Thursday, April 19, 2007

Virginia Tech Has Left Me Disappointed In Americans

"Criminals are made, not born." — Andrew Kehoe

The other day, I postulated that, inevitably, people would eventually start looking to music, movies, and (I left out) video games, to explain the deranged actions of Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui. So far, this hasn't happened. I'm stopping short of declaring that I'm proud to say it hasn't happened, though. I'm actually not proud to say it hasn't happened. I'm more the opposite of proud. What would that be? I'm unproud that it hasn't happened.

I was almost proud of humanity when it had been nearly three days following the tragedy and I had yet to hear one single reporter, pundit, politician, activist, or blogger decry the influence of mindless entertainment on modern youth. I was so almost proud. I was almost happy to be proven wrong. Unfortunately, although I have thus far been proven wrong in my prediction of entertainment taking the blame for the kid's actions, humanity still somehow managed to let me down in the grandiose, majestic fashion that only humanity can.

Whenever something as horribly tragic as this happens, people force themselves to blame something besides the one unbalanced individual responsible. I guess it's because when something as magnificently horrific as this occurs, we cannot allow ourselves to believe that just one person or entity is responsible. We refuse to believe that Oklahoma City, Columbine, September 11th, or Virginia Tech could have been perpetrated by one, two, or a handful of otherwise ordinary people. So we theorize, we look for influences, try to connect dots, and we create vast conspiracies to explain the unexplainable, so we can comfort ourselves by ignoring our own frailty.

By recognizing the possibility that something so catastrophic could possibly be the product of one man's insanity, we must also, on some level and to some degree, acknowledge that any one of us, too, possesses the same inherent flaw. We naturally do not want to associate ourselves with the possibility of being a mass murderer or serial killer, so we must look for something, anything, that sets the lunatic apart from the rest of us.

With Columbine, it was violent music, movies, and video games, which by then was tired, old rhetoric. It doesn't matter what generation you grew up in, you will tenaciously cling to the music, movies, and entertainment that your parents feared would put you on a violent path straight to Hell, all the while decrying the next generation's music, movies, and entertainment for the same reasons. Parents call out to their politicians, and politicians, being from former generations themselves, have the same fears, and they try to censure entertainment. Granted music, movies, and video games have grown increasingly immoral with each passing generation as the envelope successfully gets pushed. However, there is absolutely no logical, empirical reason to conclude that immorality in entertainment has any connection to immorality in life. Most people understand entertainment for what it is, entertainment, and anyone who doesn't is simply an idiot.

When Columbine happened, rock was once again in the process of evolving an even harder and more shocking edge, so naturally the unenlightened feared what they couldn't understand. The fact that Marilyn Manson was the first shock rocker to receive the brunt of the blame for Columbine automatically proves just how baseless the claims actually are, considering that Eric Harris wrote on his website exactly how much he hated Marilyn Manson and why. Even outside of that poignant observation, look at the facts. At the time, Marilyn Manson had enjoyed commercial success throughout the Nineties, spreading his message to hundreds of millions of fans across the globe, and out of all of these hundreds of millions of fans, two hold a murder spree. The same goes for any fairly comercially successful musician, movie, or video game normally blamed for inspiring violence in its fanbase. Statistically speaking, these accusations are full of shit.

Yet we still cling to them. We still need to explain what happened without identifying with it. Here is the simple truth that no one wants to acknowledge: Cho Seung-Hui was a psychopath. Eric Harris was a psychopath. The people who orchestrated September Eleventh were psychopaths. Timothy McVeigh, David Koresh, and the countless others who have committed unfathomable acts of mass violence, were all psychopaths. These are people who adhere so ardently to their twisted perception of the world that they feel not only justified in their actions, but they are entirely convinced that they are sane when everyone else is not. Any one of us could reach that point. We all have the potential. That is what we are denying to ourselves when we seek refuge in blaming anything except our own inherent weakness. Through our ignorance, we only strengthen that part of us by refusing to acknowledge it and actively resist it.

Even though entertainment media has yet to receive much if any blame for Cho Seung-Hui's actions, it doesn't mean we're any more willing to accept that it could possibly have been the result of his own flawed perception. Years of careful study following the Columbine tragedy, it was finally revealed that Eric Harris was a textbook psychopath with a Messianic-grade superiority complex. Plenty of evidence supports the notion that Cho was a textbook psychopath as well. Still, despite this, there are a good number of people — some of them respectable people — who simply refuse to place the blame squarely on one disturbed individual.

Yet, when I predicted the fallout over entertainment, I failed to factor in two major variables. One is that we're living in a different world now than we were in 1998 when Columbine happened. The other is that the police had yet to identify the body of the gunman. By Tuesday, though, the identity of the gunman was exposed to the world, and thus the first factor could then be introduced. Had the culprit been American, no doubt America's violence-obsessed culture would have received the brunt of the blame, regardless of how inaccurate the accusations may be. However, it turns out that the guy was Korean, so with a great sigh of relief, America was able to determine that it wasn't a problem with its own society, but a problem with the world at large.

News pundits, bloggers, and ordinary citizens have worked themselves into a frenzy of blaming immigration for this massacre. I've heard statements made by xenophobic commentators, parroted back by the average bigot on the street, of "When are we going to get a clue and stop letting all these peopel come into our country? Look what happened with 9/11. Look what happened here." Yet, if you look at how many immigrants there are in the country, and how relatively few actually engage in mass killings compared to how many native-born Americans also engage in mass killings, the statistics perfectly add up to you're a dumbass. It's just like with music, movies, and video games. We need to find something to blame to excuse the actions of the criminally insane. Now it's baseless xenophobia. Both are still equally wrong.

We're also seeing arguments from the pro- and anti-handgun lobbies who jump on the bandwagon every time a psychopath decides to gun down a public building because he's a lazy, uncreative coward, demanding respect instead of actually doing something to earn it. Some of us believe that if one of the students or a teacher were allowed to carry a concealed handgun, the violent rampage could have been ended long before the death toll ever reached 32, yet these cretins fail to realize that the general public doesn't know its ass from its head. Would you really want the guy who goes into a screaming fit at the local 7-11 because his coffee is hot to carry around a concealed handgun? Then there are those who believe that gun laws need to be more strict to prevent this sort of thing from happening. These people naïvely refuse to believe that someone who wants a handgun will be able to get a handgun whether they're legal or not. It was proven with Oklahoma City, it was proven on September 11th, 2001. It was proven in Bath, Michigan in 1927, which still holds the record as being the
worst school massacre in United States history. (Sorry, Cho, you fell short.) Murder itself is an act of weakness, and it's never more weak than when delivered at the barrel of a handgun.

Aguments like these — blaming entertainment, blaming immigration and foreign culture, and blaming the weapons themselves — are what make me ashamed to be an American. Not only do they remind us with the embarrassing effectiveness of a Don Imus broadcast that archaic racism is still alive and well in the 21st Century, but they skirt the real issue. We need to stop trying to excuse the actions of the insane by satisfactorally shifting the blame to abstract concepts with arguments that hold no basis in reality. We need to recognize that what we need to make our society stronger is complete socio-economic reform that will require sacrifices that, quite frankly, our society has been bred to refuse to make, however that is a topic for a different day.

Even then, we must accept that, no matter how good or bad society may get, psychopaths will always exist among us, and there will be no explaining or excusing their actions. They believe they are right and everyone else is wrong, and that's all the justification they will ever need. The sooner we can start realizing this, and maybe start recognizing troubled individuals of any cultural background before they have a chance to act on their misguided beliefs, the sooner we can start protecting the innocent. Although it's easier than confronting our own human weaknesses, we're simply not going to get there by pointing our fingers at every innocuous concept and ignoring the real issues.

"How different are any of us from him, really? I could have killed him. I wanted to. For no other reason than that he tried to hurt you. We all have the potential for unspeakable evil lurking inside us, just waiting for that one impulse to make us cross the line. We're all fragile, Kate. We're all just waiting to break."

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