Sunday, February 10, 2013

The human face on which they stomped

We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm. -- George Orwell

I read Christopher Jordan Dorner's entire, unedited manifesto (as it is called), which to my mind would be more accurately described as a vivid narrative--albeit one that's deterring in its length--or else an ethical and legal brief; an apology; an outreach; and, for the reader who will put the media chatter on pause and think for himself, an invitation to consider (if not completely understand, ever), the impetuses driving a broken man's embrace of violence and anarchy. Viewed thus--as both exposition and treatise, as opposed to mere expression of vengeance--Dorner's writing belies a rage driven by the constant thwarting of the basic human inclination toward equilibrium and logic, toward having the world around us make sense. It is also a rage fueled by the relentless frustration of his desire to see justice served, which desire, after all, might understandably be that much more powerfully felt by someone who served in law enforcement, and, before that, in the defense of his country.

Dorner's writings are therefore not so easily dismissed as the ramblings of a madman. And they paint--in harsh strokes, with raw pigment--a searing picture of the kind of rage that, let's face it, surely lies frighteningly close to the collective surface of an unknown number of aggrieved and oppressed souls among us.  It is even more terrifying to consider that said number surely climbs every year, as dignity, agency, autonomy, and even survival beyond the narrowest definition of the word elude the despondent many; as vaunted notions like freedom, hope, happiness, and political power are increasingly, exclusively, owned and controlled by the unaccountable few.

If I'm honest, I'll admit that Dorner's rage is in many ways understandable, even as the murders it engendered cannot be condoned, and it should go without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I don't condone them, or indeed any violence, in any shape or form.

The treatise is driven by Dorner's apposite disgust with the asymmetry of both the respect conferred and the dignity afforded a black man within the culture of his profession, as opposed to a white one--even today, even as a black man occupies the nation's highest office.  And it is laced throughout with righteous fury and unimaginable torment.

It is, at its core, the plea of a man who wants his identity and dignity back. Who accepts that if this does take place, ever, he won't be around to appreciate it. Who is simultaneously devoted to satisfying the former, and unconcerned with the inevitability of the latter.

Christopher Dorner is a man who, like the rest of us, lives in a world wherein war criminals, along with well-dressed, well-born sociopathic thieves, are held irreproachable and uncensured.  Meanwhile, ordinary human beings--their lives' trajectories generally preordained by culture; their quest for temporary escape more often than not compelled by abject circumstance (specifically, and especially, citizens who, like him, happen to be black or Latino)--languish, incarcerated, for years on end despite the trivial moral weight of their (usually drugs-related) transgressions; the invariably self-abusing and/or internecine nature of their crimes; and the comparatively hair's-breadth scope of the harm done thereby to the world at large.

This, in stark contrast to the far-reaching devastation wrought by the atrocities their powerful and well-placed betters commit, and commit unashamedly, unrelentingly, and without receiving as much as the smallest measure of punishment.  This, what a moral individual can only view as the desecration of justice itself and the incremental extinguishment thereby of the human spirit. This, yet another foul eruption of the gangrenous institutionalized contempt with which impervious authority regards our better angels and our natural hunger for fairness and dignity.

So, his conscience thus tortured, and his attempts to effect justice via officially sanctioned means thus thwarted and retaliated against, Dorner was at last bereft of options and defeated of spirit. That is, he could no longer reconcile the menaces of hypocrisy, noxious racism, and corrosive, unpunished evildoing swirling around him daily with the unblemished and marble-smooth contours of Justice, which paramount ideal he'd sworn to protect and uphold. Christopher Dorner then turned--tragically and to most, I'm sure, incomprehensibly--toward what must have seemed to him the only logical road ahead.  He decided that the cause of protecting and upholding justice--no matter how warped and ruinous others would regard his interpretation thereof--was more deserving of his energies and devotion than the very preservation of his own life.

As I said when I posted the link to his unedited writing on FaceBook, I strenuously disagree with those commenters asserting that Christopher Dorner's writings were edited, were somehow modified or augmented, by an outside party. These individuals apparently don't believe that a man who snaps this way--who kills, who terrorizes, who is mortally wounded and clearly, heartbreakingly mentally ill--can also be intelligent, reflective, erudite, empathetic, or just. I am angered--well, more like profoundly dismayed--by their reflexive avoidance of unsettling truths; their predictable retreat into the false comforts of boilerplate pop-culture narratives; and their apocryphal, self-satisfied pronouncements about mental illness in general, and nihilist desperation in particular, about which I have written before.

I loathe all kinds of violence, and by that I necessarily include the violence Christopher Dorner has unloosed against the community of the L.A.P.D. and, by extension, his city and country (even as those entities all too often visit their own kind of violence, metaphorical and real, on noble but moribund ideals, and on innocent lives).  I am shocked, but not surprised, at the staggering, ongoing malfeasance of a police force who, like far too many of their counterparts around the nation, oppress and abuse the members of the communities they are supposed to serve, violating their civil liberties and making a mockery of the jurisprudence underpinning the very idea of America.  Who pervert the most basic of moral ideas enshrined in the Constitution--who viciously, and without remorse, tear its blueprints for a just and civilized society into limp ribbons--when they take it upon themselves to shoot first, identify the target later.

I mourn all this loss of life. I also mourn the now-permanent annihilation of the dignity and name of this man, Christopher Dorner, who says quite plainly that it came down to that: to witnessing the destruction of his name, his identity. For this is a man who might well be any of us, were our own identities so forcefully, gleefully shaped--so glossily and appealingly built out--by the brute hands of corporatism, gender expectations, ever-fewer career options, and ever more plentiful and nefarious government needs--only to be dispassionately ablated (and sometimes demolished completely) by those same contemptible architects whenever morality raised its inconvenient head.

I'm able to do that--to hold those two ideas in tension. I ask of others: are you?


  1. Thank you for this clear and literate opinion. I hold this dichotomy myself, and found it difficult to express my empathy for his experiences and disdain for violence simultaneously.

    Those who question the accusations against LAPD should use the google machine to document cases of institutional police brutality.

  2. I am stunned by the intelligence and depth of your thought. I have not encountered such clarity and brilliance of mind in many, many, many years. Thank you.

  3. I had that same thought, in fact I see that kind of injustice everyday. I am really surprized to not see that kind of a reaction more often from all the people in this country that have lost all hope of justice, been lied to by the president, and can't even find a decent job.

  4. Stunningly thoughtful. Seeing things only in black and white is almost a pathology. Thank you for the tension.

  5. Beautifully written and very thought-provoking. Reminds me of Gore Vidal's writings on his correspondence with Timothy McVeigh - another person whose actions were deplorable but whose ideas and motivations were ignored in our national quest to sweep all doubt and critique under the rug of American Exceptionalism. It's so rare to find analysis of the root causes behind atrocities and just write them off as being done by madmen, evildoers, and the mentally ill. Yet, there is no way to prevent future atrocities if we don't understand what leads to past ones, and in any thoughtful society, it is the voices we most don't wan to hear that we should listen to. It is not that we need to agree, but we need to listen in order to better understand our own position.

    1. Not as well written, but furthers some of your points:

  6. It's important to remember the nature of the incident that started this saga. Dorner was fired for 'lying' when he told the truth about an assault perpetrated on a mentally ill man by his training officer. (Teresa Evans)

    Think about that. Dorner, who had already served his country in Iraq was now trying to serve his community in the LAPD. And his trainer, DURING A TRAINING SESSION, was teaching by example that it was OK to 'serve' someone by kicking them twice in the chest and once in the face. When Christopher Dorner balked at the injustice of that senseless act of brutality, LAPD's response was to heap one injustice on another, culminating in Dorner's dismissal.

    As John F. Kennedy remarked, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable." It's not a leap to replace the word revolution with redress, broadening the context to cover Chris Dorner's actions. What Kennedy was talking about was the limits of frustration, and the inevitable result of exceeding those limits. We can all see that, and empathize, when we hear Chris Dorner's story.

  7. Employers of all sorts, including the military, simply do not understand that firings need to be handled even more carefully than hirings, especially where the profession requires the employee to apply controlled violence.

  8. Speak for yourself.

    I would never stalk and murder innocent people because I lost a job, whether for legitimate reasons or not.

    It is quite stunning that you immediately assume Dorner's claims of witnessing brutality are true. The reality is that you have no idea whatsoever. But because of the history of corruption and brutality in the LAPD, you just automatically assume the worst but with zero justification.

    And all of this over what? His "name" and "dignity". If he hated the LAPD so much why would he ever care what they think of him?

    1. I would like to think as highly of myself as well.

      But could you really read what Ms. Tornello has written and distill it down into the simple loss of a job?

  9. Fine work, LitBrit:

    making a mockery of the jurisprudence underpinning the very idea of America. Who pervert the most basic of moral ideas enshrined in the Constitution

    We just addressed these same issues today @ our RangerAgainstWar post, "The Sanctity of Life".
    Sadly, life is becoming more brutish, and Orwell's boot stamping scene, ever more prophetic, no?

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.