12 May 2010

Another Amoklauf in China

Despite efforts by the state-controlled media to downplay the trend, there was another attack on a Chinese kindergarten yesterday. This time it seems to have been provoked by a property dispute, the attacker being the kindergarten's landlord. He went in with a cleaver and killed two adults and seven children, leaving another eleven children wounded. This is the fifth such kindergarten attack in the last two months.

While the Chinese media are reportedly taking precautions against provoking copycats, the killings seem to be a topic of open discussion among the general public. Western reporters in China are able to find people ready to offer theories to explain the wave of attacks. Most of them speculate that the attackers are lashing out in frustration over economic instability. I can't help but wonder about the selection of very young children as targets. That seems like an explicit attack on the future, or a utopian future advertised by the government for which the attackers feel pressured to sacrifice without benefit to themselves. It's the sort of behavior one doesn't expect to see in a Communist country in any sense of the term, though I don't know whether it should be taken as a refutation of communism as a social ideal or Communism as a political system of party dictatorship. One thing seems certain: the attackers are selfish persons in some monstrous way. Meanwhile, the background of the latest amoklauf suggests that we need a better understanding of these kindergartens' role in rural or small-town Chinese society and any conflicts their existence provokes.

The last time I noted a Chinese amoklauf, I commented that the attacker's choice of weapon had at least meant fewer fatalities than if he'd come in with a gun. The fact that the latest attacker killed people bolsters the American gun-rights argument that wicked people, not the existence of weapons, are the real threat to public safety. It may also bolster the American gun-rights argument that the best defense against murderous impulses in any setting is the presence of individuals trained and equipped to nip those impulses in the bud. On the other hand, the American vision of a good guy on every block prepared to save the day may be as utopian as any liberal or communist social vision. If the Chinese crime wave teaches the world anything, it may be that the impulse to kill, once provoked, will inevitably find an outlet, and that all the precautions and deterrents we institute will only make the amoklaufer seek out the most defenseless people as his victims. Society's priority should not be to deter that impulse from expressing itself with threats of reprisal, but to prevent the impulse from emerging in the first place.


d.eris said...

Another possible speculative psychological explanation of the deranged choice of children as targets might be the feeling that one was robbed of one's own childhood.

On the Amoklauf question, I've been meaning to inquire as to your take on NYC Mayor Bloomberg's recent gun control efforts to "close the terror gap," as the slogan puts it. He wrote a couple op-eds and testified to Congress (I think), representing a coalition of city mayors. They've even set up a new website for the effort: http://www.terrorgap.org/

Do you think being an independent puts him in a unique position on this issue? Would be an interesting post for the Institute.

Samuel Wilson said...

I'll have to look into the proposal itself, but Bloomberg is not my ideal of an independent politician. He's the Perot model all over again, and he's done the sort of thing in NYC (overturning term limits) that would get a foreign leader deemed a threat to world peace, yet because he's rich some people take him to be a model of disinterested benevolence. I'd like to think that plutocracy isn't the only alternative to bipolarchy.