Wednesday, August 15, 2012

James Holmes Scares Us

By Meg Curtis

James Holmes doesn’t need a Joker suit to scare us. Readers might expect a graduate student in neuroscience to understand this apparent revelation. He ranks right up there with tornadoes and earthquakes on a fear seismograph. He appeared set to head in one direction; then, like a subatomic particle, he zigged when we expected him to zag, performing clustered destruction.

A series of his projects, in hindsight, seem to lead in the direction he took. Working backwards, these include a statement on his University of Illinois application that our minds are “the primary source of all things….” Think about that assertion. Is it true? Or was that statement the creation of a sophisticated writer who knew exactly how to tap his audience, hit them in their central nervous system, and win their approval?

If he knew just what to say, how do we differentiate between James Holmes and successful authors, on the one side, and conmen, on the other? If he did con the search committees of his chosen graduate schools, how do we draw a line in the laboratory between researcher and subject? Too many ifs begin to accumulate the minute we consider the downward spiral of this aspiring scientist.

Most tellingly, however, we have to wonder at what point did he become one of the most startling subjects of his own research field? It’s supposedly easy to tell the difference when the subject is hummingbirds, which Holmes had studied.  It’s easy, too, when research delves into the behavior of wolves, chimpanzees, or rats, that animal with a built-in double entendre.

When did this rat become a RAT of the worst kind, turning on his own species? When he expressed interest in the subjective nature of experience, in statements reported by CNN in “Colorado shooting suspect’s writings offer Insight as student, aspiring scientist”? When he worried his psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton? 

The turning from good to evil stands forth at the font of both Theology and Psychology. It features especially in Shakespeare’s Othello. It stars now in our news, which perplexes readers like Genesis.

So long as his destructive timeline remains unknown, we shudder a bit more at our neighbors. We wonder about their capabilities when we turn the other cheek. Worst of all, we wonder about the fragile nature of sanity itself and brotherhood and even cinema, which, until young James went on his rampage, seemed clearer than they may now. Thus, much of what we read about this boy named James concerns him little, but us a great deal, for it is not his face we see at all.

It is the face of the Unknown, not an abstract whatsoever, but a person with a biography which went off on an unanticipated trajectory–exactly like the latest American experiment in Mach 6 space flight. He could have been, as Barrack Obama might have said, our relative, our neighbor, our friend. But he wasn’t. He was our enemy, and we didn’t even recognize him, not from his photos or essays or signature. For better or worse, that is true—and frightening from beginning to end. 

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