Been prompted to think a bit more about the subject of the previous post, following a walk, a strange debate with a cyclist on the canal towpath and a few comments on here.
Everywhere I look on- and offline, I find more examples of language and opinion being used to shift the blame. Cho himself claimed in his now notorious message that “you caused me to do it”.
The WSJ (as linked before) or similar across the water try to push the blame back onto Cho and/or lax gun laws and/or poor mental health care provision and/or lack of neighbourliness and or lack of armed guards in every class room (or even, as the guy who sold him the guns suggested, the low level of self-defence gun ownership on campus!!!) ; over here Sarah Baxter of the Sunday times follows others in using fancy abstract nouns (“Society” “Masculinity” “Feminisation”) to objectify the causes out there and push them away from the community in which he lived.
She cites the great Camille Paglia, Who believes Cho is emblematic of the crisis of masculinity in America. “Women have difficulty understanding the mix of male sexual aggression with egotism and the ecstasy of self-immolation,” she says. Or to quote Martin Amis on that other killer, Fred West: he became “addicted to the moment where impotence becomes prepotence”.
Even this apparently insightful and sympathetic line is ultimately an attempt to push the blame out there. None of us will feel in anyway responsible if we can agree that Cho Seung-hu was mad, sick, evil or was subject to irresistable forces like “feminisation” or some combination of all of the above.
Lack of responsibility for each other’s actions is of course is one of the upsides that our cult of individualism; it helps us blame them and disassociate our selves. And it works in a nice virtuous circle to help mental illness flourish, too by encouraging us to follow our own concerns and reduce the human-human interaction essential for our happiness and also for curbing our worst excesses (or at least spotting them).
Guenther Grass, the Nobel Prize winning novelist, warned his fellow Germans that they were all – whatever they felt – tied up in the Holocaust. Many understandably disliked this.
Africa has long seen our resistance to interdependence and mutual responsibility as part and parcel of our wierd cult of “I”: “The white man regards individuals (as) tiny organisms with private lives that lead to private deaths: personal power, success and fame are the absolute measures of values, the things to live for. This outlook on life divides the universe into a host of individual little entities that cannot help being in constant conflict” (Policy statement, 1944, of the Youth League of the African National Congress).
Deep down we’ve taken a wrong turn. We’ve misunderstood (quite fundamentally) what it is to be human and the more we pursue our “I” ideology, the more it drives us to flee each other and make things even worse. Desmond Tutu suggests that our interdependence means that just as if you are diminished by something, so am I (as are we all).
When are we going to learn that it’s not the laws or the guns or the lack of opportunity to express one’s masculinity that’s the problem?
It’s us. And our insistence on our separation, one from another.