A Rare Off-Topic Look at a Social Issue
I have a niche here, and my niche is writing about techie stuff. I like to try to keep it that way, but the unshakable reality is that I am a student of Political Science and Philosophy, and so occasionally need to sink my teeth into the uncomfortable conversations that people don’t like to have at the dinner table.
Today I break my niche to join the conversation about an issue that has not only spent a lot of time in the news, but spent a lot of time sparking heated discussions amongst people all around me. I don’t really feel like naming the specific incident that everyone is talking about though, because you probably already know what it is, and there are already plenty of other people willing to name it. Above all though, the reason I don’t feel the need to bring up the specific incident everyone is buzzing about it because to do so would run contrary to the very core of what really needs to be understood in the wake of yet another one of these dumbfounding tragedies.
What does need to be named though, is what has sadly become a regular and recurring issue in the United States. Those awful times when someone (or a group of someones) makes an irreversible decision to indiscriminately end as many lives as they can touch, and a mass murder is christened.
So why does this now need to be talked about? Well, it’s always needed to be talked about, but the discussion on this issue always goes so far off the rails, that nothing of worth actually ever comes from it. This time though, all of that unproductive conversation has come back to haunt us. The tens of thousands of hours spent on media coverage of legislation, expert studies, people at tables yelling at each other, and other worthless garbage which has yielded no preventative results had gone on to actually propel one of these mass murders rather than the typical doing nothing to stop them. So it’s time to talk about altering the course of the discussion. Now it’s time for more people to step up and say what not enough people have been saying, and what more people should have started saying 15 years ago. So this blog post might never be read by anyone who can do anything about it, but who knows. Maybe it can inspire someone smarter than me to inspire some people more powerful than them. All I know for sure is it needs to be said, so I’m here to say it.
Is not in our stars
Each and every time we lose several lives in a single day, we turn to the people who took those lives and start to immediately ask the same few questions about them.
- What was all the weird stuff this person did right before killing a bunch of people?
- What mental illnesses did this person have?
- (In the case of shooters) How and when did they get the guns?
These recurring questions consistently serve as the opening volley in what inevitably becomes an obsessive quest to get inside the mind of the murderer. The answers that are produced from these inquiries are eerily similar every time. So similar, that the American Psychiatric Association has actually built a profile for youth considered to be “at-risk” for violence (viewable on page 3).
On the stupid side, they so helpfully cite risk factors of breath taking specificity, such as
Trouble controlling feelings like anger
Increased risk-taking behavior
On the audacious side, they shamelessly suggest links that academia has been calling into question for over a decade.
Having a major mental illness
Or how about this gem?
Acute episode of major mental illness
I guess “major mental illness” is now available in “episodes”, just like your favorite sitcom!
It doesn’t take very much reading to realize what’s going on here. Within this profile, we see a desperate attempt to portray perpetrators of violence as defective individuals who are not capable of thinking or behaving the way a normal human being would, and this lack of normalcy is supposed to correlate with violent tendencies.
While the APA trumps up this profile of the psychotic ticking time bomb from the scary abnormal fringes of society, it’s hard to not point out their almost laughable dismissal of reality. The traits in this profile have all been selected to the exclusion of what is by far the most common characteristic of a perpetrator of violence. That is, male gender. How does a trait this ubiquitous in violent murderers not even receive mention in the discussion?
While many would probably be quick to argue (and rightfully so) that the APA knows a lot more about what they’re talking about than I do, it might shock you to learn that (gasp) there are experts in the mix whose opinions dissent as far as considering those factors useful in identifying potential perpetrators of violence.
In the case of shootings, this obsessive inquisition into the mind of the murderer is, every single time, accompanied by another obsessive inquisition into the logistical details of how the shooter carried out the deed. Luckily for the people who make this their obsession, most high profile shootings are usually kind enough to yield at least one quirky logistical detail that can be targeted and legislated just in time to not prevent another mass shooting. Issues such as,
- Hey, this guy went on a gun buying spree leading up to the shooting
- Hey, this guy was shooting at people with an assault rifle
- Hey, that magazine holds more bullets than anyone should need
Have all been identified. All been legislated. And all had more mass shootings follow in their wake.
Gun control advocates would probably say it’s because we haven’t gone far enough. Gun control opponents would probably just point to it as evidence that gun control doesn’t work. What it should probably tell us is that we’re having the wrong conversation altogether. The conscious decision to take as many lives as possible and the meticulous planning that often goes into it transcends the choice of weapon or methodology. A motivated murderer will not be deterred by the unavailability of guns or ammo anymore than they are deterred by the unlawfulness of murder.
But in ourselves
The inquisitions we find ourselves pursuing in the wake of these types of tragedies seems to always have us placing the killer under a microscope. We study him, we study his actions, we study his tools and his plans. Once the studying is done, we have all the answers. We know all the things that were wrong with him. We know how he got his weapons. We know how he picked his target. Once we know all of this, we can publish a study, pass a law, and call it a better future. When the next murderer comes, we simply rinse and repeat.
The most mind blowing thing about this whole process is that no one is asking the seemingly obvious question of “Why in the hell does this keep happening in our country?” Of the few people who are asking that question, the vast majority appear to be using it as a springboard to catalyze a discussion about gun control rather than genuinely searching for an answer.
Answers to this question, have been offered though. Implicitly, through the profile we build of mass murderers, the answer we provide is “This keeps happening because there are insane mental degenerates in this country who we need to find and commit before they do these things”. I’m certainly not an academic. This is not a piece of research. There is nothing of statistical significance to offer in this commentary. It doesn’t take a statistical analysis however, to take a step back and ask the obvious question. Does it make more sense to believe that dozens of people who never knew each other and grew up in completely different states with different backgrounds and came from different walks of life either:
a. All gave into their mental illnesses, social ineptitude, and violent tendencies, yielding the same decision to commit mass murder
b. All came up in the same society in which they would eventually commit killings, and that this society nurtures a flaw deep within its cultural fabric which gives rise to the conditions under which people become willing to commit these atrocities.
As I mentioned, I carry no claims of academia, but I don’t know how many times we can watch so many different types of people commit acts of horrific violence in this country and then step back and continue to pretend that they are the only ones in this equation who are in any way deranged or psychotic.
Don’t get it twisted though; I’m not suggesting that the people who commit acts of violence are not responsible for the violence they commit. What I’m suggesting is that we, as a society, share the responsibility for the acts of violence they commit.
For example, when a murderous piece of shit uploads a video manifesto before taking lives, and this video is actually watched by millions of Americans in the wake of the terror, not only did this murderous piece of shit get exactly what he wanted, but now we as a society have just established that anyone who is willing to commit sensational acts of violence will be given a soap box, and the nation will listen. Not only will the nation listen, but they will go so far as to actually start a conversation based on the things said in this manifesto. As if the conversation about acts of violence wasn’t already full of enough non sequiturs, now we’ve decided that murderous pieces of filth are allowed to participate in setting the agenda.
It should come as no surprise that in a culture which dedicates so much attention to acts of violence and those who commit them, violence becomes an outlet to attract attention for those who have otherwise unsuccessfully sought it. That is exactly what happened to us last week, and in the world’s least clairvoyant prediction, I’m sad to say that the reaction which this act of violence was awarded will result in it happening to us again. When it does, maybe they will say the murderer is mentally ill. Maybe they’ll say he was withdrawn and quiet. Maybe they’ll find satanic readings on his laptop, or child pornography, or anarchist bomb-making manuals. Really though, it won’t matter what they say about him (spoiler alert: it will be a him). None of it will untake the lives he took and none of it will get us any closer to preventing the next killer from following in his footsteps. This is the tragic future we have to look forward to in this country, and it is a future which will predictably repeat itself until we get serious about silencing the white noise and focusing on the real root of the problem.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
[EDIT]: Usually it’s with great delight and vindication that I marvel in “I told you so!” moments. This one though, is by far the least satisfying I’ve ever had. Two weeks after the start of the media circus that drove me to share these thoughts, another murderous bastard cuts loose on another college campus. Not as many people are dead, and there are no YouTube videos on the internet, so I suppose not as many people will pay attention or care. I suppose no one will press the question of “What the hell is wrong with us?”, and I suppose that more loss of life is to come. It is a sad day to be an American.