Virginia Tech: an ideo-lexical analysis of a tragedy

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Análisis ideoléxico de una tragedia (Spanish)


Virginia Tech: an ideo-lexical analysis of a tragedy

By Jorge Majfud

Most of the medicines that it is sold as pills cover a certain drug, chemic or compound with a coat that has an attractive color and a sweet taste. In Spanish, popular wisdom uses this characteristic to build a metaphor: “to swallow the pill” has a negative meaning and expresses the action of taking something with the shape or the taste of something else. That means, to believe or accept a truth as an unquestionable event without being conscious of the true implications. In literary tradition this epistemological phenomena is understood with the Troy Horse metaphor, which is also still use to name some computer viruses. An ideo-lexical may be understood as a pill prescribed and imposed by an hegemonic discourse with a seducing violence. For example, the ideo-lexical freedom is covered by a plethora of common and sweetly positive places (freedom, as a universal precept is so).

However, within this sweet and brilliant cover there are the true reasons behind the actions: domination, oppression, violence against sectarian interests, etc. The sweet and brilliant cover annuls the perception of its opposites: the sour and opaque content.

The job of the critic is to break the cover, to discover, to reveal the content of the pill, of the ideo-lexical. Of course, this job has bitter results, just like the center of the pill. Those who are addicted to a drug do not renounce to it just because someone might discover the grave implications of their momentary comfort. In fact, they will try to resist this operation of exposition.

Let us analyze a common ideo-lexical in the dominating discourse of late capitalism: personal responsibility. To start of we notice that its cover is totally sweet and brilliant. Who would be capable of arguing the value of the responsibility of each individual? A possible question would be quickly annulled by a fake alternative: irresponsibility. But we may start by taking the new fake dilemma as the problem by observing that the adjective itself-personal-of this compound ideo-lexical annuls or anesthetizes another one which is less common and harder to appreciate by the senses: the possibility of the existence of a “social responsibility” is never mentioned. It is also never mentioned or accepted-due to a long religious tradition-that there might be “social sins.”

Let us go deeper in a specific case: the tragic massacre which took place at the Virginia Tech University. Those people who—shyly, as ever—placed their accusing finger in the weapons culture from the United States, were criticized in the name of the personal responsibility ideo-lexical. “Weapons are not what kill people-commented a friend of the rifle in a newspaper-people are who kill people. The problem is the people, not the weapons.” The pill shows a high level of obviousness, but there are again some other problems: nobody questioned how some crazy man could kill thirty people with a stone, with a stick or even with a knife.

This logic is expressed by covering an internal contradiction in the discourse. When we talk about drugs, we are blaming the producers, not the consumers. But when we talk about weapons, we are blaming the consumers, not the producers. The reason is to be found, I believe, in the place where power is to be found. In the case of drugs, the producers are the others, not us; in the case of the weapons, the consumers are the other; we are only producing them. The hegemonic discourse never mentions that if there were no drug consumption in the wealthy countries there would be no production to satisfy that demand; if there was no illegality there would also never exist the mafia groups of drug dealers. Or at least, their existence would be minimal, compared to what we have today. But because the others (the producers from the poor countries) are individually responsible, we (the producers of weapons, who are responsible of administrating the law) are legitimized to produce more weapons which should be consumed by the others to back up the law-and to break it.

If someone like the Virginia Tech murder buys a couple of guns more easily and a hundred times faster than you can buy a car and commits a massacre, the responsibility is completely of the madman. We reach then a tragic paradox: a society that is armed to their teeth is entirely in the hands of the crazy people who do not know how to correctly control their personal responsibility. In order to solve this problem, they don’t turn to social responsibility, by fighting the weapons and the economic and moral system that sustains them, but they sell more weapons to the responsible individuals, so that every single one of them may be more capable of performing their own “personal responsibility.” Until somebody else who is exceptionally ill-in a society of saints, demons are very frequent exceptions-may appear again and commits another massacre, bigger this time, because the power of destruction of the weapons is getting more and more perfected, thanks to the high technology and the moral of the responsible individuals.

* Jorge Majfud, Uruguayan writer, he is a Latin American Literature Professor at The University of Georgia, United States.



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