Two such news stories have come to my attention (and how could they not?) One, a calculated crime of seeming obsession. The other, a hate crime of cowardice.
There was a time when I thought the the term "hate crime" was ludicrous. Aren't all crimes done out of hate? There's revenge, passion (love and hate are on the same side of a spectrum with indifference on the other end), and desperation (the hatred of being poor?) But, in recent years, it has been made more clear to me.
There are crimes of necessity, crimes of opportunity, crimes of negligence. A hate crime is designated separately because, no matter what your excuse for criminal behavior, committing criminal acts strictly based on the victims' race, creed, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability is motivated by bias. It is merely semantics some may argue with when they announce, "Well, aren't all crimes about hate?"
With that said, this James Holmes business. . .
Unless you live in Holmes' closet which has been booby-trapped with explosives, ready to detonate at the slightest movement, you've heard this story. He opened fire on a Colorado theatre showing the midnight release of The Dark Knight Rises, killing 12 and wounding 58.
The released video of an 18-year old Holmes shows him as an intelligent, capable if but shy young man. And yet, his major interests in neuroscience were temporal illusions and subjective experience. This guy had a thing for fantasy vs. reality and where those two intercept. He was denied membership at a shooting range because the owner found him "creepy." When this man called Holmes, he got a "Batman-inspired message." The police, upon searching his home, found items and materials that they are referring to as related to Batman although I wonder if this is incidental as the shooting took place at the movie opening or if they truly are Batman-affiliated. He also had dyed his hair orange and told police he was Joker (which is confusing as Joker has green hair.) What is this guy playing at?
Was this shooting an experiment in the illusion to change the past? Was he attempting to experience a subjective fantasy that somehow intertwined with a Batman obsession? What makes people like this tick?
I am forever fascinated by the power of the brain. Our minds are so fragile and delicate while simultaneously filling the most important job of our bodies. One tweak here, a little pinch there, a little less of this chemical, a tad more of that hormone and we could become completely unrecognizable from a mental standpoint. There are parts of our brain that don't just remind us how to breathe or help us remember our own names or file away a telephone number or what time The Office comes on. . .they keep us from doing terrible, terrible things.
I am a Mormon. I believe in free agency, that we live in a world where we have both the opportunity and the ability to make choices. I also believe in humanity and imperfection. I believe that there are instances where something goes wrong, sometimes the fault of an individual or individuals and often through no human error but through the consequences of living in a physical and imperfect world. Some people's brains are wired either incorrectly or there's the possibility they don't even have access to those connections at all.
I know I'm not alone in saying that, from time to time, a less-than-savory thought has entered my head. It could happen when I'm driving down the street and I think to myself, "What would happen if I just. . .swerved left? If I just turned this wheel, ran into oncoming traffic or straight through that guardrail and into that gulch?"
I know what would happen. Essentially. I'm not a moron. But that morbid curiosity. What would happen? What EXACTLY would happen? What would it feel like? Would people miss me? What would they say, what would they do? What if I was responsible for the death of another? What would I do if I survived? And all of this is imagined in literally seconds! It's that quick! And then. . .it passes. Because I'm never going to actually DO IT! Why? A little thing called the the prefrontal cortex among other regions of our brain.
It would seem that poor Mr. Holmes (and I say poor because he is a child of God and just because his brain is messed up doesn't mean there aren't people who care or love this young man despite his choices) has some trouble with this cortex. Not saying he's legally insane which is what he seems to be trying to imply through his courtroom appearances with his glazed and vacant, nodding-off expression (trying to get Scarecrow to take you to Arkham, Holmes?)
But what's this, you say? What Holmes did wasn't a sudden and impulsive thought like the one I described? Yes, this crime was calculated. He spent months gathering the materials he needed to carry out the deed and to booby trap his home against the aftermath of investigative measures. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functions, namely inhibitions AND planning. Strange that the same part of the brain meant to keep Mr. Holmes from acting out this awful fantasy is the same part that helped him strategize for it.
The other crime in the news was perpetrated upon a woman who was assaulted and set on fire. The word "dyke" was carved into her stomach. She is a lesbian so this would absolutely constitute as a hate crime. While seemingly random acts of crime like the one James Holmes perpetrated are frightening, these kinds of prejudiced, hateful crimes are scary in their own right. Because we're talking about a mentality that goes far beyond a broken brain. We're dealing with a mind. And a mind made up, at that. A mind that has decided for itself through experience, education, what-have-you that some people are better than others for no reason other than that they just are. A true example of begging the question. And, too often, these exaggerated understandings are based on a belief system of some kind, namely a religion that tries to resemble Christianity but IS NOT, I repeat IS NOT, based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Three disguised men (cowards) broke into this woman's home (so it was calculated) carved the word into her stomach (knew she was a homosexual) and set her on fire (intent to harm and/or kill.) She survived by making her way to a neighbor's, naked, bound, and near death.
It makes sense that we have people whose brains don't quite work right. Brain damage is a very real thing and is not altogether avoidable so long as we live in a physical world where things like that can happen. But WHY DO WE STILL HAVE PEOPLE LIKE THIS!? Why the ignorance? Why the hate? How do these people's brains work?
Maybe. . .if I try really hard. . .if I look at it like I'm looking at them and into their eyes and I'm seeing someone who is making all the wrong choices, choices that I can't stop. . .and it makes me angry. . .maybe then.. .maybe then I can see what causes them to take such drastic measures to get their point across. Because don't we all just want to tie these people to the ground and yell in their ears, "What do you think you are doing!?" But there's still that one huge difference. I am NOT going to break into their houses, tie them up, set them on fire and carve BIGOT into their stomachs.
Why are the people who are wrong always the loudest?
These zealots must have some crazy imbalanced mix of norepinephrine and seratonin that results in them feeling pleasure when indulging in compulsions to be missionaries for evil. What is their payoff for treating another human being like that? Do they honestly feel better; feel good about themselves? Honest-to-goodness warm fuzzies? Is there a part of their brain that justifies their actions because they don't even see this woman as a human being or at least not on equal footing as they? Do they really believe they're on a mission to strike out the infidels or pervert Old-Testament teachings?
It doesn't just make me angry that these men did this. What makes me more angry is that they did this and refuse to account for it. If you are so justified. If you are so righteous. If you are so happy with your actions, wouldn't you want to come forward and claim your good, hard work?
There is an article about this crime that states:
"Perhaps if her rights as a person were equal to those of straight or heterosexual people, this incident might not have taken place."
Not to play the defeatist but. . .nope. I really don't think so. The men who did this are obviously not interested in following the law. Their minds have been made. They have been twisted, shaped, and conditioned by lies and fear. And, as evidenced by Batman's Scarecrow, fear does funny things to the brain.