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Love and the Destroyer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Fayetteville, Arkansas

The school teacher didn't want to think too long and too hard about evil, didn't want to dwell on it. Too much broody thought might mislead him into concluding that his race of women and men is done gone mad.

But he knew the devil was out there, creeping about the land, searching for perpetrators.

Truth be told, the act of meditation, for all its purported merits, can send one to the edge. At the edge they're pushing hard against you. At the edge they can make you topple and fall. At the edge you can push back, but then what'll that get you?

"Let the force of violence flow past you like water over rock," said the woman whose face is reflected in the mirror.

If one is impotent in the act of life, then how potent is the rigid gun? The murderer's illusion of omnipotence conceals the misery of personal powerlessness and a fatal fear of life.

The One Certainty.

"The destroyer wants to do away with a person, to eliminate him, to destroy life itself," Dr. Fromm wrote in his 1973 treatise, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. "Life frightens him precisely because it is by its very nature unpredictable and uncertain. It is structured but it is not orderly; there is only one certainty in life: that all men die. Love is equally uncertain. To be loved requires a capacity to be loving oneself, to arouse love, and it implies always a risk of rejection and failure."

For the destroyer, the act of murdering unarmed students during a surprise attack in a classroom forestalls any opportunity on the part of  T H E  OT H E R S  to extend the cold shoulder of rejection. Caught on the blunt end of a speeding bullet, who among the intended can refuse to recognize the killer's presence and his cruel power? How can the murderer see himself as a failure amid the carnage he has so successfully wrought?

I don't know if we're in a garden
or on a crowded avenue.
You are here, so am I,
maybe millions of people go by,
but they all disappear from view,
and I only have eyes for you.

Devil Be Gone.

Some of you don't believe there's a devil, do you? He's one of those religious spirits you just can't fit into your secular sensibility. How about evil? Is your determinism so strong that you slay the Will, leaving us all at the mercy of whim, chance, consequence?

Breaking News

Kazmierczak's former girlfriend, Jessica Baty, told CNN on Sunday that he had stopped taking Prozac because 'he said it made him feel like a zombie.'

Forty-eight bullets and six shotgun shells were discharged from the instruments of destruction, the two pistols and a shotgun, leaving in their leaden wake five murdered students and one pathetic suicide, the webpaper reported about the incident at Northern Illinois University.

Arriving at the classroom with one hundred others to listen to a lecture about ocean science on the afternoon of Saint Valentine's Day were the doomed students: Daniel, Catalina, Ryanne, Julianna, and Gayle. Three were age twenty, one nineteen, another thirty-two. The lesson would be their last, culminating near the end of the three o'clock hour in a cruel and bitter activity, an exercise in finality based on the work of a daughter of Night, Atropos, the third Fate who appears without warning and cannot be turned away. She snips the thread of life at the appointed time.

"Fate inevitable subdues us," Belial the beguiler declaimed at the debate of the devils, Milton's Paradise Lost, Book Two, lines 197-198. An academic exercise? Sure it is.

"Death . . . destruction . . . ruin," the Oxford English states.

The murderer, drained of serotonin and dressed in black, kicked upon a door, strode to the front of the auditorium-style classroom, and began to shoot. He walked up one aisle, along the back row, and back down to the stage. The bullets he let loose on his afternoon stroll struck twenty students and the teacher. At the end, erect on the stage, with no one left to chase and no one left standing, he became the suicide.

Show This, Not! That.

"Spare us the gory details," shouts the woman reflected in the mirror. "Show us the crime scene from afar, the yellow tape and flashing lights, the clusters of official deconstructionists standing on pavement beside banks of old snow. Let us watch the talking heads with their pious frowns, and hear the words of the experts, and listen to the young eyewitnesses describe the chaos. See them revel in their moment of televised fame! Let us gaze upon the safe aftermath, the bodies wrapped in cloth and plastic being wheeled to the ambulances, the beefy officers in black with rifles at the ready, racing to and fro like antibodies under the microscope — and not! the bits of shotgun-blasted brain, not! the streams of thickening blood on the public school floor, not! the moaning of the wounded, curled like a foetus, trembling."

The murder of the five students in their classroom last Thursday afternoon faded quickly from the national consciousness. The popular mind couldn't find in the pixilated pictures and weary dispatches a sufficient supply of novel horrors and public pathos to warrant extended attention. Six dead? That's not so many. The guy last year killed thirty-three — and he left behind a manifesto. After Virginia Tech, Red Lake Indian Reservation, the Amish schoolhouse, Jonesboro, and Columbine, the incident at Northern Illinois University didn't shock too deeply. One massacre diminishes the next in a sequence too ominous to ponder.

"Man seeks for drama and excitement; when he cannot get satisfaction on a higher level, he creates for himself the drama of destruction," Dr. Fromm wrote.

Breaking News

Seven Slain in Gang Massacre
Hands Up, Faces to Wall,
They Are Mowed Down

The New York Times
Chicago, Feb. 14, 1929 — Chicago gangland leaders observed Valentine's Day with machine guns and a stream of bullets and as a result seven members of the George (Bugs) Moran-Dean O'Banion, North Side Gang are dead in the most cold-blooded gang massacre in the history of this city's underworld.

The seven gang warriors were trapped in a beer-distributors' rendezvous at 2,122 North Clark Street, lined up against the wall by four men, two of whom were in police uniforms, and executed with the precision of a firing squad. The killings have stunned the citizenry of Chicago as well as the Police Department, and while tonight there was no solution, the one outstanding cause was illicit liquor traffic.

Senseless, Unappeasable, Quaking.

"Senseless craving from horror to horror, unappeasable rotation in the void. Birth pangs without birth, hurtling down of the sun, quaking of space," the devil said in Oskar Kokoschka's 1907 play, Murderer the Women's Hope.

Let's tap dance on the whisky bar like they do in the movies, squeeze our baby tight to our side, sing ribald tunes 'till kingdom come, push aside all this talk of blood and carnage.

Don't talk about it it'll go away. Don't give 'em no ideas. That's what de bosses say.

In the school teacher's way of ordering the universe, murderous attacks by malignant aggressors at schools rated among the highest of horrors. The school teacher man couldn't bear to lose his youthful charges to the gunfire of a malignant maniac. No! Never!

If it happens there can it happen here why did he do it what can we do evil alienation madness emptiness video games population pressures detachment from reality let's buy cameras and watch everybody all the time ban the guns. "Exploitation and manipulation produce boredom and triviality; they cripple man, and all factors that make man into a psychic cripple turn him also into a sadist or a destroyer," Dr. Fromm wrote.

Excuses, excuses.

Be Safe.

The high school teacher talked about the destroyer with his students, thinking that communication would be a potent antidote to the condition of fear. He wanted them to be prepared in ways useful to each of them, wanted the pacific to feel protected and the brave to be assured of solidarity.

"Nothing bad's gonna happen today," he told them. "You're safe in here with me." He wanted to believe it, too. "But if someone does try to come in here shooting, we're gonna attack him and take him out. We're not going to go down whimpering and hiding in the corner." That's right! a few boys and some girls said. Teacher man continued. "Those of you who aren't fighters, that's fine, too. There's no dishonor in being peaceful. We need women and men of peace to remind us of the good things in life. We need more like you. We'll protect you. We'll take action. We'll stand together, throw books, desks, tables, and chairs at him, charge him en masse, do whatever it takes to protect ourselves in our classroom." The students raised a discussion, said this and that, yea yea yea, and felt better for it, he supposed. Then they moved on to the next issue, the next opportunity in the interminable day.

Later, alone with his ruminations, teacher man would ponder his cautionary narrative, the desperate plan of action, the discussion that ensued. Let's talk. Wasn't that the purpose, to not ignore the gorilla in the room, to push aside vague fear with nebulous hope? Should the nightmare of gunfire actually manifest in the here and now, actually penetrate into the light of their classroom day — well, that was another matter entirely. No amount of supposition or bravado could predict anyone's actions or the outcome.

In the teacher man's classroom, on the top rail of the chalkboard, stands a six-inch tall plastic gorilla, its arms raised and teeth bared, a ferocious looking toy he'd borrowed from his son's childhood treasure chest. "Someone tries to mess with us," the school teacher would tell his students, "and this gorilla will leap off the board, grow eight-feet tall, and take care of bizness."

Love You At the bottom of the same board,
printed in red letters by one of his student artists:
       L o v e   I s   T h e   A n s w e r .  
Teacher man made sure it was displayed there
from the first day of school 'till the last. He liked
to tell his students about the primacy of love, how it matters.

"Critical and radical thought will only bear fruit when it is blended with the most precious quality man is endowed with — the love of life." So states the last sentence of Dr. Fromm's book. The school teacher wanted to believe it, too.


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Every night
it's the same thing.
Will he
come back safe,
or won't he?
Will we
starve to death,
or freeze to death,
or boil to death
or will we
be killed
by burglars?
I don't know why
we go on living.
I don't know why
we go on
living at all.
It's easier
being dead.

Thornton Wilder,
The Skin of Our Teeth, 1943

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