On a girl burning alive

When someone is a bigger jerk than a jerk they’re an asshole. When someone is a bigger asshole than an asshole they’re a ‘sociopath’. (The term now, as it has been for ages, is ASPD.) “Sociopathy” isn’t even sociopathy anymore; its primary purpose is to give the melodramatic a word stronger than ‘asshole’ because they’ve hyperbolized its strength away.

The video this essay is about is the May 2015 Rio Bravo lynching. If you search some variant of “mob burning girl alive guatemala” you will find it in your preferred search engine.

So, if you’re the type to say ‘sociopath’ regularly, perhaps this video will give you perspective. It might be the worst thing you’ve seen, but even when it’s the worst thing you’ve seen you still aren’t calibrated to reality because it’s vivid and new. You will be fully calibrated to reality when you can look at this and react like the few hundred people around her did, like this is just something that happens.

When you’ve fully accepted and digested the reality of what has happened here and what happens in many other places throughout the world, all the time, bourgeois “sociopathy” is a joke. This is unique in that it’s by public mob, but many people are mutilated this way, in North America and even in the United States, such as via drive-by burning at a gas station.

The way she lays down makes me ache, and wish I could do something, but I have to turn this video off and accept that as that mob yells, her lying down while staring into the sky is her last sight as the flames burned away whatever consciousness she had left. Helplessness and agony are the last things she felt.  No amount of hope can change that.

These are normal people. They look like regular people — they aren’t dressed in anything that says “I do dangerous things, therefore this is why this might happen to me.” Their motivations aren’t religious. This isn’t an anomaly. They’re doing this because their police are useless and they’ve resorted to vigilante mob sentencing. You could be one of these people. How can I say I wouldn’t be either, had I been pushed to similar circumstances?

Rio Bravo is 77 miles west of Guatemala City. The distance between this incident and their capital is the distance between my house and Austin. No one in San Antonio thinks “things could be worse; if I drove to Austin I could see a teenage girl burned alive.” The thought is bizarre, but someone in the safety of Guatemala City can have this thought unironically.

Apparently — and I say apparently because information is scarce and gleaned from Spanish translations — she was the daughter of a gang member, and the public believed she had been sent to do prison gang hits. Her and two other boys were alleged to kill a 68 year old taxi driver named Carlos Enrique González Noriega. I don’t know this girl’s name; I tried. So as best as I can understand it, this is the public feeling threatened by gang control and the public’s way of sending a message against it.

This is the kind of shit I think about when I hear people screaming about empathy on the internet or cyber-harassment or whatever. “How could you say those mean things?!” — well, how could a whole village of people be so chill while this happens? I doubt you think every kid and parent and relative in this video is a psychopath. The spectrum of empathy, malice, and so forth is so much greater than you thought.

How many people have died viciously in the whole of human history, where the last thing their eyes see is someone else’s determination that they die? Millions? That these people died hundreds or thousands of years ago doesn’t matter. They were nevertheless real people who suffered as much at the hands of other people.  When the reality sets in that people *do* die this way, a lot, and it can even happen to people you might know one day, you might look at things differently. Maybe you don’t care because it just seems distant, but it’s easy to imagine how it might not be.

At some point you have to acknowledge that brutality is something regular people will do under the right circumstances. This is what humanity is. And for profound majority of human history, “the right circumstances” wasn’t a high threshold. If you’re alive in a country today where this is obscene, you won an existential lottery in the way that a Powerball winner wins the actual lottery. We can only be so lucky to call them “the right circumstances” now.

To “be human” is to have the potential for viciousness. To be otherwise is a historical anomaly.

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