BA­NAL EVIL FLIES UN­DER THE RADAR

The grotesque Las Ve­gas killings rep­re­sent a de­cay in the tra­di­tional val­ues that once held so­ci­ety to­gether

Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin - - OPINION - GRA­HAM HRYCE mal­ice.con­sult­ing@gmail.com

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.

Pic­ture: DREW AN­GERER/GETTY

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