As everyone in the world probably already knows, it looks like they may have caught the Beltway shooter – I also don’t like to honor him with the title ‘sniper.’
He appears to be an alienated African-American man, ex-military (although not Special Ops or a trained sniper) and his Jamaican stepson. He apparently has sympathies to the Islamist cause, and wanted to strike his own blow against the Great Satan (and if he could get $10 million into an offshore bank account while doing it, so much the better).
From my point of view, this is the worst possible result.
First, because I think he’s shown a number of other disaffected people how easy it is to leverage small actions into a huge amount of attention.
Second, because I think there are a lot of disaffected people out there.
I’ve talked about ‘muckers’ in the past, looking online for a definition, I found this, by Santa Fe complexity researcher Cosma Shalizi; it’s perfect, and I couldn’t add anything at all:
“Mucker” is a word coined by the science fiction writer John Brunner in his great novel Stand on Zanzibar. The word derives from “amok,” which will require a bit of history.
It is a Malay word, and a person who goes violently insane, rushing through the village and murderously attacking everyone in his path, is said to have “run amok.” In what was an egregiously idiotic statement, even for him, the eminent French critic Georges Bataille called running amok the purest manifestation of revolt, “the movement by which man rises up against his own condition and the whole of creation.”
(Bataille never ran through the streets of Montparnasse madly slashing with a kris, so he either lacked the courage of his convicions or was a hypocrite with a small – a very small – modicum of brains.) The Malays, inevitably, were and are more sensible: they kill those who run amok.
A “mucker,” then, is someone who runs amok; the times havin’ a-changed, now they use guns. As always, they are people driven to murderous madness by intolerable frustration, repression and conformity, whether in an isolated kampong or the Postal Service. So far muckers seem to have been mostly Americans, but just the other day the radio carried news of one in Germany.
It does Mr. Brunner’s prescience great credit to have foreseen the need for this word, back in 1964; and it does the rest of us no credit at all, for letting such a word be needed.
Shalizi even makes the neat connection to Romantic philosophy that I keep harping on.
What has happened is that the inchoate rage and disassociation that is felt by too many people in this society (and by waaay more people in places like the West Bank and Saudi) now is legitimized. It’s legitimized philosophically by the Bad Philosophers, it’s legitimized politically by ‘liberation’ ideology (and here I don’t mean politically grounded efforts at national liberation, like Vietnam’s, but the more generic ‘liberation’ ideology of the Frankfurt School), it’s legitimized in the media by our obsession with the pornography of violence (a subject for a later post), and finally, it’s legitimized as it becomes part of a ‘tradition’ where the Khobar Towers leads to the USS Cole which leads to the WTC, which leads to the July 4 El Al shooter, which leads to this nutjob.
Terror is going wide, and we are about to look at a world in which tens or even hundreds of Beltway shooters become a possibility.
What’s the answer??
Well, first of all, a top-down Orwellian security state isn’t. It sure looks like this was broken by good old-fashioned police work (a tip of the hat to Chief Moose and his team) and by an alert guy at a rest stop with a cell phone.
We need to learn the lessons of an alert and empowered citizenry, because if there were ten of these guys running around at once, the criminal investigation infrastructure of the country would just melt down.
And most importantly of all, we need to find a way to stop growing these guys. We need to cut off the cultural roots that promote this kind of behavior. We need to de-legitimize Bad Philosophy, and send it back to the academy, where it belongs. We need to de-legitimize terrorism in all its forms, and we need to figure out how we can begin to stop growing enraged disassociated people who drift across the line into evil.