In the wake of yet another mass shooting in America – this time, with the added bonus of being a Muslim terrorist attack – the mainstream media has been treating us all to a smorgasbord of adjectives with twisted and debased meanings. Evil becomes tragic, deviancy becomes familiar, and a perfectly-calculated and well-planned attack becomes ‘senseless.’ Pick any adjective, then pick your preferred meaning.
This last twisting of meaning irked me. “Senseless tragedy.” “Senseless massacre.” “Senseless attack.” I won’t link the offending papers for reasons that don’t need to be repeated, but I will call attention to their egregious crimes against the English language.
What exactly was senseless about the recent mass shooting in Orlando? According to the dictionary, which I still use to craft sentences, something isn’t senseless unless it has no discernible meaning or purpose. Was there no discernible meaning or purpose behind the attack on homosexuals in Orlando? None at all?
The perpetrator of the shooting, Omar Mateen, was an Afghan Pashtun by blood and a Sunni Muslim by faith. According to various accounts, he pledged allegiance to the Sunni Muslim terrorists in the Islamic State and wanted the United States to “stop bombing [his] country.” Despite being born in the United States, I think we can safely assume that he was talking about Afghanistan, and not New York. A fact of some probable importance is that ISIS has claimed territory in the former and not the latter – yet.
Various descriptions of the perpetrator paint him as a fairly standard Middle Eastern man living in the late-stage democratic mess that is the contemporary West. He had “behavioral problems” in school, he liked sex and violence, got into fights, and bragged about Islamic terrorist attacks on Western targets to his classmates. He had an unhealthy penchant for nightclubs and marijuana, which he balanced with several weekly visits to his mosque.
He took suspicious trips to the Middle East and was less than six degrees of separation from known jihadists and Islamic radicals. He beat his ex-wife and got mad at open displays of homosexuality. Mainstream outlets report these facts in a revelatory and frightening tone, as if they weren’t ordinary and unremarkable for any Muslim man – and any Muslim terrorist – living anywhere from Michigan to Molenbeek.
Then, one day, he decided to sell his house for $10, buy firearms and ammunition, case a few locations with his Muslim wife, and eventually shoot and kill 49 Hispanic homosexuals at a gay nightclub. For no discernible meaning or purpose. The fashionable thing is to blame either his supposed latent homosexuality or the tools he chose for murder, but not in any way shape or form admit to purpose, meaning, or agency. The whole thing was too insane to make sense of, so don’t even try.
With a little effort, I think I can not only discern meaning behind this mass shooting, but purpose and agency too. Read this abstract from a paper put out by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point:
There appears to be a strong correlation between territorial losses inflicted on the Islamic State by an international coalition and the group’s increasingly global campaign of terrorism. Two reasons likely explain why the group is shifting toward international terrorism. The first is a top-down decision by Islamic State leaders to prioritize international attack plotting as a strategy to safeguard their self-declared caliphate. The second is a bottom-up dynamic in which foreign fighters and satellite groups are retaliating on their own initiative on behalf of the caliphate, a function of the group’s fluid command and control structures. As the Islamic State continues to lose ground, the international community should brace for a surge in international terror.
This paper was published two months before the Orlando attack. A Muslim Afghan man who pledged allegiance to ISIS attacks and kills homosexuals in America two months after a West Point paper is published detailing ISIS’ strategy of encouraging and organizing international terror attacks. The Islamic State itself commits terrorism because, as this informative article stated, “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse.”
That sounds exotic — to put it mildly — but hardly senseless.
Not that the mass shooting in Orlando was alone in making a little bit more sense than the approved media would have you believe. Do a quick Google search of “mass shooters manifesto” and see how many results come up. Almost every single mass shooter releases some kind of manifesto or statement detailing their beliefs, their ideology, and why the two required a massacre. Sometimes, it’s as straightforward as “the world is against me, I must fight the world.” That describes the manifesto of Christopher Harper-Mercer. Sometimes, like in the case of Anders Behring Breivik, the manifesto runs up to 1500 pages long.
Far be it from me to sympathize with or support mass murderers, but to claim that men who spend years developing intricate, murderous ideologies with a litany of published justifications before acting on them is senseless–is, frankly, senseless.
Why do I bring this up at all?
If something is senseless, it cannot be predicted, explained or prevented. You can’t explain natural disasters. You can’t make sense of Alzheimer’s disease. You can’t predict the next thought of a schizophrenic. With these things, you just have to suck it up, deal with the damage, and pray. That is what the preferred response to mass shootings – aside from a little gun grab – would be. Do not notice any patterns, please. Just soldier on and accept that you may be next. It’s all random anyway.
On the other hand, if something isn’t senseless, if you can identify an agent behind it, identify some meaning behind it and a deliberate purpose, you can then develop a model of it, treat it as a problem or enemy, and eliminate it decisively. Burglars steal for good reasons that are understandable and predictable, and can therefore be impeded with appropriate responses like alarms and guns. Most other problems fall into this category, too.
The media, academic and political clerisy – that is to say, the Cathedral – make it abundantly clear that they prefer you do not delve into the motives or circumstances of mass shooters too deeply. They make it abundantly clear that they prefer pious, high-minded ignorance. Why might that be?
I notice one crucial thing that changed apropos society, thanks to the very same clerisy, that makes mass shootings not just more likely but positively sensible.
That is the politicization of the masses. It is democracy, the media, the news cycle, and the enshrinement of politics as a daily ritual. Without the politicization of the masses, there is no “mass” with which to preface “shooting.” There is no media to report on it and spread the killer’s name and actions far and wide. There is no vicarious shock and fear on the parts of the 99.9% of people who do not know the victims, and there is no need to piously signal your opinions on the news event to coordinate your informal political army.
Democracy, as the engineering of permanent conflict in a society, demands that every individual with a vote becomes an unofficial soldier and therefore a legitimate unofficial target. International treaties trying to establish the opposite did nothing to prevent that logic from developing into the messes of the First and Second World Wars, when total war acquired its true meaning — total mobilization of the economy, the militarization of the civilian population, and mass murder as a legitimate method of warfare. The Allies, Germans, and Soviets were all complicit. The logic didn’t disappear after 1945.
Why do mass shooters aim for a high kill count? They don’t kill themselves in a forest quietly, in protest. They don’t attack infrastructure. They don’t assassinate powerful figures. They don’t even seem to care much about injuries and trauma so much as the raw death count. They want to make sure that their targets are dead. Why? We’ve habituated to the idea that mass shooters try to kill as many people as possible, but we don’t seem to examine why this macabre calculus is so unremarkable.
There are many things you can’t do once you’re dead, but the most important thing in a politicized society is vote. In mass societies of millions, one vote is all you get. For the thin, outer fringes of mass society, that one vote is not enough to take power, and they compensate for it in the most perfectly logical, sensible, and predictable way possible, according to the logic of democracy.
Omar Mateen only got one unimportant vote as a registered member of the Democratic Party. But in Orlando, Omar Mateen voted for ISIS 49 times.
Want to end mass shootings? Get rid of democracy. Get rid of the media. Take away the votes. When only the King can vote, only the King is worth riddling with bullets. Everyone else could rest easy as non-combatants once again.