For the first time ever, there has been a mass stabbing on the Taipei metro.
Four people were killed and some 25 injured this afternoon when a deranged college student took advantage of one of the longest stretches between stops (a 4-minute ride under a river) to fulfill a childhood fantasy by stabbing other passengers with a fruit and Swiss Army knife until he was finally subdued inside the next station.
The TV news stations here have learned from the best (CNN): breathless coverage, and some announcers have even baselessly speculated the killer was a protester. But among my Taiwanese friends on FB the conversation has been much realer. Here’s what I had to add:
May the departed rest in peace, the injured quickly recover, and the killer repent and believe in the Gospel.
So, there’s this slogan for the metro system, “We are all metro passengers” [note: it’s a pun because the word for that is “Jack”, a character in an ad for the metro] and it’s easy to shrug off but it really hit me today.
Today didn’t just remind us of how fragile our lives are; it also reminded us how important trust is.
Every public transportation system, every city, every society needs people to trust each other to function. Taiwan has an extremely low crime rate and an extremely high amount of mutual trust, but Taiwanese people are still people. We all have free will, and any one of us could kill someone. No matter what mode of transportation you use, how many policemen are stationed there, whether or not there are metal detectors, or whether or not we have the death penalty, the need for trust will not change. So I’m still going to trust you all and keep staking my life together with you by riding the metro every day.
People say the death penalty deters crime, but sociological research shows that is not the case. And besides, three weeks ago our government killed five people (two of whom were convicted based on decidedly doubtful evidence). Frankly, the people on death row are just our scapegoats (using the ancient meaning of the word). I’m not saying they’re innocent, or that if they all lived they would come to regret their actions. Rather, I’m saying that they are shaped by the societies from which they came.
If we could look back over death row prisoners’ whole lives, we would definitely see:
-Many have mental illnesses. Why didn’t we do more earlier to treat them?
-Many have had painful experiences, and have been abused and rejected before. Where were the people to comfort them?
-Many had done several small bad things leading up to their big crime. Who was there to correct them then?
In an urbanized time, especially a smartphone society, it’s actually easier and easier to cut oneself off from the world. If you want to pass a totally lonely/independent life, you can. But the more one is alienated from others, the stranger one’s thought process will become. And the less love a person receives, the less valuable he will think his life is. Moreover, it will then be easier for him to believe other people’s lives don’t have value, either, so killing them wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Among these unhappy people, some (I’m not certain about this case) will want to do something really big, to let the world get to know them, to let the world know they exist. To be honest with you, I’ve thought before that the easiest way to get famous in America is to kill a bunch of people. Extremely lonely people have likely thought this too.
Taiwanese people were originally rice farmers–indigenous were hunters–they had to work together, and they all had to resist colonizers together. In order to survive this kind of life, you have to preserve good relationships and trust each other. Some families knew each other for generations.
But in present-day society, from kindergarten to retirement it’s all competition, and we’ve all left our hometowns and those long, deep relationships behind to pass our days in Taipei. “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”.
For this reason, now more than ever everyone has to try hard to make new friends, treat strangers well, be concerned for the loneliest among us, and pay special attention to the health of those with mental illnesses. That’s the only way we can lower the probability of this kind of tragedy from happening again.