Yesterday, I recalled the Clutter murder; a strange thing to recall—a murder that happened in Kansas in 1959, so long ago and so far from where I am. The murder was immortalised by Truman Capote in his book In Cold Blood (1966), a true novel—so to speak—that recounted the story of the murder and the fate of the murderers in pellucid prose. The reason why this murder—of all the murders in the world, and there have been so many—speaks to us so deeply is that it recalls the ur-murder, the first murder: Cain and Abel.
The Clutter clan was led by a patriarch, Herbert Clutter, who was a hard-working Methodist—a proverbial pillar for the local community. The murderers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, were drifters—drifters with vague musical ambitions and a fascination for get-rich quick schemes, as advertised in the back of Men’s World magazine. Hickock and Smith broke into the Clutter farm and murdered the entire family—the murders served no purpose, the family had not resisted.
The incident inverted murder one: Abel and Cain. Within this murder, we find the same tension: the tension between the settler and the nomad. Abel was a shepherd—a nomad; he was lawful, for “nomad” is cognate to “nomos”—the law. Cain was a farmer; he lived by the sweat of his brow—whereas, doubtless, Abel wandered the hills and piped peaceful tunes. Abel stands for the Golden Age, a time when men were not forced to work the soil—a time when men lived by song. Just as Saturn was murdered by his son, Jupiter, ending the Golden Age, so Cain slew Abel—labour killed the Golden Age of nomadism and led to organised warfare.
Cain did not remain a farmer after the murder—he was set to wander, to go nomad, as a punishment; in a recapitulation of the Fall from Eden, he was cast from nature and founded the first city; agriculture gives way to the city, the city with its complex hierarchies and technologies—and its corruption. The city reconstructs nomadism in an inverted form; the state is predatory, its primary role is war—and it retains a nomadic core within it, the army, in order to facilitate this existence. Cain then developed metallurgy: he became the first technologist. What the innocent Abel attained through song and long walks—through the way, the law, the nomos—Cain would attain through technology and war. Cain’s path is the left-hand path, gnosis through technology—tech-gnosis. Hence in the computer game Command and Conquer the villain Kane leads a terrorist organisation called Nod (the land of Nod) who wish to develop a “technology of peace”—the bald-headed Kane, bald like a Buddha, seeks enlightenment through war. Esoterically this is the left-hand path, the path of blood and iron—as opposed to the peaceful right-hand path of milk.
Hence nomad and settler must always be in tension. The city-dweller murders the nomad, forces him into armies and organisations to wage state-based war—to experience liberation through labour in the cities. In retaliation, the nature-inclined nomad—the dreamy drifter with his guitar, the Charlie Manson type—raids the settler, preys on him. “We just wanna make music and be left alone,” says the scruffy nomad as he is dragged to the city jail for vagrancy. Teacher, leave them kids alone.
The nomads would say that though their sons—bin Ladens and Mansons—sometimes murder, sometimes predate the settlers, that nonetheless the settlers committed the first murder; and they did so from envy—they did not know how to walk or sing, they did not know the way; bin Laden knew the way, he was a great walker—yet the settler fears to leave his sod of earth. The settler is the greater murderer, his cities and technologies lead to mechanised war—industrial slaughter: it is the bloody path to enlightenment, whereas the nomad just wants to wander—to wander is to wonder.