"He´s just putting on a show," remarked the father of one of Homes´ victims. Exactly. The only nuance I would make is that Holmes IS that show. Middle class rebel that he is, Holmes is forever caught between and dependent upon people above and below him. An ambiguous life situation creates a self-identity comprised of a grab-bag filled with viewpoints of other people:
“If you can’t join them, beat them!” -- the familiar refrain stood on its head -- is where the middle class rebel began. A condition of dependency, however, always creates ambivalent feelings. The ensuing vacillation gives rise to a general scepticism in which a free-floating will is unable to decide, to plan, to finish. What remains is the role of playing roles. The result is parts without a plot." (The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion, p 191).
Of course, other people`s viewpoints don´t always agree. Who to believe? The grab-bag is delicate, easily torn. Because those viewpoints constitute the rebel´s inner essence, whenever a conflict occurs, a full-blown identity crisis can erupt. Unable to weather the storm of ambivalent feelings -- on the one hand; on the other -- he subsumes himself in an identity which is the opposite of ambiguity: an absolute. For Holmes, that absolute was constellated in The Joker. The greater the ambiguity, the greater the absolute.
The distraught father´s observation was seconded by a prison staffer: spitting on everyone and everything and showing no remorse, Holmes "thinks he is acting in movie." It is understandable that Holmes´ fellow prisoners, who are not middle class and cannot make any sense whatsoever of his plotless part, are planning and deciding for him. They even have an ending in mind -- which is why for his own protection Holmes is now in solitary confinement.
Police and prosecutors, for their part, also don`t have the foggiest idea what makes Holmes tick. Result: killing Holmes is the final solution envisioned by criminals and authorities alike. There is nothing unusual in that agreement. As we shall see, capital punishment is the prevailing norm in America.
In all this, the reality of objective conditions -- such as dependency on the upper and lower classes noted above -- needs to be stressed because the prevailing ideology in Western societies holds that such conditions either don´t exist or can be overruled -- that anything is possible if one puts his heart and soul in it. Obama worked that illusion superbly in his 2008 campaign. "Yes, we can."
Sorry, no we can´t -- not always or even most of the time.
Because our perspective flies in the face of everything the majority of Americans think, feel, say and hear, the following discussion will be incomprehensible to them.
All we can say to that majority: please, for your own sake and ours, read no further.
Too Sane To Be Sane
Put James Holmes aside for a moment.
Can objective conditions cause people to be insane without being insane in any clinical or psychiatric sense of the word? To wit: is there such a thing as behavioral -- as opposed to mental -- insanity?
In particular, what are we to make of individuals who are members of a society that engages in insane behavior -- individuals who are not, qua individuals, insane by any known psychiatric criterion or examination?
We are looking at the other face of insanity. It is not the face of James Holmes, and there is no mug shot of it.
To begin to understand that other face, what do we mean by objective conditions?
Albert Camus wrote about a bully beating up a small guy. A third person arrives on the scene, declares "I am neutral," and walks away. The passerby, Camus concludes, is not neutral: he is on the side of the bully.
Some things exist, then, independently of an individual´s or a society´s intentions, judgments, explanations, feelings, perceptions, laws, norms. Like the other side of the moon, those things simply are; they exist existentially. They may not even be perceived, must less approved or disapproved. The passerby is on the side of the bully -- period. Otherwise stated, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander.
I have seen people shot and stabbed to death. I have also worked in a hospital with officially-designated, "criminally insane" murderers. My final conclusion: excluding special circumstances, notably self-defense, anybody who deliberately kills somebody is insane.
Yes, that includes hitmen and the people who hire them. In American society everything is monetarized, including human life, so it is understandable that the contract killer* is thought to be "sane" if not "rational."
Maybe too rational ...
The fact that James Holmes meticulously planned his attack does not -- contrary to what every judge and lawyer will tell you -- exclude insanity. In other words, insane premeditation exists. As our July 26, 2012 post explained, an unconscious archetype, The Joker, welled up, besieged and overran Holmes. The archetype then dictated to him, as if from a prepared script, every word, every inch, of his premeditation.
(That archetype, incidentally, was thoroughly analyzed by C.G. Jung as the "trickster figure." For an introduction, click here.)
Most people can understand killing somebody in a fit of passion. Courts routinely find such killers innocent and let them go. Their cases always display fundamental values in conflict -- the stuff of drama. A well known example: "The Burning Bed" (1984) starring Farrah Fawcett, was based on an actual case. Francine Hughes, who had been beaten and abused for 13 years by her husband Mickey, burned him to death in the bed he was sleeping in. She was judged temporarily insane and was acquitted.
On the other hand, killing somebody in cold blood, especially for money, is never pardoned. As indicated, this type of murderer is almost always found sane. The careful plannng and clever coverups by Ted Bundy -- self-styled "most cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch you´ll ever meet" -- were used by the state to show he was not insane. But, as suggested above, could the problem ultimately be that Bundy and others like him are too sane to be sane?
I have always opposed the death penalty because the state supposedly exists to protect its citizens, not kill them. Nobody is perfect, so if the state makes a mistake and kills somebody who is innocent, which we all know has happened many times, what does that event make the state? A premediating murderer?
We will see why, according to prevailing orthodoxy, such a possibility is, well, impossible.
The Other Side of Madness
"Temporary" insanity makes no sense unless there is permanent insanity.
If it is permanent, it must be independent of individuals, who of course come and go. In other words, permanent insanity must be systemic, hence systematic in its manifestations. Here, we are entering the hard world of existential realities such as the bully and non-neutral bystander Camus mentioned. We have moved beyond Descartes into the realm of the noncogito: I do not think it; nevertheless, it is.
To the point: is taking another person´s life with the cold calculation of a trial -- as the state is preparing to do with James Holmes -- systemic insanity? The other side of madness? Existential, behavioral, societal madness?
The American legal definition of insanity :
"DEFENSE, INSANITY. A criminal defense asserting that at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. [U.S.C. 18]...This is because willfull intent is an essential part of most offenses; and a person who is insane is not capable of forming such intent. "
A person who is insane is incapable of willful intent: you just saw a textbook case of a culture-bound assumption. In its heart of hearts lurks the American credence that every sane individual has a will -- sacred, holy, unique, intangible, ultimately unknowable. That God-given will is an absolute truth existing above and beyond society, indeed outside time and space. The ghost in the machine. And if an individual lacks such a will, well, he not sane. Case closed. The conclusion is the assumption; the assumption, the conclusion.
Here, a strange contradiction introduces itself:
Observe the legal definition´s key words: nature, quality, wrongfulness. Now, who defines them in practice when a case goes to trial? Not God or the sacred individual. Society makes those definitions. Of course, claims to the contrary are frequently made -- e.g., the "divine" right of Kings -- so how do we know they are in fact social?
Answer: standards of wrongful, etc., differ among societies. With every suicide bomber, America`s misadventures in the Middle East make that point daily.
Note that the American legal definition restricts insanity to a person, an individual. But, in certain circumstances, can an entire society be insane, i.e., not appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of its acts? Growing up in the South, I heard people say that "killin´ a nigger ain´t no different than killin´ a chicken." Many whites really believed it. In this case, a lack of an appreciation of wrongfulness had polluted the prevailing social standard of right and wrong; the problem had infiltrated its solution. Lynchings, shootings, bombings, Blacks dragged to death: conformity to Southern society´s chicken norm did not constitute sanity; on the contrary.
It is singularly revealing that in many states in the U.S.A., the legal system finds premeditated murder to be so despicable that it punishes that crime with the worse thing it can conceive of: premediated murder. Electric chair, lethal injection, firing squad, hanging: the fact that the state performs executions in a "rational" and "logical," i.e., premeditated manner (judges, juries, lawyers, depositions, briefs, legal precedents, appeals) supposedly excludes ipso facto the state from being insane.
The long and the short of it:
By restricting insanity to a person, the legal system is trying to create an oxymoron: insane state. Sorry, it doesn´t work. Again, special circumstances aside -- and there is nothing special about a court -- there´s no such thing as a sane murderer. The 1945-46 Nuremburg Trials, which established that "I was only following orders" was not a valid defense against crimes against humanity, opened the door once and for all to the concept and recognition of an insane society.
Polls show most Americans -- 61% -- support the dealth penalty. Ergo, capital punishment is the prevailing norm. But can it be said we are gazing into insanity`s other face -- that American society does not appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of its act?
We are not, by the way, refuting the legal definition of insanity. On the contrary. Note its words: as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, somebody does not appreciate the nature and quality of wrongfulness of his acts. That definition leaves the door open to the possiblity that someone can lack that appreciation and not have a severe mental disease or defect. Such is the other face.
Before writing off an entire country, it must be noted that, if offered an alternative, the percentage of Americans favoring the death penalty drops to 33%.
Clearly, Americans´ views of state executions need to be researched more rigorously. In the meantime, you might want to look at United States involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and reconsider the supposed impossibility of a society gone mad. If Bush and Obama had spent those billions of dollars and other resources at home, the U.S. would be a different country. So, why didn´t they?
To sum up: contrary to what reigning American Fourth Reich powers will tell you, insanity is neither restricted to individuals nor is it entirely mental. In the coming months, the other face of insanity will show itself in, around, and in spite of the James Holmes trial.
We don´t have to wait, however, to see that face. Another objective, existential, noncogito condition involving criminal behavior is already being aired primetime.
Hardened into Submission
We should never forget that everything
Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal."
-- Martin Luther King --
Let me introduce this unpleasant topic this way:
Yep, Alfonso E., we was it.
Our commentary in El Ciudadano, an online newspaper, noted that the government of tiny Ecuador, which the Washington Post and other mainstream American media despise, is far ahead of the U.S. in a number of democratic institutions. To wit: national referenda, compulsory voting, and direct election of the president are practiced in Ecuador and recommended for the U.S. (see The Big Movida: The Third American Revolution).
Alfonso asks, "O.K., but does Ecuador have anything else to offer?"
Let´s start with another key American legal definition:
"(2) the term ´child abuse and neglect´ means, at a minimum, any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm;..." (42 U.S.C.A. 5106, Sec. 5)
Note that the word exploitation in the definition of child abuse just given is tied to sexual exploitation. We all know, however, that nonsexual exploitation of children exists. Exploitation of child labor is the most notorious example. For a recent, widely-publicized case, see what happened to child-star Gary Coleman.
When it comes to child abuse, then, the restriction of exploitation to sexuality -- like the restriction of insanity to individuals -- needs to be revisited.
To start: what is exploitation?
Here is a presentation of a definition developed by C. Tully:**
"Exploitation: Tilly defines exploitation as powerful, connected people deploying resources from which they draw significantly increased returns by coordinating the effort of outsiders, whom they exclude from the full value added by that effort. Any search for exploitation in real life must keep alert for seven elements: power holders, their coordinated efforts, deployable resources, command over those resources, returns from those resources, categorical exclusion, and skewed division of returns as compared with effort. He saw exploitation as involving ´powerful, connected people deploying resources from which they draw significantly increased returns by coordinating the effort of outsiders, whom they exclude from the full value added by that effort.´” (p. 98).
Almost daily, Americans are witnessing nightly a case of child exploitation in the broader, nonsexual meaning of the term. Coordinated efforts, command of deployable resources, significantly increased returns: power holders Barack and Michelle Obama´s parading of their two girls before the press and public is exploitation of minors for political purposes. Exploitation because it is ludicrous to believe that Malia Anne (born 1998) and Natasha (born 2001) can receive anything approaching the full value added by [their] effort. Will they be appointed cabinet members? Made ambassadors to England and France? Not to worry: whatever does not happen, i.e., categorical exclusion, the Obama girls will not mind in the least because as minors they do not have the least understanding of the nature and quality of [their] acts.
The fact that the Obama girl spectacle is legal does not make it any less a case of child abuse. Again, like the other side of the moon, certain things, crimes among them, exist independently of prevailing individual
judgments and rationalizations, of social norms and laws. Nazi Germany thought death camps were O.K. Do you?
As a political consultant I was heavily involved in more political campaigns than Barack Obama probably ever will be. I worked for many candidates with underaged children. We always made it a point not to politically exploit them -- no TV or radio ads, etc. Nevertheless, somehow all those candidates won. What do you know ...
Americans have been exposed so often to political exploitation of children that they do not view it as child abuse. Otherwise stated, Americans are so desensitized they are unable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of the act being performed in front of them at public rallies and on TV. (Dear American Reader: you who are reading this words and proclaiming and defaming to the stars above that the Obamas are not exploiting their children: now you know why I told you not to read this post.)
Fortunately, other societies have not yet been hardened into submission by politicos and mass media tycoons. One place where the unacceptable is not accepted: Ecuador. It outlaws using adolescents and children "en programas o espectáculos de proselitismo político." No translation needed (see Capìtulo 4, Article 52 literal 2 del Còdigo de la Niñez y Adolescencia).
That law, incidentally, is rigorously inforced. President Correa has a wife and family, but I have never met a single person outside political circles who knows what they look like. That is exactly as it should be.
Makes you wonder what else other countries have to offer.
*One thing "The American" featuring George Clooney as a hitman got right: the title.
**"Modes of exploitation," in C. Tilly (Ed.), Durable Inequality, University of California Press, 1998.