Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thoughts on Senseless Violence

A week ago this last Monday, I came home from a restful, fulfilling, and blissful retreat in the mountains. Later that night I checked the web, to see what I’d missed while away. The news of the killings in Isla Vista was a harsh reality to come home to. Six people murdered, thirteen injured, and a perpetrator’s suicide. All that pain and grief happened while I was listening to the music of Lithuanian singers.
It feels like so much senseless death. Even my own town has had its trauma. On April 3, 2009, a few blocks from my house, Jiverly Voong, 41, opened fire at the American Civic Association. He killed thirteen people and wounded four more, before turning the gun on himself. I was a block away when it happened, helping prep for an art show that evening. We didn’t understand all the helicopters overhead but it was clear something was happening. I had to walk through the crowd of grieving families to get home. I can’t even think about it without wanting to cry again. The pain of the aftermath was tangible. That kind of violence lingers and becomes its own ghost.
You would think that we wouldn’t react with such shock to events like this anymore. And some people don’t. But a lot of us still do, which tells me that we feel fundamentally that violence is wrong. And that is important! Our bones are telling us it’s wrong. Our magic is telling us it’s wrong. If this is not the world we want to live in, we all need to learn to listen to that voice.

Most of the time, we are left in the dark as to ‘why’ this kind of violence happens. Not this time. I read Elliot Rodger's 'manifesto', all one hundred and thirty-seven pages of it, chronicling his life from birth to just before he was ready to enact his 'Day of Retribution.' He put his plan in action to punish all single women for not giving him sex and all men who were having sex for being given something he was denied. That's the nutshell, and mostly in his own words. He goes on (at length) about how women do not deserve the rights they have because their brains are wired wrong and they should all be eradicated (through torture), except for a few who will be hidden away to propagate the species. He believed that men would be better off in a fairer world where women could not make it unfair. He says he knew he had to do it when he realized his ideal world was never going to be possible.
He started planning this event when he was seventeen years old. From the beginning the plan always included him taking his own life to escape punishment afterwards. I don’t think his words will give better answers to those left behind in grief.
There is no 'thing' that happened. It was clear in his own story that from a very early age the way he perceived the world was off. There was nothing that really stood out, except for the stories he had where someone was 'cruel' to him, where he was traumatized and scarred for life- incidences he, of course, never played a part in creating. And it isn't until near the end where you begin to understand how all of these perceived slights created a world in his head in which he was entitled to things he perceived all men as having, and angry at the world for not giving them to him. It was chilling.
Entitlement. This is where the line blurs. Entitlement from women, as if they were all supposed to want to be with him because he was a good guy. In his mind love is giving men sex. Period. He would go out in public and sit somewhere by himself and get angry that no woman came up to him or smiled at him. So angry, in fact, that he jumps to wanting to kill them and skin them alive- his words- for being attracted to the wrong men. He dropped his college classes because he could not bear to be ‘tortured’ by watching the pretty blondes flirt or kiss their 'oafish' boyfriends. He was sexist and racist, despite the fact that he was not white himself. I kept forgetting about beneath his rantings. He was shorter than most men and he had the napoleon complex that comes with it in our culture. That alone can make men violent. It happened to my brother when he was a teen, four years older than me and a good foot shorter. It humiliated him.
What I read painted him as a sociopath. If he hadn't done this act, it would have been something else. To read his story, he could have easily become a serial murderer, taking out young girls and men here and there, a la Son of Sam. He was a man on a path of violence. I feel for his family, for all of the friends he had in his lifetime that he rails against in his manifesto, calling them his 'enemies' even while hanging out with them.

The scariest part for me is that he is not alone in the way he thinks about women and what he perceived their place as in the world. Misogyny still exists. I have my own list of men and women who turned violent or abusive when I dared to say no to them, no matter how pleasant I was about it. There was a man in college who was my friend, who suddenly decided that because I was nice to him, I owed him a date, so he could prove to me that we were supposed to be together, despite the fact that I was happily dating someone else. He called me every night, trying to force me to go out with him, "just one time." It ended with him grabbing me by the throat and lifting me up, jacking me into a wall in front of his buddies, telling me, "All you need is a real man to show you what you're missing."
It was not the only time I have heard a man say that to me. Other times I did not get away so easy. In that instance I didn't know what to do. I ran to my friends and they, in turn, cornered him and threatened him with bodily harm if he looked at me again. He thought that was unfair. He came back at me asking me why I ruined it, why I did that... and if you ask him now, he doesn't know why I stopped talking to him. In his world, like Elliot Rodgers, I emasculated him with my rejection. 
The difference is that man has a family and his own daughters now. He moved on and matured. I still cross the streets at night when I see men walking towards me, and I keep to the shadows and avoid the street lights. If I practice misandry, it’s because the world taught me I had to. I don’t think one can call caution misandry, but I have been called a man-hater for it. And that is the way that misogyny hurts both men and women.
I am not alone in that I have a list of assaults and attacks at the hands of men who thought they were owed something from the world, to whom my sensitive, pacifist nature made me an easy target. I have suffered the questions from authorities of what I was wearing and how much I was drinking when I actually tried to report incidences. I gave up trying to tell other people. I was complicit in my silence. We all are.
I don't want my nieces to ever feel like they have to make up a boyfriend just because the guy hitting on them won't take no for an answer. And I don’t want them to have to worry that they might be shot for doing so. I don't want to believe that so much violence could come out of moments like that. For the victims of Rodgers, it was as simple as women he never tried to speak to never looked at him. And that was an assault to him. An offense. He kept saying, in his own words, “it traumatized me." And his world was unfair and it angered him to violence.

I know a lot of wonderful men who would never think or dream of hurting a woman. That's important to me. But I also live in communities with men who think a lot like Elliot Rodgers. Reading some of his more harmless thoughts was startling in that I have heard those words come from the mouths of men I know. 
People are going to challenge his mental health status. I don’t think that matters. I lived with a man once, in a house full of people, who was a bit stand-offish, but social enough. We'd all been close friends for a few years in college. He was weird but we all were in our own way. One day we discovered that he was a sociopath. He assaulted and tried to rape one of our housemates- one of his friends- and everything we thought we knew about him turned out to be a lie. All of us who lived in that house are still haunted by it. I imagine that's what Elliot's family is feeling right now. No matter if your gut tries to warn you, your heart can’t believe someone you care about could ever be capable of something so horrible. 
How do we engage in dialogue with people whose thoughts and words border on a tone of violence against other people? What do we do with people who honestly believe they deserve better than those around them and are willing to take lengths to get it? For me this isn't about gun control or mental illness. What do we, as a society, do with people who don’t care about the rights, dignity, and worth of their fellow human beings?
You can’t take lives and be a good person. You can’t act against people you perceive as less than you and be a good person. Doing some good deeds does not make up for the cruel choices we make. We have to hold everyone accountable for their cruelty, no matter how poor, no matter how powerful. Because true repentance means you will not do wrong again. Anything less than that is unacceptable.

I found a glimmer of hope in the wave of anger that spawned the #yesallwomen stories that have been pouring across the internet. It doesn’t bring back the dead, but it is good to hear that people are raising their voices in the wake of such violence. There is hope in the number of people railing against it.
We need to teach people who raise arms, figurative and literal, against other humans, that they have no worth, no matter what gifts and special skills they have. We need to teach each other to put people first. When politicians abuse their spouses, they should lose their positions. When a man rapes, he should forfeit his rights as a citizen, because he took “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” from another. When teachers take advantage of their students they should be fired. When our family members do wrong, we should love them, but we should tell them what they did was not okay. We vote for what we believe with every dollar we spend, and we vote for the world we want with our words and our silences. Nothing is so important that advancement should overrule the needs of the people it is meant to serve. Our actions today decide what kind of ancestors we will be remembered as.
We all have two wolves within us, to use the Cherokee legend. One wolf is angry and hurtful. The other wolf is loving and kind. They are always battling between each other, inside of us. And the wolf who wins will be the wolf we feed. In the wake of such atrocities, we must pour our love into the world, for love is truly the way to peace.

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