( James E. Holmes appears in Arapahoe County District Court July 23, 2012, in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/Denver Post)
In the aftermath of the Aurora "Dark Knight" shootings (a branding which must leave director Christopher Nolan wrenching with stomach pains) commentators, would-be movement messiahs, bunker-bound apologists, and political pundits have inundated the blog-o-sphere and media with a myriad of subjective theories in a vain attempt to define purpose in a purposeless event. It is a curious reflection on the human condition, this need to understand and index all anomalies. Whether one leans towards murmurs of broad conspiracies of intricate false flag operations, or the influences of pharmaceuticals, or the proliferation of guns and ease of acquisition of weaponry in our nation, or the nihilistic effects of an entertainment culture saturated with violence, the goal seems to be singular in its focus: to find rhyme or reason in a tragedy that may have comprised no logic, however warped, whatsoever.
The narrative of the James Holmes story runs contrary to the many torpid currents of popular fear and anxiety. This is a man from a storybook background, a suburban, apparently stable family, a highly intelligent and accomplished student, a boy-next-door who served as a summer camp counselor, went to church, received honors and accolades, and, at one time, possessed a hopeful smile and thoughtful eyes. If your daughter was dating him six months ago, you would likely find little reason for apprehension.
Holmes is not an angry dissident, by any stretch of the imagination. He does not appear to be a disenfranchised citizen fuming at the state of the union, voraciously consuming on-line essays about corruption and apparent evil, hurling midnight tweets to the omnivorous margins of the permanent victim class in an orgy of paranoia and self-exonerating fantasy. He is not a trod-upon brown person from some far away impossible to pronounce province of a darkened sandy stretch of comparative hell long since rendered a statistical study in imperialism. He is not an intercity kid bereft of possibilities for a better life, struggling under the yoke of permanent poverty and educational malaise. No, Holmes is man who likely has a few yearbooks on his shelf filled with polite and occasionally sincere wishes for his future prosperity and well-being, almanacs of happy and prosperous times.
The conspiracy circles, seemingly intent on submerging any legitimate and necessary explorations of rampant corruption and deceit beneath a cesspool of specious and sometimes ludicrous conjecture, have offered up their slate of instantaneous analysis, positing a range of suspicions about how Holmes, apparently on unemployment, conjured his mini-arsenal, conducted "military-grade" tactics, and then, after lighting up a theater of innocent movie-goers, had the politeness to inform law enforcement that his apartment was rigged for detonation. Somehow, the sum of $20,000 in equipment propagated as truth in the conspiratorial channels, the proprietors of which, more often than not, base their investigative conclusions on an endless circle of opinion pieces that serve as reinforcing evidence. His sophisticated booby-traps, according to them, bear the hallmarks of developed expertise, and further, in their opinion, his ability to hit multiple targets in a densely packed cinema betrays obvious advanced training.
Meanwhile, those not concerned with the means so much as the ends have quickly spun the affair into abject pillars of their own political agendas, the most droll extremes of which may be the debate between whether this could have been averted had there existed more stringent gun controls or whether the attack would have been abated had more of the audience carried guns.
This reaction to this whole misfortune may be more telling of our expansive weakness as a society (or species) than the incident itself. First, let's set aside some of the more fallacious claims: none of his gear was that expensive--we are in a full blown depression and yet gun sales have managed to increase exponentially over the past four years. With parental support and a lot of Top-Ramen, I'm rather certain any college kid could pull together the ominous inventory that Holmes collected. Secondly, as a former Marine, I can tell you that you do not need advanced training to open fire in a crowded room full of panicked people with limited exits and subsequently hit a number of targets. That inference is a gross exaggeration of military prowess. Lastly, Holmes is categorically a genius and there is nothing that he created in his bomb-laden lair that you cannot learn to create on your own. If the boy was scheduled to give a competent presentation on MicroRNA Biomarkers, he likely could figure out that "Drano + aluminum foil = Boom".
As far as the gun arguments, it would appear that had Holmes been subject to rigorous background checks at any time up until a few months ago, he would have passed with flying colors. This lends the question of exactly what threshold of competence, integrity and sanity we should set for the ownership of firearms, a much broader discussion than due this singular incident. As far as the anti-thesis of this position, considering that trained law enforcement agents can spill out hundreds of rounds in a moment of high-stress and only hit a suspect a few times, I would have to conclude that a civilian with a gun whose experiences were limited to the static and calming indoor range next to the fitness center and yogurt shop may have exacerbated the situation.
In regards to a convoluted government conspiracy, any useful intelligence operative will tell you this lacks the telltale signs of a false flag--the subsequent narrative has been scattered and unfocused, the sound bites random and unprepared. Yes, of course some politicians jumped up with an immediate call to disarmament--people like Mayor Bloomberg, however, are neurotic control freaks and one should not assign benevolence to those so intent on rebuilding Eden. In fact, you should arguably be wary of Eden and the general concept of the perfectly secure environment. Had this been a useful false flag operation, Holmes would have had a connection to Occupy or some other movement which was considered an existential threat. And it would have been obvious within hours.
So, where does that leave us? Simply put, James Holmes lost his mind. The contributors to this psychotic break are likely many and while due reflection on the toxicity of our culture is paramount, in the end, Holmes is not going to give us a reason for the massacre. And this is the root of fear for many Americans, and people in general, and the truly driving cause of their propensity for supporting far-reaching changes to policy based on isolated events. If you cannot define it, how can you protect yourself? What strategy can one determine to neutralize madness?
There is no equal outcry for the deaths of tens of thousands overseas--that makes sense, after all, for they are the enemy or the terrorists or the downtrodden, or pagans, or whatever translation we make of lives we, in the land where the majority of poor people are somehow obese, cannot actually understand whatsoever. There is no inundation of grief over the hundreds who die in the inner-city from gang violence, because, well, those are gangs and thugs and drug dealers. They reap what they sew, we say. No, these situations, in our minds, have cause and effect. Holmes has none. He's just a broken human and broken humans throw the curve for everyone, leaving people to huddle in restless apprehension of the unknown, the unexplainable assault.
Ironically, or perhaps not, Holmes did the Joker character justice. The Joker had no motivation--he just wanted to affect something. If there is any lesson to take from this, it is that in a culture of dependency, some people might just find that chaos is their only outlet for a sense of purpose and presence. Even that hypothesis should be cautiously examined. Mostly, we are terrified of terror without cause. It feeds no agenda, it supports no doctrine, its takes no side. The pitiful attempt to assign it purpose reveals our darkest fears--that sometimes evil has no design. Sometimes, it has no rhyme or reason.
The redemption we seek in this may also be entrenched in the metaphors of Nolan's second Batman movie, wherein the hostages aboard two ferries in the harbor, both capable of destroying the other with a flick of a switch in a sadistic scenario orchestrated by the Joker, choose not to. They do not empower the mad man by reacting with fear. They just take a deep breath and remember that, where they cannot control the world, they can control their minds and hearts. This is what ultimately leads to victory over madness.
Sometimes, it is sufficient enough to mourn the works of the diabolical. When we institute extraordinary changes in reaction to these events, we truly serve the intent of the perpetrators, or at least those who would capitalize upon the moment. When we simply strive to be better, kinder, and more embracing of each other, evil is baffled.