The Urge to Kill

Another day. Another massacre. Another day of “Shock and Awe” — of worry, anxiety, and anger for many.

I’m speaking, of course, about the Umpqua College shootings in Oregon, the latest in a seemingly interminable crisis of similar massacres. And, again, everyone will be parsing the statements of the shooter to determine motive and rationale and looking for a pattern in the havoc.

But there is really only one question that needs to be addressed: “from whence arises the urge to kill?”

These events are like noxious weeds. A good farmer doesn’t question the existence of the noxious weed he finds in his field. He asks about the condition of the soil matrix that provides a hospitable habitat and happy home for that particular species of noxious weed, and he changes his soil matrix accordingly. He must know the weed, its habits and habitat preferences, in order to discourage it from taking up residence in his field. He must become intimate with it. This, too, belongs to “empathetic epistemics” as I call it.

I know farmers who don’t even know the names of the weeds that grow in their fields, and their only response is to kill it with chemicals — the techno-fix. And every year — year-after-year — they invest more and more time and money and expense in the techno-fix when they should be asking the pertinent question: “what is it about condition of the soil that favours the development and flourishing of this noxious weed?”

Soul and soil, human and humus are very much related terms for a very good reason.

The ideological rationales, or rationalisations of the shooter, will be analysed in the quest for motive. But those rationales are all superficial justifications for something more basic. The urge to kill. That’s the motive. Everything else is just surface rationalisation and excuse. No one wants to interrogate this “urge to kill” too closely for a good reason. They are afraid that they will discover this same “urge to kill” within themselves that is simply more inhibited than in those who act it out. The “urge to kill” is taken as normal. But to act it out is not unless you are a trophy hunter or a collector of butterflies, of course.

What is “behind” all these massacres? My first inkling that something horrid was lurking in the shadows of the modern mind came in my sophomore year at university back in the early 70s. It came about by listening to a song by the rock band The Who called “Behind Blue Eyes”, a song about something pathological lurking in the background. I was so impressed by this song that I wrote a term paper about it for one of my classes. Later, I saw that it was, of course, connected to Stevenson’s “Jekyll-and-Hyde” theme and to Christopher Lasch’s analysis of “the culture of narcissism”. Most especially, I saw “Behind Blue Eyes” as another re-statement of William Blake’s line that graces the masthead of The Chrysalis

For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern

The noted quantum physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, also experienced this “urge to kill”, but had enough presence of mind to seek help for it with Carl Jung. As I wrote earlier, Pauli was a real Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character, and the chronicle of their collaboration in trying to resolve Pauli’s schizophrenia in that regard makes for fascinating reading — Arthur Miller’s “Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Carl Jung and Wolfgang Pauli.

And what of the atomic physicist who confessed to a shocked Dr. Einstein that nuclear war wouldn’t be such a bad thing, because it would purge and purify the Earth of the human pestilence?

The “urge to kill” is deemed “natural” — a part of “human nature”. While the system of inhibitions (law, morality, fear of consequence, etc) put in place to thwart this urge to kill now breaks down.

The “urge to kill”. What is that? That’s the radical and root question that needs to be addressed, and not simply ducked.



3 responses to “The Urge to Kill”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    Chris Harper Mercer. Not the only one with the name “Harper” who is a walking disaster.

    But, mischief aside, I wanted to say that yesterday I grabbed Stuart Sim’s book Irony and Crisis off my bookshelf to read. I bought it earlier because I like the title and because Sim’s earlier book called Fundamentalist World was a pretty good study of post-modernism.

    Irony and Crisis is also a good interpretation of what the “post-modern condition” means, so I highly recommend it for that reason. My only objection to the book is that Sim uses a lot of tedious quotes from other authors that don’t really do much to enhance the meaning of “post-modernism” or “post-Enlightenment”, etc.

    But, if you want to understand a lot about the meaning of current events, Irony and Crisis will take you a long way, I think. And it’s quite congruent with Gebser’s prognosis for the breakdown of the mental-rational structure of consciousness as also connected with the post-modern condition — “incredulity towards all metanarratives” i.e, authorities and institutions, that is — inclusive of those moral and legal authorities that inhibit things like mass murder and the “urge to kill”. That’s the dark side of this “end of the Grand Narrative”.

    “Irony” and crisis are connected. In fact the ironic attests to what Gebser calls ‘the double-movement of our time”. Irony is the manifest symptom of this double-movement (Sim refers to it as “double-coding”, but that’s much the same thing). So, Irony and Crisis is a good supplement to Gebser’s “Ever-Present Origin” in that respect.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    “Another day. Another massacre”. Reading an article in today’s Guardian, this is surprisingly literally true. 994 mass shootings in the last 1,004 days.

    In the same issue this morning, Guardian writer Gary Younge also has an interesting article on the serial nature of these mass shootings and the apparent impotence to arrest the trend

  3. abdulmonem says :

    This recalls to mind the urge to kill instigated by the Bush invasion of Iraq, the victims in one week surpasses the toll of the 1004 days, yet no attention is paid as if those who are killed in that quarter are not human. More than ten years of such killing. Integral consciousness demands equal attention to such atrocities irrespective where it happen. Limited attention degrades the honest intention. What happens in any place of this one earth, one humanity, should be a reminder to what happen in other places. The individual urge to kill should not made us forget the states urge to kill which is more devastating. The cowardice of the drones.

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