Thursday, 3 June 2010

The stress, pain and anger of a crowded world - thoughts about the future from the past


“The incidence of muckers continues to maintain its high: one in Outer Brooklyn yesterday accounted for 21 victims before the fuzzie-wuzzies fused him, and another is still at large in Evsanston, Ill. Across the sea in London a woman mucker took out four including her own three-month baby before a mind-present standerby clobbered. Reports also from Rangoon, Lima and Auckland notch up the day’s total to 69.”

So goes part of the first ‘Happening World’ in John Brunner’s wonderful, new wave SF novel, ‘Stand on Zanzibar’. And it’s odd that the events in Cumbria took my mind straight to this matter-of-fact piece of fictional reportage. The banal manner in which Brunner introduces the ‘mucker’ to the reader is really quite frightening – we’re talking precisely about the sort of event that still today causes us such shock.

In part, Brunner was trying to describe how dehumanising mass population becomes – crowdedness breeds more stress, more risk, more chance of someone running amok. And from this event, a feature of the crowded world, comes the idea of the ‘mucker’, a person – young, old, male, female, white, black, yellow – who snaps and runs riot. Brunner does not explain or analyse, he just presents the ‘fact’ dispassionately. We don’t get to explore the details of the individual cases – we just get the event in stripped down form: “…accounted for 21 victims…”

Stand on Zanzibar is intended as a warning that with numbers come more of these (and other) events – partly a simple response to there being more people and partly a greater incidence descending from the impact of those numbers on our psyches. I’m not sure I agree with Brunner’s analysis but his presentation of the dehumanising effect of crowds is both depressing and revelatory.

Crazed incidents of murder have been a feature of human society for a long while – anyone who meander the by-ways of folk music will be struck by just how many songs there are about murder. So when we look at the events of yesterday – shocked, stunned, perhaps angry – we need to ask two questions: firstly, is this just another tragic, horrible murderous rampage or something else – something preventable; and secondly, does the event speak of a human condition stretching back through history – thankfully a rare condition?

For what its worth – and I’ve made no study of these matters – I feel the answer lies somewhere between. Blaming the gun is a fruitless diversion but trying to appreciate – and maybe on occasion notice – how the stresses, the agonies of everyday life can unhinge someone might prove a more purposeful response. Supporting scientific enquiry (and I don’t mean the ‘crackeresque’, pseudo-psychiatry beloved of the media) into the motives, reason and proximate causes of the rampages – these ‘muckers’ – might prove of some value. Although, I guess the chances of preventing some future incident in some other unfortunate place are pretty slim – if not non-existent.

Right now, the best we can do is to give a thought to others suffering – to pray if that’s your thing. And to hope that those damaged by the event can gather themselves and come to terms with what has happened. And, at some point, get on with the ordinary lives that cause such stress, pain and anger.


1 comment:

Phil said...

I feel an enquiry in to how we can help these souls from breaking is our best hope. However, I'm slightly more optimistic, whilst such grim events can never be erased there's no telling how many we may prevent - we 'just' need faith that we can make a difference.