Nothing to Lose

I guess I have to address the shooter in Pittsburgh (Robert Bowers).  What can we say about him?  Ideologically he felt the Jewish people were a threat to him.  In his mind what he did was justified.  That much we know from his statements.  But why did he do it?  I’m guessing that he no longer felt what he had to lose outweighed his desire for vengeance.  And I’m guessing this is the same situation as that other shooter who went after the Republican Congressional Softball Team last year (James T. Hodgkinson).   Another man who was willing to trade his life for a chance to kill his ideological enemies.

Looking at the details of both men’s lives, it appears that neither one would be leaving behind anyone he cared about as much as the cause he was consumed by.  Both men were basically unemployed and neither had a happy home life.  Specifically, Hodgkinson was in a failed marriage and wasn’t making ends meet with a home inspection business.  Bowers is an unemployed truck driver living alone.  Both men were obsessed with political and ideological agendas and both felt that things were going badly and it required them to take violent action to redress the situation.  I think it would be accurate to say they were both consumed with hatred.

People say that what they each did was insane.  When something like this occurs both sides of the political spectrum agree that monstrous evil has occurred and that no sane person could be responsible.  And they would be right.  Only a madman would do something like this.

But here’s the question.  Are there circumstances under which anyone would do the same thing?  Pick the most pacifistic individual, Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Theresa.  Is it conceivable that even these two would find circumstances under which they would commit homicide and think it necessary?  It’s pretty hard to believe.  But if there were innocents being harmed and no other way to save them it’s conceivable that this might be sufficient.  Now look at the other end of the compassion spectrum.  Think of violent sociopaths who basically have as little compunction about murder as we have for swatting a mosquito.  What motivation would they need to snuff out the lives of their neighbors?  Very little, maybe the possibility of stealing some cash or just for the diversion the killing would provide.

In between these two extremes is everyone else.  That includes you and me and Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, the Pope, the Ayatollah Khamenei, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Brett Kavanaugh, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers and all the gang-bangers, drug lords and terrorists (IRA, ISIS, al Qaeda, Shining Path, Tamil Tigers, Neo-Nazis, KKK, etc.).  It also includes great aunt Sadie, your priest or minister or rabbi and even the kid playing baseball at the local ball field.

In my estimation it’s a continuum that depends on the nature of the individual and the pressure being brought to bear to extract revenge or prevent an attack on something you value highly.  The equation is when you determine that the value of your life falls below the value of the damage prevented by some act of violence the individual will act.  And for every single human that equation is different.  Police put their lives on the line every day.  In the old days just about any man would have thrown himself in front of a gunman to save his wife (times may have changed for the millennials).  Al Qaeda inspired its members to fly planes into buildings to redress perceived western assaults on Islam.  In each case the agent is doing what he thinks is the right thing and feels logically justified in sacrificing his life.

My whole point is that in the case of the two shooters each decided that his actions and the price he would pay for them was justified under his circumstances.  Right now, we are seeing the mentally unstable with nothing to lose determining that desperate acts make sense.  We don’t want to get to a place where this calculation occurs to more and more people.  A factor that is working for us currently is the robust economy.  Unemployment is receding drastically.  That should help greatly in reducing desperation.  What isn’t helping right now is the political polarization that has engulfed us.  That will have the opposite effect, amping up the irritation felt by ideologues on both sides of the political spectrum.

These shooters are the weak links.  Their personal situations and the fervor with which they feel the ideological strain of day to day circumstances made them the snap first.  But there will be more.  If Professor Codevilla is right then this is the tip of the iceberg.  This is the microscopic effect.  Civil Strife or War is the macroscopic equivalent.  If too many people reach that breaking point then a chain reaction will occur and that will be unstoppable.  Codevilla thinks we’re already there.  Let’s hope he’s wrong.  I’ve got a lot to lose and I’ll bet you do too.

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