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The muckers among us

by Evan | Aug 03, 2016
When I first visited Austin, the one thing I wanted to see was the Texas Tower. Is that sick, or what? Well, maybe sick, but not abnormal. Charles Whitman, who shot 49 people, killing 16, while perched at the top of it was back in the news this week because the event is now 50 years old. It is being recalled as the beginning of the mass shootings that have been shaking the world, and especially our country, with numbing frequency ever since.

Murder rates rise and fall, but this business of one or two individuals gunning down as many people as they can in a public setting is a modern thing and seems to only be getting worse. Mass murder for political reasons has been going on for centuries, but usually with bombs or, more recently, with trucks and aircraft. Some of that happens with firearms, too, but so often, as in Austin, the shooters appear to be driven by mental illness.

One of UsAnders Breivik may be the worst of them, and Asne Seierstad's book about his cold rampage (if there is such a thing) across an island of vacationing children has been strongly praised. One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway tells not only a detailed horror story but also tries to assess how it could happen in such a peaceful country. 

Closer to home, Colorado has suffered two of the most infamous mass shootings -- the murders at Columbine High School by two suicidal students and the movie theater massacre in Aurora. In The Spiral Notebook: The Aurora Theater Shooter and the Epidemic of Mass Violence Committed by American Youth, Stephen and Joyce Singular lay out a number of social factors they think are building up that ultimately take people down.  

Or, if you want a still broader view, consider Italian thinker Franco Berardi's Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide. In it, he critiques the highly competitive global capitalist system as a driving factor in what he considers widespread loss of identity. 

If I may, let me add, as I tend to do, an old fiction citation that has been proved chillingly prescient about life on a crowded planet in the hi-tech 21st century. It is John Brunner's Hugo Award-winning Stand on Zanzibar, in which he coined the term "muckers," as in people who inexplicably run amok. I read it soon after it was published in 1968, only two years after the Austin slaughter. I think I need to read it again. 

EvanEvan - Married, three children, two grandchildren, formerly a newspaper journalist, now a public librarian, at all times a board game nut.

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