Skinwalkers - Chapter 18
The following are direct quotes from the book Tribe, On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger, May 2016, except for statements in italic added.
The ultimate act of disaffiliation isn’t littering or fraud, of course, but violence against your own people. When the Navajo Nation—the Diné, in their language—were rounded up and confined to a reservation in the 1860s, a terrifying phenomenon became more prominent in their culture. The warrior skills that had protected the Diné for thousands of years were no longer relevant in this dismal new era, and people worried that those same skills would now be turned inward, against society. That strengthened their belief in what were known as skinwalkers, or yee naaldlooshii.
Skinwalkers were almost always male and wore the pelt of a sacred animal so that they could subvert that animal’s powers to kill people in the community. They could travel impossibly fast across the desert and their eyes glowed like coals and they could supposedly paralyze you with a single look. They were thought to attack remote homesteads at night and kill people and sometimes eat their bodies. People were still scared of skinwalkers when I lived on the Navajo Reservation in 1983, and frankly, by the time I left, I was too.
Virtually every culture in the world has its version of the skinwalker myth. In Europe, for example, they are called werewolves (literally “man-wolf” in Old English). The myth addresses a fundamental fear in human society: that you can defend against external enemies but still remain vulnerable to one lone madman in your midst. Anglo-American culture doesn’t recognize the skinwalker threat but has its own version. Starting in the early 1980s, the frequency of rampage shootings in the United States began to rise more and more rapidly until it doubled around 2006. Rampages are usually defined as attacks where people are randomly targeted and four or more are killed in one place, usually shot to death by a lone gunman. As such, those crimes conform almost exactly to the kind of threat that the Navajo seemed most to fear on the reservation: murder and mayhem committed by an individual who has rejected all social bonds and attacks people at their most vulnerable and unprepared. For modern society, that would mean not in their log hogans but in movie theaters, schools, shopping malls, places of worship, or simply walking down the street.
Here is a list of skinwalkers, and their shooting rampages in the USA over the last 30 years. Note that from 1988 to 1997 there were 6; from 1998 to 2007 there were 9; from 2008 to 2017 there were 24. Why does it appear that over the last 10 years our society is generating a sharp increase in skinwalkers, individuals committing murder and mayhem who have rejected all social bonds and attack people at their most vulnerable and unprepared? Perhaps it is because, as Sebastion Junger stated, this “shows how completely detribalized this country has become.” Our neurological genetic predisposition, the warrior ethos, all for 1 and 1 for all, is no longer relevant in modern life. As individuals in society it appears we are now very far from our evolutionary roots.
In 2013, areport from the Congressional Research Service, known as Congress's think tank, described mass shootings as those in which shooters "select victims somewhat indiscriminately" and kill four or more people.
Mass shootings over last 30 years until October 1, 2017. And recent news from October 2 to December 31, 2017.
November 14, 2017: Rampaging through a small Northern California town, a gunman took aim on Tuesday at people at an elementary school and several other locations, killing at least four and wounding at least 10 before he was fatally shot by police, the local sheriff’s office said.
November 5, 2017: Devin Patrick Kelley carried out the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history on Sunday, killing 25 people and an unborn child at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, near San Antonio.
October 1, 2017: 58 killed, more than 500 injured: Las Vegas
More than 50 people were killed and at least 500 others injured when a gunman opened fire at a country music festival near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, authorities said. Police said the suspect, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, a resident of Mesquite, Nev., was was found dead after a SWAT team burst into the hotel room from which he was firing at the crowd.
Jan. 6, 2017: 5 killed, 6 injured: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
After taking a flight to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida, a man retrieves a gun from his luggage in baggage claim, loads it and opens fire, killing five people near a baggage carousel and wounding six others. Dozens more are injured in the ensuing panic. Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran from Anchorage, Alaska, has pleaded not guilty to 22 federal charges.
May 28, 2017: 8 killed, Lincoln County, Miss. A Mississippi man went on a shooting spree overnight, killing a sheriff's deputy and seven other people in three separate locations in rural Lincoln County before the suspect was taken into custody by police, authorities said on Sunday.
Sept. 23, 2016: 5 killed: Burlington, Wash.
A gunman enters the cosmetics area of a Macy’s store near Seattle and fatally shoots an employee and four shoppers at close range. Authorities say Arcan Cetin, a 20-year-old fast-food worker, used a semi-automatic Ruger .22 rifle that he stole from his stepfather’s closet.
June 12, 2016: 49 killed, 58 injured in Orlando nightclub shooting
The United States suffered one of the worst mass shootings in its modern history when 49 people were killed and 58 injured in Orlando, Fla., after a gunman stormed into a packed gay nightclub. The gunman was killed by a SWAT team after taking hostages at Pulse, a popular gay club. He was preliminarily identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen.
Dec. 2, 2015: 14 killed, 22 injured: San Bernardino, Calif.
Two assailants killed 14 people and wounded 22 others in a shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. The two attackers, who were married, were killed in a gun battle with police. They were U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook and Pakistan national Tashfeen Malik, and had an arsenal of ammunition and pipe bombs in their Redlands home.
Nov. 29, 2015: 3 killed, 9 injured: Colorado Springs, Colo.
A gunman entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo., and started firing.
Police named Robert Lewis Dear as the suspect in the attacks.
Oct. 1, 2015: 9 killed, 9 injured: Roseburg, Ore.
Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer shot and killed eight fellow students and a teacher at Umpqua Community College. Authorities described Harper-Mercer, who recently had moved to Oregon from Southern California, as a “hate-filled” individual with anti-religion and white supremacist leanings who had long struggled with mental health issues.
July 16, 2015: 5 killed, 3 injured: Chattanooga, Tenn. A gunman opened fire on two military centers more than seven miles apart, killing four Marines and a Navy sailor. A man identified by federal authorities as Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, sprayed dozens of bullets at a military recruiting center, then drove to a Navy-Marine training facility and opened fire again before he was killed.
June 18, 2015: 9 killed: Charleston, S.C.
Dylann Storm Roof is charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in an attack that killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. Authorities say Roof, a suspected white supremacist, started firing on a group gathered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after first praying with them. He fled authorities before being arrested in North Carolina.
May 23, 2014: 6 killed, 7 injured: Isla Vista, Calif.
Elliot Rodger, 22, meticulously planned his deadly attack on the Isla Vista community for more than a year, spending thousands of dollars in order to arm and train himself to kill as many people as possible, according to a report released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. Rodger killed six people before shooting himself.
April 2, 2014: 3 killed; 16 injured: Ft. Hood, Texas
A gunman at Fort Hood, the scene of a deadly 2009 rampage, kills three people and injures 16 others, according to military officials. The gunman is dead at the scene.
Sept. 16, 2013: 12 killed, 3 injured: Washington, D.C. Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor and former Navy enlisted man, shoots and kills 12 people and engages police in a running firefight through the sprawling Washington Navy Yard. He is shot and killed by authorities.
June 7, 2013: 5 killed: Santa Monica
John Zawahri, an unemployed 23-year-old, kills five people in an attack that starts at his father’s home and ends at Santa Monica College, where he is fatally shot by police in the school’s library.
Dec. 14, 2012: 27 killed, one injured: Newtown, Conn.
A gunman forces his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. and shoots and kills 20 first graders and six adults. The shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, kills himself at the scene. Lanza also killed his mother at the home they shared, prior to his shooting rampage.
Aug. 5, 2012: 6 killed, 3 injured: Oak Creek, Wis.
Wade Michael Page fatally shoots six people at a Sikh temple before he is shot by a police officer. Page, an Army veteran who was a “psychological operations specialist,” committed suicide after he was wounded. Page was a member of a white supremacist band called End Apathy and his views led federal officials to treat the shooting as an act of domestic terrorism.
July 20, 2012: 12 killed, 58 injured: Aurora, Colo.
James Holmes, 24, is taken into custody in the parking lot outside the Century 16 movie theater after a post-midnight attack in Aurora, Colo. Holmes allegedly entered the theater through an exit door about half an hour into the local premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
April 2, 2012: 7 killed, 3 injured: Oakland
One L. Goh, 43, a former student at a Oikos University, a small Christian college, allegedly opens fire in the middle of a classroom leaving seven people dead and three wounded.
Jan. 8, 2011: 6 killed, 11 injured: Tucson, Ariz.
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, allegedly shoots Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head during a meet-and-greet with constituents at a Tucson supermarket. Six people are killed and 11 others wounded.
Nov. 5, 2009: 13 killed, 32 injured: Ft. Hood, Texas
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, allegedly shoots and kills 13 people and injures 32 others in a rampage at Ft. Hood, where he is based. Authorities allege that Hasan was exchanging emails with Muslim extremists including American-born radical Anwar Awlaki.
April 3, 2009: 13 killed, 4 injured: Binghamton, N.Y.
Jiverly Voong, 41, shoots and kills 13 people and seriously wounds four others before apparently committing suicide at the American Civic Assn., an immigration services center, in Binghamton, N.Y.
Feb. 14, 2008: 5 killed, 16 injured: Dekalb, Ill.
Steven Kazmierczak, dressed all in black, steps on stage in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University and opens fire on a geology class. Five students are killed and 16 wounded before Kazmierczak kills himself on the lecture hall stage.
Dec. 5, 2007: 8 killed, 4 injured: Omaha
Robert Hawkins, 19, sprays an Omaha shopping mall with gunfire as holiday shoppers scatter in terror. He kills eight people and wounds four others before taking his own life. Authorities report he left several suicide notes.
April 16, 2007: 32 killed, 17 injured: Blacksburg, Va.
Seung-hui Cho, a 23-year-old Virginia Tech senior, opens fire on campus, killing 32 people in a dorm and an academic building in attacks more than two hours apart. Cho takes his life after the second incident.
Feb. 12, 2007: 5 killed, 4 injured: Salt Lake City
Sulejman Talovic, 18, wearing a trenchcoat and carrying a shotgun, sprays a popular Salt Lake City shopping mall. Witnesses say he displays no emotion while killing five people and wounding four others.
Oct. 2, 2006: 5 killed, 5 injured: Nickel Mines, Pa.
Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk truck driver armed with a small arsenal, bursts into a one-room schoolhouse and kills five Amish girls. He kills himself as police storm the building.
July 8, 2003: 5 killed, 9 injured: Meridian, Miss.
Doug Williams, 48, a production assemblyman for 19 years at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., goes on a rampage at the defense plant, fatally shooting five and wounding nine before taking his own life with a shotgun.
Dec. 26, 2000: 7 killed: Wakefield, Mass.
Michael McDermott, a 42-year-old software tester shoots and kills seven co-workers at the Internet consulting firm where he is employed. McDermott, who is arrested at the offices of Edgewater Technology Inc., apparently was enraged because his salary was about to be garnished to satisfy tax claims by the Internal Revenue Service. He uses three weapons in his attack.
Sept. 15, 1999: 7 killed, 7 injured: Fort Worth
Larry Gene Ashbrook opens fire inside the crowded chapel of the Wedgwood Baptist Church. Worshipers, thinking at first that it must be a prank, keep singing. But when they realize what is happening, they dive to the floor and scrunch under pews, terrified and silent as the gunfire continues. Seven people are killed before Ashbrook takes his own life.
April 20, 1999: 13 killed, 24 injured: Columbine, Colo.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, students at Columbine High, open fire at the school, killing a dozen students and a teacher and causing injury to two dozen others before taking their own lives.
March 24, 1998: 5 killed, 10 injured: Jonesboro, Ark.
Middle school students Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden pull a fire alarm at their school in a small rural Arkansas community and then open fire on students and teachers using an arsenal they had stashed in the nearby woods. Four students and a teacher who tried shield the children are killed and 10 others are injured. Because of their ages, Mitchell. 13, and Andrew, 11, are sentenced to confinement in a juvenile facility until they turn 21.
Dec. 7, 1993: 6 killed, 19 injured: Garden City, N.Y.
Colin Ferguson shoots and kills six passengers and wounds 19 others on a Long Island Rail Road commuter train before being stopped by other riders. Ferguson is later sentenced to life in prison.
July 1, 1993: 8 killed, 6 injured: San Francisco
Gian Luigi Ferri, 55, kills eight people in an office building in San Francisco’s financial district. His rampage begins in the 34th-floor offices of Pettit & Martin, an international law firm, and ends in a stairwell between the 29th and 30th floors where he encounters police and shoots himself.
May 1, 1992: 4 killed, 10 injured: Olivehurst, Calif.
Eric Houston, a 20-year-old unemployed computer assembler, invades Lindhurst High School and opens fire, killing his former teacher Robert Brens and three students and wounding 10 others.
Oct. 16, 1991: 22 killed, 20 injured: Killeen, Texas
George Jo Hennard, 35, crashes his pickup truck into a Luby’s cafeteria crowded with lunchtime patrons and begins firing indiscriminately with a semiautomatic pistol, killing 22 people. Hennard is later found dead of a gunshot wound in a restaurant restroom.
June 18, 1990: 10 killed, 4 injured: Jacksonville, Fla.
James E. Pough, a 42-year-old day laborer apparently distraught over the repossession of his car, walks into the offices of General Motors Acceptance Corp. and opens fire, killing seven employees and one customer before fatally shooting himself.
Jan. 17, 1989: 5 killed, 29 injured: Stockton, Calif.
Patrick Edward Purdy turns a powerful assault rifle on a crowded school playground, killing five children and wounding 29 more. Purdy, who also killed himself, had been a student at the school from kindergarten through third grade.Police officials described Purdy as a troubled drifter in his mid-20s with a history of relatively minor brushes with the law. The midday attack lasted only minutes.
July 18, 1984: 21 killed, 19 injured: San Ysidro, Calif.
James Oliver Huberty, a 41-year-old out-of-work security guard, kills 21 employees and customers at a McDonald’s restaurant. Huberty is fatally shot by a police sniper perched on the roof of a nearby post office.
Integrate the Wisdoms of History into Present Culture
Addressing the polarized political climate in the USA
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Sociologist Charles Fritz in the 1950 and 1960s did studies on how communities respond to calamity. He was unable to find a single instance where communities that had been hit by catastrophic events lapsed into sustained panic, much less anything approaching anarchy. If anything, he found that social bonds were reinforced during disasters, and that people overwhelmingly devoted their energies toward the good of the community rather than just themselves. This same response took place from people in southeast Texas and Florida during hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017.
Fritz’s theory is that modern society had gravely disrupted the social bonds that have always characterized the human experience, and that disasters thrust people back into a more ancient, organic way of relating. Disasters, he proposed, create a “community of sufferers” that allows individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others. As people come together to face an existential threat, Fritz found, class differences are temporarily erased, income disparities become irrelevant, race is overlooked, and individuals are assessed simply by what they are willing to do for the group. It is a kind of fleeting social utopia that, Fritz felt, is enormously gratifying to the average person and downright therapeutic to people suffering from mental illness.
The following are direct quotes from the book Tribe, On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger, May 2016, except for statements in italic added. Page numbers added for reference.
The one thing that might be said for societal collapse is that, for a while at least, everyone is equal. In 1915 an earthquake killed 30,000 people in Avezzano, Italy, in less than a minute. The worst hit areas had a mortality rate of 96%, the rich were killed along with the poor, virtually everyone who survived was immediately thrust into the most basic struggle for survival: they needed food, they needed water, they needed shelter, and they needed to rescue the living and bury the dead. In that sense, plate tectonics under Avezzano managed to recreate the communal conditions of our evolutionary past quite well. “An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not maintain, the equality of all men,” one of the survivors wrote.
Regarding the bombing of London during WWII:
Eight million men, women and children in greater London endured the kind of aerial bombardment that even soldiers are rarely subjected to. Often the badly wounded were just given morphine and left to die in the rubble while rescue crews moved on to people they thought they could save. On and on the horror went, people dying in their homes or neighborhoods while doing the most mundane things. Not only did these experiences fail to produce mass hysteria, they didn’t even trigger much individual psychosis. Before the war, projections for psychiatric breakdown in England ran as high as four million people, but as the Blitz progressed, psychiatric hospitals around the country saw admissions go down. Psychiatrists watched in puzzlement as longstanding patients saw their symptoms subside during the period of intense air raids. Voluntary admissions to psychiatric wards noticeably declined, even epileptics reported having fewer seizures.
An Irish psychologist named H.A. Lyons found that suicide rates in Belfast dropped 50% during the riots of 1969 and 1970, and homicide and other violent crimes also went down. Depression rates for men and women both declined. Lyons in 1979 wrote in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, “When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose, with resulting improvement in mental health. It would be irresponsible to suggest violence as a means of improving mental health, but the Belfast findings suggest that people will feel better psychologically if they have more involvement in their community.”
Fritz’s conclusions were later borne out in a study of the city of Yungay, in central Chile, which was struck by a devastating earthquake and rockslide on May 31, 1970. Ninety percent of the population of Yungay died almost instantly, and 70,000 people were killed throughout the region – roughly equivalent to a nuclear strike on that area. The rockslide that buried the city put so much dust in the air that helicopters couldn’t land, and survivors of Yungay were left completely on their own for days. Into this terrifying vacuum, a new social order quickly sprang up. “concepts of individual private property temporarily submerged” anthropologist Anthon Oliver-Smith wrote in his paper “Brotherhood of Pain.” “The crisis also had an immediate status-leveling effect on the nascent community of survivors it had created. A sense of brotherhood prevailed as Indian and Mestizo, lower and upper class, collaborated in the collective efforts to obtain immediate necessities and survive. As soon as relief flights began delivering aid to the area, class division returned and the sense of brotherhood disappeared. The modern world had arrived.
If there are phrases that characterize the life of our early ancestors, “community of sufferers” and “brotherhood of pain” surely must come close. Their lives were probably less labor intensive than lives in modern society, as demonstrated by the !Kung, but the mortality rate would have been much higher. The advantages of group cooperation would include far more effective hunting and defense, and groups that failed to function cooperatively must have gradually died out.
What catastrophes seem to do, sometimes in the span of a few minutes, is turn back the clock on a million years of social evolution. Self-interest gets subsumed into group interest because here is no survival outside of group survival, that genetically evolved and chemically existent tribal instinct is revealed, and that creates a bond that many people sorely miss.
Where else could this tribal instinct be reflected in modern society? Read Chapter 13.
Modern Crises and Tribal Instinct
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