TUESDAY, MARCH 23, 2021
The way our species reacts: Last Tuesday, Robert Long—age 21—shot and killed eight people in Atlanta and its environs.
Reportedly, Long has admitted to these crimes. We use the word "crimes" because, again reportedly, there is no sign that Long has offered a defensible justification for these deadly attacks.
Quite to the contrary! Reportedly, Long has explained his actions in a way which takes us the border surrounding the use of the colloquial term "crazy." Somewhat surprisingly, Peggy Noonan offered a sensible observation on Sunday's Meet the Press:
NOONAN (3/21/21): Asian-Americans have been under stress in this country and under various laws and strictures many times over this century. One of the things I think, bottom line, is that when a people tell you that they are feeling more threatened and that their position has become less secure in America, just stop and believe them. People don't report that for no reason.
There were rallies around the country this week. That sounds sort of pro forma. I don't think so. I think it was a very good thing.
What is needed very much now as we go through this huge cultural reckoning is a sense, I think, not only of affection and respect, but a sense of, "We've got your back." You can't say it enough. We've got your back, we're all in this together. That's one thing. Another thing, very quickly, is that every time we deal with one of these violent episodes, it reminds me that we are in a mental health crisis in America. Gun control won't, won’t solve everything. We're in that crisis. And at the center of it is our young men.
We don't necessarily agree with several parts of what Noonan said. That said, we were struck by the highlighted statement, in which she suggested that the Atlanta killings involve issues of "mental health."
Are we really "in a mental health crisis in America?" That is to say, are we suffering, to some unusual degree, from breakdowns in mental health?
We don't know how to answer that question. But we'd be inclined to regard the following as obvious:
When someone engages in the kind of lunatic behavior Long exhibited, we take it as obvious that the behavior raises questions of "mental health."
That said, very few pundits have been inclined to raise the question of this young man's mental health. When Kevin Drum touched on this issue in the puzzling post we quoted yesterday, he did so in this manner:
[T]he bare facts nonetheless suggest that anti-Asian racism really wasn't a major factor in the shootings. I accept this, more or less, and yet I've come to realize that I don't care. Since I'm normally committed to facts above all else, what explains this?
I've been pondering this, and the best I can come up with is a twofold explanation. First, we really don't know anything for sure. And since it was Asian women who Long used to satisfy his reviled sex obsession, it hardly seems plausible that anti-Asian sentiment wasn't swirling around somewhere in his diseased mind.
In that passage, Drum—remember, he's our favorite blogger—starts by saying that he doesn't care what's actually true in this matter. Then, he refers to Long's "diseased mind."
That's a demonized reference to mental illness. A person could say that the locution comes to us straight out of some "Christianist" playbook.
Here in Our Town, we've largely reacted in such ways to the Atlanta killings:
We walk away from elementary facts, to the extent that the elementary facts are even known at this time.
We refuse to wait for such facts to emerge. Also, we rarely mention the obvious factor of (apparent) mental illness.
The reason why we do this is obvious. There's an alternate Storyline out there, one we love to recite.
What is that alternate Storyline—the Storyline to which we refer? You can read about it in today's New York Times, in this surprisingly accurate column by Bret Stephens.
(Headline: The Atlanta Massacre and the Media’s Morality Plays.)
Why do we say that Stephens' column is "surprisingly accurate?" We do so for a basic reason.
In our view, Stephens often presents a sensible premise at the start of his columns. But he has often wondered a bit far afield by the time his column is done.
We don't think he wanders today. He describes the story Our Town likes to tell, and we think he does so quite sensibly. He notes the way we abandon normal journalistic procedures as we pursue this tribal pleasure all through the streets of Our Town.
Why did Robert Long commit those lunatic killings? At this point, we can't answer your question, but we can draw an obvious contrast. Indeed, Kevin Drum noted the same fairly obvious contrast at the start of his puzzling post:
Was Robert Aaron Long motivated by anti-Asian racism when he went on his killing rampage in Atlanta last week? Six of his eight victims were Asian massage parlor workers, so at first the answer seemed pretty obvious: Of course he was.
But then things got more complicated. Racist mass shooters are usually proud to acknowledge their racism, but Long said he didn't care about race. Others who knew him confirmed this. And unlike most racist attackers, he didn't have a Facebook page full of racial fulminations or a Twitter feed that retweeted anti-Asian hate speech. At a conscious level, at least, Long really did seem to be motivated mostly by misogyny and sex obsessions.
Indeed! Unlike some other mass killers, Long doesn't seem to have a history of overt racial hatred. Some such history may yet surface, but there's no such obvious history now, except that we can create.
(Example: In 2015, Dylann Roof, then 21, shot and killed nine good, decent people at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Roof had an overt history of tragically crackpot "racial" hatred. It's obvious that those killings were driven by racial hatred in a way which doesn't exist in this latest instance.)
Were the Atlanta killings driven by some racial animus? Sadly, it's not at all clear that they were.
That said, thought leaders in Our Town have a story they love to recite. They're willing to disappear logic and facts in pursuit of its recitation—and it's long been clear that recitation and repetition lie at the heart of modern-day, upper-end journalism.
A vast array of credentialed experts have spoken to us in the past week. "This is our species' brain on tribal conflict," these despondent world experts have said.
Tomorrow: Few facts not left behind