On the same day that a lone gunman killed thirty-two people at Virginia Tech, the country’s President, George Bush, stood in the White House pleading with American politicians to give him more money for troops in Iraq. Mr. Bush released a statement deploring the violence and death that took place at the school, but he didn’t make any connection between his war in Iraq and the deaths in West Virginia. Did anybody?
I doubt most people in North America would think of linking a seemingly random act of violence with an elected official seeking the means to escalate his country’s participation in a war. Sixty years ago, maybe even only forty, they might have been right, and the circumstances would have had no bearing on each other. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.
We are living in a society that has become more and more willing to believe the only way to resolve conflict is through violence. There has always been that mentality to some extent, the “let them fight like men to resolve their differences” attitude that’s been popularized through movies, popular fiction, and attitudes. Somehow, two people beating the crap out of each other was considered an adult means of solving disputes.
It does make for a more action-packed story to have the protagonists fight someone instead of sitting down, working out their differences, and coming up with a compromise solution, but that’s not the “American Way” – to solve disputes outside, either with six guns on main street in the old west or in today’s parking lots with fists, feet, knives, and whatever else you can lay your hands on.
When you’re attacked you want to be able to defend yourself against further attacks, but there is a difference between self-defence and seeking to resolve the problem through war. Even calling something a “War On” implies the only way you can resolve an issue is through violence.
We’ve seen a “War On Drugs,” a “War On Poverty,” and a “War On Terror,” but not only has there been little evidence of success in any area, we’re a might too quick to turn everything into a military action without even implying there can be a peaceful way of accomplishing matters.
You may, in the case of fighting terrorism, have to use violence as part of your means to combat it, but why does it have to be the only angle of approach? Why not, while seeing if you can find them to fight the terrorists, do something practical and cancel debts to the countries that house the terrorists, support the domestic development of industry, and genuinely help them with their natural resources? Eliminate economic uncertainty and give people hope of a future and I bet they will be a lot less willing to strap dynamite to their chests as a walking bomb.
What does that have to do with some nut job running amok with a gun and killing a lot of people? Quite a lot, actually. According to experts in the field of mass murder on the scale observed yesterday, while the occasional rampage will occur in Europe, these events are primarily a North American phenomenon.
A study by Princeton University sociologist Katherine Newman, 25 such events between 1974 and 2002 showed some interesting findings. First of all, they are never something spontaneous. They have all been the result of careful planning on the part of the perpetrator.
In the published version of her research, Rampage: The Social Roots Of School Shootings, she sets out five conditions for a rampage. The first two deal with the killer and his state of mind, and the last three deal with societal issues. The person who does this is going to have suffered some severe psychological stress, and considers himself to be different (and is more likely to be male).
She continues on with her list of five conditions by starting to indict society for not having the systems in place to identify young men before they do this stuff, for creating a cultural that supports the view that firearms (and by extension, violence) are a viable means of solving problems, and for making sure that guns are readily available.
It’s not just George Bush and his cronies calling everything a “War” that creates that culture where violence is a reasonable solution to our problems. I would suggest he just cynically takes advantage of it to pursue his own goals. It goes back into the history of our continent. “Might Makes Right” has been an American foreign policy philosophy since the beginning, and it’s bound to have an effect on us.
As long as we continue to accept without question the need for violence to solve our problems, these types of mass murders will continue to occur. We need to grow up as a culture and learn how to communicate in a way such that violence will no longer be necessary to resolve our differences with other people.
Once we are able to do that, we can hopefully teach our own people how to talk to each other. That way we may just end up saving a few more lives than we do now.