Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Living and dying in the lands east of Eden

33 young people meet a violent death. It is of course a painful and shocking tragedy, both in the largely unreported coach crash that killed 33 school children in Turkey on Saturday http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/51897.html or the massively reported shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday. http://www.collegemedia.com/stories/4-17-07/news/final-haideranderson.html

Both events are tragic for all involved. Of course it is wrong to attribute the vastly differing news interest solely to the relative media importance of the countries involved. While this does in reality play a role, the differing cause of the deaths is more significant here. One a dreadful accident, albeit with an element of negligence likely, and the other a deliberate cold-blooded act.

However, apart from the scale of suffering imposed on so many by one deranged individual I (sadly) do not see anything unusual here. Taking the title of John Steinbeck's great novel East of Eden, we all live in the lands east of Eden and evil in all its forms can take a part in any of our lives.

That is true in the case of a sloppy mechanic who cannot be bothered to do his job properly and blots out the impact his negligence could have on others, the drunken driver who just wants to get home or the student deranged with jealousy who flips and as if walking in an arcade game blows his fellow students away to release his anger. The last category is undoubtedly the most extreme and is what we find so shocking, hence the wall to wall news coverage.

The common thread in these very different examples of failure is a lack of regard for others, a dehumanising of potential victims of the situation and a selfish "me" approach. Ultimately this is the darkest side of the ego and the bit that feeds its own identity through the destruction or disregard of others.

With those ingredients together there is little that can prevent mass murder by someone willing to loose their own life. That is as true for the college-psychopath in America, as it is for the jihadi youth worker from Yorkshire who blows himself up on the London Underground or the daily suicide bomber attacks in Iraq against people of all backgrounds.

In each case while the names, numbers and perceived motives may be different the victim is ultimately the same - life in all its forms.

The media noise over gun control and similar specifics is largely a distraction. American society seems prone to "mad" shootings but the mass killer knows no real boundaries. Equally nations such as Switzerland enjoy relative tranquillity despite the legal requirement for every man of military age to keep a loaded gun in the house. "Gunless" Britain still sees a fair sprinkling of shootings in London and other cities with the guns smuggled in along with the related drugs. Knife crime makes up where guns are absent. While this piece is not about gun laws, I would say simply each nation must decide its own rules in this area but the actions of people are the decisive factor. Gun-possessing Swiss rarely going on shooting sprees while gunless Britain falls victim to other weapons from knives to explosives made of hair peroxide.

As far as killing is concerned, where there's a will there's a way, and in the lands east of Eden, sadly there remains a will.

That said, good does ultimately triumph and I hope and pray that the students of Virginia continue to realise this.

33 families are reeling in America but let's not forget the 33 in Turkey. The numerical symmetry of suffering here is not reflected in the cause. However somehow there is a connection in the suffering of humanity and the tragedy of young lives lost, in both cases east of Eden.

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