President Trump described the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas as “an act of absolute evil.” For once, I wouldn’t argue with him. To gun people down, with no objective other than to kill or maim as many people as possible, is pretty well the epitome of evil. It is the ultimate denial of the humanity of others, created through the ultimate expression of power and domination. It is incomprehensible.
However, it might not be unexplainable. Now, I don’t know what was going through Stephen Paddock’s mind as he plotted his massacre. I imagine we’ll gain more insights over time. Or not. But I am willing to bet that he was an Angry White Man, aggrieved that things were not going his way (whatever way that was) and convinced that the only way to make things “right” would be through an extreme display of dominance.
Of course I can’t know his mind and heart. But I know that the streets of Charlotte were filled with Angry White Men shouting: “Jews will not replace us!” I know that Angry White Men in St. Louis have taken the display of their dominance as police officers to the level of attacking peaceful protesters, including physically attacking a Black pastor who had been working to improve relationships with the police. I know that every day women die at the hands of Angry Men who are so desperate to display dominance over their partners or exes that they would rather kill than allow a woman to live an independent life. I know that Angry White Men fill the airwaves with conspiracy theories to prove that they are put upon and getting less than they deserve. I know that the so-called “Leader of the Free World” is an Angry White Man who thinks that it is appropriate diplomacy to address a nuclear threat by calling a foreign leader names, and who riles up his followers into chanting “lock her up!” about a woman (yes, a woman) who not only has done nothing illegal, but is no longer a political opponent.
And no, none of these things is the same kind of absolute evil as a gun massacre. And none of them is unrelated. As we search our hearts and our society to try to understand what has gone so badly wrong, and what we might do to fix it, there are a variety of reasonable responses, starting with the call for sensible gun control legislation. But the bizarre US fascination with powerful weapons capable of killing large numbers of people is only a symptom of the disease. It’s a symptom that needs to be addressed. But the disease, the fury and dominance and entitlement of Angry White Men, is the rot at the heart of the matter.
It’s not a problem that has a legislative answer, although electing people who don’t fit the description of Angry White Man might help. Fighting fire with fire, punching Nazis or breaking windows, only invites the Angry White Men into the kind of fight they are eager to have. And it’s not as if reasoned discourse will get at the root fear that drives the anger.
There aren’t answers that are easy or quick, but there are answers. Raise children who know both how to express their emotions and how to listen to the feelings of others. Work to dismantle white supremacy in all of its complicated manifestations. Address economic inequality and the need for meaningful work. Stand up to the gospel of greed. Build communities. Build diverse communities. Build communities where people can experience being both safe and challenged. Build communities where people learn to practice love, which is ultimately the only antidote to evil.
Also published on Medium.