“From beta boy to Übermensch”

Andrew O’Hagen’s article in the LRB this week about “beta boys” – the young men who carry out mass shootings – disturbed me. He looked at the manifestos they leave behind. Their shootings were heroic acts of justice, a hammer-blow judgment on this bastard society. They were deeds executed by great men, scorned children, I read.

I look out of the living room window. The trees’ gestures catch my eye. Across the road, the willow nods sadly with the wind. Over the rooftops, transluscent beech-leaves flatter manically. Looking back, behind the willow, I start to gaze into the birch tree. In the breeze, his arms are weighing the matter over and over. Sometimes, he is stunned still. Then high up, the small circlular shifting starts, to and fro, and soon he is swaying – then almost shaking – and settling down into his measured sifting, over again.

An aeroplane accelerates upwards above us. Its engines grind and growl through the gears. The noise then flattens into a blanket of shrill thunder. A black cloud appears, grim as a tank. And then, banquets with the Chinese ambassador, the pigs in Animal Farm, Trident, the climate, cuts in public services. The beech-leaves flatter and pant crazily.

There’s me, the trees, the tanks, cuts, Corbyn, cruel society. The willow nods, inevitably. Blackness: a menacing aeroplane, nuclear weapons, me, beta boys’ poetry, the Übermensch, Eternal Recurrence, World War Two. The plane passes. There’s rustling, birdsong even, momentarily – a covering of greywhite clouds. The birch sways over and over.

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