11 March 2009

Shooters gone wild

A man in Alabama killed 10 people and then himself this morning. Just another segment in our ongoing series, Mass Murder in America, coming soon to a television news program near you. Over the coming days, I'm sure we will learn quite a bit about this man's life. (Out of curiosity, compare this to what we learn about the lives of the people he murdered.) Why do people do this? What sort of mental defect, meltdown, or deviant personality is responsible for this kind of unforeseen, unpredictable, and unstoppable behavior? Why? Why? Why? Why do so many people have to die?

I understand anger. I understand depression, too. I understand being so despondent that you contemplate ending it all. I have been there. But I have not been here. There is a trend, dare I say, of people becoming overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and instead of riding it out or getting some help or even killing themselves, they kill everyone they hold near and dear. Oh, I get that the people closest to you can come (rightly or wrongly) to be seen as a the cause of all your difficulties and mental unrest. But I do not get the mental defect that embeds itself in an human brain telling a man that the only way to deal with a problem is to kill every individual he encounters in a single day--to kill people not remotely associated with his pain--to just kill, kill, kill, and kill again.

I believe, or at least I tend to believe that most people think things through. There are "crimes of passion" in which a blind flash of anger can end in total destruction. Instead of slapping someone, someone gets shot. Or stabbed. Or strangled. Usually a single occurrence and usually not likely to be repeated. But when we talk about Mass Murder in America, we aren't talking about crimes of passion. Mass murder demands a plan that, at a minimum, involves a hit list, a travel route, an armament list, a shopping list, a disguise, an escape plan, and a game-over plan. Even in a demented mind, these thought processes are undertaken, no matter how twisted and dark the road, leading to the inevitable conclusion that the action they are taking is right, smart, and justified. I don't think it is in human nature to kill indiscriminately. I think, even in the face of tremendous mental illness, the tendency to justify our actions remain. Uncovering that logic is the only hope we have to answer the eternal question, "Why?".

There is the camp that says you can't figure out why when you are dealing with madmen. I disagree. But when the mentally corrupt kill themselves when cornered, you lose the key bit of evidence in the scenario. You lose the logic. If psychologists and sociologists haven't already resolved why people do this and how to identify and treat them (and I'm assuming they haven't otherwise, the CDC would have issued a directive to the police, mental health workers, schools, and the American public), perhaps our approach to this epidemic (when one is one too many), is to take a different approach to capturing the shooters.

How does a person get from "I'm going to kill myself" to "I'm going to kill myself, my wife, my children, my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, my wife's family, several police officers and one or two random strangers on the street in an all-out, blaze o' glory, free-for-all"? It's like the Darwin Award, the Darwin-in-law Award, and the Darwin-Twice-Removed Award all rolled into one. You don't just wipe out your own genome; you wipe out every last individual on Earth that shares a significant portion of your genome as well as anyone who found that genome attractive. Why does this only seem to afflict white men of a certain age group? Why does this seem to be an American phenomenon?

I have no idea, but I will posit some theories.

On their being white. Whites have a culture of privilege. They think that they "deserve things by virtue of being". Oh, they may not explicitly finish that phrase with "being white", but they think they deserve them without having earned them. We label this white privilege because other racial groups don't suffer from this delusion and sense of entitlement. I don't know a single black man of any age who thinks the world is going to plop a home, a meal, a wife, top-notch health care, a safe place to raise his children, a college education, a stable job, and a stress-free marriage into his lap without having to bust his ass to earn it. Ditto for Asian men. This is a uniquely white cultural defect.

On their being American. Replace every instance of "white" with "American" in the preceding paragraph and then replace "race" with "country". There's my theory. Apparently, my theory needs rethinking.

On their being men. Men, particularly those in blue collar communities, are brought up in a culture that defines manliness by an ability to lead, provide, and protect. A man is expected to be the leader in his home, his place of work, and his community. He is expected to earn a living. He is expected to earn more than his wife. He is expected to be the deciding vote on matters of family, and to have veto power over all others in the home. And he expects everyone else to go along with his expectations. Oh, some of you educated and enlightened men claim to see your role as "partner" with your spouse, but when push comes to shove, there is something inside the head of most men that self-identifies as "submissive" or "dominant" depending on who makes the important decisions in their lives. In our culture, leadership and power are male traits and men have grown comfortable with this. They now have a sense of entitlement to it. Look at any corporate board, disparity in pay between men and women, numbers of female vs. male CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, yadda, yadda, yadda. Men will compare themselves to one another all day long by money. While they can see that women and minorities might not make as much money, they believe the answer is to simply pay them more. Men don't understand that it isn't a matter of saving money that causes women and minorities to make less for the same job. It is the maintenance of a power differential. White men don't compete with women and minorities. They are separate ball games. I would guess that few white men, when promoted to a supervisory position, have their subordinates decide, en masse, to quit rather than work for someone of their gender. Or color. Or nationality. I theorize that most men, haven't had to ease their colleagues into accepting their advancement, or to develop alternative methods for ensuring that others "accept" their leadership. I doubt few men get nicknames like "bitch" or "ball-buster" applied to them by virtue of doing their job. I believe men are used to standing up and proclaiming their leadership in a "if you don't like it, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out approach" and this attitude generally works for them. Women and men of color generally haven't enjoyed this unique brand of self-aggrandizement. And yet, white American men seem to think this is "normal". When normal is threatened, some men panic. Some men panic a whole lot.

On their being, generally, younger than 50. With age comes wisdom. It's an adage for a reason. People who kill themselves, I think, don't believe that things will change. They don't believe they will ever feel better. They don't have the benefit of experience with failure. They don't know how to change their circumstances. They are hopeless. Whether their hopelessness has merit is questionable. With age comes experience, acceptance, and assurance. It is a genuine shame that we can't share so many lessons borne of experience. Some lessons must be learned the hard way. Like marriage. Like humility. Like failure. Like getting beyond depression. And when you are dealing with a weak mind, assurances that things will change/get better/pass are less likely to be believed.

But there is a missing piece here. We can posit that young, white, American men have the cards stacked against them. They have a sense of entitlement so grand that if the world fails to provide them according to their sense of entitlement, they crumble. But how that cookie crumbles into a bloody rampage is the question.

Why? Don't you think it's time we found out?

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