Monday, May 26, 2014

The Elliot Rodgers story was interesting enough for me to crank open Blogger

I stopped blogging a while ago, because what I used to use a blog for no longer really interested me or drove me. But something on the internet happened worthy of my commenting on.

A troubled young man in California killed a bunch of people with firearms

Was he mentally ill? Probably, but not to the standards that the law uses to determine guilt or innocence. He allegedly had Aspergers, but I tend to find that diagnosis often a very dubious one.

I want to talk about what the news and events are making me think about in my head. Thats the great thing about the internet you can publish a rant, screed, or manifesto and no one will stop you. In the case of Elliot Rodgers no one may even read it until you gun down a group of people.

We live in a world fighting among tensions of Independence and Interdependence. The Angst he felt that lead him to take an act of violence is found in the fissure between these two forces.

I remember a brother of a former roommate when he came to visit us. He, I, and my Roommate's girlfriend were all sitting and having some good social time. My roommate's brother questioned her on if she had any single girlfriends she could help me date. He came from an older school in this country (and one we see in Asia and Latin America.) If a good young man is single, and a good young woman is single that's a problem you as the community of friends around them need to help them with. This sense of community and interdependence existed here until the 60s and 70s.

Then the experience of finding a relationship became more individualized, commercialized, and commoditized. The fact it did this during the time period we tended to view such things as "bad" in society is at best a unintended consequence and most likely comes from a negligent attitude we have towards social policy.

This same tension between Independence and Interdependence we see at play in places of crime and violence. Not only at the local level but at a global level. From the 1920s to Present Islamic Extremism is about people who feel unable to control their lives and be able to live the type of lives that they want because a broader community ostracizes them from that life. Being unable to self-actualize or live their own true life they resort to violence to get the power to change their life. You see people in a colonial frame of mind looking at the people who take their resources (of value like oil) and shipping them north. They see a power in drugs and use that power to assert violence and control. To live a life in dignity.

You see people who live in a community where the social nexus (their church) tells them that society is devilish, that the people (who are different from them) in society are devilish, and that trying to succeed in that devilish society makes you devilish. Is it any wonder such people seek to rebel against the society they view as wicked and deny any respect or dignity to the people or things in that society?

Communities when focused on power and control become corrupt. That power and control may be in singling out those who are "wrong" or it may be in maintaining their internal power by promoting a pessimism of the mind that destroys the humanity of those it is fed to and promotes in them an attitude that seeks to destroy the humanity of the other.

I am reminded of a great sage's words when I think of that.

"If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

The tension between the Individual and the community has been with us for a long time.

But Rabbi Hillel's words (in refrence to this particular social disorder) point me in this direction

#1: If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?

If you cannot respect yourself, no one will ever respect you. If you cannot seek to better yourself no one will treat you as well as you want to be treated.

#2: And if I am only for myself, then what am I?

While we must center ourselves on G-d and ourselves if we are only in such a enclosed space you lose your humanity. If you only represent your own needs at the expense of others you are not behaving as a human being should.

#3: And if not now, when?

If you are not going to respect yourself now, when will you respect yourself? What will it take for you to treat yourself with respect and Dignity? Will it take others to do it for you? (and as we already see in his first point they wont...). If you cannot be one in a community of others what is stopping you?

"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it."

Rabbi Hillel was pointing that the central point of G-d's law is to start your interactions with others based on a sense of human dignity. and starting that dignity with yourself. You know what you hate, you know what drives you to despair... doing it to another is wrong and is against the world g-d wants us all to live on. The rest of the Torah (or the broader social order implict in the Torah) is commentary. At a foundation this is to teach us how we must not treat others badly, based on what we know to hurt ourselves.

And if we do not treat ourself with respect, others will instinctively feel we do not respect them (because we are incapable of respect for ourselves). And in that position we repeat something we view as hateful to ourselves in every interaction we make.

It is this venom that Elliot Rodgers drank daily.

I am not going to say I understand the hate and pain that made him kill people, I don't understand it anymore. But it took the great collapse of the world that happened in 2008 ( a collapse I feel we have not yet recovered from, and still have much to pay for) I finally came to a place where I understood the desire to do the most ultimate form of violence -suicide-. So I cannot say that the emotional/social/psychological/spiritual despair he felt which lead him to killing is beyond my intellect.

The loss of Community and Family as institutions as our society has atomized itself more and more leaves people like Elliot Rodgers isolated and alone in the world. And sometimes those people feed on their own venom. Elliot Rodgers found other people who were just as hurt and just as lost to share venom with.

We as a society need to rebuild our communities and families. We need to stop drinking the bitter cynicism our post-modern (or as one of my professors once called it post-post modern) society nurses on and begin to promote that which is good and has value in our world. We should build a better world on the duty to make the world a better place then it was given to us.