25 July 2016
A good old-fashioned amoklauf
It looks like a disgruntled former employee took a knife and ran amok at a facility for disabled people near Tokyo today. The latest reports put the casualty total at between 15 and 19 people dead and many more injured. This incident, following closely after the Munich mall shooting -- which despite the ethnicity of the shooter appears to have been a classic amoklauf-inspired amoklauf -- is a grim reminder that any old thing can turn some people into murderers. Just as gun-rights advocates will point to this crime as fresh proof that banning guns won't suppress murderous evil, it should also remind us that people don't need a book of any sort to tell them to kill. For all we know, some who kill in the name of a book now would find some other reason to kill without the book. Of course, whenever something like this happens anywhere on Earth these days -- even in Japan, as I saw on one comment thread -- the first question asked is usually, "Was it a Muslim?" People seem to be afraid of terrorism now when they never seemed afraid of an amoklauf before, back when that was the only game in town in many places. In a way the discrepancy makes sense, since during a terrorist wave people feel targeted in a way the randomness of amoklauf attacks can't (though perhaps they should) evoke. It's one thing to believe objectively that some nut could appear anywhere, at any time, to open fire on you, and another to know that there are organizations urging people to kill you. I suppose that some people sincerely fear an amoklauf breaking out in their town, but many more fear terrorism even though there's no basis for believing that one is more or less likely than the other. Fear is selective, more than it would be if it were just a general fear of violent death. If many fear terrorism more than an amoklauf, there are some who feel the reverse. Over the past week I've been thinking about the selectivity of fear in a political environment where many people seem to fear the election of Donald Trump as President more than either an amoklauf or a terrorist attack. I hope to share some of those thoughts with you once I've had the time to organize them more. I'm hoping that the Democratic National Convention, an event more certain than ever to be founded entirely on a fear that may be the one thing holding the party together after the Wikileaks revelations, will help those thought cohere.