Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why the School and Workplace Shootings

Why have school and workplace shootings, virtually unknown until the late '60s, been proliferating, with the Sandy Hook, Newtown Connecticut shootings, perhaps the most horrible yet.

Of course, many things have changed in the past 50 years that could have contributed. 

Some claim that video games are partly responsible because they're more interactive than are TV shows. But kids have been playing with toy guns since toys were invented yet it wasn't until the late '60s when school and workplace shootings started proliferating.

Others argue that the dissolution of the two-parent family is contributory. But most of the school and workplace shooters have come from two-parent families.

Still others blame the greater pressure that teens and young adults face. Possibly.

But one senses that the core causality doesn't fully reside there.

Then there's this more controversial question: Why have most such massacres been committed by white men when non-white men have a much higher violent-crime rate?

I believe an answer to both of those questions lies in an undiscussed important partial cause: Since the civil rights/feminist movement began in the late 60s, white men have been subjected to an unrelenting, indeed accelerating, message that they are bad. In sitcoms, commercials, and movies, the white male is disproportionately portrayed as evil, sleazy, or foolish, shown up by a wise women and/or minority. That unfairness extends to news media coverage and even school curriculum, where the accomplishments of women and minorities and the failings of white males are accentuated. And the schools, colleges, and media diminish white men's contributions by insisting they're heavily the result of white male privilege, the legacy of slavery, and institutional racism.

Previous generations of poorly adjusted, unsuccessful white males were comforted by the world's telling them that people of their race and gender are okay. That started changing in the '60s and is accelerating through today.

So here, I propose a model for explaining the causes of massacres such as the Newtown shootings, and, in turn, a new idea for reducing their proliferation:

1. The person is unbalanced
2. The person has experienced much painful failure.
3. He sees the world pervasively denigrate his sex and race. No comfort here.
That's a perfect storm for his lashing out.
4. When he experiences a particularly angering event, he's pushed over the edge.

The new piece in this formula, of course, is #3: failed white men being made to feel their race and gender are inferior. How to address it? When Blacks and women were sometimes portrayed negatively in the media, activists screamed that those portrayals had unfair negative effects on women's and minorities' self-esteem and behavior. As a result, the schools, colleges, and media dramatically changed. Yet when the opposite is true, that white males, for decades now, are treated unfairly, we don't hear a peep. In the many articles and TV segments on the Newtown shootings that I've reviewed, I've never once heard that mentioned as one of the causes. Rather, we hear only politically correct explanations:

There are calls to ban automatic weapons. Yet following the sunset of the assault weapons ban, contrary to gun control advocates' fears, the violent crime rate has declined. I fear that even if all private ownership of guns were banned, it would not deter those planful, often intelligent assailants. The Internet is rife with a panoply of frighteningly easy ways to wreak havoc.

There are calls for increased mental health services. Alas, the psychology profession does not offer a magic pill. Already, because of the Mental Health Parity Act, people are covered for mental health to the same extent as for physical health and the schools and workplaces have long been on high-alert for incipient mental problems. But the fields of psychodiagnosis, psychotherapy, and psychopharmacology are, alas, still in their relative infancy and suffer from failure rates too high to place sufficient confidence that the solution will heavily reside there.

Until we view problems in full dimension, not censoring ideas that are politically incorrect, we are unlikely to develop the best solutions not just to mass shootings, but to most societal problems.


Anonymous said...

I'm not saying you've done this here, but why is every problem these days debated as if it has a single cause? I'm a scientist, and spend a huge part of my time trouble-shooting experiments. Usually the underlying problem arises from multiple sources. The same is true in relationships and, no doubt, larger organizations and society as a whole.

Some gun laws need revision. It should not be possible for documented criminals and nutjobs to obtain guns at a gun show without a background check.

On the other hand, gun control will not solve everything (after all most of these people have no prior criminal records; also recall e.g. Tim McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, who did not use guns). What if they start suicide bombing? Sure, it's more difficult to pull off, but easier than most people think...and these guys are not generally stupid. They could do it. So, gun rights aside, we need to address the underlying issues.

Likewise, more armed, trained citizens carrying weapons would very likely contribute to safety (to the nuts on both sides: I said *trained*). In the shooting in Oregon, there was an armed man who had the shooter in his sights, but didn’t shoot because of concern for bystanders. Thus, it is possible for armed, trained people to be in the right (wrong?) place by chance, and to have the judgment and discipline required to act responsibly.

Security in highly populated places may need to be increased. It should, at least, not be so easy to slaughter large groups. Again, even if we outlaw guns completely, we need to think about how to improve security in these places (without creating a police state!).

Mental health *is* the underlying issue! By definition, these people are disturbed, and almost without exception, they have not been getting professional help. This is a real problem.

Although I believe in limitless freedom of speech, film and video game makers need to consider the impact of their products, and consumers need to ask themselves if they are contributing by funding the type of trash that qualifies as entertainment these days. The 'violence as art' and general nihilistic undertones of contemporary movies (Sin City, or The Punisher, anyone?) cannot positively affect young men. At best, it’s meaninglessness trash.

On the other hand, the overly PC and emasculating environment of school often has children so far removed from physical contact that I believe they really have no concept of the consequences of violence. Children used to get into fights routinely at school, and had more or less unfettered access to firearms in years past. Why weren't there more shootings? I suspect that part of it is that children got their frustrations out in smaller physical altercations, and therefore also understood the consequences of larger ones.

As a white male, I do understand what Marty is getting at, and it has occurred to me before. We need to think about whether devaluing white maleness is really in the best interest of our society, on many levels. Too often, the explanation is the historical context. If aliens arrived here, they might just think that white men were considered second class citizens among certain groups. Is this OK simply due to ‘history’?

At the same time, why does the media struggle so hard to 'understand' these heinous killers? They usually end up glorifying the perpetrators. I know everything about the Sandy Hook shooter and his family, but so little about the victims. Honestly, I don't believe it is sensible to know so much about *any* of them. If these young men are committing these crimes, at least in part, to get noticed, the media does a splendid job of assisting them and spreading their life stories.

I could go on...the point is, this is a multifactorial problem, and needs to be treated as such. Focusing on and arguing over individual issues will not help.

Rex said...

Speaking as an immature, white, young man, while I do agree with you that the media is unfairly biased against white males and toward women & minorities, I think the issue has more to do with lack of self-direction, immaturity, and overall weakness and poor character due to too much coddling and too few male-appropriate challenges while growing up in an education system that is better suited to girls. Life is tough. School is an easy, safe, and protected environment where there are few memorable consequences if one does not perform to the teacher's/school's standard. I look at previous generations, and people seem to be tougher and stronger somehow. I hate to say it but I think this young man is one of many who was denied/refused self-responsibility until some time after high school, when "it" (reality) hit him all at once. Speaking from experience, if you've been babied your whole life and then suddenly dumped into a shitty job, the shock of the transition provokes a lot of suffering and pain. I guess for some it's all too much...

Anonymous said...

I remember back in 1963,when I was in Jr. High School, there was a shooting at the local High School. I remember the school administraters getting all worked up about it because the shooter was white and the shootees were black. Evidently they had been harrassing this guy relentlessly until he finally brought a gun to school one day and put a stop to it. I believe psychiatrists call it "over reacting". I would guess all these cases are largly some form of retaliation.
There is one factor involved with this phenomenon and that is population growth. Try to imagine what the world would be like if the human population was reduced to one percent of what it is now. Would we still have these shooting incidents?


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