Polarized shouting matches won’t solve the school shooter problem

Yesterday, a friend of mine began a discussion of the school shooter problem with a measured status update that, rather than looking for simplistic solutions, clearly invited people to look at the culture and the nature of our society that are behind what might be called an epidemic.

While most of those commenting seriously tried to talk about why people with access to guns today are becoming school shooters when young people have, for years in this country, had access to guns (hunting, trap and skeet shouting, informal target practice) and–until recently–didn’t kill their classmates in mass shootings.

Other commenters didn’t like this approach for various reasons centering on beliefs that (a) so-called profiles of school shooters also described a lot of other people who “suffered the same problems” but didn’t become shooters, (b) the solutions–such as get the guns, arm teachers, put metal detectors at school entrances–were clear and, if approved, could be implemented before efforts at understanding today’s youth would get off the ground, (c) psychology is a “soft discipline” that most insurance plans don’t even cover, so how could it possibly be expected to solve what people believe is a law enforcement issue.

Some people said they thought the media–both news and social–helped fuel the problem by inciting copy cat killings, contributing to the so-called easy fix approach  through non-stop panels of experts, and by providing a fame of sorts to the shooters. Others speculated that non-stop texting and social media use made today’s youth more isolated while giving them the impression they were tied into a larger whole.

In his “Psychology Today” article “‘Profiling’ School Shooters,” George S. Everly states that  While the debate rages on gun control and is not likely to be resolved in the near future, renewed interest in “profiling” those who are at highest risk for committing violence has emerged. However, we must proceed cautiously as no predictive paradigm in behavioral science is perfect, especially “profiling.”

The emphasis here is not, I think, to come up with a formula that predicts who, amongst people suffering similar problems, will be the next shooter. To me, what’s important is considering conditions which appear to have impacted shooters to date and using them not as predictions but as issues to address in schools, families, and perhaps society itself.

Every’s list of primary factors, includes:

  • Males who were students or former students at the school–that is, they were part of the target school’s population.
  • Anger and revenge from people who had been bullied or felt they had been treated unfairly.
  • Individuals who were socially awkward and had few friends.
  • Media contagion as a motivator to frustrated and angry individuals.
  • Dysfunctional family situations.
  • Individuals who expressed frustration/anger through social media posts or some form of “art.”

My list oversimplifies the article, so I encourage you to read it. Whether or not such indicators are within the purview of school counselors is not for me to say. I suspect they are already overworked with a career-choice focus. Parents and parent associations might discuss these in relation to their own children, though we don’t expect a dysfunctional family to have a family meeting and vote to become functional.

Those who think rooms full of youths who are all texting others who aren’t there rather than interacting with those they’re sitting next to certainly have an issue to study. Why do kids do this? Does it isolate them and/or cripple their social skills of dealing with people more directly?

The legality of looking too closely at these indicators might pose problems, such as muzzling a free press, stifling free speech, or the school’s intrusion into emotional issues that parents think belong within the family’s discretion.

As a former journalism teacher, I think there is much the press can do to act with greater caution and restraint in its reporting. “Sitting on a story” for hours and hours during periods when no new information is available not only gives rise to inaccurate reporting and reliance on the opinions/speculations of experts, but ignores other news around the world. For shooters who are looking for their 15 minutes of fame, this endless coverage gives them more fame than they ever dreamt of.

Santa Fe school system photo

We saw how the Ferguson, Missouri violence was fueled in part by the lies told–and perpetuated by the media–about the Michael Brown shooting by people who claimed to be witnesses who weren’t even there. A lot of violence occurred based on those lies, and even after they were proven false, many people continued to believe them. A network I won’t name was taking phone calls after the Santa Fe, Texas shooting from people that did not appear to have been vetted who claimed to have been there. Were they really there? The network took their comments as gospel, something no good reporter would ever do. In this approach, the network wasn’t a news organization but another cog in the social media spreading viral information that could only incite more incorrect views on causes, and perhaps our next shooting.

Addressing these so-called indicators isn’t a quick fix. Personally, I am more interested in knowing what in society has changed that has allowed/facilitated this epidemic.  Some people think “getting the guns” is a quick fix, yet they seem to have no idea that much of the prospective legislation bandied about so far wouldn’t have stopped many of the shooters and/or would be unconstitutional. Trying to repeal or alter the Second Amendment is a process that–even if Congress starts the procedure–would take years and would probably fail. Not a quick fix. Others suggest metal detectors at school doors  which, of course, would have to be manned. So far, the costs appear to be higher than school system budgets. Not an easy thing to do even though it seems so obvious.

I don’t have the answer. And, it might be possible that even if we knew exactly what had changed in our society to create this problem, it might include a slough of so many things it would be hard to address. However, what doesn’t help, is intruding into a civilized Facebook post that’s looking for reasoned discussion with a single-quick-fix solution and then slamming those who don’t agree with it.

If this Facebook thread mirrors society as a whole, we’ll never stop the shootings. Meanwhile, as one survivor of the Santa Fe, Texas, shooting said in an interview, “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always felt it would eventually happen here too.”

Let’s hope public policy doesn’t become fatalism.

–Malcolm

A friend of mine has continued some helpful resources:

The School Shooter: A Quick Reference Guide
HOW WE TALK ABOUT BULLYING AFTER SCHOOL SHOOTINGS CAN BE DANGEROUS: EXPERTS
Are mass shootings a white man’s problem?

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What’s love got to do with it?

When it comes to most sex, apparently nothing.

Rape and other forms of abuse are crimes of hate and have nothing to do with consensual recreational sex, much less love.

Now that James Toback’s and Harvey Weinstein’s names have become nearly synonymous with physical and verbal sexual harassment, people are asking how this has happened.

Wikipedia photo

There’s no need to ask. Most men were brought up to believe that the purpose of women is sex, free or for pay. I’ll stipulate that in many families–such as mine–young men were taught that sex is appropriate only when it’s a component of love and marriage: the times have changed about that as, to varying extents, both men and woman believe consensual sex is simply recreation–like, say, bowling or jogging or tennis.

As for men’s belief that the purpose of women is sex. that has not changed. I heard that on the playground and the middle school and high school locker rooms during P.E. class fifty years ago, and knew it was the basic attitude of varsity and junior varsity high school and college teams. Certainly, I heard this view in the military.

What I did not hear was talk of rape. Culturally, men were encouraged to develop excessive masculine traits, including being and acting as macho as possible, focus on rugged sports like wrestling/boxing  and football rather than baseball and tennis, going hunting for sport rather than any need for food, to generally avoid courses/hobbies/activities relating to liberal arts, to approach everything in life with an over-the-top (and often mindless) pack mentality bravado, and to seek out “the kind of woman” who enjoyed consensual sex.

Now society is asking why any man would have an entitlement attitude about sex and women as sex objects. The answer isn’t new: Men are brought up to believe this. While women are not at fault for this–other than the pretense that it’s okay for their husbands to bring up their sons with this mindset–they have contributed to the women as sex objects mindset by wearing more and more provocative clothing. However, this clothing does not justify rape. It does cloud the issue.

Wikipedia photo

Women have asked for the right to do what men have always done: wear what they want, walk alone where they want, and generally to feel safe and be safe wherever they are. While I was not brought up to see such rights as provocative behavior, men in general have been trained/brainwashed to believe that a woman alone was “an opportunity.”

So now, as I read in the news, many men in Hollywood don’t know what to say about Toback, Weinstein and others. If they admit they were aware of non-consensual sex, groping, and verbal abuse/innuendo, they are asked why they didn’t protest this behavior. If they claim they didn’t know it was happening, they’re assumed to be naive or to be lying.

I don’t feel their pain. I have no sympathy for them. Even though men have been (and are still being) brought up to see woman as sex objects, we were also brought up to see rape and other physical/verbal abuse as crimes. Yes, there have been numerous examples of groups of men becoming silent to shield a member who is accused of rape. Yet, rape is a crime and men know that it is. Hollywood has been complicit for years. In many ways, we all have been complicit because even the best of men know how men have been brought up and I have a strong feeling that very few of us stood up in a locker room and said “you guys are assholes” when teammates said “we’re gonna get drunk and find some free pussy tonight.”

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. In eight out of ten cases of rape, the victim knew the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them.” No wonder most women can say “Me, too” whether it’s rape, groping, or verbal abuse/harassment.

Who is doing this? The male animal we have all created and nurtured.

–Malcolm

Two of Campbell’s novels, “Sarabande” and “Conjure Woman’s Cat” focus on rape, the first from the victim’s viewpoint and the second from a relative’s viewpoint. 

 

Sometimes Doves Think Like Hawks

During the 1960s, the so-called “flower children” suggested that we sit down with our worst enemies and sing songs, share a meal, have a few beers or maybe some pot, and “give peace a chance.” While I was (and still am) a pacifist, that approach sounded naive and unworkable.

It’s easy when a war is far away to say, that’s a civil war and should be decided by the people who live there. It’s harder to say that when the war is on your doorstep or the news is broadcasting a steady stream of information about the kinds of atrocities now being perpetrated by ISIS in northern Iraq in the name of their religious and cultural views.

Like most doves, I have a few hot buttons that make me think more like a hawk. I have no patience when it comes to crimes against women (stoning, mutilation, honor killings) or crimes against peoples (such as the Yazidi) based on the absurd, stone-age belief that one’s god wants them to do such things. It’s especially sad for a dove whose beliefs are based on a spiritual foundation, to see the horror committed by others in the name of a religion.

Generally, I’m tolerant of other religions and really feel no missionary zeal whatsoever to tell people who are worshiping their god to stop doing it and come worship my god. I don’t know why so many people care about the spiritual practices of others.

I grow intolerant, though, when anyone says their god is telling them to kill me or torture me. I see no spiritual component whatsoever in such attitudes and as an angry dove, I quickly think “those people are worshiping a misguided tradition rather than a god.” And, as a dove who is being pushed by circumstance to think like a hawk, I think that if I were flying a drone over a bunch of men about to kill women and chidren for purportedly religious reasons, I would fire a Hellfire missile.

The issues, of course, are larger than one band of religious thugs, and one or two Hellfire missiles. We cannot kill every ISIS thug. And right now, we don’t know how to change their minds. Perhaps some day we will figure out what makes them tick and how to stop it. Until then, the atrocities are mounting up in real time and they require us, I think, to take a pragmatic look at how we should respond as civilized and sympathetic people.

Doing little or nothing should not be the default answer to ethnic cleansing against entire peoples or faith-based crimes against women.

–Malcolm

 

Thugs Masquerading as ‘Honorable Men’

A year ago yesterday, 17-year-old Du’a Khalil Aswad was stoned to death in Bashiqa, Northern Iraq by thugs masquerading as “honorable men.”

The “honorable men” who dropped a concrete block on her face, dragged her body behind a truck and buried her with the corpse of a dog were cheered on by the crowd of equally “honorable men.”

Her closest relatives were among the thugs present that day, and while the video of Du’a’s murder was seen around the world and captured by cell phones for all to watch in the comfort of their quiet consciences, the evidence brought no one to justice, for old-world justice in Northern Iraq—as in many other locations around the world–is being shepherded forward unscathed into the modern world by “honorable men.”

“Honorable men” kill 5,000 women a year, for falling in love as Du’a did, for being raped, for chatting on Facebook, for refusing to marry, for adultery, for wanting to remain single, for speaking with a man, for purportedly dishonoring their “honorable men.”

Women within the world of “honor killings” are bought, sold, traded, like so much chattel by “honorable men” and when such chattel stray or appear to stray, thugs know well the use of guns, knives, kerosene, poison and stones.

We who refuse asylum to women fleeing from murder by “honor” or deport them home to their deaths…we who say “honor killing” is merely a variation on domestic violence…we who do not reform laws that provide commuted sentences for killers claiming the murder they did was honor motivated…we who placate the powerful by turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the cries of the dying and the cheers of the “honorable assassins”…we who saw the graphic CNN report of Du’a’s death and then turned away unfazed to our happy hour friends…we who have not spoken…who are we?

Can it be said that we, too, are honorable men?

To learn more: International Campaign to Against Honor Killings (ICAHK) and especially Diana Nammi’s Call Unheard.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Malcolm R. Campbell