Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tout comprendre c’est tout pardoner

The massacre at Virginia Tech has been haunting me this week, for reasons obvious to anyone who knows me -- I have a weird sort of obsession with school shootings. I'm not entirely sure why. On some level, it's because I see it as a sort of epidemic that is unique to our current place in history, and find myself wondering just what that epidemic says about our society -- put another way, if school violence is the symptom, what is the disease?

I think, on some level, I obsess about these things because most of these school killers were fucked up loners, people who didn't quite fit into any particular social group, they didn't get along with the other kids, they were weird, they looked funny, whatever. And that's something I can relate to. Who knows -- in a different world, with a different set of circumstances, maybe I could have been one of the kids behind the gun, not really evil, just angry and confused and alone.

So I've been reading whatever I could on the killings at Virginia Tech. And one of the articles I came across cited Charles Whitman as the man who ushered in the era of mass killings to the United States. And I realized that this was probably true.

Charles Whitman, for those unfamiliar, is better known as the guy who climbed to the top of University of Texas clock tower in 1966 with a handful of rifles, and shot and killed 15 of his fellow students.

Whitman's been named a lot in the coverage of the Virginia Tech massacer as, up until Virginia Tech, Whitman's 1966 spree of violence was the worst school shooting in American history. And if there's one thing that the American media likes to do, it's draw comparisons.

So Virginia Tech led to read about Charles Whitman -- again, as I'd looked him up on the 'Net before -- and he remains fascinating. 40 years after he dragged a rifle to the top of the University of Texas clock tower, there's been plenty of time to rip his life open, to rip his head open, to try to understand the only question that matters when someone murders more than a dozen people: Why?

And there are plenty of answers.

He had a brain tumour. He had a history of drug problems. He had psychological troubles. He was under tremendous stress.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Unfortunately, knowing what *might* have motivated to do something horrible, doesn't actually open any door into their lives. It doesn't give you the answers that you're seeking. In fact, by creating so many possible answers to the question, it simply makes the question itself that much more difficult to answer.

In reading about Whitman, I came across an almost-amazing piece on his spree of violence a the University of Texas. As I read this piece, I became convined that Whitman's story could -- and should -- be examined in an art form of some kind, because his story, and the story of 15 innocent people dead becausew of him, resonates just as powerfully today as it did 40 years ago.

Unfortunately, I have to say "almost-amazing" because the piece didn't quite go where I was expecting. And as much as the writer's message is noble and pure, I disagree with his ultimate condemnation of Whitman's actions, not because I think the slaughter of 15 people is perfectly fine, but because it's far too easy to simply condemn with making the effort to understand.

And that's what disappoited me about the article. In everything that led up the final few paragraphs, it looked like the writer was going to do something that is done far, far too infrequently these days -- actually try to understand the man behind the horror.

He cites the french phrase, "Tout comprendre c’est tout pardoner" in the article, and it's now one I want to memorize, because it resonates so powerfully with me.

Translated into English it means, “To understand all is to forgive all,” and it is a beautiful, true, and ultimately dangerous idea.

Beautiful, because forgiveness is always a thing of beauty.

True, because to completely understand what motivated someone to do the sorts of things that happened at the University of Texas or Virginia Tech or Columbine, is also to have no choice but to forgive. Because if you completely understand every single motivating factor, you would realize that they had no choice but to do the things that they did.

And dangerous, because of this truth, and because no one wants to accept that these sorts of events are unavoidable.


Anonymous said...

So you wonder?
Have you read "Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion" by Mark Ames?
It is interesting to me that a person that goes by Barkley posted an ironic comment under a picture of the fire at poplar glade at the Tribune site. He remembered the detentions he had at that school. He was shamed by the next poster and then offered an apology. Everyone who is not in denial or having a case of extreme amnesia know that school is a love/hate relationship. Read the book. It totally opened my eyes.It's the culture. (I won't call you stupid)

Anonymous said...

Me again
I forgot to add this:

Anonymous said...

oops hit the w to much