David Aaronovitch’s article in The Times today dares to say what others dare not say about the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, namely that the point of his action is the pointlessness of it.
Aaronovitch observes that Paddock is more terrifying to us than Bin Laden.
Forget your conspiracy theories, which are coming thick and fast. Forget your sociological investigations, and the handwringing over US gun control. The sheer meaningless of the action is its meaning.
It’s ironic is it not? Here we are in a world self-consciously sloughing off the vestiges of the old dogmas (or so it claims), and the bald faced fact of a dogmatic-less action are almost too much to contemplate. We have to find a reason for it that soothes our souls and gives balm to our barely suppressed fears.
Paddock’s actions are the perfect Nietzschean response are they not? Long before 58 people died in a hail of automatic gunfire, the idea of God was dead to Paddock. And with the idea of God long dead, Paddock has gotten away with it.
ISIS quickly claimed him, just as they would also claim to the sinking of the Titanic if they could. And for a while conservatives jumped on that bandwagon, until it was proven otherwise.
And that’s what we want don’t we? We want a super villain attached to some cosmic or ideological cause. We want him to be a monster in so many ways. Much as we want the same for Hitler. Hitler can’t have been a forest rambling nature lover who kept dogs, loved good architecture and who ate healthy.
I love Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Hitler in the classic German language movie, Downfall, for it portrays the man not so much as a maniac, but as a self-obsessed narcissist whose primary characteristic as Berlin and the Reich fell, was self-pity.
But as Aaronovitch observes the need to find a motive, a reason for it beyond the sheer pointlessness of it all, is a necessity in our times, but ultimately a refusal to face the appalling alternative, that there was no point. As he says:
There could yet be a true Paddock out there, full of motive, but the motiveless one feels right to me. And the picture it creates shows, in many ways, something worse even than political violence or grudge killing.
Here we are living in a world which scorns the religious dogma and calls out for us to be brave and go into the world alone and out of the world again alone, yet when someone does exactly that, and takes their actions to the logical conclusion of that position, everyone scurries to their comfort blanket of motives.
The motive is staring the godless culture, the secular culture of the immanent frame (as Charles Taylor puts it) in the face, and the culture blinks. It cannot stand its own truth.
The Paddock described so far emerges not from cause but from causelessness, not from a sense of location but of anomie or absence of normal social standards. He existed, and would continue to exist, in a vast, exurban, empty landscape, with no one much to love, if he ever loved. Day after day after day with only himself to please. Stephen Paddock with his boring existence and his pointlessness is what is really terrifying.
Rather than scratch around for conspiracy theories, wasting time coming up with motives, do yourself and favour and pick up Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. That cuts to the chase. That exposes the mind of a man who has no reason to kill anyone other than the idea that he can and it won’t matter.
And if you can’t bear that, think it’s too much, then watch the brilliant Sophia Coppola movie starring the equally brilliant Bill Murray as Bob Harris, Lost In Translation. It’s the story of an equally pointless life in an equally faceless hotel in the middle of an equally artificial city, except without the guns.
For the simple fact is, with Paddock the pointlessness is being lost in translation. We need a reason, we need a motive, we need it for ourselves in this immanent frame, this hermetically sealed world of our secular age.
We can’t face the awful fact that Paddock got away with it. Plenty of money, no real problems, no real concerns, nothing in his past to haunt him, nothing in his future to worry him except for the oblivion of death. And if that didn’t worry him, and without a God to judge your actions why would it, then Paddock got away with it.
If you’re a true secularist you will bravely look that in the face and admit as much, instead of doing the philosophical equivalent of tearing the whole house apart in a vain search for that fifty bucks you lost the other day. You’ll tear that place to the foundations before admitting the fifty bucks ain’t there.
It was pointless indeed, but that’s exactly the point. Don’t lose that point in translation, and have the courage to push back on anyone trying to convince you otherwise.