whatever answers we can.
We too are asking why.
-- Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza --
Here we do not go again.
Adam Lanza, 20, slayer of 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut: was he a terrorist?
If you search on "Adam Lanza, terrorist" you will find a plethora of blogs and newspapers presenting that question.
Many of them answer it in cultural terms. A New York Times piece concludes of the on-going massacres in American schools and universities: "I can’t help but wonder about Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho and Adam Lanza. If they had been born in Gaza or the West Bank, shaped by terrorist organizations’ hateful propaganda, would they have strapped bombs around their waists and blown themselves up? I’m afraid the answer is yes."
We are seeing a common -- by now requisite -- post-mortem ritual. Everybody is "clueless" as to why Adam Lanza did it. "Mr. Lanza, 54, has since been trying to answer the unanswerable: how his son, whom he raised in the comfort and affluence of leafy New England, could commit such a crime."
Sorry, there is nothing unanswerable or unknowable about what happened in Connecticut. Leafy New England comfort should have put everybody, including Adam`s father, on the right track. More on that below.
Going over the remarks of people who knew Adam, I find absolutely nothing that has not been said by families and friends, neighbors and acquaintances of other American rampage shooters.
Along with cluelessness, we find the de rigueur conclusion that Adam Lanza was mentally ill. Absolutely nothing new there either. Our post of January 26, 2011 on Tucson shooter Jared Loughner discussed at length why, exceptional circumstances aside, anybody (yes, hit men too) who kills somebody is crazy:
"I think there is a significant, positive correlation between witnessing a murder, as I did, and concluding that only insane people kill. Hopefully, someday somebody will study such attitudes and values. They are primordial for resolving a number of public policy questions, among them televising state executions."
As with "insane," the term "terrorist" is as frequently employed as it is abused. Terrorist has become a convenient epitaph, a garbage can into which one drops any and all opponents. Libya´s Muammar Gaddafi in his day and Syria´s Bashar al-Assad right now characterize all opponents as terrorists. Another chief of state, George W. Bush, labeled Saddam Hussein a terrorist in the build-up to war in Iraq. Other, less prominent U.S politicos regularly get into the act, e.g., Vice-President Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Julian Assange a terrorist.
We have a rigorous definition of terrorist (The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion, p. 142.) I must warn readers that what you are about to read is not in vogue because it is not expedient, i.e., not everybody you dislike, every political opponent, every Arab or guy with a gun fits it.
A terrorist is usually a middle class rebel (1) experiencing magnified marginal or transitional conditions, who (2) voluntarily (3) goes through certain rites of passage, among which are (4) clique membership and (5) a deliberate decision to commit a criminal act that is almost always (6) violent and usually (7) murder, in (8) the name of higher intentions or convictions without (9) retaining consciously the ambiguity of his criminal act and his higher intentions/convictions. He expresses powerful, unconscious, ambivalent emotions in two ways: (10) converting his intentions/convictions into idées fixes or absolute truths, the opposite extreme from ambiguity, and (11) wielding uncertainty as a weapon. That uncertainty is total, as shown by the fact that (12) everyone -- allies, non-combatants, even himself -- is a potential victim. A concluding note: it is the syndrome, the running together of components, which counts -- not specific components taken in isolation.
By not admitting what he cannot admit, the terrorist guards his secret, even from himself.
By not admitting what he is, the terrorist shows the gravity that admission holds for him. To my knowledge, no terrorist or other middle class rebel has ever said what he is.
What he is, is the secret he keeps: he is a middle class rebel.
O.K., was Adam Lanza a terrorist? His attraction to Goths and trench coats -- we saw them before in Columbine -- suggests clique membership and rites. However, I would like to have more information, about higher intentions and convictions, about ambivalent emotions, about a deliberate decision to commit a criminal act, etc. The police say they found something that will clarify Adam´s motives but have not yet released it.
Let´s move to the primordial question of terrorism, its sine qua non. Was Adam Lanza a middle class rebel?
By anybody´s definition, he was upper middle class. Sandeep Kapur, who lives two doors away, described
the area as a subdivision of well-tended, 15-year-old homes on lots of an acre or more, where many people work at companies like General Electric, Pepsi and IBM. Some are doctors, and his next-door neighbor is a bank CEO, said Kapur, a project manager at an information technology firm.
"The neighborhood's great. We have young kids, and they have lots of friends," he said. "If you drive past this neighborhood, it gives you a really warm feeling."
Adam´s father is a tax executive for General Electric.
Middle class rebel? Again, our lack of information is troubling. Until we know more:
I find Adam´s extreme non-rebellion -- his shyness -- probative. One extreme always testifies to the presence of its opposite, usually in a latent condition. In that regard, beware of the Eagle Scout; beware of the All American cheerleader and football hero; beware of the honors student like Adam who wore a pocket protector to avoid unsightly ink stains -- in sum, beware of the intense non-rebel or anti-rebel, the exaggerated conformist -- the nerd (the word Adam´s brother used to describe Adam).
For an answer to Sandy Hook, then, the middle class rebel syndrome is on track. I hope readers --. notably Adam Lanza´s family -- will find useful insights in this blog`s posts on James Holmes, Batman shooter of 12 with 54 wounded (July 26, 2012) and Jared Loughner, Tucson killer of 6 with 13 wounded (three posts of January 2011).
For those seeking a more extensive, in-depth analysis, see The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion. It explains why senseless shootings make perfect sense when viewed in the context of the history and heritage, values and perspectives of middle class rebellion. The center piece is the oft-quoted statement by André Breton, medical student, inside agitator and headmaster of surrealism, in 1930:
"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."*
It took me 40 years and over 400 pages to analyze the firing-randomly, as-fast-as-you-can-pull-the-trigger phenomenon. Beneath it one encounters the most difficult logic of all to understand: the logic of emotions.
Besides Adam Lanza´s shyness, something else is probative.
The first component of our definition of "terrorist" is a middle class rebel who is experiencing magnified marginal or transitional conditions. Adam´s mother was looking into committing him to a psychiatric institution, and then moving away. Adam found out. On top of other intermediate/marginal/transitional conditions -- his parents were divorced in 2008; his ties with his father were broken 2 years ago; Adam was out of high school but not in anywhere else -- commitment to a mental institution proved to be one transition too much.
Unexplainable, unfathomable; disbelief; we will never know why. If Adam Lanza was a middle class rebel, we know why.
The real problem isn´t there.
* * *
Post-Mortem Ritual 1 -- why Adam did it is an unfathomable, unsolvable mystery -- is coming to a close. Another post-mortem ritual is starting.
Time Magazine summed up Ritual 2:
"Obama tapped Vice President Joe Biden to head up a task force of Cabinet members, members of Congress and outside organizations, which will comb through existing gun-control proposals, devise new ones and submit a “very specific” set of proposals to Congress in January. "This is not some Washington commission,” Obama said, effectively acknowledging that it sounds like one. “This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside … This is a team that has a very specific task: to pull together real reforms, right now.” The President eschewed gun-control during his first term, and while he has said he supports a ban on assault weapons (“weapons of war,” he called them on Wednesday) and pointed to better mental-health-care practices as part of the solution, it is an open question what new kinds of proposals he would support. When a reporter buttonholed him about his inaction on gun control during his presidency, Obama rattled off the litany of challenges that have preoccupied him. “I haven’t exactly been on vacation,” he said.
Like you, Dear Reader, I wish the Connecticut killings would lead to a constructive change. Tragically, with Biden in charge, the fix is in. Obama´s snippy response shows he already knows exactly what to expect. And what to expect is exactly what happened before in assault weapon control. Nothing.
The truth: assault weapons -- you hold the trigger down and the weapon keeps firing -- and semi-automatic weapons (the gun automatically reloads but you have to pull the trigger to fire each bullet) -- are a megabucks business. And Obama is a megabucks guy. His angry outburst revealed that his unconscious mind and his outer behavior coincide exactly: he is on vacation (in Hawaii, as I write these words). What you see is what you get.
I am an expert marksman in the National Rifle Association -- twice, with air rifles and .22s. The Bushmaster AR-15 Adam Lanza used is good for only one thing and one thing only. killing people. I call upon all other Expert and Distinguished Riflemen to join me in an effort to buck the tide of money the NRA is amassing to defend assault rifles.
What is waiting at the end of Biden task force road: an Obama "anti-assault weapon" law that is so full of holes a typical teenager can play it like a flute. That law in the making is Post-Mortem Ritual 2.
But, as with Post Mortem Ritual 1 ( we will never know why over 20 people are dead in Newtown, Connecticut), the real problem isn´t with Ritual 2.
* * *
Time after time, the same mystery and silence appear, the same "clueless," the same hoaxes, the same nonanswers and nonsolutions after Sandy Hook-style atrocities. What is going on?
We return to the random firing phenomenon. What was for André Breton, poetry -- i.e., he wished it was true -- has turned into a prosaic, unconscious reality ranging from Connecticut to Colorado, from Columbine High to Santana High, from the University of Texas to Virginia Tech, from Fort Hood to ...
Otherwise stated, what the country is engaged in is not a search for the truth but ritualistic behavior.
The key word is ritual. The term is subject to various interpretations, e.g., Victor Turner defined ritual as "prescribed formal behavior for occasions not given over to technological routine, having reference to beliefs in mystical beings and powers." Rituals are repetitive acts involving symbols and/or religious references. Rituals serve manifold purposes from strengthening group bonds to relieving stress and anxiety.
But what makes rituals meaningful? After all, there is nothing meaningful per se about a cap and gown for graduation. There must be a wider context in which rituals occur that gives them meaning.
In Adam Lanza´s case, that context was mentioned above: a rite of passage.
The most universal rite of passage is from adolescence to adulthood. Graduation, marriage, death: rites of passage take place in important moments of our lives.
Arnold Van Gennep´s pioneering anthropological work The Rites of Passage (1906) occupies a key place in The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion. Gennep summed up rites of passage as consisting of three phases: separation from a previous world, transition, and incorporation into a new world.**
As for what rites of passage accomplish and the role of rituals within them, the anthropologist Franz Steiner provided this summation :
"[Van Gennep] concerns himself with ritual behaviour occasioned by passing from one social status to another and from one age or relationship to another. He shows us the eternal pattern of transformation, of becoming, in which the stage before transformation and the one after are socially recognised, safeguarded, and protected. The passage over the border itself, however, is unrelated to such safeguards and lies in a sphere of danger. In passing through, and even in enacting these dangers, various ritual abstentions are observed ..." ***
Back to Adam Lanza:
His rite of passage is complete. He is dead by his own hand, buried with proper funeral rituals. He has gone to another world.
Adam Lanza´s incorporation into America society is covered in the country´s sacralization of the why. By that I mean: there is only one thing that is ultimately unknowable, unfathomable, unexplainable: God. In concluding that Adam Lanza´s action is unknowable, America makes it god-like. Go back to Turner´s definition of ritual: you will not find anywhere higher mystical beings and powers than those in play in the Sandy Hook incident.
There was another rite of passage to be performed -- by America in general. Adam Lanza´s murders knocked the country off center; it was traumatized, separated, literally beside itself. The entire nation needed a transition and incorporation.
They didn´t happen.
What we saw were prescribed rituals -- a moment of silence, flags flown at half mast, tears, vigils, flowers, cards -- without the rite of passage. Look in your hand: rituals torn from their context left you holding a hollow shell.
The passage didn´t pass because what America lived was a perfect tautology. The conclusions -- that Adam Lanza was insane, that what he did is unexplainable -- were the conclusions; the conclusions, the assumptions.
Instead of a transition, we were sent from Pontius to Pilate. With no real transition, there could be no real incorporation of society. The previous world is the present world.
Concluding this point: saying that America "has gone through" a terrible ordeal in Sandy Hook is false. There was no passage. America hasn´t gone through anything.
We come to the other tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
* * *
There is nothing "wrong" with rituals per se. The cap and gown you wore when you graduated from high school were a ritual.
Rituals that block solutions to life-or-death problems, however, are a case apart. To wit:
The real problem is you, Dear Reader. Saying and thinking you want to know why Adam Lanza did it -- but not really -- is Post-Mortem Ritual 3.
Not really? Let me explain.
Our post of July 26, 2012 on Batman murderer James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado put it this way to American law-enforcement officials. I realize now that it applies to Americans in general:
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 cursory 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.
Back to the present: Dear Reader, after much soul-searching as prescribed as it is shallow; after a phony bill to "control" assault weapons; after concluding Adam Lanza was, well, just crazy, you will go on your way. You will file "Hook, Sandy" away, immediately behind "Holmes, James." You will shut the drawer, eat a hamburger.
You protest: Thomas, you admit you said all this before. Are you not engaging in Post-Mortem Ritual 4, i.e., the criticism of Post-Mortem Rituals 1, 2, and 3?
An excellent point. The answer is no. To qualify as a ritual, a practice must be repeated more than once.
That is not going to happen.
« 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]
**Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, The University of Chicago Press, 1960, p. 21.
***Franz Steiner, Taboo, Truth, and Religion: Selected Writings, Volume 1, Berghahn Books, New York, 1999, p. 189.