From the beaches of Normandy to the German surrender ten months later, my father’s job was to align the turrets of hundreds of artillery pieces for the saturation shelling of the stretch about a kilometer to about three kilometers still held by the enemy. If he didn’t end up killing any Germans, it would have been a miracle. So if, as Donald Trump believes, the mass killing of complete strangers is sufficient for a diagnosis of mental illness, my father was a pretty sick man. But he wasn’t. And so it’s not.
When people kill people they know, they have their reasons. And when they kill people they don’t know, like my father did, they probably have better reasons. They may not always be our reasons. But then we’re not the ones doing the killing, are we?
One way to discourage someone from killing you is not to give him a reason to. There’s a number of cases in which that’s not possible. And the number of killings that do take place corresponds almost exactly to that number.
And so similarly, one way to discourage someone from killing a bunch of complete strangers is not to give him a reason to do so. Another, of course, is to disabuse him of his reasons. But that presumes your arguments are better than his; and, well, they might not be. A third is to monitor his reasons, and, not unlike Minority Report, nip in the bud his freedom to act on them. A fourth is to control what reasoning may be available to him in the first place, otherwise known as censorship. And the fifth is to deprive him of the means by which to do what he has reasons to do, otherwise known as gun control.
All five have been proposed, and to varying degrees implemented, though with limited success. But none of them involves taking a mental patient, one who’s never expressed a homicidal thought, and ‘preemptively’ talking him down from going postal. Would we ‘preemptively’ talk down a mental patient from committing suicide, notwithstanding suicide was the furthest thing from his mind? In fact to discourage someone from going postal or committing suicide is to just turn the erstwhile unthinkable into a now live option.
In the wake of the August 3rd shooting in El Paso, there’s a movement afoot in American juridprudence – there’s always some such feckless movement afoot in America – to criminalize domestic terrorism. This is nothing short of charming. Apparently criminalizing the having of political reasons for killing a bunch of people is going to discourage one’s doing so, whereas the existing criminalization of his having merely personal reasons – like having chronic difficulties getting laid – will not. Perhaps instead of a life in prison, conviction on the additional charge of terrorism will, as a disincentive, sentence my remains to their lifetime within the walls of the prison. In short, if the criminalization of terrorism didn’t induce Al Qaeda to think twice, what makes American lawmakers think the criminalization of domestic terrorism will have any greater effect?
In the wake of 9/11, the one thing neither the media nor any politician was allowed to consider was the grievances that might have motivated the attack. Why did they do it? Because they hate freedom. Whose freedom? Our freedom. Our freedom to what? To violate theirs. Their freedom from what? Could it be from the Quizling regimes we’ve installed to rule over them? No, better not to ask. If we don’t ask, they can’t tell.
Are Americans engaging in the same willful ignorance vis a vis the recent spate of domestic terrorism? If not, is it because they already know what these ‘terrorists’ are fighting for? They’re fighting to make America white again. They’ve even said so.
But hang on. If making America white again is no more up for negotiation than withdrawing America’s Quislings from the Middle East, in what sense is the so-called terrorist a terrorist? A terrorist is someone who targets a civilian population to induce it to bring pressure on its government to accede to the terrorist’s demands. But if the government credibly declares itself impassible on that score, it renders the terrorist nothing of the sort. It renders him more aptly described as a vandal.
But hang on. A vandal envisions no consequences to his actions beyond the vandalism itself. So a charge of domestic terrorism reduces to a charge of political vandalism. And what, pray tell, is political vandalism as distinct from vandalism simpliciter? Damned if I know. And damned if these would-be lawmakers do either.
Vandals have reasons for what they do. If they didn’t they’d be acquitted on grounds of automatism. Institutionalized, perhaps, but not punished. If vandals are to be punished, we need to know their reasons for vandalizing. Having been apprized of those reasons, we might find ourselves sympathizing with them. He’ll still have to be punished, because, as the ‘separation thesis’ in positivist jurisprudence points out, criminality and immorality are not co-extensive. But we mis-frame what needs to be understood when we categorize these mass killings as terrorism.
9/11 was terrorism, in the wake of which Americans have been implicitly negotiating ever since. El Paso was not, unless the perpetrator genuinely believes that with sufficient pressure America can be made white again. But if so, he needed far more rounds than he was carrying.