Painting by Darwin Leon
FEAR AND LOVE AND DOOM
Reflections on the Columbine Massacre
By David Arthur Walters
The bloodshed from the murders and mayhem at Columbine High School was still fresh in our minds when the three foremost proposals to curb violence were once again raised: gun control, media controlled preaching religion in schools.
A foreigner, a Japanese psychologist, made one of the most instructive comments. He said that Japanese children have all of the violent programs that American children have, including the interactive ones. However, he went on, it is extremely difficult to buy weapons in Japan. Most importantly, he concluded, Japanese children learn that they must love in order to succeed.
We can imagine why the Japanese people have a strong aversion to the possession and use of instruments made for the express purpose of killing. Although a device for another purpose, such as an automobile or a toothbrush, can be used to kill, the image of a weapon beckons us to its proper purpose. Because of man’s glaring unpredictability, just the sight of a man with a gun causes some men to imagine killing him in preemptive self-defense. In Japan, even the blades of old war swords are ruined before being sold as souvenirs. Fragments of unthinkable horror still reside in the psychological mementos of Japan’s last war, making of disarmament a virtue not easily extinguished, especially in the light of two generations of peaceful development.
We might suppose, for the sake of argument, that if Japanese children learn they must love in order to succeed, then failure to love is feared because it has dire social consequences. In contrast, Americans tend to believe that love should be voluntary, and that fear of failure stifles innovation. We prefer more of a devil-can-do-and-take-all attitude, rather than rigid social conformity. However that may be, and whatever our superficial differences, we now look out for success in each other and are quick to appropriate each other’s models and to exploit them under our own names. Fortunately for the development of the human race, people do not have identical experiences everywhere at the same time; hence we learn from diversity and profit accordingly. Therefore, there is much to be gleaned from the remarks of a foreigner regarding our domestic difficulties.
Of course the relation of fear and love is certainly familiar to the so-called Western mind. Yet there exist different cultural balances of fear and love with corresponding expressions and measurable consequences. When the progression from fear to love is being strangled somewhere along the line, the person finds the obstruction in a real or imagined object and tends to respond violently. Or, without fear to discipline desire along a loving course, love is rendered worthless altogether and the random response can be generally devastating. Therefore, the domestic balance of fear and love is more important than a financial balance. Certainly the global balance of fear and love is more vital to the favorable determination of man’s future estate than the current sum of international trade balances.
Besides regional and world trade organizations, we should have assemblies for the assessment of the current balances of fear and love. Our assemblies could educate us on how to achieve the optimum balances given the various circumstances. A grand assembly could render its opinion on whether the deliberate inculcation of fear has been outmoded as an educational technique. Just as political think tanks ascertain whether or not a people are ready for free democracy, our grand assembly could advise us on whether or not we are ready for unmitigated love. Americans must be almost ready for it, now that parents are paying several hundred dollars for a course based on the premise that children should be rewarded for good conduct and that bad behavior should be ignored until somebody is getting hurt.
As a matter of fact, prophets have been speaking of an impending age of love for many centuries. One popular prophecy is that such an age will follow an enormous disaster or series of disasters, natural or manmade. Some good folk will be saved. They are ushers of Love who heed the early warning signals, flee to the designated shelter, abandoning everything that they may live. Life is their love. The rest cling to their possessions for fear of losing everything, so they perish. They love dead things. Our prophet here is an extremist, but he is still a prophet of both fear and love for the doomed and the saved. It is, rather, a question of what to fear and what to love: the Subject of subjects, or the objects, which are nothing as things in themselves. Although he seems hell-bent on doom, he proclaims that fear of death and love of life will spare the faithfully obedient. He advocates the fear of eternal damnation and the love for eternal life beyond the relative life span of individuals.
Well, then, will there be preaching in schools? Will there be no separation of state and church?
The separation of state and church is made moot by the prophecy of doom. The proud walls and towers of both state and church will tumble down to be united in rubble, paving the way for the humble school of the society of love.
It may seem to the cynical that our prophet is just another angry man who hates the obstructions to his self-love, and who calls upon an imagined supreme being to fulfill vicariously a destructive wish for revenge. Who dares to identify the obstructions for everyone else and thus define the universal will of the ineffable? Is not that the height of blasphemy, the epitome of pride, and the idolatrous projection of indignant selfishness? Perhaps we have in our prophet just another misfit by his perverse choice, or an outcast by social consensus, or someone who is making up his own divine laws because he is lacking order in his own life. Maybe, to protect ourselves, we should have him committed to the appropriate institution; the learned doctors surely have a number for his kind of disease. Why should we heed his orders as our commands? Because, although he may be a misfit and an outcast, he did not create his orders: he found them in reality. There is a reason for and a method to his madness, which is confirmed by the social order. Or, rather, the social disorder.
Indeed, the madness of the angry prophet is a prominent symptom of the social disorder and disease reflected by the media. It is an infectious disease transmitted and aggravated by mass communication based on the fetish for dead objects and the pernicious perseveration of vicious imagery taken out of context. As social animals we have a tendency to imitate, and the media is our main guide. Ironically, the very executives and experts who deny the harmful consequences of violent communications rely on positive affirmations and attitudes, on mottoes and slogans, visions, mission statements, success stories and other prayers. Of course, the petitions are for net profit, thus the vicious cycle is perpetuated.
One sort of prosperity, such as net profit or savings, pursued as the purpose of life, is the worst kind of poverty. “Stocks” were once sticks on which accounts were kept. Now too many of us have become economic ants carrying our stocks on our backs up the wall of financial worry, a wall where our big gun, our collective defense, Humpty Dumpty, uselessly awaits us. This period of sustained economic growth that appears so satisfying is a horrible hell to others who need viable alternatives to check the waves of random violence that are bound to encircle the insane global pursuit of dead objects and the mutual contempt of competitors. Observe the obsession with violent images thrown with wanton disregard into the pool of life. The rebounding waves of virtual, redundant violence are amassing at that critical point where image is converted into accelerating action, threatening to destroy us in an orgy of mass murder-suicide.
What other signs do we have of the coming cataclysm besides raving prophets, lying leaders, high school shootings, obscure wars, and mounting prison populations? When shall we be sure that the end time is near, that the final period is upon us? There are many signs everywhere, creeping up on us through the cracks in all walks of life. So slowly do they slither about us that we are hardly aware that life is being slowly squeezed out of us, just as we squeeze a tube of toothpaste until it is exhausted. We are caught unawares because many of us have been persuaded that history is merely the evolution of technology. The fact that our democracy is now an economic dictatorship feeding on the carcass of the spiritual body is seldom mentioned by professionals; what counts is that the colossal maggot feeds efficiently. Technology preachers presume to tell us what we will want next; efficiency is the idol, so everyone must have a personal digital assistant to distract him from his slavery with an illusion of freedom, and have a life otherwise bemused and bewitched by gimmicks and gadgets. The efficient exploitation of public opinion reigns supreme; there is no such leader as a leader of public opinion; there are only imitators and exploiters of it. Techno-capitalists produce the circumstances of our lives, which we are to live out, as the walking dead, under a coercive technological totalitarianism sponsored by the big business state.
Furthermore, money outweighs votes. Consciences are sold cheaply at market prices. When the government, which is supposed to have a monopoly on violent means, does not use its power to disarm individuals for the public good or protect them from nuclear attack, it seems that private firearms will indeed be needed to protect us, not so much from the usual suspects, but from governments that behave like vast systems of organized crime.
Yes, many are the signs of the impending doom. Some seem rather trivial. When the distances between periods diminishes; when sentences get shorter and shorter; when word processing programs dictate sentence length and otherwise shrink consciousness into mechanical definitions of good grammar; when attention spans are so short that only sound bites will do; when conversations sound like machine guns spitting out uniform bullets; when delightful romantic discourse can no longer be carried on; and when everyone talks technology: these are just a few of the incidental signs along the fast road to doom.
What we observe in the prophecies of doom and in the popular movies about natural disasters and random violence is not only a death wish; it is a dying plea for the restoration of a proper balance between fear and love. Between fear and love there must be the faith that there is a greater good, a higher good than state or society, regardless of its denomination. The progress from fear through faith to love may be contemplated, in the form of a convenient over-simplification, in terms of ages.
The age of fear is the rule of law under the state. The age of faith is the beneficence of grace within the church. The age of love is the intercourse of free society. The progression is from slavery to voluntary obedience to freedom; under the objective forms of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; as personalized by the relations of father, mother, and children; the relatives are essentially one family. All are one and one is all. The differences perceived are perspectival.
If we do not broaden our perspectives and restore the proper relation of fear, faith, and love, if restitution is not forthcoming soon, the prophet will keep ranting that the violent images before us are self-fulfilling prophecies, that our death wish will come true sooner than we think, and that we will surely receive what we ask for. Doom