Early on the morning of October 22nd Corporal Nathan Cirillo was shot at point blank range from behind while on sentry duty at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. I turned on the television, tuning in just in time to see a group of people around him, in a collective desperation. I’m talking about the kind of desperation that comes from seeing and feeling someone’s life force slip away and then feverishly clutching at medical emergency science to tug it back into place, into our place. It felt like they remained on-scene, pounding on Cpl. Cirillo’s chest, for aeons upon infinitudes. I could feel the essence of this mounting battle they waged to draw him back to life, our life. And then, they began to move him.
Fast forward several hours and I am sitting somewhere else watching the news. “The soldier, Corporal Nathan Cirillo, died–” He died. That soldier, whose life force I could see hanging in the balance, died. Those words struck a blow, in a most visceral and abstract way. Nathan Cirillo’s death feels like an assault, a very personal one. It feels like an assault against … well, the elements within me that feel assaulted elude verbal capture.
making sense of it all
The shooter’s own fascist and terrorist thoughts (exacerbated by untreated mental illness) provoked this shooting spree. Fascist, in that the act of shooting Cpl. Cirillo squashes out a representative of the opposing view, and terrorising, in that it’s an act of violence designed to provoke widespread fear. Power. Domination. Fear. Anger. Weaken the opposition. Us vs Them. In the aftermath of the shooting I found myself feeling vulnerable in that undesirable, exposed way I felt years ago in a domestic violence situation, only on a macro, society-wide scale.
The utter devastation of terror in the context of this shooting lies in its unexpectedness. A disturbing new layer of knowledge has been revealed to me: (knowledge is not always pleasant, you know) new depths of humanity’s capacity for depravity, vengefulness, cruelty, and violence. This leaving me feeling unpleasant. Yes that’s vague, purposefully so, in fact. I hesitate to call this feeling fear. It’s more like a realisation of vulnerability, a stripping away of pleasant naivete and a sensing of pockets of dissonance and discontentment that acts such as the recent targeted Canadian solder killings hint toward. I feel inclined to let this newly discovered vulnerability frighten me, to take this as a constant reminder never to feel too safe. As I am prone to neurosis, anxieties and the like, I want to divert my focus away from the locus of fear. Fear feels like a control mechanism, a weapon of mass destruction. I mean destruction in the literary sense, of course – destruction of trust in institutions and their ability to keep order and safety.
All sorts of characters will emerge from the woodwork to sow all sorts of seeds of discontent. Was the shooter on the RCMP’s watch list? What was the RCMP doing about said watch list? These are, of course, important questions, yet they could serve as barbs and accusations if asked in a certain context or tone or with a particular sentiment. Many will want this shooting to point toward ISIS and the war being waged in Syria and Iraq by Canada and several other countries. They’ll want to adopt this tragedy and add it to the stock of tragedies they keep for the purposes of
promotion propagandising. This will only expand the locus of fear on all sides, and augment an already alarming sense of collective triumphalism that’s been brewing in the west at least since the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.
~ Seneca, 1st century Roman philosopher
Triumphalism and fundamentalism have a connection. Typically fundamental thought religions tend toward this sense of our-way-to-god-is-the-only-way arrogance. They use fear as means of controlling and even oppressing their masses, for power and domination, for ego in the sense of being right, and they make up so-called infallible, immutable rules that supposedly come from their omniscient, omnipresent ruler, whom they call god. They use these rules as a means of control, oppression and sociopolitical manipulation. This sounds a wee bit like like mind control, doesn’t it? With shades of self-idolatry. Well, English explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton did say that, “The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshiped anything but himself.” And Napoleon once said, “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” Finally, Harvey Milk reminds us that, “… more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason …”
And So, What About The Human Condition?
So, where does this come from, this drive to engage with ourselves in such a socially violent way? Fault lines. Fault lines form as a result of the rigidity of the earth’s crust and friction stress applied to the tectonic plates that comprise segments of the earth’s crust as they slide past one another. Essentially, if the force of the stress applied to the plate exceeds its capacity to withstand the stress, a fracture or fault line will develop. This seems like an appropriate metaphor for my purposes. Stressors such as poverty, disillusionment, social isolation, undiagnosed/untreated mental illness, arrogance and greed (to name but a few) – these all basically describe the human condition, don’t they? – apply such enormous demand on society, the fabric of which has a great deal less flexibility than we want to believe.
The human condition underlies both the stress and rigidity factors required for fault line development. Societal stressors such as those mentioned above exist because of the human condition, this thing that drives us to do and be on a personal, interpersonal and social level. The inflexible nature of society also has its roots in the human condition, this thing that describes our innate nature, that immutable part of each of us, in the collective, this thing that drives us as a hive mind to repeat our actions throughout history rather unconsciously and without any kind of real volition to do so. Fault lines in society exist because the stressor of the human condition cause rifts between segments of society. This speaks to wider issues at play, imperceptible dynamics executing themselves right beneath our feet, so to speak.
The Dissonance of Triumphalism
It’s happening, only we don’t see it, know when, how long, how fast or if these are even the proper questions to ask. But the strain seems evident in the growing pockets of violent literalism within the realm of religious ideology, the slow cultivation of hatred and jihadism and the incubation of terrorism through the misguided actions of ego-driven, power-grabbing and manipulative political and social leaders and their drones, and the increasing incidence of radicals using the name of their god to justify killing, rape and war. This seems like some kind of mottled religious fascism, doesn’t it? I’m speaking here not only of groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda but also of groups like Westboro Baptist, of Zionism, and of radical Christian Fundamentalists that wield a slightly more sophisticated and far less transparent, type of terrorism.
The triumphalism of the west, particularly in the context of the aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, has served as a catalyst for the incubation of hatred in the Middle East. Divide and conquer. Pillage. Overpower. Us and Them. All as opposed to any type of cultural and sociological empathy. Partition the spoils of war and the people associated with them. Treat them like chattel and pawns in a game of establishing a new world order.
“[In the aftermath of WW1] Their [Britain, France and the United States] main concerns were to deal with the German peace and also to set up the League of Nations to try and establish a new world order,” MacMillan says. “I think you really got an attitude among the big powers in Paris, which even the Americans shared, that the Arabs were basically a people at a lower stage of development, that they wouldn’t be ready to rule themselves, that they would basically accept what they were told by the powers and behave in a nice quiet way.”
Inflicting punishment on one nation of people in response to the mass genocide of another, nationless, group of people. Arming Iraq as the enemy of the enemy (i.e. Iran) and then many years later having to declare war on that very same Iraq. Taking out Saddam Hussein without any attempt to understand the forces that kept him in power and the forces that he kept in a relatively reasonable degree of check. All of these point to an underlying ignorance, of the arrogant kind, in the sense of failing to stop and ask the questions and accept the answers uncovered and also of failing to stop manipulating everything for very limited, literal and self-interested purposes and in the sense of not evening realising the failure of this failing.
I’ve tried to select value-neutral words, since it’s not my intention to morally judge individuals or groups, but rather to root out the source of their thoughts, behaviours, actions. The human condition. Fault lines. Our infinitely irreparable flaws and our inefficacy and powerlessness at even knowing these flaws. We are still so plugged into the system of fear and fault lines, of self-interest and self-centrism, despite and perhaps because of increased production of and access to information on a logarithmic scale. Society continually evolves in dialectical helix and so while we have achieved some minute measure of societal self-actualisation, we have an entire continuum yet to travel. A continuum that, by definition, is so lengthy it feels like it has no end.