There is a word that I’d like to talk about that is based on Japanese mythology of the deity Kuebiko, who is represented by a scarecrow who cannot walk but has complete awareness. The word, kuebiko, according to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, now refers to, among other things, “a state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.”
I came across this word after the Charleston church shooting in June, and as of last Wednesday, with the killing of two young journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, I’ve been overwhelmed by kuebiko again. And I wanted to bring this up because I think we all have been. We are all tired.
Normally, writing an opinion piece, I would try to convince you of something with hard numbers and statistics from independent studies and research centers, but today, I am just too tired. Today, I just want to express some feelings and thoughts about this issue.
Some people will say that we have a gun problem in this country. Others will insist that incidents like these aren’t a gun problem, they’re a mental health problem.
Well, yes, it is a gun problem. And yes, it is also a mental health problem. That’s what is so contentious about the gun violence debate – it is a complex epicenter of social issues. It is the unfortunate breaking point where many of our country’s problems collide, producing unspeakable acts.
The main issue in this collision is an ancient one, which has hindered humanity for centuries: the issue of hate.
Showcasing this hate, ABC News on Aug. 26, the day of the shooting, published an article “After Shooting, Alleged Gunman Details Grievances in ‘Suicide Notes,’” in which the gunman’s thoughts were revealed. At one point in his note, he said that “The church shooting was the tipping point…but my anger has been building steadily…I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”
Originally, I didn’t want to print the gunman’s name. I hated what he did, and what he said about it. I hated him, and could not even bring myself to acknowledge him. But I’ve since changed my mind.
His name was Vester Flanagan, and he was a person.
This is the idea I would like to express most of all. We should not hate him, despite the monstrous and despicable act he committed. For therein lies the biggest problem – to hate him is to dehumanize him. And to dehumanize other people is how violent acts like this are born.
Vester Flanagan saw Alison Parker and Adam Ward as instruments towards his own end, not as people. He saw them as “Others,” as something separate from himself. These constructed barriers between ourselves, between white and black, between rich and poor, between gay and straight, between sane and insane, are what obscures one of the most beautiful traits about us: our camaraderie. Humans, thanks to our intelligence, have more ways, and deeper ways, to connect to each other than any other species in the history of our generous planet. How could we possibly not try our best each and every day to appreciate that?
Certain people, when these tragedies occur, will say things like, “You just can’t cure evil.” This thought leads to the platitude that if it wasn’t a gun, it would’ve just been an axe, or a chair or something else. I have to say, though, that this idea that it was inevitable is an absolutely pathetic suggestion.
I understand that this issue of gun violence is incredibly complex and that it’s hard to separate gun availability, mental health issues and the palpable tension of inequality and hatred, but how dare we shrug our shoulders at this epicenter of tragedy just because we don’t know how to fix it? How dare we give up any passion we might otherwise have in trying to find solutions for hate and violence? To do so is selfish and lazy and once again, pathetic.
His name was Vester Flanagan; he was person, and he was not born evil. The idea of evil is an archaic one, born out of ancient religion, when we couldn’t offer any other explanation. But to chock violence and hatred up to evil means that we are not actually searching for any actual solutions. Evil is a miserable idea in that if it’s true, we’re stuck with it with no choice of our own to stop it.
If we abandon the idea of evil, it gives our species a choice to try and solve what we attribute to it. Vester Flanagan was not an evil man; he was a deranged, violent and angry man with a gun and a corruption of the human spirit.
We must work, and it is incredibly hard, to reform our country’s gun culture. We should put reasonable limitations on their availability. We should put thoughtful limits on ammunition. We desperately, oh so desperately, need to reform both our cultural understanding of mental illness and our institutional understanding. We have to find solutions for the inequality that breeds the barriers between us that lead to anger, dehumanization and violence. And ultimately, we have to reform our personal understanding and practice of hatred.
We can help the mentally unstable. We can work with the violent. We can reform the hateful.
PBS published a must-read article (seriously, please read it) on July 29, titled “Recovering from Hate.” The article tells the story of a man, Christian Picciolini, who managed to escape the snare of hatred and his membership in a white power gang.
It details how he ended up in such a hate group, and how a decade after leaving, he “co-founded Life After Hate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping former right wing extremists transition out of the lifestyle. In addition to offering support for recovering racists and those they’ve hurt, Life After Hate also works with government sectors and community organizations to help people outside the supremacist community understand how these groups work.”
Our system of locking up the violent, or arming citizens to shoot them if and when they go off, is clearly not working. And, if you think about it for a few seconds, really quite dumb. This isn’t the Wild West anymore; we’re better than that now. We’re all tired, but we now know enough to simply know this:
Guns don’t help people. People help people.