Not long after the story broke that a gunman (who may or may not have had accomplices) had reportedly killed six people and wounded three others in a shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Don Lemon, CNN's weekend anchor, stated that the gunman was "disturbed" and that anyone who commits such an atrocity would have to be "disturbed."
I agree with Lemon that the gunman, now deceased, was disturbed. As I have written on numerous occasions, I understand that it is in the vernacular to refer to a violent criminal, a mass murderer, as disturbed or deranged, the latter a favorite of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who used that word in describing both Sgt. Robert Bales, who allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians in March, and James Holmes, the suspected gunman in the recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.
Such language is completely understandable. But I would suggest that if those words are code for a person being mentally ill, and I suspect that they are, then we are to a large extent characterizing the suspect incorrectly. At the same time, we are maligning a group of people, those with mental disorders, the vast majority of whom are never a threat to anyone but themselves.
The truth is that most of these gunmen live not necessarily in a world of psychosis but rather by an ethos of hatred and sadism. As I have written before, these killers adhere to the philosophy of Iago, who proclaims "I am not what I am," a nihilistic credo that attempts to refute Yahweh's life-affirming "I am what I am" code.
Anyone who has read Shakespeare's Othello knows that Iago isn't in the least mentally ill. Instead, he is the worst example of a cold-blooded, calculating killer motivated by envy over the achievements of his betters. Iago tries to destroy the good name and reputation of Cassio, an honorable soldier, and the life and wedded bliss of Othello, the valiant Moor. Why does he do this? Because he feels that he has been passed over by these men. In fact, Othello and Cassio have earned their promotions due to their courage and integrity, qualities that Iago lacks.
Not only do Othello and Cassio have more honor than Iago, Othello also has a devoted wife in Desdemona. She loves Othello whereas Iago and his wife do not have a relationship based on trust or loyalty, let alone love.
As I write this, we know few details about the deceased gunman in Wisconsin, but I suspect he no doubt lived by Iago's code of hatred and sadism, tinged perhaps with xenophobia.
It has never surprised me when I have read that alleged killers like Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspect in the Fort Hood shooting, and Holmes had gotten bad evaluations from their superiors. Nor has it surprised me that they did not have a loving woman in their lives.
However, everyone has failed or been humbled in life. The key is how we respond to failure or humiliation.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Steve Jobs viewed failure as a wonderful opportunity to reassess his life and to realign his goals. It goes without saying that Jobs never got violent when he dropped out of college or lost his job at Apple many years later. He believed in creating, not destroying.
But creation takes time and discipline, to say nothing of character, something these killers lack.
Tragically, these modern-day Iagos have easy access to guns, including assault weapons, as well as high-capacity magazines, all far more lethal than the swords used by Iago.
Which gets me back to my post of a few weeks ago, in which I urged President Obama to issue an executive order banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Many snickered when I made this suggestion in the wake of the Colorado shooting, claiming that it is unconstitutional or that it would hurt Obama's re-election chances.
As I wrote at the time, President Obama will probably ignore my request, but I still believe that he has political gifts that Al Gore has never had, certainly not when he ran for president in 2000. Some say Gore lost that election because he lost independent voters or so-called Reagan Democrats in swing states when he discussed gun control. But Gore did not have the charisma, the likability or the storytelling gifts of Obama.
Obama has shown an ability to define Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch, tin-eared, vulture capitalist with something to hide in failing to release his all of his tax returns. Polls suggest that the tactic may be working as Romney has scored low on the likability ratings compared to President Obama. This is a key reason why I think President Obama can still win the election even if he issues an executive order banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
So, once again, I urge President Obama to issue such an executive order rather than risk yet another tragedy on his watch. And I urge everyone to consider that since the Fall of Man, we have all had the ability to do good or evil. Those who choose evil, like Iago, are often not mentally ill at all. They simply embody the dark side of the human condition.