Things haven't been going well in Arizona for a while. "Has Arizona gone insane?" everybody asked on hearing yet another newsflash from the state that seemed hell-bent on proving its kookiness credentials. Today, we have received further proof that when people are exposed to an unstemmed barrage of Tea Party's hysterical rhetoric and when those hate-filled diatribes come in touch with people's intimate terror of encroaching modernity, an explosion isn't far behind.
A crazed shooter named Jared Loughner killed six people at a Safeway supermarket near Tucson, Arizona on Saturday:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and local police are investigating a shooting near Tucson, Ariz., that critically injured US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and left an aide, a 9-year-old child, a federal judge, and at least two others dead, law-enforcement officials say. The attack, which injured at least a dozen other people, involved an automatic weapon, according to the Associated Press. Little is known about the suspect, who is in police custody. Among those killed was US District Judge John Roll. He joined the federal court in 1991, and for part of his tenure, he had served as chief judge. Although some early accounts had the congresswoman among the fatally wounded, the Associated Press reports that doctors at the hospital where she was taken say that they are "optimistic". . . This past November, Representative Giffords won reelection in a tight race against Republican Jesse Kelly, an Iraq war veteran and favorite of the tea party. . . Following Giffords's vote in favor of Obama's health-care reform package, the lawmaker's Tucson office was vandalized. The attack was widely seen as part of a broader backlash by more-radical elements of the tea party against lawmakers who back the health-care overhaul.The 22-year-old shooter left a collection of YouTube videos and comments on social networking websites that consist of an insane mish-mash of Tea Party verbiage. To give an example:
The majority of citizens in the United States of America have never read the United States of America's Constitution. You don't have to accept the federalist laws. Nonetheless, read the United States of America's Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws. You're literate, listener? If property owners and government officials are no longer in ownership of their land and laws from a revolution then the revolutionary's from the revolution are in control of the land and the laws. The property owners and government officials are no longer in ownership of their land and laws from a revolution. Thus, the revolutionary's from the revolution are in control of the land and the laws. In conclusion, reading the second United States Constitution, I can't trust the government because of the ratifications: The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar.You can find the rest of Loughner's rantings here. Loughner is scheduled to appear in federal court tomorrow at 2 pm.
There are many people out there who feel confused, lonely and lost in a world where modernity is destroying old certitudes, identities and ways of being. Modernity is liberating in the sense that we are a lot less tied to collective identities ascribed to us at birth. Gender identities, normative sexualities, class origins, religious backgrounds still exist, of course. Nevertheless, they are nowehere as binding as they used to be before the advent of modernity. It isn't easy to challenge the identitarian status quo, but it still can be done. For many people, though, this liberating potential of modernity isn't worth the steep price they have to pay for it: individuality.
There is no burden bigger than that of a personal responsibility, personal choice, individuality. A society that strictly prescribes its collective identities offers people a great degree of freedom from the irksome necessity to make their own decisions. At birth, you a handed a set of norms that you are supposed to observe as a representative of your gender, social class, religious denomination, etc. You accumulate enough of these collective allegiances and you can guarantee that pretty much every aspect of your life will be defined for you. Then all you need to do is follow the check-list of expected behaviors. No painful dilemmas, no fears of making the wrong choice. And most pleasantly - no need to think.
Modernity is terrifying because it erodes the stability of collective identities. Remember, nothing gets people to die for it as disinterestedly and enthusiastically as collective identity. You threaten people's right to live their lives unthinkingly, without the hypnotic dictates of collective identities on how to organize their existence, and they will erupt in violence. If you were told that the Tea Party is about the economy, the taxes, the deficit, the immigrants, the politics, or anything like that, you've been deceived. Tea Partiers are people who are terrified of and confused by modernity. The world is changing, and they don't understand it any more. Internet, new technologies, globalization, world economy - everything is getting too complex for them. That's why they get together on their rallies and scream senseless slogans. That's why they adore their Sarah Palins who offer them simple slogans that seem to offer pithy explanations of incomprehensible realities.
Of course, the sound bites that their leaders offer them ("the best way to deal with a multi-billion deficit is making a budget," "immigrants get free healthcare in the US," "gays bad, abortion bad, taxes bad, guns good," "get the government out of my Medicaid and into that woman's uterus") only offer a momentary relief from the anxieties of modernity. When the burden of dealing with an incomprehensible world gets unbearable, these misfits of contemporary existence erupt in violence. They ram airplanes into the Twin Towers, blow up a truck in Oklahoma City, and start shooting into the crowd in Arizona.
In the XXth century, two world wars were fought** because the entrance into modernity was more painful for some people than for others. What happened in Arizona yesterday should remind us all about how violent people get when dragged into the modern way of being against their will. Of course, modernity will win in the end. The nature of time, which cannot be stopped in its tracks and frozen in immobility, is proof of that. In the meanwhile, though, modernity's discontents will wreak a lot of damage on everything and everybody they come in touch with.
* I would like to ask people to abstain from "how dare you analyze, this is a tragedy" type of comments. I analyze and opine. This is what I do, so live with it. If you want some helpless OMG clucking and thou-shalt-not-judge hand-wringing, there are tons of bloggers out there who do just that. Also, I'm in a vile mood today (the reasons for which will be explained tomorrow), so it's better not to get into anything with me today.
** Yes, as usual, this is my opinion, which I can substantiate with a lot of thinking, reading, and accumulation of information.