06 October 2017

Staring into the abyss

Nearly a week after the Las Vegas massacre, investigators haven't released any evidence of ideas that might have motivated the apparent killer, an accountant turned gambler, to accumulate an arsenal of weapons toward the end of opening fire on a mass gathering of people. We have cause to believe that he considered other venues for his attack, which would seem to refute the assumption that he targeted country-music fans specifically. We know more definitely that he sent his girlfriend away the week before the attack, and then wired a sizable sum of money to her. We -- or at least I -- have heard nothing about his opinion on any subject. This is the most troubling aspect of the investigation so far, since we've grown accustomed to seeing mass killings, whether the amoklaufs of alienated nihilists or the terrorists' propaganda of the deed, as statements of some sort, usually of some sort of grievance. There is as yet, to general knowledge, no evidence of grievance here. Into this absence of motive, some will most likely project conspiracy theories portraying the man found dead in the hotel room as a patsy for others more sophisticated and sinister, whose motives would be more familiar to us. Thomas Friedman opens a column this week by writing, sarcastically, that it'd be easier if the shooter were a Muslim, because then no one would tell us not to "politicize" his crime. His column is about gun control, as you might have guessed, but regardless of context it would be easier for everyone if the shooter were a Muslim, or a white nationalist, or antifa -- anything external to most of us. It's not so easy to judge what he might represent when there's no evidence of "radicalization" or any indication -- apart from the gun purchases and custom work -- that he'd "snapped." For the Holocaust survival Primo Levi, the definitive statement of Nazi evil was a camp guard's remark that "there is no why here." For now, it looks like there was no why in Las Vegas, and there's a chilling possibility that we'll never have any why. We're used to killers telling us why they kill, but where are we at as a society when people no longer care to tell us why, or when the implicit answer to the question is "Why not?" If no evidence of motive emerges, we could infer -- we might have to -- that it simply occurred to this man one day, maybe just by looking out a window, that he could shoot hundreds of people at once from the right place at the right time, and the idea, or the image of it he imagined, simply appealed to him. Think what you will of terrorists and amoklaufers, but there might be no more evil scenario than this one. That seems to be understood, as even the NRA seems willing to play ball on restricting the use of the sort of  "bump stocks" used in Vegas, perhaps out of an understanding that for such a man, unless we find out something else about him, the accumulation and modification of weapons may be our only warning sign. The Vegas massacre itself may be a warning sign, but of what, not to mention how we should respond to it, remains maddeningly unclear.

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