So, this weekend, a guy in Beijing stabbed a tourist to death, in public, in the middle of the day.
Also recently, a guy riding a Greyhound bus in Canada stabbed his seatmate to death, hacked his head off, and displayed it to the 37 other passengers who’d run screaming out of the bus. Which…wow. As if riding a Greyhound isn’t horror enough in itself.
And, while we’re talking murders, there’s a new book out on the 1924 Leopold & Loeb affair, which, if you’ll remember, involved two smart, young men carefully murdering a stranger for absolutely no reason:
Neither killer showed any remorse after being captured and indicted for murder. Kidnapping had been involved; they had sent a ransom note to their victim’s family. But money wasn’t their true motive. Perfection was. Leopold and Loeb dreamed of committing the perfect crime, and they found philosophical backing for their desire in Nietzsche’s notion of the Übermensch. Leopold wrote to Loeb: “A superman . . . is, on account of certain superior qualities inherent in him, exempted from the ordinary laws which govern men. He is not liable for anything he may do.”
You know, I ride the subway every day, and it is a constant source of wonder to me that very rarely does anybody shove anybody else out in front of an oncoming train. Frankly, the rarity of this reaffirms my belief that, no matter what else you might be able to say for human beings, we’re at least far more likely to be passively harmless than actively malicious. I have an overactive imagination, especially concerning possible physical pain and harm to my body, and as I wait for the train, I am forever anticipating a good firm shove in between my shoulder blades. I imagine myself plummeting forward onto the tracks, surprised and remorseful, as the train barrels down upon me, and, like Anna Karenina, all my Earthly concerns are finally resolved. I can imagine this vividly, with conviction, as if it had actually happened to me at some point in the past. You might think, given these daily grim imaginings, that I would be forever looking back cagily over my shoulder, or hugging the wall far from the yawning chasm. But I don’t. And neither does anybody else. We all teeter precariously near the brink of the train platform, peering impatiently into the black, yawning tunnel, and when the headlights of an oncoming train come charging up at us, preceded by a whoosh of stale air that blows our hair back on our heads, and followed quickly by a screaming, hurtling death machine shooting past not one foot from where we stand, we barely shift our weight ever so slightly back. Nobody ever suspects the throngs of people pushing and jostling up against them on all sides.
Even if New Yorkers were not constantly possessed with a murderous rage towards anyone and everyone around them, and even if a good number of them weren’t stark mad and/or under the influence of everything under the sun, and even if the platforms weren’t dangerously overcrowded so that the slightest slip of a high-heeled power-walker could easily send everyone toppling over like dominoes…even if, in short, the Manhattan subway tunnels were filled with good-hearted, cheery, conscientious folk whistling happily on their way to work, following orderly and careful pedestrian traffic patterns, and granting each other a good margin of personal space to navigate in, it would still be a freaking miracle that everybody wasn’t forever being shoved in front of an oncoming train. So, being that New Yorkers are indeed furious, crowded, impatient and insane, it is a ringing endorsement of the general non-murderousness of human beings that we all for the most part repeatedly survive our daily commute.
Of course, in addition to imagining someone might push me out in front of an oncoming train, I am also forever imagining that, in a moment of caprice, I might suddenly leap out in front of one on my own volition. I’m pretty sure everybody thinks about this, just as whenever you are somewhere high, you fear you might decide to leap over whatever banister you’re peering down from. Again, for the most part, we all resist such impulses, or rather, we manage not to ever forget to mind very carefully that we not accidentally leap to our deaths without giving the matter due consideration first. If we do jump, we really mean it.
So, every day, I imagine being murdered, and I imagine murdering myself. The third possibility, of course, is whether I might push somebody else in front of a train. Lord knows, I’m not without cause. However, oddly enough, I rarely vividly imagine pushing other people in front of a train. When I was a kid, I used to have nightmares that I was driven by a sort of frenzied compulsion to murder dozens of strangers and bury them in our backyard. At some point in the dream, one of my parents would discover this, and suddenly, my dreaming self would fully realize what sort of awful business I had been up to, and the full onslaught of this realization – of what a monstrous person I was, and of how much destruction I’d wrought, and of the guilt I would now have to bear – would come crashing down on me all at once, and my real-life self would wake up in a cold sweat, and it would be awhile before I could reassure myself I’d only dreamed it, and furthermore, that I wasn’t still guilty of any sort of latent murderous intent for even having merely dreamed it.
So, I used to worry a lot that I would at some point become a serial killer. But that was when I was a kid. As an adult, while I do constantly worry that others might suddenly be the death of me (whether by accident or intent), or that I might slip up and kill myself, I don’t have any real apprehension that I might suddenly start killing other people. And I think I can count this as a personal virtue, because apparently, some people really do find themselves – suddenly, of an afternoon – hacking a stranger to death with a knife. But this is a rare event, and if it makes you frightened about what might befall you out there amongst others, reassure yourself the way I do: think about how seldom we nudge each other off train platforms (and this is certainly not because we like the people around us), despite how incredibly easy it would be to do so.