Or will it?
Aurora, Colorado. James Holmes, 24, bought 4 guns and 6,000 rounds of ammunition, then went to the movies. It was opening night for Batman`s “The Dark Knight Rises.” Hair dyed red, dressed in black, Holmes opened fire, killing 12 and wounding 58.
The standard, same old words are describing Holmes. Clean-cut, quiet and responsable. Here the first clue presents itself. If anything, he was too much a nice guy, a good boy. The extremism of his moderation should (but never does) have sent up a red flag. An extreme cannot exist without having its opposite nearby, usually latently.* It is the tension between the opposites which creates extremism in the first place, gives it its energy.
Nice guy crowd, take note: you obviously don´t remember Charles Whitman. mechanical engineering student. In 1966, he went to the top of the bell tower at the University of Texas and shot to death 14 people and wounded 32. As a child, Whitman had been an Eagle Scout and altar boy. Good boy, nice guy...
Like Holmes, Whitman was from a middle class family. More on that to follow.
Also, the standard astonishment is being expressed. President Obama :
“Now, even as we learn how this happened and who's responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason.”
A clinical psychologist quickly seconded Obama`s We-May-Never-Know-Why motion, and added:
“We want to know why, we want to know what would motivate somebody to do such a horrible thing…"
No, you don`t want to know why – not really.
When all is said and done, all has already been said and done -- over 80% of it. Sorry, President Obama and all you pop-up, jelly-filled media experts warm from the toaster, but it is possible to understand why Holmes did it. Furthermore, Holmes´ rampage is not beyond reason, and in its own peculiar way, it makes perfect sense.
The second requirement to stop being clueless: get a memory. I wonder if, as with Charles Whitman, you remember these two killers:
"Dylan Klebold, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, in 1999, killed 15 people and injured 28 during a 4-hour shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The two boys ´lived in respectable neighbourhoods…Their solidly middle-class background reflected the community as a whole, which found the tragedy particularly shocking because it imagined its school to be free of the usual urban blights of crime and dysfunction…Offering his condolences yesterday, President Bill Clinton said: "All of us are struggling to understand exactly what happened and why.”[i] (The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion, p. 25.) No doubt today, 13 years later, Clinton is still struggling...clueless as ever.
I will not go back over the numerous case studies of middle class rebels turned terrorists, e.g., Charles Andrew Williams (“He was always smiling. If you can think of any friend who was unlikely to do this, it’s him.”….[ii] and Steven Kazmierczak presented in The Source of Terrorism, or those analyzed in this blog, e.g., Jared Lee Loughner (Parts I, II and III, posts of January 2011) and Alabama´s Omar Hammami (November 18, 2010)). Three years ago, Amazon.com summarized my position:
"Every time a middle class person becomes a terrorist, the same question arises: Why? Each time, only mystery and silence remain. Until now. The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion breaks the code of an otherwise inexplicable, deadly phenomenon."
The third prerequisite to stop being clueless: start with what is obvious. Holmes is from an impeccable upper middle class background. His father is a mathematician/software company manager: his mother, a nurse. But most Americans CANNOT start with what is obvious, hence, are doomed to cluelessness and more attacks. We will see why in a moment.
By all accounts, Colorado and the rest of the country are stupefied by the fact that James Holmes was a medical student. I regret to inform you, but in that regard Holmes was following a well-established tradition in middle class rebellion. In 1930, another young medical school student, André Breton, put it this way:
"The simplest surrealist act consists of going down into the street, pistol clenched, and firing randomly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. Anyone who, at least once in his life, has not wanted to so put an end to the petty system of debasement and cretinisation in power has a well-marked place in that crowd, with his belly at barrel level."[iii] [My translation]
Do not forget the 2007 bungled terrorist plot in England in which 8 doctors participated. And do not forget Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, who killed 13 and wounded 30 people in Ft. Hood in 2009. I suppressed this blog´s post (November 6, 2009) on the incident because the wrong people were tuning in. Given the geographic location of the visitors, New Mexico-born Anwar al-Awlaki -- another middle class rebel turned terrorist discussed in numerous posts to this blog -- may have been among the readers. I would like to re-post the Ft. Hood post, but I see no reason to help the other side get its act together. Do you?
As for the FBI, we recently learned they missed obvious clues in Dr. Malik Hasan´s emails. The really important clues are not in emails, however. As we will show, no special computer equipment or electronic devices are needed to locate them; they are within an arm-reach of everybody. FBI, Homeland Security, CIA: you might wonder if something is preventing you from seeing them -- not something "out there" but in the glasses you wear.
Conclusion: James Holmes is not the first med school student to go the middle class rebel/terrorist route. I must add that America and Europe are not alone in that regard. Temoleón Jiménez, alias Timochenko, former med student (cardiology), currently is the head of the Colombian narco-guerrillas, FARC. (While we`re at it, Timochenko isn´t the only middle class rebel to head FARC. Jiménez replaced Alfonso Cano (killed in 2011), Bogota anthropology student from an upper middle class family. Cano´s mother is a professor, his father an agronomist.)
The fourth clue to cease being clueless about James Holmes is found precisely in the fact that so mesmerizes America: the perpetrator was a student not just of medicine but, in more general terms, hard sciences. Mohamad Atta, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad: the list is long and getting longer of doctor, engineer and scientist terrorists. Why?
As Source discusses, the middle class rebel is torn asunder by unconscious, ambivalent feelings. He seeks relief once and for all by attaching himself to unambiguous absolutes. Marc Sageman, a CIA psychiatrist who studied a large sample of terrorists, observed that the reason why so many terrorists are attracted to Islam is exactly the same reason they are drawn to the hard sciences in college:
"The elegance and simplicity of [Islam´s] interpretations attract many who seek a single solution devoid of ambiguity [sic]. Very often these persons have already chosen such unambiguous technical fields as engineering, architecture, computer science, or medicine. Students of the humanities and social sciences were few and far between in my sample."[iv]
What absolute, then, was Holmes seeking?
And why did he pick the role of The Joker to do it?
* * *
When I was four years old, I watched my mother hang two masks on a wall. I asked her what they were.
"This is the mask of tragedy," she said, pointing to the scowling face, "and the other is the mask of comedy."
I still remember my instant reaction. That´s wrong: the mask of tragedy is angry, that´s all. He´ll get it over it. The comedy guy is different. If he comes after you, you´re dead.
Like life, tragedy is relative. Comedy, on the other hand, when it turns evil is absolute. As Hannah Arendt observed, in the pit of his soul, a murderer or a thief can have a good heart; a hypocrite, on the other hand, can only be "rotten to the core " Likewise, the evil comedian is evil down to the nails in his shoes. Little children sense it, which is why clowns frighten them.
In The Joker, Holmes found the absolute position, the persona, he was looking for.
Sidebar: contrary to what Hollywood wants you to think, it did not invent the dramaturgy of comedy-as-chaos. Tezcatlipoca, ancient Aztec god of dissention and contradiction -- a hybrid of the devil and fortuna -- is a case in point. The disastrous funnyman is an unconscious archetype common to people and cultures everywhere. That is what makes it so compelling.
The Joker was the first of three absolutes Holmes invoked when he pulled out a gun:
(2) Source analyzed how one manifestation of the middle class rebel´s ambivalence takes the form of a cult of contradictions. Specific example: he is whipsawed between total intellectualism and total anti-intellectualism. Source (p. 176):
"The cult of anti-intellectualism culminates in the fascist Deed as a preter-realist phenomenon -- the Act as an absolute truth, beyond all criticism and outside any judgment. Just Do it! Go for it! Practice with a capital ´P´.”[v]
(3) The third absolute Holmes conjured forth is the massacre itself. Another contradiction both cultivated by and capturing the middle class rebel is absolute pacifism and absolute violence. Source (p 179):
“´Watch out for the period that is coming!´ surrealist poet Louis Aragon (1897-1982) warned: ´This world is slithering, cracking….Follow the rising smoke.´[vi] Total violence and total pacifism co-exist tranquilly in exuberant expectation of that wonderful, climactic, catastrophic day when It will happen: the Last Judgment, The Spectacle, the Great Assault, the Great Liquidation, the sudden convulsion of the globe, THE movement, THE revolution. In the meantime, the hope of infinite violence later furnishes a cerebral titillation -- a counterfeit joy -- , which explains why the ecstatic expectation of It is, at bottom, an inebriated form of impotence."
Holmes´ quest for an absolute in massacre is detectable in the fact that his violence was completely wanton, random. An eye witness: "`He had no specific target,´ said Trey Freeman. `He was just letting loose, letting bullets fly.´" Here, perfect strangers make the perfect targets. If Holmes let Neighbor Mary or Classmate Bill off the hook, it would mean his violence had a limit. And if it had a limit, it would not be absolute.
We now have an idea why Holmes picked the role of The Joker. But another question arises: why did he pick a Batman movie?
* * *
No doubt about it: violence sells. A major distinction, however, is in order: real violence versus the spectacle of violence. In the latter, the audience "knows" deep down the violence is not real. Roland Barthes (Mythologies) examined the real/spectacle violence difference in what may be the basic dramaturgy of our times -- professional wrestling:
"There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of Suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque... True wrestling, wrongly called amateur wrestling, is performed in second-rate halls, where the public spontaneously attunes itself to the spectacular nature of the contest, like the audience at a suburban cinema... The public is completely uninterested in knowing whether the contest is rigged or not, and rightly so; it abandons itself to the primary virtue of the spectacle, which is to abolish all motives and all consequences: what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees.
We are therefore dealing with a real Human Comedy, where the most socially-inspired nuances of passion (conceit, rightfulness, refined cruelty, a sense of 'paying one's debts') always felicitously find the clearest sign which can receive them, express them and triumphantly carry them to the confines of the hall. It is obvious that at such a pitch, it no longer matters whether the passion is genuine or not. What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself. There is no more a problem of truth in wrestling than in the theatre. In both, what is expected is the intelligible representation of moral situations which are usually private." (pp. 13, 16)
What the public wants is the image of passion, not passion itself. Not to worry: the audience knows movie and wrestling blood isn`t real, and so what? If the public truly wanted to see real suffering, real violence and real death, the most popular video on the Internet would be the torture, dismemberment and killing of Samuel Doe, ex-President of Liberia, who had the misfortune to fall into the hands of rebels headed by Charles Taylor. They videoed Doe´s mutilation and murder. In 1991, the BBC showed the first 5 seconds, which were enough for me.
A Batman movie is 99% sensation. The theater-goer gets his face shoved into an angel food cake of chaos, violence, explosions, crashes, fighting, shooting, screaming, suffering, death. In essence, Batman is little more than professional wrestling hyper-extenuated via special effects costing megabucks. A Batman movie plot, to the extent there is one, is incredibly stupid, but the audience could care less. After all, a roller coaster doesn´t make sense; it isn´t supposed to. The only fundamental difference: a Batman ticket costs a lot more.
James Holmes was different. From the very start, he was not a member of the audience; he entered the theater through a side door.
When it comes to death, The Joker does not joke around. He says: for all you fools out there who crave pure sensation, fake blood, phony fights, stylized violence, and all the other crap dished out by the petty system of cretinization and debasement in power, you are going to get what is coming to you with your belly at barrel level.
In his own way, with gun in hand, Holmes did what Andy Warhol said with paintings of Campbell soup cans: Here it is -- your world. I hope you like it. Only, Homes went the opposite direction from Warhol -- from representations in paintings (in this case, computer-generated) to the real thing. More on this shortly.
Having found absolutes in the absolute evil of The Joker, the absolute truth of The Deed, and the absolute violence of an absolute massacre, Holmes is now at rest. The sudden convulsion of the globe, the Great Assault, came and went. The pressure is off. No more tension of opposites, of ambivalent feelings -- at least for now. It is a new world for Holmes. No wonder in court he appears dazed, confused.
As noted, Batman movies and pure sensation are primordially linked. In picking a Batman movie, Holmes declared war on post-modernism, which proclaims that the only reality is a Heraclitean shower of sensations. He grabbed and stopped, if only for a few seconds, post modernism´s endlessly moving conveyor belt that carries everything -- Kant and Kentucky Fried Chicken, Flipper and feldspar -- ; that orders nothing; that sorts nothing out; that goes nowhere.
Post modernism is, in truth, nothing but the epitome, the victory, of middle class ideology, which seeks total reconciliation. That reconciliation is the very thing that middle class rebels like Holmes extremely reject -- and, eventually, just as extremely, accept. If he lives long enough, no doubt Holmes will "find God."
As for the gentle violence, stylized violence, retinal violence that the Batman audience anticipated and paid to see: anybody who has witnessed real violence (I have) knows it is less sensational but more dramatic than anything Hollywood ever cooked up. However, drama is beside the point for a Batman crowd; what matters is not what it thinks but what it sees. Well, Holmes saw it. In the tradition of Arthur Rimbaud, French poet and living standard of middle class rebellion, Holmes came to "The Dark Knight Rises" to proclaim the consummate, condemnatory word for the entire post modernism world: Enough.
In the dark movie theater, he performed the only absolute which was absolute enough for him. It had to be a miracle, and it was: transubstantiation, the change of bread and wine into body and blood. Look again at the photos of the victims at the top of this post. In Aurora, Batman´s phony bodies and fake blood became real bodies, real blood. That "Divine Mystery" took place right under America´s nose and right now is astonishing the country.
Priests perform the Divine Mystery; why can`t Holmes?
* * *
“When all is said and done, society pays itself
in the false money of its dreams.”
-- Marcel Mauss, Esquisse d’une théorie
générale de la magie[vii] --
I stated above that, contrary to what everybody is saying, nobody (almost) wants to know why James Holmes did it -- not really.
That observation is based on hard experience.
The start of The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion presents the direst warning conceivable: we have nothing to sell you. Do not buy or read the book:
"I wrote this essay for intelligence officers engaged in the fight against terrorism. My hope is to orient their thinking in a new, fruitful direction. Worldwide audience: 500 people. With that limited readership in mind, I was able to say certain things without restriction or reservation. They are presented strictly on a need-to-know basis, and only after time showed conclusively that a number of practical problems associated with terrorism could not be solved otherwise.
If you are an academician or from the media or general public, you will find this essay deeply disturbing. You will view it as an attack on many of your most cherished ideas, values, and assumptions. It is not my purpose or wish, however, to make you anxious, upset. For that reason, I urge you to close this book and return to a road more traveled. "
I will be even more forthright here.
This blog is receiving visits from around the world (we just had our first visitor from Korea: welcome). International interest and encouragement is the only reason I continue to make posts, and why I decided to keep The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion in print. I do not promote the book because, if its potential audience is small, its potential for abuse in the wrong hands is large. When I set out in the 1960s, my objective was to answer this question: most terrorists, revolutionaries, anarchists, nihilists, rebels -- call them whatever you want (for now) -- come from the middle class: Why? As of April 2009, when Source was puiblished, the answer has been out there; it existentially exists. Today no one can claim, as did Obama, the reason for the 12 deaths in Aurora is unknown. Whether or not someone wants to know that reason is their decision.
I would like now to address Americans only -- in particular the CIA, FBI, Homeland Security and other anti-terrorist professionals:
You do not understand what happened in Aurora for the same reason I do not understand Chinese. As a group (not as individuals) you do not have the formal education, cultural background or life experience required to make sense of James Holmes in particular, middle class rebel terrorists in general. Futhermore, in your case, there is an additional barrier:
You are overpowered by an ideology; it is blinding you to realities two feet in front of you. A precursory rundown:
-- You believe that socio-economic classes are unimportant, that they tell little or nothing about a person. That belief prohibits you from seeing that the very classes-don´t-count belief you hold so dearly is the product of a class -- the middle class, to be exact. Because the phenomenon of socio-economic class means nothing to you, the fact that James Holmes and other terrorists are middle class means nothing to you. You see that fact -- nobody denies it -- but, puzzled and befuddled, you shake your head, go eat lunch.
-- If socio-economic classes mean nothing, then the idea of class consciousness/ideology can only be meaningless too -- and the idea of class unconsciousness, ridiculous. All I can say is, consult the nearest rich or poor (i.e., non middle class) teenager; he or she will set you straight about the importance of classes and that they perceive things differently.
-- What little you know or think about the middle class comes from ancient Greece. Aristotle argued that the middle class is the best class, that it is the center of reason and moderation, that it reconciles rich and poor and restrains their excesses: that, in short, it makes peace and stability possible. The fact that argument has endured for 2,000 years means it must have some truth. However, it is not the only truth. The middle class is also the source of irrationality, of extremism, of nihilism, of disorder, of terrorism. That opposing, disquieting truth is evident to most Americans; however, it is allowed to be seen in the mind only. That is to say: it is taboo.
What you just read are only 3 of numerous ideological layers that must be stripped away before you can get where you want to go. Or say you want to go...
The Source of Terrorism identifies and removes the ideological blinders so that you can see -- finally -- what James Holmes and other middle class rebel terrrorists think and feel. What happened in Aurora deeply disturbs you because it forces you to choose between keeping the blinders on or taking them off. To remove them would allow you to know, but it would also discard an incredible number of time-honored and comfortable thoughts, feelings, sensations, intuitions.
In the end, then, you do not want to know because the answer is something you do not want to hear.
As for Aurora, when all is said and done, you will decide exactly what you decided after the massacres at the University of Texas, Columbine and Northern Illinois University, after Ft. Hood and Santana High School. You will go on preferring not to know, for the price of knowledge is too high; it would upset you. You will go on paying yourself in the counterfeit money of your dreams -- in this case, Batman.
Because you will continue being clueless, you are condemned to make the same mistakes over and over again. Aurora could have, but will not, live up to its name.
Before leaving this post, please take a last look at James Holmes´12 victims. The photos are blurred. I did my best to bring them into focus. Now it`s your turn.
* Psychoanalyst Carl Jung defined the tendency of extremes to change into their opposites as enantiodromia or “the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time. This characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counterposition is built up, which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.” C. G. Jung, “Psychological Types,” in C. G. Jung, The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, op.cit., Volume 6, H. G. Baynes, translator, 1990, p. 426. (Paragraph 709). Jung did not attach the crucial importance that I do to the relationship between enantiodromia and social milieu.
[i] Andrew Gumbel, “Dylan Klebold, 17. Eric Harris, 18. The misfits who killed for kicks,” The Independent (London), ProQuest Information and Learning Company.
[ii] Michael A. Fletcher et Sharon Waxman, “Students Doubted Shooting Suspect’s Boasts,” International Herald Tribune, March 7, 2001.
[iii] « L’acte surréaliste le plus simple consiste, revolvers aux poings, à descendre dans la rue et à tirer au hasard, tant qu’on peut, dans la foule. Qui n’a pas eu, au moins une fois, envie d’en finir de la sorte avec le petit système d’avilissement et de crétinisation en vigueur a sa place toute marquée dans cette foule, ventre à hauteur de canon. ». André Breton, Œuvres complètes, Volume I, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1988. Second manifeste du surréalisme, pp. 782-3. [My translation]
[iv] Marc Sageman, Understanding Terrorist Networks, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2004, p. 116. Islamic terrorists reject the two Islamist traditions of analogies and consensus of Islamic scholars (Ibid., p. 4). Both are sources of ambiguity within the Moslem religion; thus in rejecting them, the terrorists once more reveal the primary importance they attach to relief from ambiguity.
[v] Jean-Paul Sartre: “Action…submits to principles which it has collected blindly, never questioning their validity. The man of action is the person who interrogates himself about means, but never about ends.” (« L’action [...] se soumet à des principes qu’elle a ramassés à l’aveuglette et ne remet jamais leur validité en question. L’homme d’action est celui qui s’interroge sur les moyens et jamais sur les fins. ») Jean-Paul Sartre, Baudelaire, Gallimard, Paris, 1996, p. 42. [My translation]
Albert Camus held the same view: “The rule of action has thus become action itself -- which must be performed in darkness and while awaiting the final illumination. Action is no more than a calculation based on results, not on principles. Consequently, it confounds itself with perpetual movement.” Albert Camus, The Rebel, Vintage Books, New York, 1956, p. 134.
[vi] « Attention à la période qui vient ! » ; « Ce monde déjà se lézarde [...], il craque. Suivez la fumée qui s’élève [...]. » Louis Aragon, « La Peinture au défi », in Louis Aragon, Aragon : L Œuvre poétique, Volume 5, Livre Club Diderot -- Idées & Editions, Paris, 1975, p. 64. [My translation]
[vii] « En définitive, c’est toujours la société qui se paie elle-même de la fausse monnaie de son rêve. » [My translation] Marcel Mauss, Esquisse d’une théorie générale de la magie, in Marcel Mauss, Sociologie et anthropologie, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2004, p. 119. [My translation]