Noble Truth and Terrorism

Put colloquially, the Buddha’s First Noble Truth is: Shit happens, we suffer and find life unsatisfactory. The rest of Buddhism is about accepting that truth and living with compassion for those to whom shit is happening. That way, according to the Buddha, we will no longer find life unsatisfactory.

Now, I hold no lineage transmission and have no credentials as a Buddhist teacher, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I’ve never been comfortable enough in one Buddhist tradition to earn teacher status, but from my eclectic study and practice, that’s the core of Buddhism, although living in the present moment and sensing the oneness of all are important to me, too.

I put that out there because I’d like all my liberal/progressive friends and relatives to close their eyes, take three mindful breaths and calm their seeds of anger before they read what I’m going to say next.


Blaming David Daleiden and politicians who take his video seriously for the Planned Parenthood shooting spree by Robert Dear is no different than blaming Al Sharpton and the Black Lives Matter movement for the killing of police officers.

WKalashnikovhen devastatingly bad shit happens, it’s human nature to want to make sense out of it, and we do that using our own belief systems. In December 2012 — after Adam Lanza shot to death his mother, 20 schoolchildren, six Sandy Hook (Connecticut) Elementary School staff members, and then himself — he left no political leanings behind with which he could be labeled a terrorist. So people with one belief system blamed firearms, people with another blamed mental illness, people with another blamed loneliness and isolation, people with another blamed his mother or his parents’ divorce or the lack of resources for troubled children.

The truth is, to use another colloquialism, he was a nut case, and nut cases don’t make sense. I don’t mean to make light of any of this. People, including 20 young children, died, and Lanza seems to have led a horrid life. Maybe broad societal ills manifest themselves in these sporadic mass killings, or maybe it’s just a genetic numbers game: Every so often someone is born with the potential to be a mass murderer and given the right conditions, including living in a place where firearms are easily accessible, many die as a result.

I saw this in my own family when my cousin Barry, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and substance abuse, shot his parents, my uncle and aunt, to death. When the unthinkable happens, people go to great lengths to explain it in a way that fits their belief system. Some relatives who had known Barry as an adorable child looked for any explanation in order not to accept the simple fact that Barry’s sickness caused the killings. They invented elaborate theories about someone programming Barry, or someone else doing it and framing him, even though Barry eventually confessed. The voices in his head made him do it, he said.

Maybe if Barry’s illness had taken a different twist, he would have shot children in a school or people at a Black Lives Matter rally or an anti-abortion protest after venting his views in a diary. But he shot his parents, and Robert Dear shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic.

When 15 people follow a plan and hijack four airliners in order to fly all of them into buildings for a religious and political cause, I can see that as terrorism.

When another group conducts coordinated bombings and shootings in a city for a cause, I can see that as terrorism.

When a government uses bombers and chemical weapons to scare its own people, I can see that as terrorism.

But when a lone nut job who has difficulty with relationships mutters about a cause as he mows people down, that’s mental illness, whether the people are working at Planned Parenthood or in police cars.


Adam Lanza took the life of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene’s 6-year-old daughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This album is Greene’s tribute to her.

Copyright 2015 © Mel Harkrader Pine

8 Comments Add yours

  1. I don’t really know the whole story on this Dear guy, but I like the clarity of your thinking. There’s a difference between having a mental illness and the legal definition of insanity (regarding criminal acts), and because he planned this in an organized fashion and killed complete strangers, I doubt an insanity defense will work. Looking at it from outside a jury, I thought the Colorado movie theater killer was crazy enough to be acquitted, but he was convicted. Dear might be as crazy as your cousin, therefore legally not responsible for his actions (I realize you didn’t say what happened to your cousin). I’m willing to wait and see.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      I wasn’t even thinking about the legal definition of insanity. Very few people fit that definition. My cousin heard voices but was able to think and plan. He took a plea bargain but after 10 years in prison hung himself in his cell.


      1. I’m so sorry for him. That’s a tragedy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. vellissima says:

    I mostly agree with you. I think most of the individuals who commit these acts are mentally unstable. But if that person is a Muslim, his mental stability is not the first question that is asked. IF a muslim, or Arab, or black man, or even an environmentalist is labeled a terrorist, so must the right wing white men who commit similar crimes. “Terrorism” as a label is convenient for dismissing people and groups you wish to control. “Terrorism” plays the role today that “Communism” used to fill – a label to demonize people.
    You say “When a government uses bombers and chemical weapons to scare its own people, I can see that as terrorism”. What about when governments use these on other peoples than their own? I think drone attacks, for one, are state terror.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      Part of the definition of terrorism is that it’s done to cause fear. So I’d see the bombing raids on Syria by the U.S., France, Russia, etc. as arguably a form of terrorism, since no one rationally believes they will achieve a military victory. They are done to punish and cause fear. U.S. air strikes on North Vietnam and in Cambodia during the Vietnam war might also qualify. Drone strikes do, of course, cause fear, but whether they’re terrorism depends on whether that’s their purpose. Are they really intended to eliminate a threat or to warn the local villagers not to be a threat? I tend to think the latter may be true, which would make them terrorism, but I wanted to stick to indisputable examples. I didn’t like using all examples perpetrated by Muslims, so I considered adding something about the Irgun and more recent Israeli actions, but they would take more explaining. I didn’t intend to exonerate the U.S. and conservatives from terrorism. I was making a particular point about mass murders. I wouldn’t call Ted Kaczynski a terrorist, for example, even though that’s what he thinks he was. No one sane would do what he did, and he was incapable of working as part of any coordinated movement. But he’s an example I’d have to explain to my younger readers.


      1. vellissima says:

        I guess one has to consider intent. Kaczynski intended terror, does that make him a terrorist? What about the fear of the sky I’ve seen expressed by children in countries subjected to drone attacks? I that that is terror, but not necessarily the intent. But, yes, I do think on some level drones are intended to inflict a level of terror, even if they are targeted. My only concern with parsing the term is to depoliticize it. When Greens are labeled terrorists, the term is too fungible.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. amiezor says:

    Interesting post Mel, lots to chew on!
    It still slays me that someone who is “pro-life” would ever consider killing anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

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