In several of his books Colin Wilson makes reference to the writer Graham Greene playing Russian Roulette with a loaded pistol. The experience, he says, focused the intensity of life so as to lift him out of his depression and feeling of hopelessness.
I think many of us have had a similar feeling in cases where we’ve had to deal with a dangerous or life threatening situation. I think, though, that few go to the lengths of playing Russian Roulette. Danger supercharges our positive feelings about life, especially if we’re feeling hopeless or meaningless.
I think that it is very easy for people to fall into that negative mental space of nihilism in our modern society. We force ourselves to ignore atrocities that exist in the world even though they are force fed to us in glorious live action on the TV screen, all the while wondering who’s going to win American Idol and will those two judges who can’t get along cause a scene on tonight’s episode. Those who are supposed to bear the flag for integrity routinely drop it. Banks wipe out entire pension funds and are rewarded by the government to do it. (Check out last week’s Rolling Stone!!) Cynicism and skepticism are both quite warranted. It would be easy to decide that life doesn’t make sense and that individuals are invisible and have no say.
In David Chronenberg’s Cosmopolis there is a scene at the end where an assassin about to shoot a famous banker says that it’s not about the money or the wealth. He just wants his life to mean something, …to be noticed. He feels invisible, watching other people live their lives and wondering how they do it. You get the same feeling from the movie God Bless America, where the main character is driven insane by the sheer pointlessness of life before going on his killing spree.
Not all, but many of the mass shootings are caused by the same thing that caused Greene to play Russian Roulette. It is the desire to feel something real and lift oneself out of the fog of perpetual sleep. It is the desire to do something that’s noticed. It is an artifact of a society that in some cases encourages that kind of nihilism in people.
I hastily add that, no, I don’t feel that way. Have no fear. And there are many others who don’t either. But it is a reality for some, and I know a few, at a variety of ages. When you see Cosmopolis or God Bless America you can see how the insanity of our society can have a brain numbing effect on many people.
But then there’s Happy Feet. Well maybe, but some would say that it’s just brain numbing in a different way.