Mind Full of Voids

A failed suicide at a Knoxville church should make America mindful of a present danger

If you hear a sound in the night, are you content to chalk it up as unknown? You hope to hear it again, and you speculate on where it came from and what it was. Our minds do not like holes, so they fill them. Intruder? Raccoon? Ghost? If we can't solve the mystery, we settle for a best guess.

We all walk around with conclusions unsupported by evidence.

Jim Adkisson's would-be suicide note is full of voids: "They want America to lose this war for reasons I can not understand. It makes me soooo mad!"; "I can't for the life of me understand why these people would embrace Marxism like they do." Two big holes he could never fill: why liberals want to lose and why liberals embrace Marxism. Those unknowns vexed him.

It was not vexation that drove him to murder, however. Deadly stakes came into play over other voids. He had been out of work for some time and wrote that "‘overqualified' is a code word for ‘too damned old'." He was haunted by the thought that he had been meant to die in Vietnam and his life was a gap in the fabric of fate.

Our minds fill holes, and Adkisson filled his with a suicidal rage. His sane mind wanted a noble death, however, so it filled the rage with purpose. His suicide became a suicide mission, pairing his urge to destroy himself with a need for deserving victims. Whether anyone deserves to die, every role must be cast, so Adkisson plugged liberals into his holes.

The frightening thing about Adkisson's confessional is its normalcy. He makes a convincing everyman adrift on the seas of divorce and unemployment, undeluded about his future prospects. The hatred he channeled into his turmoil was readily available and easy to consume. He was not into something weird and esoteric like Marxism. He listened to the same radio stations we all do.

The voids in his life were a product of a corporate culture that once offered secure careers and now increasingly treats employees as commodities acquired and discarded. Fewer jobs include health care, and in that void has grown crisis. Unemployment is a void with a tendency to grow Jim Adkissons.

Suicides inside foreclosed homes happen regularly. Joblessness and economic stress drive some men to kill their whole families, perhaps feeling it is ignoble to leave behind dependents you have not provided for. Like Adkisson, they opt to go out a hero. Our minds can fill the biggest voids.

When a question has no answer, the problem is often the question. Trying to prove a false proposition can be vexing. Had Adkisson ever listened to actual critics of the Iraq invasion, he would have discovered they did not want America to lose. Stated objectives for the invasion had been achieved, and most believed the only way to lose was by sticking around too long. It never occured to him that "liberals want America to lose" was just a cheap lie designed to keep him incurious about other perspectives, like it never occured to him that killing fellow Americans was wrong.

His reading list matched the WNOX roster, and that station remains a safe environment for right-wing liars, where they need not compete with opposing opinions. I lauded Catherine Howell for holding a discussion with WNOX listeners in the days after the shooting, but all the station has done since then is hire "Left Turn Laverne" to do traffic.

The void of evidence, ideas, and decency on the right is a sickness, and it will yield more political violence as it delivers further economic sorrows. Adkisson joined 19 Arabs on the list of perpetrators of terror attacks against Americans. The deluded never know when they are wrong, but Rove, Limbaugh, and the rest know when they are lying. Building violence out of voids is their job.