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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Stranger

Posted by on September 14 at 12:17 PM

This week’s Police Beat includes an unsettling report of a man who was randomly and repeatedly stabbed just outside of Cal Anderson Park thirty minutes before the day came to an end. The attack was exceptionally vicious, and the man is lucky still to be on this side of all there is. The report reminded me of a passage that runs between the fourth and seventh page of Jonathan Raban’s first masterpiece, The Soft City. In it, he attempts to connect the reality of random acts of violence with the estrangement or alienation that for city dwellers makes “hatred a dreadfully easy emotion.” Raban writes:

“In rural areas the majority of the victims of violent crime know their assailants (indeed, are probably married to them); in cities, the killer and the mugger come out of the anonymous dark, their faces unrecognised, thier motives obscure. In a city, you can be known, envied, hated by strangers.”

Although random acts of violence do actually happen, we never really believe they are in truth random. No one believes that something can happen for no reason at all. Even though that is a fact of life itself, we refuse to accept this fundamental fact. The stars have meaning, as well as stingrays. And so our thinking goes: The man leaving Cal Anderson Park must have done something to provoke the attack, and it is only random because he doesn’t know what it is he did. If he can determine the cause (a shirt he wore, a word he said, the way he walked) then there you have it: don’t wear that shirt again, or talk that way again, or walk that way again in that park.

If the stranger can not provide us with a reason, a motive (money, sex, revenge) then we turn to the victim and cast blame on him or her (why were you in that park late at night in the first fucking place?) because we refuse to believe that anything can actually be the result of random factors, random actors.



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do you think that it could come from a sense of superiority over the victim?

not from the attacker, but from us.

i sometimes think that we blame the victim because we try to put ourselves in the position they were in and decide what should have been done or not done. regardless of the fact that they're still the victim, we hold them responsible for not only themselves, but the entire environment they're in.

it's important to be responsible, but there is only so much we can control.

is there a reason a physical description of the attacker hasn't been provided?

I think it is about distancing ourselves from the violence. If we can rationalize a violent act, then we can believe it will not happen to us. There also seems to be a human tendency--one that explains most of religion, a great deal of philosophy, and all mystery novels--that the absence of evidence, perhaps more so than the presence, calls forth explanation.

Must we conclude that an attack is either random, or else is due to the actions, appearance, and attitude of the victim? Is it not possible that an attack might have reasons entirely in the mind of the attacker?


Is it possible that when Charles Muded writes a piece of ostensible journalism consisting entirely of questions, he does so to avoid stating his own opinion?


Could it be that when Charles Mudede asks questions worded with obvious bias or suggesting a particular type of answer, he is doing so in order to provoke predictable responses which he can then denegrate with an air of erudite superiority?

Oh come on, people. Sure, Charles throws a lot of wild pitches, but this one is on the mark.

Randomness is a terrifying. In the face of amiguity, people blame the victim. Reasonable and interesting observations.

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