There’s the Rub

Small blessings

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Can a shooting rampage like the ones that have rocked the United States plentifully of late happen here?

Well, nothing is impossible, as they say, and mahirap magsalita nang tapos, as we say, stranger things have happened. Not least of what commends the possibility is our penchant for copying things, if not plagiarizing them, particularly things American, particularly fads American. Shooting rampage has become a veritable fad in America with the ferocious frequency with which it is happening, though it is clearly a fad straight from hell. We do tend to copy American fads with colonial ferocity, including the ones straight from hell.

But it seems highly unlikely. The culture militates against it. Which is yet another argument against the theory that shooting rampages are solely, or primarily, explainable by individual derangement.

The point was driven home to me by someone putting it in this bizarre way, “Thank God at least our killings are purposeful.” Or in Tagalog, “may dahilan ang patayan.” You might find the motives odious, you might find the deed reprehensible, you might find the scale of the murder, or massacre, or slaughter, monstrous, but at least you can grasp them, you can explain them, you can wrap your mind around them. They are not senseless, they are not incomprehensible, they are not things that happen out of the blue, for no reason at all.

The Maguindanao massacre is so. It isn’t called the crime of the century in this country for nothing. The barbarity of the mayhem, rarely seen in modern times other than under conditions of war, qualifies it as so. That is quite apart from the number of dead, consisting mainly of journalists, which is an atrocity by itself. And of course the massacre of a busload of tourists from Hong Kong at the Luneta remains fresh in our minds.

As it does in the minds of the Chinese, which probably fuels their drive to get back at us and get their hands on the Kalayaan Islands. But these things remain graspable however hellish the reasons. They remain conceivable however monstrous the motives.

Firing a semiautomatic at people while they are watching a movie, how do you explain a thing like that? Going to an elementary school and shooting down children with powerful handguns, some of them repeatedly, how do you comprehend a thing like that? It makes terrorists who bomb buildings and fire into unarmed civilians with religious or political fanaticism seem almost benign.

More to the point, how do you guard against a thing like that? Terrorists you can profile, however the profiling often entails ethnic disparagement. Those who wreak “senseless” violence you cannot.

Look at many of the descriptions of the perpetrators of these monstrosities—the last thing they were was monstrous. “He was a quiet boy.” “He was a mild-mannered youth.” “He was the one person I least expected to snap.” How do you guard against people like those?

Nightmarish for any country to have that happen to it. Which brings me to why I figure, or hope, it won’t happen to us.

Arguably, part of it is religion. Religion may not have stopped the murderous “culture of impunity,” some priests even endorsing Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s policy of the wholesale slaughter of insurgents, without distinction between sympathizers and combatants. But that falls more in the category of the fanatically purposeful than the senselessly gratuitous. One thing religion has clearly done, and that is to put the fear of suicide in Filipinos as a rule, which is almost a precondition for a shooting rampage. The shooter expects to die, too, at the end of it, either by his own hand or from a hail of bullets from responding police.

The only killings that bear the mark of senselessness here are the drug-related ones, which are truly chilling in their gruesomeness—a teen raped and stabbed repeatedly to death—but even they are still not beyond the pale of comprehensibility.

But the greater part of it is the culture itself. For good or bad—and it can be epically bad, too—we are dominated by interpersonal relations. A high school teacher, an American Jesuit, gave an insight into it that has remained with me to this day. How person-oriented we are, he said, you see in the language itself. English emphasizes the verb, which is what one does, while the local languages (Bicol in our case) emphasize the noun or the pronoun, or who does what.

Arguably simplistic, arguably amateur psychology or sociology, it has a grain of truth to it. It reflects differences in values and attitudes and world views. Westerners value accomplishment, we value friendships. Westerners value drive, we value getting along well with others, or magaling makisama. Westerners aim to do, we aim to please. The downside in our case is that we don’t see traffic cops and judges and tax collectors as figures of authority, we see them as individuals we can haggle with. The upside is that we do not normally (there are exceptions) suffer from breathtaking levels of remoteness or detachment or impersonality or pathological depression or morbid alienation.

The kind that makes it the easiest thing in the world to see small children as the fleeting forms of the enemy in a video game.

And of course, for all the proliferation of guns in this country, which we truly ought to do something about, as Nandy Pacheco has been exhorting us for some time now, not every Tom, Dick, and Ronald can procure an AK47 over the counter or from Amazon (or whatever online service sells them). And justify it as a God-given right, enshrined in the Second Amendment, to carry in places where the deer and the antelope play. Or indeed where the children do.

That doesn’t make us the most blessed people in the world, but thank God for small favors.

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