Tuesday, 7 November 2017

On shootings and bombings in the West’s twilight

Which matters more: the series of shootings in the US or the dozen bombings in Sweden over the past 20 days?

It’s trick question because no one’s heard about Sweden’s bombs. Perpetrators haven’t been named in those attacks, so to the media, they didn’t happen. But the US shooters are getting saturated news coverage. What gives? If I said the first rule of media is when it mentions a person’s middle name then that person is guilty, would any of this be easier to understand?

The shootings and bombings are connected. If you haven't noticed, things are falling apart. More importantly, a growing number of people want them to fall apart. The desire to tear down the rotten (defined by what each person deems rotten) system is an epidemic. This is a strange transition period between too many young, aimless people and too few. All of these generations are unfamiliar with physical violence, and it shows.

After any violent act, most will say, “we don’t really know what’s going on in that person’s mind.” But this is a lie. It’s the same thing every time: “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.” If the bombers in Sweden turn out to be Muslim, then at least they have a reason, but what excuses do American shooters use? Carl Jung said people don’t have ideas, ideas have people. That’s worth pondering for about 20 years because the shooters didn’t think about it while the Islamists are thinking about it all the time.

Humans went to war over Nazism and Communism last century, so as narcissism emerges from its pill-box to become a full-fledged ideology, whatever happens next won’t be good. Luckily, in America, there is no “next.” A country without a fictive kinship only has the self to turn to. Without an animating myth connecting people, there is no existing. Just a bland pop monoculture of permanent “now.”

And yet the bombers in Sweden, the truck driver in New York, the backpack in Parsons Green, the throat-slicer in Marseilles, the warriors in the Levant and all the future Islamic death-bringers can see “next.” An old phrase comes to mind: How do you train a longbowman? You start with his grandfather. The problem is, it doesn’t matter if the Islamists are training longbowmen. What matters is the lack of any archery ranges in the West at all.

What’s important about animating myths is not that they are myths, but that they animate. Without purpose – without responsibility – there is no meaning. Maybe creating one’s own purpose, as advertising tells us to do, can supply what people need here. But what do you know about purpose? What can any person on their own discover about responsibility? Pepsi tells us to “Live for Now,” and who among us is strong enough to contest with billions in advertising dollars?

German philosophers generally get a bad political reputation. They go down deeper, stay down longer and come up dirtier than any other tradition. And yet Friedrich Nietzsche warned about narcissism in The Gay Science in 1882 when he wrote:
“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more.' Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: 'You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’”
The point is not to encourage despair. The point is to inspire a life built by making choices to benefit the person in front of you – not yourself. But it goes further than that. Every choice should also benefit your family, the other person’s family, then the town, then the nation and finally the world itself – across time. If the demon banishes you to eternal recurrence, then it must be the best life for all who exist, not just you. Nietzsche is screaming that it truly matters what you do right now.

In the story of Narcissus and Echo, people think Narcissus was so infatuated with himself that he couldn’t love anyone else. He stared into the pool and wasted away. However, that’s not what the myth says. Narcissus never loved anyone and then he fell in love with himself. Do you see? Falling in love with himself was Narcissus’ punishment.

The cure for the bombings and shootings is not gun-control or more bollards on footpaths. The cure is to realise that other people actually matter. That you are not the hero of the movie, while everyone else is just supporting cast. The cure is to understand that people exist independently of you. The time has come to stop “being everything you can be” and to be the one thing you should be. When you stare into the pool for too long, everything else around you wastes away as well.

Your only job while on this miserable planet is to train longbowmen. Twenty-five years is coming no matter what you do. You can’t stop it. The ancients knew that responsibility is proportionate to meaning, and if those shooters were ever told that by their parents – if their parents weren’t staring into the pool themselves – perhaps all those the longbowmen being trained right now by Islamists wouldn’t be so worrying.

But it is, even if the media won’t cover it.

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