Chaos theories


You could almost phone it in: a lineup of the usual suspects in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., massacre. This senseless tragedy was caused by too many guns, not enough guns, the Tea Party, left-wing hatemongers, misguided civil libertarians, atheists, religious nuts, the softening of American character, and the general craziness of American life.

At this moment, it makes no difference to the friends and families of the dead or to the dozens who were wounded in the first hour of July 20, 2012. While they were watching the opening scenes of a movie about a city erupting in chaos, the movie theater erupted in chaos. As far as they were concerned in those few minutes, only one man was to blame. And nobody knows yet what made him do it.

Within 12 hours of the incident, a photo of him hit the internet: a nice-looking young man with a slightly goofy smile and short dark hair, two locks of which curled upward on both sides of his head like … well, like horns. Like most mass-murderers, he is described as "quiet" and "a loner." Unlike many, he is also referred to as a "brilliant" student who was going for a doctorate in neuroscience. Upon hearing of her son's connection to the murders, James Holmes' mother told ABC News, "You have the right person." She knew something. The rest of us didn't until too late. (UPDATE, Tues, July 24: Maybe James Holmes' mother didn't quite say what ABC reported she said.)

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Are such happenings really "senseless"? If so, why do we keep trying to make sense of them?

There must be a reason, we think, for an intelligent, attractive young man of respectable middle-class background to fire a hundred rounds of ammo in a crowded theater. Social science likes to blame cultural factors: the "culture" of _____ caused by _____. You fill in the blanks according to your worldview, but any answer is going to be partial at best.

"Science," Nietzsche wrote, "probes the processes of nature, but it can never command men. Science knows nothing of taste, love, pleasure, displeasure, exaltation, or exhaustion. Man must in some way interpret, and thereby evaluate, what he lives through and experiences." Maybe James Holmes forgot that, or never knew it. Maybe he spent his school career probing the processes of the human brain but never examined his own.

There's a good chance we'll never know the precise mix of influences that makes one human out of 10,000 go rogue. Who can understand the human heart? wondered Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17:9). He offered three words to describe it: deceitful, desperate, and wicked. I'm betting that's the best we can do.

Related stories, columns, and radio segments:

"Midnight nightmare: An exciting night at the premiere of the latest Batman film turns into tragedy in Colorado" | by Sarah Padbury | July 20

"A state of prayer: In the aftermath of Friday's shooting massacre, a Colorado community gathers to heal" | by Sarah Padbury | July 23

"Dark night" | by Cal Thomas | July 24

"Nightmare and narrow escapes: For victims of Colorado theater shooting, the early minutes of watching The Dark Knight Rises held both" | By Ruth Gibson | WORLD, Aug. 11 (posted July 27)

"Healing opportunities: Colorado shooting victim's family courageously faces a 'double-whammy' of health issues" | By Sarah Padbury | July 27

"John Stonestreet commentary: The Aurora shootings and the problem of evil" | The World and Everything in It | July 28

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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