My Uncle's Death in the Umpqua Community College Shooting

My uncle, Lawrence Levine, was the professor who was killed in the Umpqua Community College shooting.  His death hurt my family and me immensely.  Resulting questions, relevant to political activists, continue to haunt me.

Normally, I am very politically active; as ‘Culturist John’ I promote culturism, (  But, this tragedy hit me so hard that I could not watch the news: seeing the killer’s face threw me into a despair-filled rage. I still have trouble watching the news.

Herein, lays a question for us activists: At what level are we appropriate to the political issues we cover?  When I write about the Islamification of the West, I treat it as a theoretical issue.  To the women raped in Sweden, this is inappropriately sedate.  And, if I boldly announce that we should sink refugees’ ships, this is also too casual.

How do I find the appropriate level of emotional sensitivity in my writing and policies?  This emotional question still makes it hard for me to blithely peruse political sites.

President Obama visited our grieving families.  Knowing me, my family begged me to be polite.  And, I thought this would be hard as I detest Obama’s multicultural - globalist policies as much as anyone.  But, he was personable, comparing his daughters to my nieces, and telling us that Michelle and the American people send their sympathies and care – no politics were mentioned.  

This nice gesture humanized Obama for me.  Now I find it hard to conjure as much vitriol for him as I previously did.  And, I say this knowing he gave Iran nukes, caused continuing death in Libya, and demolished our borders: all things I hate.

Is there ever a moment wherein tragedy – as in 9/11 – makes us all just Americans, or westerners or – dare I, as a culturist, say it – humans?  When, as with grieving families, should we adopt this frame?  And, when should we just be adversaries?

My uncle Larry loved the river and, as a youth, moved to Oregon to escape civilization’s noise.  His home overlooked the Umpqua river, wherein, via fishing, he became one with nature.  This is not hyperbole.  His writings express just this transcendence.  And, on his rare visits to LA, he longed to return to nature. But, civilization chased my uncle to the banks of the river; he did not escape.

Was my uncle’s retreat from civilization spiritual or illusory? How much of our lives should be spent in political trenches and how much outside?  Where is the balance? If retreating to nature is an escape from politics, might not politics also become an escape from life on its own terms? 

Lastly, the existential questions: Why try?  As I worked my way through my uncle’s many unpublished manuscripts, I found myself repeating, ‘Words cannot save you. We will all die. Why continue writing?’  These questions still haunt me.  Perhaps the answer lays in the answers to my earlier questions. For now, just writing again is healing.

RIP Uncle Larry.

John K. Press, Ph.D., teaches at a university in South Korea.  He is the author of the book, Culturism: A Word, A Value, Our Future.  More information can be found at