What Fresh Hell Is This?

August 10, 2009

Reflections on Reflections on Reflections

It pains me to see two of my favorite bloggers argue (if "argue" is even the right word) with each other.

For those unaware of the back and forth, it started, as most arguments in the Burghospere do (HA - just kidding), with something Chris Potter wrote. In a recent blog post, he penned some cogent commentary on the recent LA Fitness killings. While he opts-out of linking to any of shooter George Sodini's online writing, thinking that that would give Sodini the attention he so desperately craved, Chris goes on to describe some of the webpage:

What follows is a pathetic mixture of abject self-pity, racism and rampant misogyny. None of which would be particularly surprising for someone who carried out these acts. In fact, the author claims to have orginally planned to commit this act several months ago, and nearly went through with it in January.

Reading this over, one is reminded of the old maxim about the banality of evil. Here's a guy who claims that he didn't get enough love as a child, can't get laid as an adult, feels misunderstood ... and so apparently decided to shoot up a roomful of innocent women.

Then Bram wrote this.

To which Maria responded with this. (It was initially a comment in Bram's posting. She moved it to 2PJ and now both postings have independent comment streams.)

As much as I'd like to think that it could be, it's really not my place to try to settle any part of this discussion. Needless to say, Bram and Maria have proved time and again that they are both more than capable of intelligently presenting and defending their positions. Neither needs any sort of validation from anyone - least of all me.

I do, however, feel the need to inject my own two cents into the discussion - for whatever it's worth.

I think the core of their "disagreement" comes from their slightly differing opinions as to why Sodini "decided to shoot up a roomful of innocent women" and to what this society's proper reactions to whose reasons.

As far as I can tell, Maria focuses on Sodini's obvious misogyny while Bram is looking to add "mental illness" into the discussion.

Maria makes a good point when she asks the rhetorical question:
If Sodini had wrote "I plan to kill blacks/gays/immigrants/Jews and detailed his anger against blacks/gays/immigrants/Jews and then had gone to a room with only blacks/gays/immigrants/Jews in it and killed and wounded them, would we be limiting the discussion to mental illness without pretty much any discussion of racism, homophobia, etc?
And I'd agree that limiting the discussion to mental health issues would be an insult to those crime victims, never the less her point is well taken. Indeed Bob Herbert makes a similar point in this column at the NYTimes:
“I actually look good. I dress good, am clean-shaven, bathe, touch of cologne — yet 30 million women rejected me,” wrote George Sodini in a blog that he kept while preparing for this week’s shooting in a Pennsylvania gym in which he killed three women, wounded nine others and then killed himself.

We’ve seen this tragic ritual so often that it has the feel of a formula. A guy is filled with a seething rage toward women and has easy access to guns. The result: mass slaughter.

Back in the fall of 2006, a fiend invaded an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania, separated the girls from the boys, and then shot 10 of the girls, killing five.

I wrote, at the time, that there would have been thunderous outrage if someone had separated potential victims by race or religion and then shot, say, only the blacks, or only the whites, or only the Jews. But if you shoot only the girls or only the women — not so much of an uproar.
Though I think Herbert goes a bit too far when he writes:

We have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that the barbaric treatment of women and girls has come to be more or less expected.

We profess to being shocked at one or another of these outlandish crimes, but the shock wears off quickly in an environment in which the rape, murder and humiliation of females is not only a staple of the news, but an important cornerstone of the nation’s entertainment.

I cannot deny that there's misogyny in this society but I would deny that "the barbaric treatment of women" is "more or less expected." I also cannot deny that there have been "outlandish crimes" committed against women (even those where the victims are victims because they are women) but I can not see how "rape, murder and humiliation" against women as an "important cornerstone of the nation's entertainment.

Not unless you're willing to define (or possibly re-define) what exactly "barbaric treatment," and "outlandish crimes" means and what comprises an "important cornerstone" of our entertainment. None of which Herbert does. The crime in Collier was shocking enough without reframing it like that.

But I don't want to get side-tracked here. Sodini hated women, obviously. He targeted women in his rampage, obviously. These statements of fact cannot be denied.

But alot of men hate women (and however many it is, it's too many) while only a few (and however small that is, it's still too large) go on shooting rampages to kill them.

So what was the difference between George Sodini and your average run-of-the-mill misogynist (armed or otherwise)? He, Sodini, was also mentally ill.

Curing society's misogyny is such an obvious goal that it is more or less self-evident but George Sosini was so obviously mentally ill that not pointing that out is not telling the full story of his crime.

I think that Heather Arnet was at least aiming in the right direction when she said at the vigil:
Nearly every day we open our newspapers and read that a woman has been killed by her domestic partner. While the Collier shooter did not know any of his victims, this gender motivated crime, should inspire all of us to speak courageously about how we as a society respond to violence against women, how we can invest in more preventative efforts, early intervention strategies, and how we can develop strong sensitive men out of our boys and how we can create a world where none of our daughters need to feel afraid.
Though I have to add that Sodini's crime was many things (tragic, horrible, frightening and so on) but one thing it wasn't: domestic violence.

Preventative efforts, intervention strategies - good ideas. Tying the shooting to domestic violence or saying that the society is so steeped in its hatred of women that violence against women is to be more or less expected - not so much.

My two cents - for whatever that's worth (and in this economy, that ain't much).


Bram Reichbaum said...

I don't think you need be pained. Maria and I have been doing this long enough that I think we know how to compartmentalize our 'frank exchanges of views'. Shades of the Hillary vs. Obama days, though.

"As far as I can tell, Maria focuses on Sodini's obvious misogyny while Bram is looking to add "mental illness" into the discussion.

This is not my most favorite construction of a sentence in history, but I know what you're getting at and I agree with your 2c generally. Another note: the fact the the murderer called women "hoes" is used as evidence of the fact that this man "saw all women as hoes", and therefore a major cultural problem is indicated. I don't think that follows. He called women "hoes" because he didn't like them, and wanted to be as mean as possible to them, but that doesn't mean he was a brainwashed objectifier. In those passages where he looked back on his own experiences, if I remember correctly he called them women. He doesn't deserve a medal for that, but I don't think the frequent use of insulting vernacular meant anything other than he wanted to insult them.

Clyde Wynant said...

There is certainly danger in any of us playing the role of psychologists here....

But I have to think that this guy hated EVERYONE. He hated other men, in essence, because they were able to have relationships with women, and he was not. But he chose to lash out at women, because they were, in his warped mind, the "objects of his affection," which was, apparently, spurrned.

But when you read his writings, you have to come away with the sense that he was still an adolescent; unable to deal with the normal ups and downs of an adult relationship. He was seriously mentally disturbed...and I think that means that his choice of target was not "rational." Any attempt to read more rational logic into it is probably a fools errand....