puzzling problem, partly because, contrary to popular belief, mental illness and a history of bullying aren’t consistently to be found in shooters.

So … what? Are we supposed to think that, sometimes, dudes just kind of snap, apropos of nothing in particular, and decide to kill some folk?

I think there are two causes, one sociological and one spiritual. I want to explore both at greater length: here I’ll content myself with a précis of each.

The sociological one is that a lot of men today feel powerless—whether in the sense of having nothing worthwhile to do with their potential, or in the sense of feeling inadequate and weak. This isn’t to shunt aside the crippling loneliness that afflicts so much of Western culture, but the pain of that loneliness is shaped by the feeling of powerlessness, too; and powerlessness is, not necessarily a more important, but a different thing for men than it is for women. [3] The ‘primal’ expressions of characteristically male aggressor instincts aren’t needed in a technocratic, sedentary society (such as they arguably were even as late as the Industrial Revolution). The traditional institutions and expressions of masculinity, except for football I suppose, have been largely sidelined, de-gendered, or dismantled—and perhaps justly. But with nothing put in their place, men are left without the tools of coming to understand ourselves as men that most societies depend on for cohesion, and that most individuals use to build a sense of self. And that’s an ideal breeding ground for the alienated, angry, hurt young man who’s been given nothing constructive to do with his fire, and decides to turn that fire against others, to prove to them and especially to himself that he does have it.

The spiritual cause is harder to explain, without sounding superstitious. A person who doesn’t mind sounding superstitious might just drily point out that nearly the whole US is after all built on top of an Indian burial ground. The way I would put it is that I believe, or rather suspect, that we are a nation under judgment. Lots of fire-and-brimstone televangelists and hysterical Catholic conspiracy theorists like to say we’re under judgment because we tolerate the sin of Sodom; and I agree with them, if we turn to the pages of Scripture to find out what it in fact has to say about the sin of Sodom.
Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good. … Thou also, which hast judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame for thy sins which thou hast committed more abominable than they: they are more righteous than thou … [4] 
And it isn’t just our cruelty to the poor (stop to reflect for a moment that many US cities have laws against private citizens giving to the homeless, and that many if not most have laws against panhandling; that is, laws against people in need asking for help). Consider. The US regularly interferes in the internal affairs of foreign nations, up to and including military action with no declaration of war and no international approval. That military action regularly incurs civilian casualties—or, to de-sanitize that concept a little, our boys regularly wind up killing unarmed men, women, and children. The US is the only country on earth to have ended a war with nuclear weapons, whose effects are completely uncontrollable, and did it by targeting civilian populations. This administration and the last two are all known for holding prisoners without counsel or trial indefinitely, and for practicing torture on prisoners, sometimes hundreds of times. That’s a pretty formidable list of war crimes; especially considering how many of them we packed into just the last quarter-century.

Did we really think there would be no consequences? That God would ignore all this?

In 1995, Timothy McVeigh, a veteran of the Gulf War (aka ‘Operation Desert Storm’), bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City. One hundred and sixty-eight people were killed, nineteen of them children due to the presence of a daycare center in the building; it was the single deadliest terrorist attack on American soil—for the next six years. He was mostly dismissed as a sadistic psycho by the press, but the truth is that he was something far more frightening: an eloquent, driven, rigorously consistent man with a defective conscience. But his defective conscience was a mirror of ours, and he held that mirror right up to our faces.
The [Clinton] administration has said that Iraq has no right to stockpile chemical or biological weapons (“weapons of mass destruction”)—mainly because they have used them in the past. Well, if that’s the standard by which these matters are decided, then the US is the nation that set the precedent. The US has stockpiled these same weapons (and more) for over 40 years. The US claims this was done for deterrent purposes during its “Cold War” with the Soviet Union. Why, then, is it invalid for Iraq to claim the same reason (deterrence) with respect to Iraq’s (real) war with, and the continued threat of, its neighbor Iran? 
The administration claims that Iraq has used these weapons in the past. We’ve all seen the pictures that show a Kurdish woman and child frozen in death from the use of chemical weapons. But, have you ever seen those pictures juxtaposed next to pictures from Hiroshima or Nagasaki? I suggest that one study the histories of World War I, World War II and other “regional conflicts” that the US has been involved in to familiarize themselves with the use of “weapons of mass destruction.” 
Remember Dresden? How about Hanoi? Tripoli? Baghdad? What about the big ones—Hiroshima and Nagasaki? (At these two locations, the US killed at least 150,000 non-combatants—mostly women and children—in the blink of an eye. Thousands more took hours, days, weeks, or months to die.) If Saddam is such a demon, and people are calling for war crimes charges and trials against him and his nation, why do we not hear the same cry for blood directed at those responsible and involved in dropping bombs on the cities mentioned above? 
… Hypocrisy when it comes to the death of children? In Oklahoma City, it was family convenience that explained the presence of a day-care center placed between street level and the law enforcement agencies which occupied the upper floors of the building. Yet, when discussion shifts to Iraq, any day-care center in a government building instantly becomes a “shield.” … Whether you wish to admit it or not, when you approve, morally, of the bombing of foreign targets by the US military, you are approving of acts morally equivalent to the bombing in Oklahoma City. [5]
And so we have to ask ourselves a very nasty question. Was Timothy McVeigh wrong only because bombing innocent people is wrong no matter the pretext? Or was he also wrong because even that wouldn’t wake us up?

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[1] I don’t propose to belabor the question of whether the kind of men who do these things count as terrorists. When your stated aim is to change society through violent acts that inspire fear, you’re a terrorist. You don’t need to be a Muslim, a Basque, an alienated veteran, or any other specific subcategory to qualify.
[2] Nearly all of them men. The only female shooter I came across in my research was Rachelle Shannon, an anti-abortion fanatic who attempted to murder Dr George Tiller (yes, that George Tiller) in 1993.
[3] Obviously I’m speaking in generalities, for convenience’s sake.
[4] Ezekiel 16.49-50, 52.
[5] An Essay on Hypocrisy, written and published in 1998 while McVeigh was in prison.


  1. That YouTube shooter lady was a woman, though seemingly a paranoid narcissistic or histrionic one...

    I think we do need to look at personality disorder (which isn’t really mental illness, but rather a characterological problem). These men, even when they have a real ideology, tend to be sociopaths. That mix of Antisocial and Narcissist (and with a dash of paranoia thrown in you go from socio to psycho). Radical ideology attracts a certain type, and yes resentment is a big part of it.

    I think we are under judgment, for what you say and, yes, the general abandonment of God and morality. But be careful. How is this different than declaring with Westboro that “God sent the shooter”? Perhaps they are right, but if they are right why does the manner in which they proclaim it feel so wrong? Is it just that I don’t want to hear it? How is what you say about powerlessness different from the power process in the Unabomer Manifesto? Or is it?

    1. I haven't read Kaczynski's manifesto, so I can't say for certain whether or how much I agree with it -- with the exception that insofar as he used any of his ideas as arguments that terrorist acts were or are justified, I categorically reject any such suggestion.

      What I have read is a summary of his manifesto. Some parts seem plausible to me, others not. While I'm not prepared to reject the Industrial and Technological Revolutions wholesale, I do think that uncritically accepting them and taking no notice of their effects upon both human society and the environment, are naive and potentially disastrous errors. I don't think it follows that industry and technology are evils in themselves, nor that they have to be destroyed to enable human freedom; my suspicion is that the true solution is a much more complex and delicate thing -- but that's only a suspicion thus far, and I haven't thought things out enough to opine further.

      As far as "God sent the shooter" and the like, I think this is a fundamental corruption (deliberate or not) of the whole idea of judgment. "Consequences" is, in many respects, a better word: God, in creating, made a natural order (Greek kosmos, from kosmeo "to arrange, to beautify"); if a free agent transgress this order, that results of itself in suffering and destruction, and those consequences will continue and perhaps increase until the erring agent is either destroyed or corrected, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis. This is what is meant, theologically, by judgment. The drawback of the term "consequences" is that it makes the whole thing sound rather impersonal and mechanical, when in fact personal responsibility in the context of a freely created world is the very stuff of the problem; and, further, judgment can be tempered or canceled through acts of mercy. But I mean to get into all this more deeply in a later post.

  2. Yes, consequences. But for whom? Isn’t the free agent the shooter himself? But it’s innocent children, not-so-innocent teens, and their often very-guilty parents who suffer...

    The idea of the judgment thing is prophetically to wake our conscience collectively, I guess. But does a Collective have a conscience? Or is a collective always a monster?

    Certainly if the idea is “in my own moral weakness, I am a part of what’s happening, it’s my fault and the buck has to stop with me,” that’s all well and good and a morally noble sentiment. But then, I didn’t know anyone who died on September 11th or at Parkland, and my “mourning” was token at best; neither thing really hurt me, both even sort of excited or entertained me as an unaffected media-consumer, so in what sense am I supposed to interpret either as a judgment on me and my, I dunno, porn-watching and participation in capitalism (I do like my Amazon Prime...)

    I guess that’s always been my problem with the “judgment on society” ideas...if God’s judgment is expressed by whole societies suffering (including their proverbial women and children)...and in the Old Testament at least it seems to be...doesn’t this sort of legitimate the logic of terrorism itself: that it makes sense and is coherent to attack an evil collective/system by attacking individual members of/in it, even when those individuals have no particular involvement or culpability in said evils other than perhaps that they are complacent...