Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mad Bomber

I think people often attach too much importance to the ostensible motives of the perpetrators of what are objectively senseless violent acts. Arguments over whether a particular incident should be labeled "terrorism" can be particularly feckless.

As I write, we don't yet know whether the Austin bomber had a stated or discernible motivation. But this is a good time to remember George Metesky, the "Mad Bomber" who planted 33 bombs in New York City over 16 years. He was ostensibly angry over the disposition of a worker's compensation claim. In fact he was nuts and he wound up civilly committed to a psychiatric hospital. We do know that Ted Kaczynski purportedly mailed out his bombs because he wanted to destroy civilization, but obviously there was no rational connection between his actions and his goals.

We have no idea why Stephen Paddock committed mass murder in Las Vegas. We do happen to know that the Omar Mateen said he shot up the Pulse nightclub because he claimed to be loyal to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and that he was specifically avenging the death of IS commander Abu Wahib. In fact, however, Mateen had serious behavioral issues from early childhood and he never had any contact with the Islamic State organization. At various times he had announced allegiance to rival organizations with incompatible ideologies, and there are strong indications that he was struggling with homosexual impulses.

Actual organizations with violent ideologies are of course a real danger that demands our understanding, and a response that properly addresses the organizations and works to deprive them of resources and influence. However, there is often a surrounding debris field of disturbed individuals whose violent fantasies coalesce around an ideology they may not even really understand, and who could as easily have built their fantasies around some other structure.

It isn't clear in these cases whether the organization and the ideology are really a cause of the violence. Of course we want there to be less incitement to violence in the public sphere, and the recruitment efforts of violent extremists must be combated. Extremist movements can indeed sweep up people who would otherwise have been essentially harmless -- all you have to do is look at the history of Nazi Germany, in which atrocities became normalized. I'm just saying that isn't necessarily the case with everybody who espouses a political motive for a violent act.

We'll see what's going on with this Austin bomber, and maybe there will be more to say about it.


Gay Boy Bob said...

More than likely you won't learn much about motive either because there really is no one single concrete motive or if there is, the authorities will not divulge it.

What disturbs me the most is that over my lifetime weapons and even explosives and their components have been more and more highly restricted and regulated and yet it appears these acts of random violence have increased in both frequency and in intensity. This leads me to believe that simply more restriction and regulation will not solve this problem.

And while I have no empirical evidence, my gut tells me that cultural changes are at the root of it all, particularly the disconnect from any sense of responsibility to community or family of even God.

It's probably a lot easier to lash out when you simply don't give a shit.

Cervantes said...

"What disturbs me the most is that over my lifetime weapons and even explosives and their components have been more and more highly restricted and regulated . . . " Utterly false. Counterfactual.

Gay Boy Bob said...

My apologies. I can see where my statement could be misconstrued.I should have been more specific.

What I was talking about was the federal legislation history concerning manufacture and distribution down to the purchaser, particularly of firearms.

When I was a child, anyone could purchase a rifle or handgun sight unseen through the Sears catalogue or even from overseas. When I was ten, I bought a British Enfield .303 WW II surplus rifle from the Army/Navy store down the street.

Now, not so much. The slow drift toward more and more restrictions of manufacture and distribution has, indeed, occurred. I'm not saying it's a bad thing.

I'm just stating that there has been, overall, more and more restrictions on firearms in our society and yet the incidence of violent gun crimes has gone way up.
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre shocked the nation. It was five people. This happens every weekend in Chicago in today's world.

National Firearms Act of 1934 which taxes the transfer and creates a national registry of certain weapons.

National firearms Act of 1938 that forces licensing of interstate dealers and prohibits sale to individuals under indictment or convicted of certain crimes.

Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 which prohibited interstate trade in handguns and raised the minimum age for purchase of a handgun to 21 for all states.

Gun Control act of 1968 which prohibited the interstate sale of firearms except through federally licensed dealers.

Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 which prohibited the manufacture, importation of automatic weapons for civilian use and also the conversion of semi-automatic to automatic.

Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 required background checks prior to sale of guns.

Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 prohibiting the manufacture of "assault weapons" and magazines that held more than 10 rounds. Of course, this sunset without any demonstrable effect.