Isolated incidents, however demonic, ugly tragic, lethal and inexplicable never come out of a vacuum. And what if, just for a moment at least, psychology and morality do not align?
We have constructed a morality, and indeed a social and a cultural ethic that criminalizes violence and there is no question that the horror at Portapique Nova Scotia qualifies as the most heinous acts in Canadian history, eclipsing the also heinous murder of female engineering students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique back in 1991. In our social, political, legal and even ethical and moral discourse, both of these acts are legitimately categorized as acts of misogyny, by men hating women.
And they both are acts of misogyny!
And while criminologists, forensic pathologists, law enforcement officers and supervisors will comb the physical, empirical and even briefly the biographic evidence looking for “reasons” or “motivations” for such a horrific series of cold-blooded murders, this most recent catastrophe will not be the last of its kind.
Men, all men, need to be and are profoundly horrified by the very notion that one of our gender has committed this seemingly unforgiveable unfolding of outrage. And at its core, this is male outrage unleashed. And every time male outrage of these proportions is unleashed, we men must and do all cringe with empathy, compassion, and even deep and unmitigated contempt for the perpetrator. We all felt, and experienced a similar wave of contempt for the perpetrator of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre.
And, between these two historic and dark incidents there have been hundreds of similar, if not identical incidents inflicted by men and from a statistical perspective, mostly against women although random shootings are more difficult to classify as misogyny.
In the Portapique reports, the assault on the perpetrator’s female ‘friend/lover/long-term relationship’ has been deemed a catalyst for the rampage that ensued. Stories of abuse, financial, moral, business and even clandestine mimickry of law enforcement itself abound, swirling around the deceased killer. However, there will be forever a stain of misogyny that will never be as easily or completely eradicated as those many blood stains and heaps of ashes and carboned home walls and trusses, astride burned-out carcases of iron automobiles.
And misogyny itself indelibly stains North American streets, coffee-houses, theatres, and legislatures, where we see feeble if any overt, honest, lasting and effectual changes in law to acknowledge and to confess, and to atone for the blatant and indefensible complicity of a patriarchy drunk on denial, avoidance, obfuscation, prevarication and outright failure of both legal and constitutional responsibilities, but more importantly of moral complicity.
Men in power, are nevertheless, merely men born of the same mothers and fathers, raised on the same formulas and breast milk as all others, taught by the same teachers, coached by the same coaches and mentored by the same mentors, as those who commit these evil deeds.
And to castigate these events as misogyny, while accurate, does nothing to confront the more fundamental of our problems: a culture in which hard power, domination, insincerity, inauthenticity, opportunism, taking advantage of our moss vulnerable, including our racial minorities, is now so deeply embedded in our cultural mindset, as to have a life of its own, as “normal, conventional, and even moral and ethical.
And it is not to assume or presume that by digging more deeply into the collective conscious and unconscious of North American culture that we will eradicate these monstrous, evil, and inexcusable massacres. We will not.
However, given that there are no, or at least very few, women who engage in acts of such horrific consequences, men, and that means all men, have to come to grips with our shared burden of responsibility for these demonstrations of unleashed, unbridled and unmitigated hatred, contempt, loathing and self-destruction.
And apparently with 75% of all suicides in Canada committed by men, we are not making much headway in our shared obligation to prevent both kinds of needless killing, both of self and of others. Isolation, the silo-effect, proudly believing and the enacting a conviction that we can “do it alone,” including facing our demons, and our mental and emotional and psychic horrors is both duplicitous and ensnaring. It convinces the believer of a profound and indisputably lie, and then proceeds to ensnare him in a drama born of that conviction.
And less we too become entangled in another intellectual and abstract perception and the rendering that ensues from such academic papers and texts, there are a couple of moments in my own life that point directly to the collision of masculinity and violence, neither of them worthy of headlines, yet perhaps instructive, given that the male at the centre of each micro-drama was my father. The first occurred when I found him behind the jacket heater with a loaded .22 pointed at his head at 3:00 a.m. back in 1954 immediately following a cacophonous conflict with his wife, my mother. And the second, only a couple of years later, when, while sitting cross-legged in the doorway of our back porch, while mother was behind an iron board just before dad was about to return to work on a summer afternoon, and again there were embattled only verbally, so it seemed, he impulsively reached over the ironing board to strike her with his massive hand on the end of his also massive and muscular arm, to strike her. I intercepted his lunge by also impulsively pounding my own fist into his right side ribs, breaking two of those bones.
Violence between parents, witnessed firsthand, is not something for which I am proud nor is something only I have experienced. Thousands if not millions of children have witnesses, and been scarred by incidents far more traumatic than those scribbled in my diary. Only later did I learn that my own father had found and extricated his father from a self-inflicted suicide attempt in the back shed of their residence on Church Street, where one can only assume, without empirical and documented evidence, another conflicted drama was playing out both in the mind of my grandfather, and likely between him and his spouse. Around the time of my learning of this near-fatal tragedy, I also was assigned to a parish in suburban Toronto where a male clergy had taken his life at the altar, in what is allegedly the single known liturgical suicide in Canadian ecclesial history.
The process of a grieving congregation, even two years after the horrific death, was painfully neither simply nor superficial. It was gut-wrenching as, no doubt, will be the individual and community grief processes in Nova Scotia’s several communities. And the grief work has to precede and supplant the ‘investigative’ and remediative reflections that necessarily follow.
So these reflections are not either to supplant or to minimize the personal and collective wounds that will accompany all of those involved to their own graves. However, as our personal and collective conscious is currently laser-focused on the events of last weekend in Nova Scotia, and the memories of December 6, 1991 in Montreal, these reflections are however meager and ineffectual offerings of empathy and even identity with the whole cast of these dramas.
Men are apparently incapable of or unwilling to acknowledge how deeply and inexplicably we experience events that really matter. We throw off our well-worn clichés of indifference, insouciance, and even arrogance if and when confronted with profound danger, pain, insults, and abuses. We are, in a word, supposed to be invincible, unmoveable, heroic and stoic as if those two words overlapped each other, and devoid of anything as complicated and complicating as unnamed and out of reach feelings and the ideas that leap from the womb of these emotions. And especially, in our relations with women, we are attempting too often to engage with only a small portion of our full personhood. We are often so fully fixated and unable to be diverted from our own obsession, even to acknowledge our own needs, given our socialization that denies or significantly reduces our consciousness about any need. We are, it seems, in a constant and heroic competition, both with ourselves to be “better” than someone or something that has been cast as our benchmark of success, or with another who symbolizes a similar benchmark of wholeness and worthiness.
And this competition, this drive, this ambition and this identification can and often does take over our consciousness, and the sad part is that we are loath to ‘check out’ our desperation with an authentic other, especially another male, whether professionally qualified or not. The forms and the actions defining our desperation, as well as the roots of it, vary considerably, and our culture likes to focus on those differences. However, without applying any clinical training or skills to these male-inflicted tragedies, at their core, we have to assume, presume, guess and believe that there is a desperate male psyche.
And any and all attempts to eradicate desperation from the male psyche will go unsuccessful, given that they are as deeply embedded in our psychic culture as is our capacity to love in all of the life-giving, creative and empathic ways in which we participate in its gifts, with our partners. It is likely to be more effective to dig into those seedlings (it is after all Spring and planting season!), and to parse and to deconstruct their origins both in genetics and in culture for their inherent warning flags and the most likely triggers of their explosions.
And then, in becoming conscious of the basic notion that all men, and perhaps all women too, (but that is for another place and time and scribe) have voices that can and will be activated, whether consciously or not, that signal some kind of desperation. And that being on the “edge” can happen with little or no warning, with little or no foreshadowing, and certainly without previous experiences in one’s diary.
I have felt “on edge” and desperate, in a specific professional deployment that was, in a word, simply incompatible with a healthy deployment/employment ethos. The fullness of the background was either unknown or certainly unacknowledged and uncommunicated to this innocent prior to the engagement. Being thrown into the “deep end” of the pool, without warning, preparation or basic and required support is a drama certainly not exclusive to my history. It is a far too common and repeated story for those in power to throw a rookie into a highly complex and volatile set of circumstances, to see if he can withstand the pressure, thereby proving his worth, without having to accept responsibility for their blatant and evil discarding of their responsibilities. And what rookie is on such a “footing” either fiscal or professional to challenge the power structure? (And please do not think this kind of drama does not occur in church hierarchy. In fact, it is replete in church establishments where accountability, transparency and integrity are a gaping chasm!)
My desperation did not focus on a violent act against a person, but rather against the building owned by the diocese. (My fist drove holes in walls in nearly all rooms over a three-year period!) It was nevertheless, desperation, even after I sought support and redress from its impact, confirmed, by the way, by professionals who themselves had previously undergone similar if not identical circumstances in nearly identical rural, isolated, mountain wild west towns.
Desperation, in isolation, whether they are both self-imposed, or partially self, and partly other-imposed, is and will always be desperation. And it is a shared responsibility, just as we all have a shared responsibility for the projected increase from 165 million, to 265 million starving humans on the planet over the next year, to refuse the social and cultural imperative, to “not intrude” into the lives of those who suffer.
It is, in fact, worthy of note that individuals whose names and psyches author massacres have all given off signals that warned of their impending doom, and the potential that they will take others with them. And while those signals will differ in each situation, we men can all be more attuned to the plight we all share, to acknowledge without embarrassment, shame or guilt that we are both incomplete, inferior and incapable of solving each and every desperate situation. Death itself, tells us that in spades, although we continue to behave as if we are immortal. And then there is the question of full disclosure to those with whom we are intimate, without succumbing to the cliché fear that “she” will reject me for my weakness, insecurity, incompleteness, and inferiority. And in anticipation of that rejection, really a compounding of any already deeply-experienced desperation potentially unrelated to the relationship itself, we put ourselves in a double-bind.
First we think we are invincible, and have to be to attract the partner of our fantasy and dream, and then, if and when we confront our most deep anxieties and demons, we think and indeed believe that our demons are both unique to us and the only demons the world has ever experienced.
And to disclose how frightened, traumatized, desperate we are to anyone, least of all to an intimate partner, is psychologically fatal, to our distorted and perverted image of who we are.
So, from this an ensuing massacres, can we all be much more attentive, attuned and willing to risk a form of rejection if we were to consider the option of taking even baby steps of support for those we know or even suspect are becoming desperate. We can start with a normal, and yet still too infrequently authentic socially acceptable question, “How are you really doing?” and meaning it when asking. There are signs, even almost imperceptible signs on a face, with an eyebrow, or even a quick glance away, at hearing the question, when one knows the questioner actually means it, that can and will trigger normal human signals of concern, perhaps worry and even anxiety. And while we are not in a position to take every other person in our circle as intimately as we would a life partner, we can dissolve the wall of indifference, insouciance and careless hubris between humans that does not provide the kind of privacy, security and psychic safety we too often claim its rationale.
The wall of masculine invincibility, invulnerability, and heroic stoicism is a wall whose destruction can and will only come about through the deliberate and often incidental and even accidental yet deliberate attention, notice and compassion and empathy of men for all men. Desperation, like COVID-19 knows no political, economic, religious, ideological or geographic boundaries. It has the capacity to inflict itself on each and every man on the planet and these massacres need to be prevented, before they occur.
We really are “all in this together”…in ways we may not heretofore have considered!
Neither clinical psychiatry, nor sexual politics can or will adequately address these massacres; human connections, caring, compassion, empathy in timely and appropriate measures might help to reduce their frequency and their predictability.