July 21, 2012
It happened again, early yesterday morning in Aurora, Colorado. Another senseless killing spree. Another widening circle of family, loved ones, friends caught in its aftermath of grief and pain. Another speech by the President and, in this election year, the alternate candidate urging us to reach out to those caught in that widening circle of pain with our prayers and support, to each other in this time of national tragedy, to our own children and loved ones as we struggle, again, with why these things happen.
The public positing of why, of course, has already begun and will continue over the weeks to come. Some of them will border on the nonsensical, such as the Texas politician who sees “…the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place,” or the former FBI profiler who wondered if the killer might be some “dark Trekkie-like person”. Hopefully, some will be more nuanced and thoughtful.
Over the last decade or two of such mass killings, we have wondered if the Trekkie culture, the Goth culture, the gaming culture, the comic-con culture were somehow causative in these mass killings. Yet, in 1966, long before these various cultures took hold on our children’s imaginations, a young man killed his wife and mother, then climbed the clock tower of a Texas university and picked off dozens of innocents before he was taken down, himself. At the time, much was made of his history in Vietnam. Then, his autopsy showed a brain tumor and that was speculated about. But we didn’t know then and we don’t know, now, why millions of young veterans, people with brain tumors, trekkies, Goths, gamers or comic-con aficionados don’t turn into mass killers. Even when our personal ideology demands some connection between those things and those who do kill, we simply don’t know.
As someone who took a bachelor of science in psychology, who studied both the biology and neurology of the brain, who sliced into a long-dead human brain and examined it microscopically in my physiology and anatomy classes, my own ideology demands a difference between the brains of mass killers and the rest of us. But, beyond my ideologies, I don’t know that there is. And I wonder.
Is there a difference in the brains of young men and women who sit at a gaming console and kill people in a virtual reality and those who sit at a drone console or in a helicopter gunship and bomb real people? I don’t know.
Were the brains of those young Muslims that carried out the 9/11 attacks in the name of their religious ideology fundamentally different from the brains of the Christians who carried out the massive deaths of the Crusades or the burning of heretics in the name of theirs? And are they fundamentally different than yours or mine, in some way? I don’t know. I hope so, but I don’t know.
Is the brain of Andre Brevik, who killed so many last year in Norway out of political ideology different from the brains of Presidents Bush and Obama who ordered the deaths of tens of thousands over the last ten years out of their own political ideologies? How, I wonder, do their brains differ from mine? I don’t know that, either, but I’m sure they must.
Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can see the whole world covered in ever-widening circles of grief and pain, small and large, like clouds of smoke over a battleground and I wonder if the brains of those who have caused those widening circles of pain differ in any significant way from those of us who only watch it on TV. Ideology demands that they do. But I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I wish I did, but I don’t.
I wish I could be sure that my brain differs from the brains of those who commit all those senseless killing sprees with their growing, growing, growing circles of grief and pain.
But, I do not know.