Along with much of the rest of the country, and perhaps the world, I have been thinking this past week about the apparently senseless stabbings at Franklin High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania.
This outburst of mindless violence is certainly nothing new. The Columbine shootings from 1999 and the mass slaughter at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July of 2012 are only two examples that come to mind, though making a long list of additional examples need not necessarily strengthen the point I want to make about the seeming lack of motive in such cases.
As “rational” beings, we crave reasons or catalysts for most occurrences, especially those incidents resulting in wanton cruelty and violence. As inappropriate and horrific as such attacks may be, we can begin to comprehend them if there is any reason for provocation, such as bullying or actual physical torment first. As unspeakably violent as war is, it usually remains a somewhat distant and safe abstraction for most of us, softened further by our clinging to “reasons” like, protecting our freedom or that of another country in distress.
We can’t quite get our minds around a seemingly unprovoked, haphazard attack on innocent people, especially those completely surprised and unequipped to defend themselves (larger example on a national scale might be Pearl Harbor in December of 1941). All of this goes against reason itself and creates short circuits in our sense of the rational. The attorney of the sixteen-year-old, knife-wielding attacker called the young fellow a “nice young man” with no history of psychotic outbursts or other violent behavior. That attorney went on to say that those knife attacks seemed to come “out of nowhere.”
One concern that continues to haunt me about those individuals, who tote weapons of any kind and suddenly go mad in attacking crowds of innocent people is that in so many cases no one around the aggressors seems to have noticed any odd behavior before the dreadful acts of ferocity began. Like most other people, I feel a terrible need to attribute a reason for such aggression, not because it can diminish in any way the grotesque results of the crimes, but because I have a human need to believe that our behavior happens in reasonable sequences, one leading to another through need or provocation. Horrible acts of violence that cannot be connected to any source or reason are perhaps as terrifying to me as asteroids changing their orbits for no apparent reason and heading straight for my home and those I love. JB