Shadows of Connecticut.

Poverty sucks, especially when you’ve been smoking marijuana every evening after work in a crude attempt to relax and maintain your sanity and suddenly have to stop cold turkey for three days until you get your paycheck, during which you’re going through something that feels like withdrawal in tandem with a nervous breakdown. So I was quite happy when I had taken the opportunity to go home after work early, hoping to just hide in my room and write.

Opening the door to the apartment, pissed from all the shit at work, I’m surprised to find Nick sitting on the couch with Sherri. Both are holding drinks. The air carries the sweet odor of alcohol. Strange, whoopee cushion looking balloons litter the floor along with tiny canisters. Nick’s huge flat screen is on the pool table playing Donnie Darko.

Sherri seems excited to see me for some reason. She explains how they were doing whippets and drinking, and we talk a bit about the sequel to Donnie Darko. Eventually I escape to my room, where I change out of my work cloths, but within moments I hear the knock at the door, just as I’m buckling my pants. I opened it and the two of them, with her in the lead, nearly fell into my room, which I tried to hide from her because it was an unconventional mess. She had something for me, she told me, which is something any guy is perfectly willing to hear from a hot girl, but it makes things rather uncomfortable when the girl says it to you right in front of your roommate, who really wants her in the complete cock and cockles fashion no matter how much he plays it down.

Granted, the girl was drunk, but I’ve seen women do this all too often in the sober state and I’ve been both of the guys in question. It certainly seems to me that in most cases they are diverting their attention to one guy in an overly friendly or heavily flirtatious manner in order to produce jealousy in the other, perhaps in hopes that the jealousy fuels the jealous guy into action, specifically in the forms of, a, increased intensity, frequency and swift evolution of his attentions in an attempt to win her over or solidify her desire for him, or, b, she sends him into an overt rage and he starts a fight with the guy, which will not only serve to inflate her ego a bit (two guys, after all, are fighting over her) but give her full justification for being angry at them for treating her like a possession when they aren’t even dating, which will in turn inspire within him the most persistent and passionate attentions to date in an effort to sway her back towards him.

In any case this, it would seem, is just another subtle manipulative technique aimed at acquiring the fullest range of control available — techniques, I might add, that are certainly not exclusive to the female of the species, nor to romantic or intimate relationships. It’s difficult for me to tell whether these efforts are conscious or unconscious ones, or whether or not, in the end, I have as clear a picture as to what is going on here than seems to be the case to me.

I follow them the short distance down the hall to the kitchen, where she pulls a bottle out of the fridge and makes a horrible attempt at hiding it behind her back. Nick’s sister, Sandra, had bought me that bottle of Starbucks-flavored liquor for my twenty-third birthday. I am a certified coffee fiend, so it made sense, and the thought was sweet, but I had taken a shot of it once and nearly vomited it tasted so horrible. It has remained in the fridge of every place I’ve been in for the last decade or so, caked in dust. I don’t imagine it aged like wine. When she poured it into my mug, I thought something more akin to diarrhea might spurt out and plop into the cup with a distinctly wet fart sound. Or maybe what came out of it might make it more appropriate in use as a topping over your morning waffles.

In reality, it looked safe enough. Sherri pours some into my mug and then pours some of the coffee I just made in with it. She hands it to me and tells me that I’m going to drink with them, talk and watch Donnie Darko instead of escaping to my room as I always did. At some point in the midst of us talking she noticed my coffee travel mug, which depicted Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. I made reference to the fact that he had hacked off his ear and spend it to his girlfriend, and she went on to explain that this painting was inspired by the view van Gogh had from the window of his room at the sanitarium where he ended up. Expressing this story, she seemed to feel a sort of dark romance towards it which struck me as curious.

When we sit down, she tells me she used Donnie Darko in a college class assignment. I knew what college class and what assignment because I had also had that class, and that very assignment, only instead of choosing Donnie Darko I had chosen The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. It was the old fate and free will debate. She wrote a paper that favored fate, though she said she didn’t necessarily believe it. I had done my own paper in favor of free will, and I did that the only way I could have: my understanding had brought be to favor the notion of free will.

I’m not sure that my side of the conversation got through to her, however, for as many people do with increasing frequency, she insisted on talking over me, unable to delay anything she has to say any longer than it takes her mind to push out her mouth, and when I speak her speaking speeds and the volume of her voice gets louder, as if she is literally speeding up and running over the speed bump anything I might have to say serves as for her. One could interpret this as not an opressive act at all, of course. For instance, perhaps she only wants me to understand what she says clearly and completely before I say something in response, either because she is afraid she is going to forget these vital elements, what I say next might take the conversation in a direction too far for you to add an addendum to the statements made at your previous turn at the mic. Then again — and this I fear the most — perhaps she doesn’t want to know what I think because she thinks she already knows what I think or she doesn’t really care to know to begin with. and this is how I’ve been feeling lately.

Listen to: Just, by Mudvayne.
Listen to: All About Me, by Drowning Pool.

If I’m an ear, you want feedback. If I’m a wall born to bear the mighty machine-gun fire words, endure the lashings of Logos, then I am a subject being transferred into an object here, dehumanized to the status of a communal psychic commode, a confessional with a pulse, the beats of which go unheard over the roar of the babble from the rabble.

After she had gone to the bathroom, I waited to hear the door close down the hall before getting up, dumping the coffee she had spiked for me, and filling it back up with good old straight blacker-than-death regular fucking capital-C Coffee. I then silently sat back down and tried to seem as if I had never moved an inch. I did not, after all, wish to hurt the girl’s feelings. Nick responded with laughter, but he soon fell silent as she approached. somehow her and I got to talking. I’m sitting on the couch normally and she end up with her hands at either side of me, holding the back-end of couch for support, her face inches from my own, eyes bearing into my own. Around my own eyes, actually: for some reason, she never looked directly into my pupils at any point. She was considerably fucked up, so that’s likely the reason. Regardless, her face being this close to mine with Nick being right there brought me right back to my previous speculations. Is she using me as a tool to control Nick, or is there something else to this?

She thinks I’m interesting, she tells me. She thinks I’m intelligent.

I thank her, as awkward as hearing all that makes me feel. This isn’t right, this isn’t feeling safe. She’s hot enough, drunk enough, I’m horny enough and as much as I wouldn’t mind given different social circumstances, especially given the current context here there is no way in hell I could ever allow myself to do this, your attempt at fucking with me to fuck with him suggests something frigid beneath your skin, running like ice water in your reptile veins, and your just building up a fire I cannot diffuse, building up a rhythm that I could not ethically allow to climax, so knock it off.

Knock it the fuck off.

The pain these instinctual false alarms for my submersible custard cannon cause me is excruciating, but the potential fallout would be a selfish and ultimately emotionally costly slaughter, one too close in friendship to consider mere collateral damage. We’re slaves to instinct. We’re a slave to unconscious forces from sources both in and around us. It only makes sense that we would become enslaved by our ethical valuations of potential behaviors in light of the consequences foreseeable within the range of our awareness as well.

Nick gets up, and I know he isn’t leaving because he is hurt or angry. He is either going to pass out, piss or puke, and given the veiled urgency with which he made his way from the couch, I imagined puking was most likely.

Maintaining her position, she goes on to tell me several times how I’m intelligent, emphasizing it like a well-spaced mantra. That I am so good at reading people. I could meet someone and have them figured out in minutes. She tells me that I’m a good person. That I have a way with words, that I can express a viewpoint in such a way that convinces people of my point of view. Tone not altering at all as she does so, she then comments that I remind her of Hitler.

“What?”

She had caught me off guard, and I had to laugh. She offered this as a compliment and I was curious what she meant exactly. Her and Nick had spoken about this the other day, she went on to explain, how Hitler, with his words, with his speeches, manipulated the masses to adopt his point of view.

“So you mean to say that I am adept at manipulating people?”

“Yes,” she told me. “You just don’t like to.”

There is the distinct sound of vomiting in the distance, and my concern over it catches her attention, and she tells me she’s going to go check on Nick. I follow her to the bathroom, where Nick’s shirt is off and he is nearly baptizing himself in the toilet water. Watching him there, staring into the gaping mouth of the porcelain goddess as if waiting for her to conjure up the relentless cyclone in his guts, I remind myself why I have all but given up on drinking. Above him she hovers, albeit in an off-balance manner, and asks him if he trusts her. Asks him this again and again. Each time, he says yes in a voice that clearly conveys sincerity. She then asks him if this is his toothbrush. He says yes. And she promises him this will make him feel better, and she rams the toothbrush down his throat. It worked. Hard love, perhaps. But that was definitely my fucking toothbrush, damn it.

The high point of the evening was the uncomfortable flattery she had delivered, and from the point of the toothbrush inward it all went downhill. By the time Nick was emptying his guts into the gaping orifice of the porcelain goddess, my patience had already grown thin with her. She is drunk, constantly repeating herself, I’m stuck driving her home and she refuses to take any subtle or direct suggestions that I should drive her ass home before it gets too late. I have a nervous breakdown to work on averting through relieving pressure through writing, and its impossible to attend to while you’re still in my presence.

I’m on overload here.

I take it all in. She graduated with a major in psychology and seems to be inexplicably drawn to the “crazy,” as she is always careful to put it. Already she had told me of her interest in van Gough, particularly his work The Starry Night, which she had seen on my coffee travel mug. With passionate absorption in the story, she had told Nick and I, as she poured decade-old Starbucks liquor from a dust-caked bottle from the back of the fridge into my coffee, how one-eared van Gough had painted the work, inspired by the night scene he could see through his sanitarium window. She is also evidently even more enthralled with the television show Dexter than I am.

She’s ashamed of her belief in fate and an arrogant voice in my head suggests that this might be because I brought up my belief in free will in a recent post I had made about a recent tragedy exploited by the media. This notion was reinforced when she then brought up the whole Connecticut tragedy with me. My head fell at her mention of it. No matter what I do, I cannot seem to escape this topic with people, and my viewpoint becomes more forceful, more rage-fueled every time the subject is brought up.

I can’t say why this is bothering me so much. Why it hit me so hard this time.

When will we wake up and recognize that these tragedies, however inhumane and gruesome when taken in isolation, collectively constitute symptoms of a sick culture? Incidents such as this, which happen with increasing frequency, call for a wider focus, a broader circumstantial and psychological investigation, a deeper contemplation with respect to the causes. I support free will and personal responsibility. I am never one in support of the notion that the individual is merely the product of their respective culture or personal upbringing, as there is always a spectrum of choice, but the cultural factors underlying these tragic symptoms DO serve to dictate the ease of certain choices. Increasingly, individuals in our culture seem to find their path of least resistance in committing these heinous acts, and that much is clear at this point, at least in my tainted inner eye. In light of that, it seems equally clear here that we should take serious and enduring pause before the media serves to distract us with something else to ask why that is, as there are clearly deeper forces at work here.

I still believe that given the right context, everything makes sense.

The motives? Perhaps to shift the power. To gain attention. Why? They feel powerless and unappreciated. Maybe they want a sense of personal significance and individual power and it can only be completed with feedback from the masses, an acknowledgement by the herd.

Why would they be under the impression that they must go to such extremes to get people to pay attention and listen to them?

Since 9/11, just think of the stream of words your constantly subjected to across the bottom of the screen. Other little nuggets of data popping up here and there while a news broadcast is going on. Just think of how nowadays you just cannot escape from everyone, how in some cases the cell phone becomes more akin to an electric leash. Consider how we are being subjected to too many meaningless choices. Recieving too much data at once. Expected to multitask as fast as we can, staying tuned to every relentless channel.

Think of Attention Deficit Disorder, which could be the logical end-result of a mind striving to adapt to the culture in which it finds itself. Given the multiple data-streams that must be juggled and multitasking that this culture demands it’s no surprise at all that so many minds and finding themselves incapable of concentrating too long on any one given thing.

On earth, there have never before been so many humans with so many different connections and so many different ways of connecting. When everyone has their proverbial fifteen minutes more or less at once, its easy for your voice to get lost in the crowd, and so the chatter becomes an ever-escalating shouting match.

People keep upping the ante because people keep getting desensitized. The Tool song Stinkfist conveys this in a most graphic and effective manner as the law of ever-diminishing returns leads him to go deeper and deeper from finger to fist to elbow into a bodily orifice in order to procure the same required level of satisfaction. It seems it is as Kevin Spacey said it was in the movie Seven.

“You can’t just tap people on the shoulder anymore,” he said. “You have to hit them with a sledgehammer. Then you notice you have their strict attention.”

It reminds you of the neighbors of the killer explaining him as always being so quiet and kind. It makes you wonder if maybe he was talking all along and they simply never thought to lend the ears to hear. If you aren’t being heard, the gun can be a more effective megaphone, either directly or through the massive, hollow shell that serves as phantom ricochet-chamber, and which we call the media. You always listen to the one with the gun, right? And sometimes the message is louder when you simply shoot or blow up an enormous amount of people and wait for the media to arrive. You become a celebrity. A dark, transient, cultural god. Antihero of the week. All brought to you by the media. Bred by the media for our money. For the investment of our attention. These antiheros achieve their status through the media providing the spotlight and holding them up for the world to see. All this attention, a media-made antihero, so many eyes watching and listening and taking in all the news stories, people talking about it at work, outside the bars, on talk radio.

“Monkey see, monkey do” is a skill also present in the domesticated primates known as humans, as incidents such as this clearly exemplify. The media exploits these tragedies, not out of some sense of moral obligation to provide the masses with the facts but to increasing ratings through sensationalism and relentless, 24-7 coverage of the killer and the bloody mark he made. They are not blind to the effects of this kind of coverage, either, as forensic psychologist Dr. Park Dietz so wonderfully expresses in a rare interview:

“We’ve had twenty years of mass murderers throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring, don’t have photographs of the killer, don’t make this 24-7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of antihero. Do localize this story to the effected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.”

Might may not mean right, though it certainly proves useful. This is especially the case in the eyes of those who could never hope to gain the upper hand in hand-to-hand combat; those always stuck on the chewed-up underdog end of the dog-eat-dog world. The physically weak win over the physically strong by using intelligence and technology: guns, bombs and well-executed plans, for instance. This does not merely serve to level the playing field, but rather swings the teeter-totter of power in the diametrically opposing direction. There is always a bigger fish, but sometimes there is a minnow with superior firepower. Suddenly size doesn’t matter. Muscle is no match for the bullet.

Not to imply a connection — as that would surely paint the mainstream media as some fourth, “propagandizing” branch of government — but just a bit too often it has seemed suspiciously as if the government is channeling acute collective outrage and fear generated by tragedies to fuel support for policies they’ve been itching to implement for some time and which in reality have little if anything to do with the tragedy in question. Take 9/11, and the Iraq war. Or the Patriot Act. Take the recent tragedy and the push for gun control. Unfortunate, as clearly the masses have been fine countless times in the past with trading in freedoms for a greater illusion of security. The deeper things at work here are things that treatments such as home-schooling, I’m afraid, will not uproot or even protect you.

Mere laws or regulations on weapons won’t put a dent in this fucking issue, either. I’m not a card-carrying NRA member, but stricter gun control is not the solution. Stop looking at the damn gun and start looking at the broken mind that pulled the trigger and the social context that nurtured that psychology. This must start with defeat of the knee-jerk thought-stoppers. People fear empathizing with what is regarded as crazy, evil or insane as they fear that others will consider them guilty by means of association. So instead they build up a thick wall between themselves and the person in question by use of these dismissive words, which act as thought-stoppers and empathic-barriers. This Wall of Logos designates the solid boundary where our empathy ends, where our desire to understand is snuffed out by the darkness at the very edges of our personal identifications. The more eager people are to throw out those words, the more emotionally-fueled they are, the more I feel that they’re not just cutting off their attempts to empathize with that person but denying the presence of similar feelings within themselves. They’re repressing and projecting aspects of themselves that their ego is loath to accept consciously and identify as qualities of the self-concept.

I turned to Sherri and asked her if she knew why it was that she was so fascinated with the subject of those “crazies” and “evil” ones. This is the only time in the conversation that I recall not only successfully getting in more than a word in edgewise, but managed to get her to listen to it and contemplate it. Her head fell as if in confusion, and she was silent a moment.

“I don’t know,” she said, as if perplexed to find her mental hands brushing up against a wall in her mind.

Analysis of others is fine and good, I wanted to tell her, but every sword should be double-edged. Always turn back to look in the mirror, and look deep into the abyss of those pupils, my dear. It helps to keep you in check.

Sympathy for the Devil.

The kids grow up in a society where they are essentially powerless, treated as second-class citizens. And then there’s the media, which tells them that might makes right. That violence justifies violence. That you listen to the one with the gun. That, yes, there’s always a bigger fish, but there can also be a minnow with superior firepower, and that puts them on a level playing field. They can see on the internet and boob tube that with the pull of the trigger everyone notices you, fears you, and you become a celebrity. And then there’s another tragic school shooting. And then: people act surprised. Disgusted, hurt, afraid, enraged, all those responses make sense. But surprised? Pardon the pun, but it blows me away.

Aside from surprise, the general reaction I have been seeing from people in the wake of this tragedy is to instantly look down upon these kids as crazy or evil, which is complete fucking nonsense. Such words are dismissive. They explain nothing, serving only as an emotionally-charged thought-stopper. Its all too easy for people to label someone as evil or crazy and leave it at that, as if it actually suffices as an explanation. I am of the strong opinion that given the appropriate context, everything makes sense. So I don’t believe in crazy. If you were in their shoes, looking at the world through their minds and eyes, viewing the light of the world through the prism of their souls, you would see why they chose the road they did.

And no, I am not saying they had a right to kill anyone.

Its not about justifying or condoning their actions, but understanding them, explaining them. You can condemn their acts, but to erect a wall and refuse to understand is to strip yourself of the rich resources that could prevent such an act from occurring once again. And when something keeps happening, it indicates something in the environment — social, in the least — that makes this choice one of least resistance; that makes this choice an easy one. Looking at the reason things like this happen should not be confused with pardoning their crimes, but trying to find ways in which the atrocities can be prevented from happening again.

Another issue is the moral judgement of these kids as “evil.” I’ve heard a lot of that bullshit.

Morality is not, as we often like to perceive it and have been culturalized to perceive it, two diametrically-opposing forces inherent in the objective universe, but rather subjective value judgements influenced by culture and yet ultimately individual, relative and situational. And our failure as a culture to recognize and acknowledge that Absolute Good and Evil are merely illusions sends mixed messages to members of our culture.

As an example, consider that most would consider killing immoral, and as a knee-jerk reaction would quickly, and perhaps extremely emotionally, declare it so. Yet consider the following scenario: you are held hostage in a bank with your child. You have seen the man holding you and the rest of the people hostage in the bank kill two people without even blinking, and then he grabs a hold of your child and holds a gun to his head. Thankfully, the man’s back is turned to you, you have a loaded gun and a clear line of sight. What would you do? Personally, I would kill the bastard before he killed my child.

What is the “moral” choice, however?

Well, our culture states that killing other humans is wrong — unless you are the military, as killing is its job. Yes, one needs to remember that the military has a monopoly on justified murder of other human beings. And the excuses the military uses would not fly for an individual if he or she decided to kill someone.

“He threatened to kill me, so I killed him first.”

“I had to kill him. He had a gun, and guns are dangerous. Yes, just like me. What’s your point?”

The parent’s effect on their child would be comparable to the government’s effect on their citizenry.

Our cultural morality is not what you would call consistent, you have to admit. Consider the fact that the military is essentially killing people to show that killing people is intolerable. That it’s only right when they do it. This mass murder is all okay on a large scale when it comes to the military, but its not only unlawful but unethical, immoral, unspeakable, reprehensible, inhuman, evil, when it occurs on the small scale.

Leading by example isn’t their intention, of course, but it is what they end up doing, whether they would like to or not.