03 October 2015

The Roseburg murders

First off, in case anybody was wondering -- no, I was not personally affected by the attack.  Roseburg is 260 miles from here, and nobody I know lives there.  There was a period several years ago when I visited that general area of Oregon regularly, but it's very different from Portland -- rural, conservative, and steeped in gun culture.  Roseburg has only 22,000 people and it's the biggest town in the area.

As is often the case with mass murders, it will take some time to pin down the killer's motive.  (I have my reasons for not using the names of mass murderers.  See also Earth-Bound Misfit.)  He was a student in the class where he committed the murders, and the teacher was among those killed, so there may have been some personal issue there.  But it has also been reported that he specifically targeted Christians and described himself online as "not religious, but spiritual" and opposed to organized religion.

Knowing how the wingnutosphere has been blowing up a few cases of Christian business people being made to obey anti-discrimination laws into full-blown hysteria about "persecution", I can just imagine what they'll make of this once they get hold of it.  So it's necessary to call attention to some basic points.

First, it seems unlikely that the killer had much in the way of a coherent ideology of any kind.  He may well have been an atheist, but "not religious, but spiritual" is the kind of mealy-mouthed mush one commonly gets from people who have indeed abandoned religion (far from rare these days) but haven't given any serious thought to what that means or what words like "religious" or "spiritual" mean.  He seems to have been one of those alienated, socially-isolated, angry loners who feel frustrated at how little impression they make on the people around them, and glom on to some charismatic and frightening ideology (it hardly matters which one, though this guy's choice -- Naziism -- is an obvious option) in the hopes that its glamour and intimidating qualities will rub off on them.  Under different circumstances the same person might have become a KKK member, a Muslim extremist, even a militant Christian fundamentalist.

Second, we who have thought seriously about religion and fervently oppose it must take every opportunity to make it clear what that means.  Christianity and Islam are the enemy -- but most individual Christians and Muslims are not.  Yes, the violent extremists and those who seek to impose religious taboos on society by legislation are the enemy, but the great majority of people who call themselves Christian or Muslim are much more victims than villains.  The explanatory metaphor of disease is a useful one here -- the fact that one opposes AIDS and wishes to see it eradicated does not mean that one has hatred or violent intentions towards people infected with AIDS.  Quite the opposite.  I do regard religions as mental parasites, harmful "memes" in the original Richard Dawkins sense, which have developed to infect human brains and alter behavior to help themselves spread from brain to brain.  Yes, I hate Christianity and Islam, but I want to see their adherents cured, not killed.  A murderous sociopath who acts in the name of hatred of religion is no different from, and no better than, any other murderous sociopath who acts in the name of anything else.

This guy is not evidence of a general atheist problem any more than the Charleston church murderer was evidence of a general white-people problem.  They're both evidence of a general violent-sociopath problem.

Finally, I'm not oblivious to the fact that, as always seems to happen after mass murders like this, most of the blogosphere is once again making it about guns and gun control.  I'm frankly too weary and nauseated with that whole argument to get into it again, but I'll reiterate a few painfully-obvious points.

While I have nothing against basic controls like background checks, it's absurd to think they could prevent attacks like this.  They probably would prevent some impulsive murders and suicides, but in the case of premeditated mass killings, a determined person will always be able to get hold of a gun, no matter what the law is.  If the government tried to ban most private gun ownership and disarm the general population, it would just do to guns what similar bans have done to drugs and prostitution -- drive them underground, out of reach of any regulation or supervision.  Besides, in that scenario we would likely no longer be worrying about isolated mass shootings, because we'd be preoccupied with the all-out civil war which would engulf the country.

Countries like Israel which are serious about stopping mass killings at vulnerable places like schools require armed guards at such sites.  The primary concern is terrorism, but armed guards would be equally effective at stopping a lone crank like the one in Roseburg.  It's hard to see what else would be.

There are other countries where private ownership of guns is common but mass shootings are rare or nonexistent.  Guns are not the problem and laws restricting them would have little impact on the problem.  The problem lies in the sheer number and degree of aberration of those angry, hate-filled loners we're generating -- that is, it's basically a problem with American culture.  See the higher rates of violence in red states and in conservative areas generally, relative to more liberal areas, despite the fact that (different local laws notwithstanding) anyone determined to get hold of guns can easily do so regardless of where in the country they are.  See the high rates of violent crime in the 1980s vs. much lower rates today, though accessibility of guns hasn't changed.  These variations represent cultural differences.  That's where the roots of horrors like the one in Roseburg -- and the clues to what we can really do about them -- are to be found.

6 Comments:

Blogger Rosa Rubicondior said...

Possibly, one reason for a wanabee psychopathic mass murder to claim to be an Atheist is because he comes from a culture which equates Atheism with psychopathy and he thought it would add to his 'evil' image. This of course isn't Atheism, just a perverted and highly distorted version of theistic superstition.

However, outside these fundamentalist cultures, the perception of Atheism is very different and is supported by every objective statistic. In the UK for example, it is now generally accepted even by many Christians, that Atheists are generally LESS violent, LESS criminal, MORE tolerant, MORE trustworthy, MORE charitable and MORE appreciative of the world in general than religious people, certainly religious people from the extremist, fundamentalist fringe who seem to be possessed by their own self-righteousness, parochial self-importance and hatred for anyone who isn't in their in-group.

03 October, 2015 08:53  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Rosa: Good point. Especially in conservative areas like southern Oregon, atheists really are seen as alien and evil, enough so that a foggy-minded person like this might well perceive atheism as exotic and alluringly evil, the same way he obviously perceived Naziism.

Perceptions in the UK are way ahead of here. 9/11 and the shrill anti-gay fundamentalists here have badly damaged religion's aura of moral superiority, but I don't think views of atheists have benefited very much yet.

03 October, 2015 09:37  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...


Oregon Gunman Didn’t Specifically Target Christians, Says One Survivor

That bit of evidence may quash the Xtians who want to play the victim card.

The other points in your post are well taken. I just want to point out that in 1996 Australia had one of the worst massacres recorded: 35 dead, 20 injured. Here's what happened after that tragedy:

After a mass killing in 1996 at Port Arthur where 35 people died and 20 were injured, Australia passed a comprehensive firearms act that didn't ban guns but placed logical restrictions on them. Despite having a strong frontier gun culture, Australia went from a firearms mortality rate of 2.6 in 100,000 (one-quarter the U.S. rate) in 1996 to under one in 100,000, less than a tenth of the U.S. rate.

I understand this won't happen here, at least not in my lifetime. But it is something to consider. Also, Japan, where gun ownership is restricted: In part by forbidding almost all forms of firearm ownership, the country has as few as two gun-related homicides a year.

That won't happen here either.

My point, which some may see as correlation/causation and some may not, is that we have the most firearms in circulation than any other country in the world, and we have the most firearm deaths than any other country in the world.

I believe it's too late for this country, anyway. With all the firearms in circulation, we'll never be able to get them under any sort of control. But it's also true that if we continue to accept mass shootings as normal and as part of our freedoms, we'll just have to accept more of these mass murders. To say I hope it doesn't affect me or anyone I know would be selfish, since we know as sure as night follows day this will happen again, and our fellow Americans will suffer the unimaginable horror we've become accustomed to.

The statistics that have been kept up to this point by MASS SHOOTING TRACKER show that mass shootings (4 or more killed or wounded) to date, 10/3/2015 is 297.

I do believe something can be done. We just don't have the courage to do it. So we'll accept more carnage.

03 October, 2015 12:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: Well, that's good to know, even if it means we have conflicting testimony from two survivors (as to whether the killer was targeting Christians or not). Still, when has something turning out to be false stopped the wingnuts from making hay of it?

I'm not so familiar with the situation in Australia -- perhaps Zosimus will comment -- but in the case of Japan, that's cultural differences at work again. There's also very little non-gun violent crime there. Trust me, the place could be armed to the teeth and it would still be very safe.

I'm not sure it's true that the US has the most guns per capita, though it may well be true that we have the most in absolute terms. If it is true, it actually undermines the causality argument since there are lots of countries with far higher rates of murder and other violent crime than the US, even if less of it takes the form of mass shootings.

I just hate to see all this fury and energy being channeled into efforts to restrict gun ownership, which isn't politically achievable and wouldn't have much effect on the gun-violence problem even if it were. Identifying and changing the elements of our culture which are really responsible would admittedly be very difficult, but at least if it could be done it would actually do some good.

03 October, 2015 14:54  
Blogger jenny_o said...

The point to gun control is not that it will fail to stop those who are really determined, but that it would stop a lot of sorta determined attention-seekers. If it was harder to get a gun or guns, many of these people would either not bother or - through stupidity, lack of connections, or general ineffectuality - not be able to. Even if this merely reduced the number of mass murders, wouldn't that be better than the carnage we're seeing now?

03 October, 2015 21:01  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I think anyone who ends up actually killing people, whether from attention-seeking or actual hatred (and in most cases it's a combination of the two) is determined enough that having to break the law to get guns wouldn't be much of a hurdle.

04 October, 2015 02:23  

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