The ecology of mass killing

Posted August 6th, 2012 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

So this one is looking more and more like a hate crime. Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old white male with neo-nazi connections, is the guy who opened fire on the Sikh community of Oak Creek WI, just a few miles down the road from me, while they were having their Sunday morning community gathering.

Vigil in downtown Milwaukee Aug. 5. Photo: Randy MilwaukeeIronworkers Bryce

Another community in stark, stunning grief. Another local community in dismay that such things could happen ‘here.’ And then the quick efforts to make of Page someone outside of us, a “loner,” a troubled guy who just broke up with his girlfriend.

Of course, before this script gets written, one reporter gets a mic in front of a neighbor on the block who says that he talked with Page lots of times since he moved here, that he was very friendly, often interacting with the neighbor kids. He actually described him as a “happy-go-lucky” kind of guy. His landlord says he did a thorough check on him before offering him a lease. Before we render him to the margins, not ‘of’ us in any way, someone leaks out how much ‘like’ us he really was.

The truth is in there somewhere. While he may or may not have been the stereotype the media is trying to create for him, it turns out that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the country, had him in their files for a long time. Turns out Page led a neo-Nazi rock band called End Apathy and hung out with Skinheads. In an interview on a neo-Nazi website (which I refuse to link here), Page talks about living in a “sick society” and criticizes himself for not being stronger and more committed to taking action to save it.

Wade Michael Page

I suppose shooting up a bunch of Sikhs on a Sunday morning is his version of doing something about it.

In this morning’s press conference, one could tell that our local FBI investigator and the guy from the US District Attorney’s office are pretty disturbed by what they are finding out about this guy. [late edit: FBI has ruled out ‘person of interest’ in the shooting. Why he was in the parking lot taking photos of community members is not explained in that notice. Earlier on Monday they asked people to post the photo, but with this update, we have removed it from this post].

Doesn’t sound like the James Holmes version of mass killing – that fits much better the myth of the disgruntled loner who has a psychotic break, puts on mask and armor, walks into a movie theater and opens fire.

What does “ecology” have to do with this? Well, like anything else that occurs, an act like this does not take place in isolation cut off from everything else, emerging from nowhere and going nowhere. It has origins, a ferment. It co-arises, as Buddhism would say. There is cause and effect. I am born from the womb and have generations of ancestors that created the genetic, cultural, psychological ferment from which I emerged. I continue surrounded in the ferment of my world. I impact it; it impacts me.

You spew enough CO2 into the atmosphere, the chemical makeup of it begins to change and, voila!, you have climate change. You bulldoze the boreal forests of Alberta for tar sands oil and you not only impact the environment all around and within those forests, you also bring violence on a grand scale to a relationship between the human and those forests, along with all the sentient and non-sentient beings within it.

We create, or enable – by silence and denial, by harboring in our thoughts or beliefs attitudes similar to Page’s, or in our attitudes about our “individual rights” (translation: self-interest) versus the common good, or through political vitriol and religious intolerance – cultures, however seemingly small, of white supremacy and racist hatred.

Then, to add more nutrients to this soil, we put in place among the most lax guns laws in the world so that we have a population heavily armed. Then we create via mass media and rightist politicians and their corporate masters a form of insidious racism that is incredulous that a black man is in the White House, that one of the servants got off the plantation to become president of the nation (forgive me, but this is how so many white rightist Congressional “leaders” sound to me), add in the big demographic changes being brought about by way of immigration, and then throw in a few religious movements of white Christian supremacy and nationalism – and pretty soon the nation has enabled a guy who is just dying (literally, it turns out) to burst into a temple chock full of people who appear strange, have darker skin, talk funny, are obviously “other,” and just like that, a new massacre on the increasingly long list of mass killings in this nation…

…a nation that is so full of itself that it can look on all this and pronounce itself still the greatest nation in the world.

Here’s an article that shows what I mean by the “ecology of mass killing:” Right-Wing Rhetoric Heats Up, As Talk of Nazis Enters the Conversation. Here is a great example of the handsome guy made to look nice for public appearances spewing the very same worldview shared by Wade Michael Page. Personally, the most offensive aspect of this story is seeing Dietrich Bonhoeffer being used this way. I guess that is as offensive to me as seeing the Vatican use Jesus to defend their patriarchy and to manipulate the principle of religious freedom in an effort to take women’s rights to health care, including reproductive services, away from them.

At least when Paul Ryan uses the morally vacuous Ayn Rand as his inspiration, we get where he’s coming from, right? He’s not twisting her words for his benefit, just using her real philosophy to defend his policy proposals that would put the supremacy of capitalist elites where he thinks it belongs – and the rest of us where he thinks we belong.

This stuff creates a ferment, a soil, in which all sorts of things grow. Is this really so different from the meaning framework, the anti-spirituality, if you will, that is tearing the surface off Wisconsin farmland to mine sand for the fracking industry?

The authorities and the media will examine this new tragedy over and over again and probably still manage, once again, to miss the crucial questions presented here. Why is this country one of the most violent in the world? Why does this country have a gun fetish that is so irrational that we can find in the Constitution’s Second Amendment composed in the late 1700s a right to own military-styled assault rifles? Why do we make it so easy for guys like Holmes and Page to purchase weapons? Why do we have the biggest incarceration rate in the world?

What is the ecology of these mass killings? What is the nature of our interrelatedness, our interconnections, in other words, the way in which we are in relation with one another and our world, that gives rise to moments like these?

We must fear the answers terribly, because as soon as they are asked, we put them away, even angrily – we are offended by them – so that we can go back to dehumanizing the perp and then casting him out from among us, as if he is not from among us.

Well, we have reason to fear, for sure. Because if we ever face these question and become honest with ourselves, we will begin to realize the depth of our national pathology, how eroded our democracy has become until it barely exists anymore, how devastated our earth has become by our pathologies of economic growth and consumerism, and how false our spiritualities of individualism and personal salvation, as if we can separate our eternal fate from the world in which we live right now.

Tonight, I will participate in a vigil in Oak Creek. We will pray together, sing hymns, light candles for peace, allow ourselves to feel the grief, the outrage, the fear – and the need for one another. I will take my solace in these connections, because we have urgent need to replace the awful soil and ferment of hatred and selfishness with a soil and ferment that can grow a new human spirit, that can begin to heal what really lies at the heart of these explosions of hateful violence.

When we can get to the heart of that, we will also get to the heart of what is destroying the living systems and living communities of the planet, and vice versa. We will get to the heart of the matter.

We need to get to the heart of the matter.


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One Response

  1. Sheila Isakson

    Thanks, Margaret
    We do have an urgent need to replace the current environment of hate and violence with an environment that respects and supports living systems, including human communities. In order to “get to the heart of the matter,” perhaps statement of a clear desired state or goal would enable us to connect with relationships that contribute to achieving this. Thanks for keeping us focused on a way to be hopeful.