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Murder, Assassination and Raw Power

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Amid our quick-fire analysis, let's remember: No one asked 24-year-old James Holmes to invade a movie theater, mow down 12 people and wound about 60 more. It seems that he pulled the trigger. If so, he is responsible. Perhaps experts will establish his "insanity" (a legal, not psychological, term) and, therefore, diminished culpability -- and maybe this tragedy will catalyze much-needed gun regulation. But please. Real people are shedding real tears. They're mourning. Honor them. Care for them. Pray for them. Don't use them for talk-show fodder.

Instead, I'll ponder the nature of mass murder, assassination and the destructiveness of raw power -- because that's what lies at the heart of this event: a deranged, narcissistic minority of one wields power over the vast majority. This is the ultimate totalitarian act, usually void of recognizable reason. Families and communities are robbed of their loved ones. Sons and daughters lose fathers and mothers and nephews and nieces lose cousins and aunts and uncles. The grandmother who knit that sweater lies in a morgue; the aunt who baked those cherry pies is now hitched to tubes in the ICU; the 16-year-old who drove for the first time now wears a sling and battles memories that will hound him for life. These people just wanted to see a movie. Such was their right: They had stood in line and paid for their tickets and filed into their seats like model citizens. Let's watch Anne Hathaway sink her teeth into a juicy role...

Bang-bang-bang! Raw power transforms entertainment into living horror. Pretty Anne Hathaway morphs into a disturbed, hard-luck graduate student who, apparently, barged in through a side door, lobbed something like a smoke bomb and ruled in brief tyranny.

I can't help but think back to Gabrielle Giffords. These 15-minute Napoleons almost always snatch the best, the brightest and the most reasonable -- the very people we need. Giffords, for example, was described as a moderate, blue-dog Democrat and (this is key) "bubbly." We need bubbly people in Congress -- especially bubbly people like her, who, because of her bubbliness, had friends on both sides of the aisle. She had exercised her right when she voted for recent health care legislation and subsequently won a hard-fought campaign. She remained bubbly even though her office was vandalized. She deserved her Congressional seat -- she won it, fair and square. It was now time for her to use her constructive bubbliness...

Bang! A deranged minority of one wielded raw power. Bubbly Gabrielle Giffords eventually stepped aside to concentrate on her recovery.

I go back further. I think of 1968, that year of assassinations, when raw power vied with wisdom on the razor's edge. Robert Kennedy had actually reasoned with a nation in what has been called "the last campaign." Those who knew him had seen a metamorphosis from the arrogant attorney general of his brother's administration. He had visited slums and shanty towns and was moved to his core. Few knew of his numbing fear of that dictator in the crowd. But he shook those hands until his palms were sore and smiled and kissed those babies and debated with Eugene McCarthy and visited slums and shack-dwellers and fended off scurrilous attacks. A swelling movement grew that may have carried him into the White House and...

Bang! Sirhan Sirhan, a deranged minority of one, wielded raw power. He killed an entire reasoning process. The last campaign lay in a pool of blood in the Ambassador Hotel. We got raw cynicism when Richard Nixon won the 1968 election.

Raw power comes in more subtle forms than murder and assassination, of course. Unchecked alphas view every issue through the lens of power and grind up people to get ahead. They're veritable artists at backstabbing and undercutting. They form alliances and networks and develop contacts and connections. They know nothing of genuine friendship. They view different opinions as threats and do their best to destroy perceived enemies. They're bullet-less assassins. Their victims still walk.

But, more telling, the assassin lurks in my own shadows. There are those dark thoughts, those vague envies. My fiendish side covets the unchecked alpha's talent. In my ugliness, I want to be that lone minority dictating his will on the vast majority. I want raw power. The Bible calls this aspect of ourselves "the flesh" or, in modern translations, the "sinful nature." I cannot deny it. It's there, craving power, sometimes sneaking out in my own cynical back-stabbing.

How do I stop my dark side from inflicting its damage? I know there are various disciplines, but I must begin by owning my own responsibility. I can connive no false insanity defense. My internal assassin inflicts real pain and hurts real people. I owe it to them to confess my darkness and seek God's cure.

I wonder: Can each of us see the tragedy in Colorado and, instead of wagging fingers, look within our individual and communal soul? How often do we yield to the assassin's voice? Are we willing to confess our responsibility and abandon our growing quest for raw power? Or are we so naïve that we merely hide behind our own contrived insanity defense? We can ask ourselves as individuals: What kind of person do I want to be? We can ask ourselves as a population: What kind of people do we want to be? Those kinds of questions will honor the victims of this hideous crime.