Last week’s shooting in downtown Ottawa gripped Canada and caught the attention of the world. People wondered how this could happen in a nation like Canada.
So much is being written about it already but I think something is also missing from the conversation. We prefer to focus on related narratives – militant Islam, mental health, geopolitical imperatives, the clash of civilizations, etc., while ignoring a much deeper malaise within our society that is spawning all these terrible episodes of senseless violence – the sheer banality of life without meaning, purpose or significance, of disconnected and rudderless lives, of lives without love and nourishing relationships. The words, “disconnected” and “estranged” are used frequently to describe the shooter but we disconnect ourselves from what it is telling us. We ignore it because we are afraid to challenge the assumptions we have made about ourselves.
Clearly, the ethos that once served as a framework for the young has been stripped of its power to mold, to shape, and to guide by the accumulated cynicism and nihilism that has been seeping into our culture for generations. It no longer holds much meaning to those who are now coming of age and going in search of answers.
Isn’t it apparent that young people are increasingly tired of the meaningless existence that has enveloped their reality? They have a thousand questions but they cannot connect with the answers because truth has been discarded and discredited by society, by their parents, by those who govern. We relentlessly propound the idea in our schools that life is merely the result of a cosmic accident, that we came from nothingness and are headed to nothingness and then we wonder why people act and behave as if nothing really matters at all.
Many seek to blot out the emptiness within with drugs, alcohol and sex, but they end up even more wounded, isolated and angry. And someday it reaches critical mass and they come to a point where anything is better than the meaningless lives they now live. They so want to give expression, any expression, to their lives that they would rather go out in a bang of infamy than face the sheer banality of their existence. Young people, like Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (the Ottawa shooter), reach a point where living on the edge, feeling the adrenaline pulsating through their veins for just a few moments, is better than a lifetime of infinite meaninglessness. They hate the world that has been created for them with unimaginable vehemence, and sooner or later determine that it must be destroyed.
A study by Ramon Spaaji, the author of Understanding Lone Wolf Terrorism, noted that many of these lone wolf terrorists are not motivated by ideology but because “they want to be someone,” because they are trying to find fulfillment.
In this sense, militant groups like ISIS, though they need to be confronted, are not the cause; they merely empower the hopeless and desperate. If that hopelessness does not find expression in Islamic militancy, it will find expression in other random and equally meaningless acts of violence – Anders Breivik, Muharem Kurbegovic, Timothy McVeigh, to name a few. It is also worth nothing that since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 that took the lives of 26 people, there have been 87 school shootings in the US alone.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1884 -1900) wrote, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”
Could Michael Zehalf-Bibeau’s act, as despicable as it was, be also a generational cry for meaning and purpose, something… anything… to fill the emptiness within? But we have thrown God out of the equation and we have nothing else to offer that will fill the emptiness within. Ideas do have consequences: expect much more senseless acts of random violence because Nietzche’s children are coming home….