Now that I have your attention, did you find yourself offended by the title of this piece? Good! It was intended to be offensive, not because I derive any pleasure from the angry reaction of others, but to make a point as bluntly and as poignantly as I can.
What if I had created a bumper-sticker with such a message on it, attached it to my car, which I then drove around Omaha — a city in which I lived for some nine years. Would you — or my fellow Omahans — be rightfully angered by my actions? My message would be clear enough: urging others to heap praise and support upon those who go about killing innocent men and women. The "bad-taste police" might be the least of my worries from such an action: I might even find myself criminally charged with aiding and abetting the crime of murder!
What kind of twisted mind could concoct such a message, you may wonder? When a mass-killing is followed by a similar atrocity elsewhere, many are quick to label the latter the work of a "copy-cat" killer. I shall fall back on the same explanation: my proposed bumper-sticker is "copy-catted" from the works of others.
While young Robert Hawkins was carrying out his mayhem, there were doubtless many cars in the shopping center parking lot with bumper-stickers reading "support the troops." What does this message mean if not for us to offer comfort and encouragement to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan; to provide our confirmation of the validity of what they are doing in those countries? And what are they doing, if not killing thousands of men, women, and children? How have Iraqi civilians been any more deserving of the death and suffering visited upon them than were the customers and workers at a shopping mall? Whose innocence is entitled to greater respect or protection in either battle zone?
Most of us — in whatever nation, religion, or culture in which we were raised — are uncomfortable exploring the dysfunctional and destructive nature of our thinking. Our identities are so wrapped up in such collective abstractions that we regard any critical examination of them as a challenge to our personal worthiness. It is far more comforting to take the easy route of casting the world into camps of the "good" and the "bad," and to follow leaders who reassure us of the school-playground principle that "if you’re not with us, you’re against us."
Our institutionalized thinking — which you and I, alone, have produced and are capable of changing — has turned us into the reactive beings eager to man the barricades of whatever conflicts the established order chooses for us. I suspect that if the present administration were to declare Lapland part of the "axis of evil," most Americans would accept such a characterization, and turn upon neighbors who displayed reindeer Christmas decorations as "terrorist-sympathizers." To voice any doubts to the contrary would be to entertain the possibility that the very core of their identities is grounded in lies.
In this way, faceless "others" become the shadow forces against whom we fight in a vain effort to find peace within ourselves. Randolph Bourne’s "war is the health of the state," and Charles Beard’s "perpetual war for perpetual peace," reveal far more than the destructive foundations of every political system. Worse yet — and what we choose not to know — they reveal who and what we have made of ourselves. So much of the content of motion pictures, television, video games, and the lyrics of popular music, are awash in themes of violence. But these expressions of our culture are not the causes of our difficulties, but only a reflection of who we are. Not wanting to endure the pain of self-examination, we focus on Hollywood, or drugs, or the availability of guns, to explain what we have made of ourselves and, derivatively, the society in which we live. We will put a "support the troops" bumper-sticker on our cars — a statement that really means "support the war" — as a way of disguising our refusal to challenge our own thinking.
In his despairing suicide note, Robert Hawkins lamented of the "meaningless existence" of his life. But where, within the families or the cultures in which they are raised, are children encouraged to find a sense of "meaning?" For most, any existential purpose usually amounts to little more than an attachment to some external agency — an institution — that offers but a superficial, ersatz significance. What school system, for instance, spends any amount of time helping a child develop his or her own sense of being if it does not serve institutional interests? Behavior-modifying drugs await the child who insists upon pursuing his or her own interests in most school systems, prescriptions that have almost always been found in the case histories of young mass-murderers. Ivan Illich succinctly stated the underlying purpose of schools as "the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is." At their best, government schools help children discover their optimal stall in the institutional hierarchy.
I recently saw a couple getting out of their car in a parking lot. Their auto was a bandwagon of slogans for the war system: "proud parents of a sailor," "support the troops," and other patriotic messages adorned with flags. The man also wore a very noisy T-shirt that proclaimed his commitment to the war effort. I thought to myself what terrible parents these people must have been, to not only fail to protect their child from the war system that wants to consume him or her, but to brazenly celebrate it! If their child should die in battle in furtherance of the state’s political and economic ambitions, will they regard the death as the fulfillment of a "meaningful existence?"
Before answering such a question, every parent should think back to the sense of "meaningless existence" that preceded Robert Hawkins’ suicide attack in Omaha. One of the stories unreported from most of the mainstream media relates to the high suicide rates among soldiers. In one investigation, CBS discovered that, in the year 2005 alone, at least 6,256 suicides were reported among those who had served in the military! Apparently, a chestful of medals was not sufficient to remove the sense of "meaninglessness" experienced by so many young people who directed their violence against foreigners; there was no felt transcendence associated with being a fusilier in an invading imperial horde.
Within a handful of years, we shall begin to glimpse an answer to whether America will remain in its present state of free-fall, or whether individual intelligence will overcome mass-mindedness in informing social behavior. The decentralizing role of the Internet and other personalized technologies provide encouragement for the future, as do the efforts of Ron Paul and his spontaneous network of individualized supporters to extend such peaceful, creative, and orderly transformations. This continuing movement away from the vertically-structured power systems that destroy humanity is what, above all else, terrifies the stockholders of the established order. The early confrontation between Ron Paul and the disingenuous Rudy Giuliani concerning the explanations for 9/11 raised the kinds of inquiries the rulers do not want considered.
What established authorities fear the most is an answer to the question raised by the bumper-sticker from the 1960s: "what if they gave a war and nobody came?"
Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law. He is the author of Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.