response to a sociopath

I lieu of anything more profound, on a general interest or even, dare I say it, Buddhist topic, and in lieu of a long-winded diatribe about the general hypocrisy and double standard in American media whenever a Muslim, a person of color, a non-Chrisitian — in short, a non-white heterosexual middle-class male — does anything, I offer the following.

I’ve been thinking about the tragedy at Ft. Hood, and I’ve been actively boycotting the media ever since I heard an interview on NPR — NPR of all places! — of an Army chaplain who happens to be a Muslim. They were interviewing him and asking him asinine questions because another person who also happens to be a Muslim went on a sociopathic shooting spree, as if there’s something about being a Muslim that makes one predisposed to being a sociopath or that there’s something about being a Muslim that makes you able to relate to all other Muslims. And I found myself thinking, after another sociopath who happens to be a Christian gunned down an abortion doctor earlier this year, did NPR seek out the nearest Christian clergy member and ask similarly inane questions about Christianity? Or did they just assume, rightly, that that one lone sociopath was indeed a sociopath, nothing more and nothing less, who happened to use his religious views as justification for his behavior? It’s a fine line. But it’s a line worth keeping in our minds. I’d like to call that line: “Sociopathic behavior is bad no matter what; but just because said sociopath happened to belong to marginalized group X does not mean that all members of marginalized group X are sociopaths.”

So I’ve been frustrated, and, unlike my usual response to frustration, I did the following: first, I stopped reading news via the Internet which dramatically reduced the amount of crazy I was ingesting; and, second, quite by chance, I picked up a copy of Pierre Bourdieu’s Acts of Resistance Against the Tyranny of Market. And I read the following quote, taken from an editorial published shortly after a terrorist attack in Paris in 1995.

Questioned after the explosion in the second coach of the express metro train he was driving on Tuesday, 17 October, the driver, who according to witnesses had led the evacuation of the passengers with exemplary calm, warned against the temptation to take revenge on the Algerian community. They are, he said simply, ‘people like us.’
This extra-ordinary remark, a ‘healthy truth of the people’, a Pascal would have said, made a sudden break with the utterances of all the ordinary demagogues who, unconsciously or calculatedly, align themselves with the xenophobia or racism they attribute to the people, while helping to produce them; or who use the supposed expectations of those they sometimes call ‘simple folk’ as an excuse for offering them, as ‘good enough for them’, the simplistic thoughts they attribute to them; or who appeal to the sanctions of the market (and the advertisers), incarnated in audience ratings or opinion polls and cynically identified with the democratic verdict of the largest in number, in order to impose their own vulgarity and abject servility in everyone.

As if that wasn’t good enough, he goes on to say:

That simple remark contained an exhortation by example to combat resolutely all those who, in their desire always to leap to the simplest answer, caricature an ambiguous historical reality in order to reduce it to the reassuring dichotomies of Manichean thought which television, always inclined to confuse rational dialogue with a wrestling match, has set up as a model. It is infinitely easier to take up a position for or against an idea, a value, a person, an institution or a situation, than to analyse what it truly is, in all its complexity. People are all the quicker to take sides on what journalists call a ‘problem of society’ — the question of the Muslim veil, for example — the more incapable they are of analysing and understanding its meaning, which is often quite contrary to ethnocentric intuition.

French social critics always make me feel right as rain. But I can’t help recalling, knowing that this piece was written fourteen years ago last month, the words of my high school history teacher who said, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Nevertheless, I share Bourdieu’s assessment of the train operator who, it seems to me, is suggesting that we do as Jesus himself did and love thy neighbor rather than bombing them back to the stone age. He is, in short, acting out of love.

Here’s to lifting the level of the dialogue.

6 thoughts on “response to a sociopath

  1. “[a] person who also happens to be a Muslim went on a sociopathic shooting spree”


    I wish he did just ‘happen’ to be a Muslim. Unfortunately for those killed and injured and their families, it seems that it was his take on Islam that was a major driving force behind the murders.

    This General in the US army had SoA (Soldier of Allah) printed on his business card. He gave bloodthirsty lectures on the Koranic punishments for infidels (beheadings and boiled oil etc) during medial lectures, and handed ouit copies of the Koran on the morning of his Jihadist attack – shouting ‘God is Great’ as he shoot those people.

    He’d studyied with extremist preachers and had attempted many times to contact terrosrists abroad. He’d told workmates that he was a Muslim first and an American second and he’d glorified Islamic suicide bombers on the Internet.

    To say that his Jihadist beliefs had nothing to do with his insane attack, is to entirely overlook the obvious.


  2. @ Marcus: To say “To say that his Jihadist beliefs had nothing to do with his insane attack, is to entirely overlook the obvious” is to entirely overlook the point of this post.

    I didn’t say that his beliefs had nothing to do with his sociopathic behavior. But this post wasn’t about him. It was about us. And it was about our behavior, and our unwillingness to separate one sociopath from the world community of Muslims who often painted, collectively, in Western media as nothing less than sociopaths. Which is what this post was about. So please do not assume that I was trying to justify his behavior nor condoning it since I wasn’t talking about his behavior at all.

    Perhaps I should have made the title of this post more clear. Ah well.

  3. Scott well said. It is often too easy not to bother to think. Thinking is work. Extricating something of value from the muck is work. Making more muck is not work, it is relieving one’s self of emotions/delusions/”common knowledge” one doesn’t want to confront. And that relief falls on the heads of the bystanders.

    It doesn’t mean one can’t have valid criticisms but some thought about them is necessary.

    Guilt by association is a very lazy process.

    Sorry if this seems a little disjointed but what you’ve said is quite profound and takes a little time to work it’s way in fully.

  4. Considering you’ve just commented on how French social critics make you feel right as rain, it might be nice to cite the “more things change, the more they stay the same” proverb back to its original author, as well as the high school teacher who introduced it to you.

    “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, French critic, journalist and novelist. According to two minutes of Googling, anyway.


  5. The media is sociopathic, just recall the perseveration of the balloon boy’s unimportant news.
    Muslim brings fear, and thus attention which is what they want…it is a business.
    The real news is how the army overlooked the lead up.

  6. I remember listening to the same NPR piece and yelling out in my car “it probably has nothing to do with his religion!!”. I feel like in the current media culture of feeding everyone fear religion, especially Islam, is becoming a default scapegoat. So what if he had SoA on his card – I got a business card recently that had an icthus on it. It is all an expression of self. Not an excuse or explanation to be exploited in the case of a tragedy.

    I finally made it back to this oringinal post – I read mostly on google reader. I had this starred to come back to and comment. I love your writing – always thought provoking. Keep it up!

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