Let us not ignore the trite and the commonplace. After all, it is the trite and the commonplace that we inevitably turn to when frozen in fear or bewilderment. The human mind, the second thoughts that help us control the natural inclination toward anger and primordial urges, is the only weapon we have to save us from a state of brutality. But when the mind is rattled and stunned – as when it becomes obsessed and prejudiced – man can become more of a beast that a beast itself. The difference is that, in nature, beasts rarely kill for the pleasure of it – in contrast to civilized man who can get a rush from the sight of bloodshed and is willing to kill en masse in order to subjugate the “enemy” in the name of religion or politics, or in order to simply eradicate the other.
In ancient mythology, Ajax – driven temporarily insane by Athena and burdened by an unbearable sense of injustice – slaughters a herd of sheep, believing that he is slaughtering those who had offended him instead. When he recovers from his frenzy, his shame at what he has done, the realization of the senseless act of violence that he is responsible for, leads him to fall on his own sword.
In real life, in Connecticut last week, the 20-year-old protagonist of that awful drama first committed matricide, before arming himself with his mother’s weapons, storming an elementary school and slaying a flock of children with cold calculation. For every year of his life that he felt wronged, suppressed and cast out (like myriad others), he killed an angel. Whether he managed to become human once more in the final moments and decided to take his own life is something we will never know.
Thousands of others have likely felt the same sense of rejection yet managed not to take a similar course of action, possibly because they were not steeped in a gun culture. What the 20-year-old did was unthinkable, yet it was a human mind that thought it up. We may never know why, but we know how: with the weapons of his gun-collecting mother who used to drag him to shooting ranges so he’d be prepared for the end of the world. The most chilling testimony that came after the massacre was probably that of his aunt, who spoke in favor of gun possession while the town of Newton grieved.
The powerful gun lobby, which even US President Barack Obama is wary of taking on, could use that woman’s cynical statement in its next advertising campaign – if it needs any more advertising in a country where some 30,000 perish in gun-related deaths every year. Such a “freedom,” which carries such an inevitable cost, should not be protected or preserved.