15 February 2008

Still Speaking of ...

Now we know about the research interests and gun-purchasing habits of the NIU shooter. We've seen a genuine human reaction in his father's demand that reporters leave him alone. We have bafflement at the killer's failure to fit the current stereotype of willful alienation, and a revival of an old theme -- he was quiet, we learn. We know now that he was off his meds -- which specifically is still unknown. We get the impression of an intelligent, talented scholar uncertain of his career direction: an abortive enlistment, a short-lived correctional job. Nothing yet says why he killed five people in a lecture hall where he once taught classes.

So we have to speculate. Did he kill becaue he was off the meds, or would he never have killed had he never been on them in the first place? These meds presumably didn't exist before a few decades ago, and we didn't have mass shootings of the kind we know today, as far as I know, before Charles Whitman in 1966. Speaking of history, people (including me) invoke this country's Wild West heritage when discussing mass shooters, yet when and where was there ever a shooting like the sort we see now back then?

There were massacres in those days, of course, but history only tells us about the massacres conducted by the Army against the Indians, or those of the Indians against settlers (terrorism, anyone?). These involve one group of people massacring another group. I can't think at this moment of an instance during the 19th century when one man killed many. Does that mean it never happened? Mightn't there be cases in which an angry settler with a score to settle, or a plain hater, went into an Indian village and simply opened fire? For that matter, were there cases of suicide-by-Indian? In any event, massacre was in the air back then, and maybe it settled in the American blood. However it was done back then, maybe it came down into our collective consciousness as an individual prerogative, at least as a national instinct telling us that some people are eligible for massacre, that the only good ____ is a dead _____, and that it's each person's right in this land of pathological freedom to fill in the blanks as he or she pleases.

Even if you buy any of that, you still have to ask why the modern massacre is a relatively recent development, if we've always had a gun culture and always had a sort of Wild West mentality. What was going on in the '60s that got the ball rolling, and why did it only really pick up steam in the '80s? Conservatives have a narrative to explain some of this: these are the years when the government took prayer out of the schools and Marxists took over the colleges. Some liberals might suggest a counter-explanation: a reactionary lashing-out at a culture changing beyond old ways of control, fueled by anxieties about loss of rank or stature. Something was certainly in the air, but I don't know if ideology can explain it. I don't know if there's an explanation that allows for reverse-engineering to reverse the process, or a diagnosis that points to a cure beyond nature working out its course. This is something that probably can't be dealt with on its own. We'll more likely have to take a larger view of the problem before we see results on an individual level.


Johnathan Swift said...

If it is fact that the reason most of these school-shooters do what they do because they feel picked on and alienated, and if the people of this country refuse to get over their love affair with fire-arms, it seems the sensible solution would be to legalize dueling.

If these mass-killers had a chance to just call out the first jerk who picked on them, then there are only two possible outcomes: The "outcast" shoots the bully, making it less likely that anyone else will pick on him, or the "outcast" is shot, making it impossible for him to shoot anyone.

hobbyfan said...

There was never anything like this when I was in school. Guns have become too easily accessible to the "alienated" or "disenfranchised" youth that commit these shootings. The part I don't get is the need to martyr themselves in order to avoid capture, prosecution, and the probable psychiatric treatement that they actually need to address their issues. That these kids shoot themselves after the massacre says that they can't handle the disrespect, and are just giving up on themselves, taking a few innocent lives with them. The biggest thing these kids are guilty of is terrible judgment.

Samuel Wilson said...

Mr. Swift, that is a very modest proposal. Its feasibility depends on whether or not your typical school-shooter is a coward. You might assume that he isn't because he's prepared to die, but cowardice has a double meaning. It denotes not only a lack of courage, but also a lack of honor. The school-shooter, as well as the suicide bomber, may appear courageous because he gives up his life, but neither is honorable by historic standards because there's nothing like the sort of personal challenge you suggest in their actions. Instead, they attack unarmed people by surprise. The terrorist has a strategic excuse, since a soldier can easily shoot first and decline the challenge later. The school shooter is archetypically if not consistently the victim of bullying, and as such is probably the least likely person to revive the code duello. But I won't rule out your suggestion altogether. Rather, I recommend that you make a really cool movie in which an outcast does exactly as you suggest, and wins. If you can get the idea out into pop culture, it just might catch on as a "cool" thing to do.