Recently at a gay club in Colorado Springs, Anderson Lee Aldrich killed five patrons and injured over a dozen. The vast outpouring of grief was unsurprising and reiterated the discussion on homophobia, gun control and the NRA. A welcome change in this particular case is that the culprit was caught alive, after having had been tackled by by two patrons. In a decisively conservative community like that, this extraordinary act of courage and humanity is something to be admired. Hannah Arendt was impressed by Adolf Eichmann’s ordinarity and lack of charisma you’d usually expect from people with such a monstrously sinister background. Many criminals like him come from working class families that didn’t extensively idoctrinate their children with antisemitism yet they succumbed to it either due to peer pressure or social ambition.
What happened in Colorado Springs is something on the other end of this social spectrum: Aldrich’s family might as well be from a Wes Andreson movie. His father is a conservative Republican with an extensive criminal record who used to work in the porn industry and was apparently more concerned that his son might be gay than by the fact that he went on a killing spree where innocent people died. The culprit declared himself as non-binary as if insisting on a different pronoun would warrant a more sympathetic treatment. Jeff Dahmer was gay too, after all. And he ended up eating his victims. NRA advocates wag the constitution more than an exhibitionist his dick in a public toilet. A troublesome background is no excuse for violence.
In his film Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore dived deep into a disturbing subculture where guns are easy to get and views on self-protection rights border on James Bond’s proverbial license to kill. It burdens our experience of reality with fear if what’s maybe hiding inside people we think we know can be controlled and contained. It also raises the question of parenting, how we raise our children, to what they are exposed and how much we are familiar with their acquired values and preferences. Many take it as a given that as long as their children have a roof over their heads, do their homework and refrain from drugs everything’s fine and it will sort itself out.
At the bar where I usually have a drink and work I often run into parents who come with kids since there’s a playroom in the back where those can hang out. But every now and then they let the kid stay with them at the table and give him the smartphone to play a game as mom and dad sip their coffee. While they do that the kid might be doing anything with the phone. The internet turned into a minefield of things that range from inappropriate to downright illegal. Social media is littered with dangerous influencers where Kanye West can convince a gullible kid that Hitler was a good guy because he invented highways or brainwash girls into thinking Instagram-friendly feeds are accurate reality. And before you know it, the kid grows into a closeted Dahmer who might one day let his guard down and strike.
During their interview with Larry King, his parents tried to explain it in all sorts of ways. You might partially credit outside factors for what happened but in the end all strings lead back home. It’s a bit like listening to people and recognize who they’re quoting, hints of their ideological preferences and passions. If your ears are well trained, you’ll be able to recognize red flags and flee while you still can. It happened more than once to me and you manage to see the rest of that unsettling psychological puzzle because it’s usually predictable. Like airbags in a car or airbag-sized breasts lying to you they’re real. Which makes those few pure souls you’re sometimes lucky to find so precious, like gold dust in a sandbox. But it’s worth while because it’s the last thread onto which you hang your hope that there still are values that haven’t been compromised or sold to the highest bidder.
They last a lifetime because they make it worth living, providing it with a deeper purpose and meaning. And just knowing they exist gives you courage and a reason to resist the entropy that’s progressively turning you into a bitter cynic as you grow older. I’m lucky enough to have them since there’s no situation that can’t be turned into an absurd anecdote that’s imbued with a deeper meaning that sounds like a joke if you’re not in on it. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t find a body in their freezers. The benefit of doubt is the least I owe those closest me. But that’s probably what Aldrich’s friends thought as well, if he had any.
The most terrifying thought is that there might be an another one like him on a bus with you, a loaded rifle in his backpack and enough ammunition to turn the ride into a crime scene on wheels. We lost mutual trust that’s essential for a functional society. And insisting on free access to assault weapons for everyone with an ID will only exacerbate instead of mend the scars in the delicate tissue that binds all of us together. All the links of the chain must be strong if we want to prevent tragedies like the one in Colorado Springs from happening again. It doesn’t mean they won’t but there must be a tipping point within reach. A point at which we decide that targeting minorities isn’t fair game any more just because we disapprove of their sexual orientation. That the limits of our freedom are where they start infringing the freedom of others.
There shouldn’t be any legislative validation for this if we want our communities to be inclusive for only inclusivity guarantees true liberty. Not just theoretically, on paper. But with real consequences. It takes something as simple as a swift reaction. Children are responsive to passive agression and there’s plenty of it out there. Though conservatives would like you to believe it, it has nothing to do with sexualising children but making sure that their beliefs don’t include discrimination based on race, sexual orientation or nationality. And even more important, teaching them about the nuances of the ideological spectrum which prevents generalisation, a fertile ground for discrimination. It means not all liberals are Cinderellas nor are all conservatives the Evil sisters.
The problem lies in the fact that many parents can’t be bothered to do this properly or do it at all. So when your kid finds a instruction video on how to handle a rifle or secretly starts a daily diet of conspiracy theories you might be last one to find out. The field will be dotted with red flags and somehow you managed to ignore them all. It propels the question of how well we know ourselves and things we take for granted. You might not like what you see and it could drive you further and further off the road to reason until you can’t find the way back.
The difference between sanity and insanity is how you come to terms with this. Either you air your grievances through a gun barrel or with words on a shoulder you aren’t afraid to cry on. As long as you have one, you’ll be ok. Very few people are irredeemable. They can choose to stay off the path of violence or give in to basic insticts we should have left behind in the caves we originally crawled out from. But have we? Anderson Lee Aldrich begs to differ. I’m afraid I agree with him.