Then so are bad ones.
But Americans have a habit of looking for a single-motive that will make sense of evil.
Ferguson, Missouri? Racism.
Bill Cosby? Male.
Tom Brady? Adulterer.
Boston Marathon bombers? Islam.
Dylann Roof? Confederate flag.
But not so fast:
The murders of nine black Americans in a Charleston South Carolina Methodist Episcopal Church have stirred angry denunciations in newspapers and magazines about their white killer, Dylann Roof. He belonged to several organizations which cling to symbols and sentiments of the long defeated Southern Confederacy. Some people are retrospectively blaming American slavery and slave owners for the bloodshed. There have been calls for the demolition of the Jefferson Memorial. Other angry critics have defaced statues of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
While there is a connection to the so-called Lost Cause on the surface of Roof’s disturbed mind, it is not an explanation for the tragedy. The reason for the bloodshed is psychiatric, not racial or political. It is one more example of the Amok Syndrome.
For a long time Amok murders were considered a macabre trait of the Muslim nations of Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia. There, westerners discovered individuals who became depressed and discontented for various reasons – rejection by a woman, loss of a job, the death of a beloved son or daughter. At some unpredictable point, they rushed into the street armed with a “kris” – a large machete-like sword – and began killing people until they were cut down by neighbors or the police.
The idea of westerners succumbing to such a disorder was first suggested by the Austrian novelist, Stefan Zweig, who had encountered the phenomenon in his travels and published a book of novellas in 1922, Amok, Dramas of a Passion, describing people who succumbed to this murderous emotion in various ways. Zweig was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud, among the first to suggest that beneath the surface of many actions lies an undetected emotional illness.
People began noting that outbursts of similar violence took place in many countries. In 1972, Jin Inn Teoh, professor of psychiatry at Aberdeen University in England, reviewed a range of incidents from around the world and concluded amok behavior existed everywhere. There were differences in the way it manifested itself, but it was essentially the same outburst of mass violence. More recently, researchers for Wikipedia have amassed a list of 1,315 examples, which they called “rampage killings.” They have occurred in Africa, in the Middle East, in South and North America and Europe.
Just maybe the heart is desperately complicated, and the Coens know it.