As I listened in disbelief to the aired YouTube clip of the wealthy, middle class young man who went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara California recently, I was outraged more so by the rehearsed nature of his script, his choice of quite specific language along with the scene from which he chose to record this moment of cold calculated madness. It was life imitating art in its most gruesome and callous genre-reality.
It mirrored a movie set; the sun set reflecting on his face and plush car interior as his carefully chosen words told the world about his coming ‘day of retribution’ and his inability to form social relationships, particularly with young women of his age.
I thought “and this is his reason he gives for killing 6 young people whose lives were just beginning to experience the joy and excitement of independence and autonomy around making their own choices in life.”
A family lawyer of the killer suggested he might have been bullied at some point, while the police found him to be ‘polite and timid’, when they went to investigate family concerns about his threats posted via social media. Others have been quick to point out a relationship between his mental state and access to weapons of mass destruction.
Nobody knows now-because he killed himself-we can suppose and speculate, but we’ll never know if he was mad, bad or both.
Many wealthy middle class young people in the USA have access to guns. Most, if not all do not suffer from mental illness. Most, if not all manage to navigate their way through the difficult waters of puberty and adolescence in order to form social and intimate consensual relationships with their chosen others. Some more easily than others. Growing up in any culture/society is never easy.
Yet, as a society we in the West are quick to find excuses to assuage our guilt over heinous crimes committed by the ‘worried well’. The attacker quickly becomes a victim: a traumatic upbringing, some years of bullying, and some kind of abuse in their early years etc. Yet, the reality is that some people are just bad. They make clear choices based on sound reasoning to commit harm against others. Their choice is to hate rather than love and to be bad rather than good.
Elliot Rodger was bad in every way. His actions were executed out of a hatred and vindictiveness towards others’ joy and happiness. The world marvels and extols the resilience of children and young people who overcome appalling family backgrounds to make good their lives. Many do. In other instances we also understand why children can develop problems in their adult years too, but help is never far away if the warning signs are read in time. However, it is essential that we must accept that sometimes good parents have bad children.
Stephen Pinker, the Canadian Linguist and Experimental Psychologist says ”genetics and neuroscience are showing that a heart of darkness cannot always be blamed on parents or society”. In addition Cambridge psychiatrist Professor Simon Baron-Cohen proposes that evil is the absence of empathy, and that narcissists, borderline personalities, psychopaths possess no empathetic responses (Griffen, 2011). In other words like Elliot Rodger they are born bad and must take responsibility for the choices they make-even if that has to occur posthumously
I remember being introduced to the ideas of Machiavelli in my political science class at university-the assignment title was “Is Machiavelli a teacher of evil?” The question was framed around the 16th century hatred of the man by the clergy and was somewhat biased in its understanding of this great political thinker and reformer. Ironically it was Pope Leo X who gave Machiavelli the job of reforming the failed state of Florence-which he did successfully, but he did fall foul of the Medici after their restoration and was imprisoned and tortured before retiring from public life. Some would argue he was ‘hoisted with his own petar’ so-to-speak-given his treatise on how to rule in his (in) famous work ‘The Prince’.
Machiavelli’s political theories are evident everywhere today in the modern nation state-regardless of the flavour of the system-democracy, absolute monarchies, communist dictatorships, military rule etc. It was often said that the late Margaret Thatcher knew her Machiavelli very well.
They are also resurrected regularly in popular culture and are found in characters like Tony Soprano, Francis Urquhart in House of Cards but more so in the engaging and riveting fictional, historically theme based political drama, Game of Thrones, which explores the Machiavellian issues of social hierarchy, religion, loyalty, corruption, civil war, crime, and punishment – all current themes of the 21st century political landscape.
What advice would the great Florentine political thinker offer a divided state in the early years of the 21st century? Perhaps he might suggest that “all courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” It remains to be seen whether his advice will be followed in Thailand.
I’d never heard of Mario Costeja González, until a few days ago when I learnt that he’d suffered a personal financial set back in 1998, and having since recovered wanted that information deleted from the world wide web.
According to the Court of Justice of the European Union, individuals have a right to control their private data, especially if they are not public figures. Great news, but not very helpful or insightful after the fact of the Snowden revelations!
In the virtual world the wish to be forgotten is simply that-wishful thinking, while in the real world anything we upload or disseminate online will never, ever be deleted. It might be harder to find-but the original data will always remain-somewhere out there until it is ‘remembered’ through an online search. But, memory is a tricky concept because it
“throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap” (Eliot, 1920)
No-one is truly forgotten, but they may not be remembered unless they choose to remind us so.
Eliot, T. (1920). Prufrock and Other Observations. London: Faber & Faber.
The headline read “BBC Radio Devon DJ David Lowe loses job over racist word” (BBC News , 2014) and as I read I was looking for the word David Lowe was alleged to have uttered on air, but to my dismay I soon discovered that the had played a song with a word in its lyrics which is considered by many to be offensive today. A 1932 version of ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ includes the n-word and Lowe had played this song on his Singers and Swingers show. A listener objected to this word in the song; despite it being an integral part of the lyric since 1932. In addition the aforesaid word makes regular appearances courtesy of a number of high profile African-American rappers.
David Lowe had been a loyal serving employee of the BBC for over three decades. In an attempt to save his job and outstanding career he offered an on air apology-but this was rejected by BBC management. Another well known BBC presenter, Jeremy Clarkson was recently cautioned over an old tape was replayed alleging he used a racist term too-he has since apologized. Both these incidents follow on from the taping of a private conversation between LA Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling and his girlfriend in which he is purportedly making disparaging remarks about people of color. Sterling’s girlfriend later released these private recordings into the public domain for reasons only she’ll ever know.
Political correctness has created an atmosphere of fear and dread everywhere, but more so in the broadcasting houses of the world- is this really as good as it gets?
A couple of years ago I spent part of my summer walking the Camino de Santiago. As a New Zealander, it was my first trip to France and Spain, and while I had read some of their histories, and understood the influence of Roman Catholicism in both countries, nothing prepared me for the glorification of the history of religious wars and the Crusades, especially in Northern Spain. In most of the grand cathedrals along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, St James is celebrated and portrayed as a Moor slayer astride a white horse decapitating Muslims as he liberates Catholic Spain from Islamic rule and influence. I found it all quite repugnant, especially Catholicism’s glorification of killing people of another faith in the name of religion. It’s the antithesis of the Gospel message. Equally so is the 21st century aristocratic portrayal of Roman Catholicism under the new Pope, Francis. Initially renowned for adopting the name of one Catholicism’s great reformers, Francis of Assisi, the new Pope’s ‘simple life’ captured the imagination of millions of Catholic Christians, of whom I was one, who hoped for an authentic form of Christianity as preached through Jesus’ message in the gospels.
Recently, Pope Francis presided over an ancient and archaic ritual in which two former Popes, John Xlll and John Paul ll were canonised and declared saints. “We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church,” said Francis in the official proclamation. Leaving aside the arrogance of this claim, the ceremony itself was anything but simple, and showed the Roman Catholic Church in all its refined, aristocratic glory. The Princes of the Church, in their royal finery portrayed a whole other story of wealth and privilege at the expense of the two thirds of the world’s Catholics who are abjectly poor.
What kind of church did these two ‘Saints’ preside over? Here’s an apt summary from the late Christopher Hitchens:
How could anyone be declared a Saint while presiding over such an institution which was inflicting so much pain and suffering on its members-especially its children?