Friday, May 23, 2014

we are all tiny humans

I want to say something about the tragic subway attack in the greater Taipei area yesterday, but...while I have a lot of thoughts and feelings, there isn't much to say. I stayed home last night - feeling tired + having an in-home class + torrential rains = just not going to bother going out - and watched my Facebook feed explode with the news. It felt like Taipei was a city besieged yesterday, between the typhoon-like rains (at least it'll fill up our reservoirs?), the earthquake in the morning, and the absolutely-unheard-of-how-could-this-happen stabbing last night. At that point, I didn't want to go out.

It's not that I felt unsafe: I didn't. It was just a feeling of listlessness, and like a child, craving familiarity and certainty when unexpected terrors come out.

First thought: this doesn't happen. Except it did. Taipei is one of the safest cities in Asia. The murder rate is remarkably low, and of the murders that do occur, the vast majority are between people who have a quarrel with each other: random murder, strangers-on-strangers, is virtually unheard of. I use the present tense because I refuse to believe that this is the start of any sort of trend. No. This is the exception that proves the rule.

And I know this. Taiwan is safe. This is the exception that proves the rule. But I couldn't help but feel stressed last night, and listless again today. I did not feel unsafe, I just felt upset.

Why? In the USA I can't imagine I'd be so upset about this sort of thing happening (of course, I would be upset, but not quite in the same way). I hate to say it, but I almost expect it from the USA, or at least, it happens so often that when it inevitably happens again - "where now? Elementary school? Movie theater? Post office? Government building? Okay" - I just feel like...'Murica. It could be because I live in Taipei, so this hits closer to home - that could've been me and all - but even when I lived in the USA I felt that all us tiny humans waiting for our tiny lives to be snuffed out in a chaotic universe of order and entropy faced that danger daily. For eight years in Taiwan, I never felt like I faced any. I felt like more than a tiny human: I felt like a human who wouldn't be naive for being shocked, rather than inured to, violence.

But when you live in a country where this just doesn't happen - I mean it, even though it happened, it just doesn't happen - when it happens, it shocks the bejesus out of you. You get used to a better life, a life where you are not always fearing for your safety, so when random violence happens, it hits deep.

I do not want inurement to violence to be a shibboleth that separates us 'MURICANS from Taiwanese, but it seems that, to some extent, it is.

And I don't think I'm the only one. When I did go out today (and took the MRT - there is no reason to be scared) it felt like a pallor had fallen on the whole city. Everyone looked upset, frustrated, wary or just plain tired. Like they wanted to occupy something, but occupying things wasn't producing any more results than not occupying things because nobody important ever listens. Nobody listens to the tiny humans peeping and cricketing. Like they wanted to reassure themselves that their country is safe (and it is!).

I'm angry at that kid. We're all angry at that kid. He wanted to "do something big" - well fuck him. He took the easy way. He didn't learn, or strive, or work, or apply himself, to do this. He just took life, made four families miss their loved ones for no good reason, for his own tiny goals, played a god I don't believe in, because that was easier than making something of himself. We all want to "do something big". I want to "do something big". If you want to "do something big" you work for it. You learn for it. You strive for it. Killing four people and injuring dozens more isn't "something big" - it is something very black and small. He did something small. Any idiot - any loser - can take out a knife and start slashing. He is a tiny human with a tiny heart and no morality whatsoever.

At the same time, I feel sad for that kid. Empathy, even.  We can only speculate on why he did this, but I can't seem to stop speculating (I know....) He wanted to feel "big", and I suppose playing god is a way to trick yourself into that. That meant he probably felt tiny. A college kid, looking at a 22k future, wondering how on earth he could do something big in a world that seemed so determined to keep him tiny through power structures built in order to keep powerful people happy while everyone else begs for that 22k and is told to feel happy they get even that. He may have felt hopelessness, he may have felt anger. Perhaps entitlement. Perhaps he felt that he had to be the second or third biggest asshole in Taiwan for a year (Ma Ying-jiu and his puppeteer might qualify for assholes #1 and 2) in order to make any mark at all.

Well, we all feel that way. Some of us are afraid to admit that we might see some of ourselves in him, whatever his motives:

If this murderer was from a single-parent family, we close the case and we start to review the mechanisms of single-parent family counseling - ethics groups might come out and say "love is loyalty for life, oppose divorce!" People will believe that children from Taiwanese single-parent families are more likely to become problem children and commit these crimes.

Similarly, if he were a homeless murderer, or he was gay, or he only had a junior high school education or was from a lower-income family, if the murderer came from the east (ed: I don't understand this part), the murderer has depression or chews betel nuts or had ADD/ADHD, we can all close the case because it's easy to attribute the causes to these reasons. Followed by a variety of experts to discuss how we can come out with "counseling", "change", "care" of these people. Then the media, pundits, and education continues to fuel these "social problems". The stigma would continue to replicate indefinitely.

We are accustomed to stories in film, on TV and in comics, instilling a duality into our thinking: that there are good guys and bad guys in the world. Those who do bad things must be the bad guys, and they must be bad for a reason, he is not the same as me, so he is a bad person. So everyone becomes a detective, changes the reasoning of experts and thinks they can read minds. We cannot understand, but also refuse to accept that these things can be done by our hands, from our side - from people like us.

So you will not see someone saying, "because the murderer is from a heterosexual family, is an adult dependent on his parents, so..." Noone would say , "because the killer is in Taipei, so ... ", " because the murderer was a man, so ...", " because the murderer has a Facebook account, so ... ". Obviously these conditions are true, but you will not note them as factors - that would be stupid. But why label other stigma (single-parent families, homosexuality, depression, mental illness) even if they exist, unless we want to say that everything is an influence?

We are constantly looking at those people with distinctive labels, just because we are afraid that we are the same as them, we are afraid to face the fact that we received the same education and grew up and were educated in similar environments. Our fear is that there are not only good people and bad in the world.


That's yet another reason why this has affected me so much - because there is not, and possibly should not be, a "reason" or a "label" to put on him that we can then stigmatize or use as a rallying point to further our own pet causes or prejudices. That he's a kid, just a kid, and he's not as unlike the rest of us as we want to believe.

That this is the game of thrones (after a fashion), and winter is coming, and there are far more in-between people than good or bad, and we are among those in-between people. That people just like us can go on a stabbing spree in the MRT because he felt he couldn't be "big" in any other way, that someone not so different from us did do this.

That we are all specks of dust caught between order and entropy, that there is no grand plan for us. That we are all dust motes on a pale blue dot, dust motes on a dust mote, and we all want to do something big...but we can't, because something that small can't do something terribly big.

Even within our own little pale blue petri dish, where what one speck of dust does can affect the whole, where we can, in our own little enclosed environment, do something "big", deep down we know this:

We all have 22k futures.

Most of us are not built into the power structure, and if you are, you were born into it. I was born more into it than others because of my passport, my education and the color of my skin. It's designed to be hard to change, even as we are told, ad nauseam, that with a little bootstrappin', we can change it. That if we want to, we can really do something big. Take that 22k, hon, and like it! Work hard, give us more, chase that carrot on a stick, that robot rabbit on a racetrack, and trust us. You can do it!

But we can't.

We are all tiny humans.

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