The name Herostratus is deservedly obscure. In fact, I shouldn’t even be mentioning him here. His use as an object lesson, however, seems apt in a country fascinated by firearms and fame. Herostratus was an arsonist of the fourth century B.C.E. who destroyed the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He perpetrated this crime so that he would become famous, and he is representative of those who want fame at any cost. So it was that on Thursday a gunman, who shall remain nameless here, shot and killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon before being killed by police. This individual, upon investigation, had been fascinated by how obscure people gain immediate fame by killing innocents. After a summer of what seemed like endless, pointless shootings, we now have nine more graves of students to mourn, and as a nation we still lovingly stroke our guns.
Society is a dangerous combination of a cult of celebrity and violence. Most of us live our lives in utter obscurity, not being noticed. For many that is the way they want it, but for some it is a pathology. Guns are so easy to find. Police discovered seven firearms in this man’s apartment, in addition to the six he took to campus. Doing the math confirms the madness of a nation that makes guns so very accessible. Even the insane may buy. All it takes is money. The Temple of Artemis was one of the most magnificent structures of all time. It even gets mentioned, in an indirect way, in the Bible. Although it had been rebuilt, the idea had already fermented, without firearms, that fame could be had for infamy. In antiquity the perpetrator’s name was outlawed. Now anyone can find out who he is.
No shooting is without tragedy. Those that take place on college campuses and high schools are especially tragic because education is the only way to move forward from barbarism. Those who went to class on Thursday were improving their minds. Education makes the world a better place. They were, however, eliminated by a nameless man with easy access to weapons and a wish for fame. Perhaps American Idol and American Gladiator should offer a venue for those who wish to slaughter each other in public. It could be sponsored by the NRA. It was the ancient world, after all, that also gave us bread and circuses. Although the hurricane may be veering away, we have already been hit by tragedy, only this one was of our own making.