copied from Myspace blog
I wrote this sonnet a few years ago, but some recent current events have brought it to mind again.
The angry man with nothing left to lose
Is far the gravest threat to other men.
The hapless who bear their fortunes, heart unbruised
With sullen hatred, hatch no evil plan.
Likewise, the angry man who has some stock
Of hope or love or vision in this life.
He'll play no martyr, though the seething shock
Of outrage summons him to war and strife.
But the man who's given up on finer things:
The loveless, joyless wretch who's full of wrath
This man will dare to hurl himself at kings.
This man will consecrate his life to death.
The locust ranks of brute destruction swell
With convict spirits maddened by their hell.
It was an observation when I wrote it (in 2002) about the rage and anger of those people in the world that are not so well off, particular in places like the Middle East, but it also applies to individuals, too, such as the guy at Virginia Tech. I'm pretty far from being a "guilty white-liberal", and I'm not one to let people off the hook for going on a murderous rampage, but I do have a certain amount of personal understanding of what it is like to feel like the world doesn't care and is even against you, and there have been times in my life where I've felt some portion of the anger and despair felt by the kind of people who end up lashing out and hurting people.
When I read that the shooter in Virginia was regularly bullied by other kids for being differentin his case for having an accent and being an awkward speakerit struck a chord in me because kids always made fun of me for my head-shaking and, I suspect, because I was smarter than most of them and they felt on some level intimidated. It is not at all a surprise to me that such a person might entertain violent fantasies about paying the world back, and, if not attended to, maybe even work himself up enough to carry out those fantasies. Desire for vengeance is an emotion I understand.
Being made fun of when you're a kid is very hurtful, and kids can be quite unreflectively cruel. It only takes a superficial difference to become a target for derision. Fortunately for me, I had the support of decent parents, and, despite my overall tendencies for introversion, have made a few genuine friends here and there. But I have no doubt that elementary school tormenting contributed some to the wall I often keep around me.
One thing I did right, though, when I was a kid, I think, was that I never took too much shit from anybody when it was given to me. It's a good law to follow in life, I think. Never reward another person's bad behavior. Passivity in the face of aggression is taken as weakness to be exploited. This is true of individuals and in geopolitics, something I fear "guilty white-liberal" types often don't grasp.
All this said, I think these people take their vengeance too far. They end up punishing people that are not responsible for their misery. When you're really angry, it's very easy to let that anger generalize from the particular people who have hurt you to the world as a whole, and that is, I think what happens to people like Cho, the Virginia shooter. They get very angry at the world, feel persecuted and like their needs are ignored by the indifferent world as a whole. But even at this stage, they are not yet a danger. It's when they have given up all hope of a better future that they are likely to snuff themselves out and take others with them. I know individuals can end up in this stage, and I suspect it is true with societies/cultures as well.
We should not condone or reward the behavior of the people who
explode in rage and hurt innocent people. But I think we should pay some heed
to the alienation and rage that turns them against the world. There is much
thoughtless cruelty in the world, and too much of a tendency to react with scorn
or contempt in general. I'm not perfect about this, myself, but my upbringing
has taught be some empathy for those frustrated souls who feel like the world
has abused them. Though we should not give in to every demand of the enraged
and disenfranchised, we should not laugh at and make fun of them. They suffer
a real sickness that is not wholly of their making. What they need are two things:
some empathy, and some sign of hope for a better future. I don't know how we
might give them the latter, but it seems important for who wants to live without
some sense that the future will pay off for them in some way?
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