BANAL EVIL FLIES UNDER THE RADAR
The grotesque Las Vegas killings represent a decay in the traditional values that once held society together
IN 1963 the historian Hannah Arendt published a book titled Eichmann in Jerusalem.
The book was an account of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi officer who had organised the final solution during World War II which resulted in the deaths of some six million European Jews.
The subtitle of Arendt’s book was A Report on the Banality of Evil – which reflected her view that Eichmann, despite the enormity of his crimes, was nothing more than an ordinary, morally shallow, rather banal, individual.
Arendt’s point was that very ordinary people are capable of committing very evil acts.
A similar conclusion seems warranted in respect of the perpetrator of the recent Las Vegas mass killings – a massacre that confirmed America’s status as the home of mindless mass violence.
Forget about the feigned shock and outpourings of grief – mass violence is now an integral part of American culture.
Consider the lengthy roll call of massacres – San Ysidro, Edmond, Killeen, Columbine, Atlanta, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Charleston and Orlando.
For over 30 years, America has been home to events of this kind, and they are occurring more regularly. There was nothing unusual about the Las Vegas mass slaughter, except for the number of dead and injured – 58 dead and almost 500 injured. Donald Trump’s response was trite and predictable. “In moments of horror America comes together as one,” said the President. In fairness to Mr Trump, other American politicians responded no better.
Mass killings in America fall into two distinct categories: terrorist attacks motivated by political ideology (for example Oklahoma, 9/11 and the Boston marathon attacks); and killings committed by culturally alienated individuals.
The Las Vegas massacre falls into the latter category.
The killer, Stephen Paddock, was a 64-year-old retired real estate investor and professional gambler.
In many respects Paddock was not a typical perpetrator of mass violence. He was successful, very wealthy, had no history of violence or psychological disturbance and, although something of a loner, had a partner and two ex-wives.
His partner, his family and people who knew him all agree that Paddock was a very ordinary individual. One friend described him as “a nondescript numbers guy”.
This accords perfectly with Arendt’s description of Eichmann, who she found to be a diligent bureaucrat who methodically went about arranging for the transport of millions of human beings to their deaths.
Paddock was also methodical and diligent. The Las Vegas massacre was meticulously planned – Paddock had visited various potential sites in the weeks leading up to the killings, and even carefully calculated the trajectory of his shots so as to cause maximum damage.
Clearly, underneath the veneer of ordinariness, Paddock was a culturally alienated individual – a characteristic that he shares with all perpetrators of mass violence – although the precise cause of his alienation is not yet clear.
Deep-seated cultural alienation is a modern phenomenon, and is a product of the decay of traditional values which once held Western societies together. Identity politics and political correctness have exacerbated this decay.
Mass killers like Paddock reject politics and embrace sub-cultures of violence – consumed with quiet rage, they can see no way out of their predicament. Paddock’s killings were acts of revenge against a society he despised, and his suicide was an act of self-hatred.
The problem with killers like Paddock is that, because of their very ordinariness, they are much more dangerous than political terrorists.
Politically motivated terrorist attacks can be prevented, because they are carried out by individuals who usually engage in activities that can be monitored by police and security services.
But banal killers like Paddock fly completely under the radar, and can rarely, if ever, be detected before they kill. No society can monitor millions of seemingly normal individuals.
Predictably, there have been calls for reform of America’s gun laws following the Las Vegas killings.
Paddock could not have killed so many people without using military type automatic weapons, and he owned more than 40 guns without the need for a licence.
America’s gun laws are grotesque, but radical reform is not possible. The National Rifle Association is far too powerful, and existing gun laws have the support of a majority of Democrat and Republican politicians, as well as President Trump.
In any event, reforming gun laws will not cure the cultural alienation which spawns mass killers like Stephen Paddock – and, if someone as superficially successful as Paddock can become so alienated, American society is in real trouble.
Australia is fortunate in not having to deal with mass killings on a regular basis – because cultural alienation is less pronounced here than in America, and because John Howard had the political courage to reform our gun laws after the Port Arthur massacre.
We should count our blessings.
Mourners attend a vigil for the victims of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas.