I. The isolated individual
It is difficult to talk about the loser, and it is stupid not to. Stupid because there can be no definitive winner and because each of us, from the megalomaniac Bonaparte to the last beggar on the streets of Calcutta, will meet the same fate. Difficult because to content oneself with this metaphysical banality is to take an easy way out, as it ignores the truly explosive dimension of the problem, the political dimension.
Instead of actually looking into the thousand faces of the loser, sociologists keep to their statistics: median value, standard deviation, normal distribution. It rarely occurs to them that they themselves might be among the losers. Their definitions are like scratching a wound: as Samuel Butler says, the itching and the pain only get worse. One thing is certain: the way humanity has organized itself – "capitalism", "competition", "empire", "globalization" – not only does the number of losers increase every day, but as in any large group, fragmentation soon sets in. In a chaotic, unfathomable process, the cohorts of the inferior, the defeated, the victims separate out. The loser may accept his fate and resign himself; the victim may demand satisfaction; the defeated may begin preparing for the next round. But the radical loser isolates himself, becomes invisible, guards his delusion, saves his energy, and waits for his hour to come.
Those who content themselves with the objective, material criteria, the indices of the economists and the devastating findings of the empiricists, will understand nothing of the true drama of the radical loser. What others think of him – be they rivals or brothers, experts or neighbours, schoolmates, bosses, friends or foes – is not sufficient motivation. The radical loser himself must take an active part, he must tell himself: I am a loser and nothing but a loser. As long as he is not convinced of this, life may treat him badly, he may be poor and powerless, he may know misery and defeat, but he will not become a radical loser until he adopts the judgement of those who consider themselves winners as his own.
Since before the attack on the World Trade Center, political scientists, sociologists and psychologists have been searching in vain for a reliable pattern. Neither poverty nor the experience of political repression alone seem to provide a satisfactory explanation for why young people actively seek out death in a grand bloody finale and aim to take as many people with them as possible. Is there a phenotype that displays the same characteristics down the ages and across all classes and cultures?
No one pays any mind to the radical loser if they do not have to. And
the feeling is mutual. As long as he is alone – and he is very much
alone – he does not hit out. He appears unobtrusive, silent: a
sleeper. But when he does draw attention to himself and enter the
statistics, then he sparks consternation bordering on shock. For his
very existence reminds the others of how little it would take to put
them in his position. One might even assist the loser if only he would
give just up. But he has no intention of doing so, and it does not look
as if he would be partial to any assistance.
Many professions take the loser as the object of their studies and as the basis for their existence. Social psychologists, social workers, social policy experts, criminologists, therapists and others who do not count themselves among the losers would be out of work without him. But with the best will in the world, the client remains obscure to them: their empathy knows clearly-defined professional bounds. One thing they do know is that the radical loser is hard to get through to and, ultimately, unpredictable. Identifying the one person among the hundreds passing through their offices and surgeries who is prepared to go all the way is more than they are capable of. Maybe they sense that this is not just a social issue that can be repaired by bureaucratic means. For the loser keeps his ideas to himself. That is the trouble. He keeps quiet and waits. He lets nothing show. Which is precisely why he is feared. In historical terms, this fear is very old, but today it is more justified than ever. Anyone with the smallest scrap of power within society will at times feel something of the huge destructive energy that lies within the radical loser and which no intervention can neutralize, however well-meaning or serious it might be.
He can explode at any moment. This is the only solution to his problem that he can imagine: a worsening of the evil conditions under which he suffers. The newspapers run stories on him every week: the father of two who killed his wife, his small children and finally himself. Unthinkable! A headline in the local section: A Family Tragedy. Or the man who suddenly barricades himself in his apartment, taking the landlord, who wanted money from him, as his hostage. When the police finally gets to the scene, he starts shooting. He is then said to have "run amok", a word borrowed from the Malayan. He kills an officer before collapsing in the shower of bullets. What triggered this explosion remains unclear. His wife's nagging perhaps, noisy neighbours, an argument at the pub, or the bank cancelling his loan. A disparaging remark from a superior is enough to make the man climb a tower and start firing at anything that moves outside the supermarket, not in spite of but precisely because of the fact that this massacre will accelerate his own end. Where on earth did he get that machine pistol from?
At last, this radical loser – he may be just fifteen and having a hard time with his spots – at last, he is master over life and death. Then, in the newsreader's words, he "dies at his own hands" and the investigators get down to work. They find a few videos, a few confused journal entries. The parents, neighbours, teachers noticed nothing unusual. A few bad grades, for sure, a certain reticence – the boy didn't talk much. But that is no reason to shoot dead a dozen of his schoolmates. The experts deliver their verdicts. Cultural critics bring forth their arguments. Inevitably, they speak of a "debate on values". The search for reasons comes to nothing. Politicians express their dismay. The conclusion is reached that it was an He can explode at any moment. This is the only solution to his problem that he can imagine: a worsening of the evil conditions under which he suffers.