Saturday, April 21, 2007

Monsters and Victims

Some have called Cho Seung-Hui a "victim" of mental illness and of a society that ignored and shunned him. Others call him a "monster" and disparage those who call him a victim. But why can a monster not also be a victim, if we define a monster as "One who inspires horror or disgust," and a victim as "One who is harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition"?

Does anyone really doubt that Cho Seung-Hui was victimized by mental illness he did not freely choose for himself and by a society that, for whatever reasons, neglected his pressing needs, and that his illness turned him into a hateful and mass-murdering monster?

Some might say that even if Cho was, in truth, a victim of mental illness, this is a truth so overshadowed by the magnitude of his monstrous acts that to call him a victim dishonors those he victimized and also gives people excuse to succumb to their worst impulses. Cho clearly saw himself as a victim of others, and this surely sparked and inflamed his vengeful hatred and provided him with a rationalization for acting it out in the horrific way he did.

Yet if we do not acknowledge his victimhood, do we not only deny the truth but also encourage hatred to go unchecked by compassion to the point where it may well fester and push other sick people over the edge or, at the very least, make our society a meaner, uglier place for all of us?

I believe that the best course for society and for us as individuals is to view Cho and his like as human beings victimized into becoming monsters and to temper our rightful and cathartic condemnation of their deeds with empathy and compassion for them as persons so that we may soothe and help to heal broken hearts and minds.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Thrill, Their Indifference

Last night I had the honor and pleasure of bowling with one of the finest female bowlers ever. Leanne Barrette is a bowling legend who won 26 women's professional national bowling titles, was women's professional bowler of the year twice, and was still doing very well on the women's tour when it shut down a few years ago. She is my favorite female bowler of all-time, and my grandfather and I used to love to watch her on TV, where she has appeared over 100 times. She now lives and works in the Sacramento area and bowls in one of the finest leagues in the nation in the bowling center in which I bowl.

Last night she substituted for a bowler in a junior-adult league in which I participate, and she bowled on my pair of lanes. Now I have seen in person nearly every great male and female bowler of the past forty years as well as numerous other famous people in many endeavors, so I am not the sort of person who is starstruck by anyone. I have even seen Leanne many times in the aforementioned league in which she participates weekly, and I bowl with her fiance, a professional bowler, in another league. But there was still something a little special in actually being down on the lanes with her, talking with her a little, and giving her low-fives when she struck and in hearing her say, "Nice shot" when I converted a difficult spare. It is not every day when as big a bowling fan as I am gets to bowl with a bowling superstar and one of his favorite bowlers of all-time.

But one thing that really struck me while bowling last night was how little the junior bowlers seemed to pay any attention to her. At the risk of sounding like the proverbial old fuddy-duddy who says, "When I was your age I tramped ten miles through the snow to get to school and another ten miles to get back home,"I have to say that when I was the age of those junior bowlers in my league last night, I would have been thrilled to death to bowl with one of the finest bowlers in history, and my eyes would have been riveted on every shot she made, just as they were last night, and I think most of my peers would have felt and acted the same way. But these kids, who are not casual bowlers but fairly serious, scratch-level bowlers, seemed to pay her no mind. When Leanne bowled, they were busy chatting with each other or on their cellphones and horsing around in some way or other. There was no sense of reverence or even respect for this bona-fide superstar of the bowling world, and I have to wonder if this is symptomatic of young people these days.

Do they have no heroes or idols except, perhaps, "American Idols" or other entertainment celebrities? Are they more or less indifferent to great achievers in other areas such as science, literature, art, and even sports? And does this blase attitude carry over into other aspects of their lives? If so, why? And is this a good or bad thing?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Human Tsunami

In my previous post, I asked how one becomes peace without unhealthily repressing anger and hatred toward evildoing and evildoers. This morning an anchor on CNN or one of the other news channels offered the beginnings of a possible answer when he referred to Cho Seung-Hui's murderous rampage as a "human tsunami."

It is far easier to hate evil acts that one sees as freely-willed than to hate those, like such natural "acts" as a tsunami, that one sees as the inevitable effects of complex causes. As I have explained many times, I subscribe to the latter rather than the former view. And when I can apply it to an evil act or person who perpetrated it, my anger and hatred decrease and my equanimity and compassion increase.

Thus it would seem that one way to become more peaceful is not to repress anger and hatred but to preclude or dissipate them by getting better at applying my deterministic philosophy to every person and every act.

Angels and Demons

Yesterday afternoon I saw disturbing videos and pictures of Cho Seung-Hui brandishing weapons, his face and voice contorted with hatred.

Later, as I was driving along a narrow on-ramp to the freeway, a taxi tailgated me and swerved as though he was going to try to pass me on the left. I felt very angry, and as the taxi drove beside me in the next lane, its driver flipped me off and I flipped him off and made mocking faces at him. Then he moved to my lane in front of me, still flipping me off out his window and I returning the compliment from within my car until he took the same exit I normally do to get home. I took that exit too and when he later moved to the same left turn lane I normally take, I decided not to stop at the red light in the left turn lane beside him and risk any kind of confrontation, but to take a different route home. I just waved and smiled sardonically at him as I passed him, and he flipped me off again.

Later that evening my wife and I were walking to the library where we encountered a young black male cursing and threatening someone at the top of his lungs, only there was no one around except the cars driving by and us. At first I thought be might be rapping or otherwise "talking" to someone he knew in the distance, but it soon became apparent that he was simply unhinged. My headstrong wife, who does not allow herself to be intimidated by anyone, kept walking toward him, since he was between us and the library, and I reflexively geared myself to take him apart (or at least give it all I had) if he attacked us. Fortunately, he walked away from us, continuing his vulgar rant.

Last night I watched "wildest" police videos of people trying to evade police in car chases or to kill them, and I hated those criminals and wanted them dead rather than mollycoddled in prison and then released to perpetrate more crime and pose further danger to the public and the police. I felt particular rage in watching one incident where several young black males had invaded a home and shot a crippled young white woman's parents in the head, abducted her, taken her to a store and were caught on video rolling her in her wheelchair to an ATM so that she could withdraw all of the money from her parents' account, then forcing her back into the van and driving away to be pursued by police whom they shot at from the van until they were pit-maneuvered off the road into a ditch, and the young headscarved men tried to scamper away. I wanted the police to Rodney King those worthless pieces of human garbage to bloody, lifeless pulp.

Early this morning I awoke from a nightmare. I do not recall any of the details except that, in my dream, I was overcome by some demonic force of sheer, irrepressible evil. I do not have nightmares very often, but almost every one that I do have is some variation of this theme of being taken over by an evil force from within.

It would seem that this is what happened to Cho Seung-Hui over a long period of time in real life and to horrific effect. His living nightmare became Virginia Tech's and America's nightmare.

I do not believe in supernatural beings of evil malevolence who try to possess our souls and succeed on horrible occasion. I believe that "the evil that men do" stems from natural misalignments of brain, mind, society, culture, and spirit.

But I do believe that each of us has the potential and purpose to minimize hatred and evil in the world by filling it with as much love and goodness as we can and to create more "angels" that nurture and uplift than "demons" that debase and destroy.

The renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says "be peace" in order to spread peace in the world. Yet how does one become peace without repressing inner strife and turning one's outward peace into a facade that fools no one except, perhaps, the one who wears it?

And how do we minimize hatred and evil in the world without repressing our shadows and strengthening them to the point where they violently erupt in campus massacres or achieve more subtly destructive release in countless ugly manifestations of racial, ethnic, religious, political, and other forms of hatred and intolerance, or in angrily flipping people off who tailgate and flip us off on the highway?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Don Imus Story

Until now, I have made no mention of the Don Imus brouhaha because I could not find the words to satisfactorily express my opinion on the matter. I have now found them, but they do not originate with me. I found them in this column by Mark Steyn. Here is the essence of his opinion, and mine:

So I don't know whether calling the Rutgers basketball ladies "nappy-headed hos" is a mean old white guy's racist slur or an artful parodic jest on the way black women are talked about by black men -- or at least by the ones on the record charts. After all, the only way mean old white folks know the expressions "nappy" or "ho" is because they heard 'em from hip young black folks. Indeed, one could argue it's a tribute to how non-racist America is that an elderly Caucasian would wish to talk like a gangsta rapper. What was it Martin Luther King dreamed of? A nation where men would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their characterizations?

Alas, it's not that simple. Apparently, when two hip-hoppers are up on stage doing their "Who was that ho I saw you with last night?"/"That was no ho, that was my bitch" shtick, they're just keepin' it real. When a white guy does it, he's just keepin' it real unlikely he'll find gainful employment again. Unless, of course, the networks are now proposing to apply the Imus standard to all performers, in which case the Grammy Awards will last 10 minutes (Best Liner Notes on a Polka Album and Best Tony Bennett Celebrity Duets CD of the Last Two Months)...

And saddest of all were the Rutgers basketball gals themselves. Almost a century and a half after the abolition of slavery, 40 years after the civil rights era, a group of young black women who've achieved great success went on TV and teared up because of a cheap crack by an over-the-hill shock jock. As a female correspondent to the Powerline Web site commented:

"Here are these tough women on top of the world and they are so fragile that a remark knocks them down. Hey, why wouldn't they have said 'F--- you? Who the heck is this fool Imus? We are queens of national basketball and there is no stopping us now. We can be and do anything we choose to be or do. . . . We don't need Al Sharpton to protect us. . . . ' But no, they look devastated and say they are damaged irreparably.''

Only in America: a team of champions who think they're victims, an old white fool who talks like a gangsta rapper and multi-millionaires grown rich on race-baiting who promote themselves as guardians of civility. Good thing there are no real problems to worry about.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

So THAT'S What It's About!

Gagdad Bob interpreting the Wizard of Oz for his young son:

Son, you see, it's all an allegory of the Great Depression. The black and white world of Kansas is a symbol for America at the time, and the 'Wicked Witch of the West' is the evil capitalist, Elvira Gulch, who 'owns half the county' and rules over the 'little people.' The whirling cyclone is the great revolution that will lift everyone into the false utopia of a worker's paradise, run by leftist charlatans such as the Wizard. The Tinman is the helpless and dehumanized industrial worker who will link arms with the farmer, represented by the Scarecrow, to overturn the capitalist order. But Dorothy proves that a heavy-handed state is not required, as she possesses all the resources she needs to succeed in life. She is the American Spirit, reborn and awakened from the bad dream of leftism, now able to appreciate the simple beauty of America, in spite of the hardships.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Where Did the Universe Come From?

I am reading a new book called The Philosophy Gym. Stephen Law, a lecturer in philosophy at the University of London, is the author. It introduces philosophy by exploring fundamental questions or problems in philosophy with brevity and clarity. The first question addressed is: Where did the universe come from? Law opines that there are four types of answers to this question:

(1) Identify a specific cause (e.g., God).
(2) Postulate that there must be a cause but that we cannot or do not yet know what it is.
(3) Claim that there is no cause and that the existence of the universe is simply a "brute fact."
(4) Deny that the question makes sense (It is like asking, "What is north of the North Pole?").

Yet, Law points out that there are difficulties with each answer. The problem with answer #1 is that it too requires a cause and that cause a cause leading to an infinite regress of causes. Answer #2 fares no better in that it still says there is cause, even if it is not yet known, and that there must, therefore, be an infinite regress of causes. Answer #3 simply seems unreasonable. And the fact that answer #4 is controversial among philosophers suggests that it is untenable.

My own current inclination is to go with answer #3, but I take a different tack than the one Law takes. Law says that answer #3 entails accepting as "brute fact" that the universe simply "popped into existence" without cause or reason. But I ask why the universe ever had to have come into existence. That is, why must we assume that there was ever a natural nothing? Why could we not assume that there was always a natural something that now comprises natural reality as we know it?

Here is how David Mills, in his outstanding book Atheist Universe, defends this idea:

But what about Mortimer Adler's question: "Why is there something rather than nothing?"...From a scientific perspective, though, the question is: Why shouldn't there be something rather than nothing? What law of science claims that the universe is not supposed to exist or that nonexistence is the "natural" condition? There is no such law. On the contrary, the law of the conservation of mass-energy leads to a radically different conclusion: that the mass-energy which now constitutes our universe always existed, though this universe, as we observe it today, did indeed have a beginning at the Big Bang. (p. 94)

When I read this passage from Mills, it struck me with the force of an intellectual explosion. Unless I encounter good reason to think otherwise, I believe that this is a very reasonable way to look at the existence of the universe and a compelling objection to the argument that the universe had to have been created out of nothing by God.