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Virginia Tech
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This is not your normal Virginia Tech post.

I'm not going to express sympathy or empathy for those who've lost people. I do feel it, but there's a problem with talking about this by starting that way. The people who were killed and the lives that have been torn because of it are a different, and separate tragedy from the larger cultural tragedy that their deaths are a symptom of. In not wanting to trivialise their deaths and the pain that has resulted, there aren't very many people out there—especially in the media—who are allowing themselves to look at the massacre from any angle other than a close and personal one.

Walking the ground of those who've hurt and hurting them back is human. It's sad, broken, and tragic, but human. Every war not driven by politics (remember those?) is about hurting those who've hurt you. It doesn't take evil (though it arguably creates it in a broad sense), and it doesn't take insanity. The insane are those who absorb the hurt and turn it inwards, becoming even more twisted by its acceptance than by resisting it. It is a sickness, an illness of one's place in the world. This isn't about vindicating the killer, though. I don't mention his name, because he's not the point.

The illness is cultural. School shootings aren't a normal part of life in North America, historically. They are now, though. They're normal. They are part of the fabric of this culture, as much as McDonald's and beds raised on boxsprings are part of this culture. (Boxsprings are strange and unknown to the rest of the world. Strange to think, isn't it?) They've become part of the culture, slowly but surely.

Every time a shooting happens, people ask, "Why?!" and they consider it an aberration, a tragedy outside of the bounds of life as we know it, perpetrated by a sick and evil mind. No less of a tragedy than that is that the answer to that uncomprehending plea is, "That's how this culture works." People who don't have physically broken minds don't just spring from the Earth fully-formed. They are carefully, cruelly, methodically, and cluelessly shaped by the people and events that form their Life. This isn't to say that people aren't responsible, no. The shaping can be resisted, and people do. We would have more hate-filled killers among us if people didn't resist the primal urge to retaliate when hurt.

The sad thing is, the hurt is unintentional. Clueless. Those that perpetuate the abuse and torture of another's well-being do it because they, too, have been shaped and moulded according to the tight and painful spaces through which culture insists they push themselves. We are all complicit whenever our culture kills someone.

These things don't happen in Europe. They don't happen in South Korea. The common denominator could be the continental plates we stand on, the pattern of sunlight and stars that we see, or the particular wavelength of cell tower radiation we're exposed to (Europe uses a different system). Those aren't terribly plausible, though, are they? More likely it's the radio we hear, the television we see, the advertising we absorb, the food we ingest, the people we meet. The particular patterns of value and disvalue that we carry within ourselves, that we take in from outside and make our own as much as possible. Some of us, are more successful than others making it our own.

I was thinking this stuff the other day when I realised that I was not shocked to hear about the school shooting. The worst in this continent's history. (Which means, of course, the worst in human history.) I just wasn't shocked. Look back, and look forward, and tell me that this will never happen again. The only reason we experience shock is when something happens that we don't expect. Culturally, we're in denial that our culture is sick. It has a disease, and we don't want to believe it. There are outbreaks occasionally, but we still tell China, Japan, Europe, and all our targets for "cultural exports" that, no, we don't have herpes. Just a cold sore. Just that once...

The first step to solving a problem is admitting it. Our problem is not kids who turn into killers. Our problem is a culture that gives birth to, nurtures, and trains killers. I've been reading a lot of stuff recently about various symptoms of cultural sickness. The way we see women, as I wrote earlier (because no matter how we think we individually see women, we see women every day how advertising wants us to). Complacency for corrupt politicians. Glorifying violence and condemning it at the same time. (Compare news coverage of violence against civilians in Iraq by Americans versus violence against civilians in Virginia by Americans.) Condemning sex and glorifying it at the same time.

This isn't about pointing blame, though it's what I'm doing. The point of this pointing, if you look carefully, is where the finger is pointing. That finger is directed squarely at myself. At you. At your mother, your teacher, your child, the stranger at the check-out line, the President, the Prime Minister, every MP, MLA, Congresswoman and Congressman, the teller at the bank, the bum on the street, your fellow coworkers and students, your friends and your enemies. We're all responsible for the part we play, whatever that is, in good and bad. When our culture is sick, we play a part, and we are still responsible. In order to have a healthy society several hundred million people need to change, and nobody can change us but ourselves, one at a time but in parallel. We are responsible, and every fine reweaving of the dense and imperceptible network of culture that we cause by being a better self has far-reaching and unforeseeable consequences. It's distributed power, and it lies in us individually. Sea changes in the culture are caused by the minute changes in direction that we each take, every day.

The Virginia Tech shooting was a tragedy. It will happen again. We have the power to stop it if we stop treating it as an anomaly, and see that our culture ensures that it will happen again.

Some interesting links:

"Virginia Tech: Is the Scene of the Crime the Cause of the Crime?"
This article voices some of the things I've already been thinking in the past week. It has some interesting thoughts in some other directions than what I've written. Worth reading for anyone who values things that broaden and shift their perspective. (Hell, everything I link to is about that...)

"Why Are Americans Afraid of Being Naked?" and "The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body"
Conflation of nudity with sex, body shame, and the epidemic of eating disorders... possibly related?

"Bowing Down to Our Own Violence"
An article putting in stark and painful contrast our culture's views on unsanctioned violence versus state-sanctioned violence.

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Two Virginia Tech things that came my way you may find interesting (if you haven't seen them yourself yet, anyhow)..

One of those delightful social-commentary comics: http://www.reason.com/news/show/119763.html

and a atheist professor at Virgina Tech writes: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/4/19/18451/0971

These things don't happen in Europe

German school shooting 2002 - 18 dead ... Scottish school shooting 1996 - 18 dead ... German school shooting 2006 - 1 dead ... Dutch school shooting 2004 - 1 dead ...

a broader list:

_ Nov. 21, 2006: Sebastian Bosse, 18, opens fire at his former school in Emsdetten, Germany, before killing himself. Five people are wounded and scores hospitalized for smoke inhalation after he sets off smoke bombs.

_ Sept. 13, 2006: Kimveer Gill, 25, opens fire in a cafeteria at a Montreal college, killing one student and wounding 19 before shooting himself.

_ Sept. 28, 2004: Three teenagers are shot and killed by their 15-year-old classmate at a high school in Carmen de Patagones, Argentina. The suspect is detained.

_ Sept. 3, 2004: Chechen rebels take hundreds of students and teachers hostage in a school in Beslan, Russia, for two days. The siege ends when explosions tear through the school and security forces storm the building, leaving 334 dead _ more than half of them children _ as well as 31 suspected militants and 11 special forces soldiers.

_ April 29, 2002: Dragoslav Petkovic, 17, shoots his teacher, then himself at a school in Vlansenica, Bosnia-Herzigovina.

_ April 26, 2002: Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, who had been expelled from a school in Erfurt, Germany, kills 13 teachers, two former classmates and a policeman, before shooting himself.

_ Feb. 19, 2002: A man in his 20s fatally shoots the principal of his former high school in Freising, Germany, after killing two people at a company where he was fired. The man then kills himself.

_ Jan. 18, 2001: Two teenagers fatally shoot a 16-year-old student in a bathroom at a school in a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden.

_ March 30, 1997: A father in Sana'a, Yemen, kills four students and two adults, including the headmistress, at the school his daughters attend. He then walks to another school and kills a teacher there.

_ March 13, 1996: Thomas Hamilton, 43, kills 16 kindergarten children and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, before turning the gun on himself.

Which means, of course, the worst in human history.

Russian school shooting leaves 334 dead, including 184 children.


Terrible things happen everywhere. We just see the evil we want to see.


That said, I have a Michael Moore type view of it, as do you it appears. I would suggest that blaming me is possibly not the most constructive thing to do following an event like this, but it is great that you are getting excited.

It seems a little disingenuous to compare a major battle in a local guerrilla war to incidents with a disgruntled/crazy student. The attackers were well-trained militia with no connection to the school, after all, so it's hard to call it a "school shooting".

That said, the point about school violence in Europe is well-made.

I stand corrected. I was expecting to be, but I was hoping there wouldn't be any counter examples in Europe. The Russian massacre wasn't a "school shooting" in any meaning being used here though. It was at a school, and it involved shooting. It wasn't the act of a desperate kid, but a tragic event among many in an ongoing civil war. So that leaves 33 as the worst.

I don't blame, as I wrote. The point to take away from this is that this isn't an anomaly anymore.

Hoping, wishing, or praying it won't happen again won't change the sociocultural context that enables these things to happen. This is the new norm, and I don't like it. I have the power to change myself for the better in how I absorb and transmit culture, and, like a firebreak, I want to slow or halt the spread of the memes that make individuals sick. That we have responsibility for a healthy culture (since we make it) isn't blame, is a ray of hope. We can do something more than just sitting around and hoping that culture will take care of itself. We are culture, and it will take care of itself when we act as part of its immune system.

I remember reading that one in 50 people in the United States is born a dissociative psychopath. This means that their brains have trouble feeling empathy, sympathy and realizing the principles of cause and effect. These people are not all serial killers or rampage killers but all serial killers are dissociative psychopaths. What makes some turn into killers is entirely the person's personal experience. I distinctly recall the account of an adult fetal-alcohol sufferer who had elaborate fantasies of rapes and killings in his head his entire life. He struggled with the help of his therapists to keep the urges under control. Frequently the trick he uses to stay in control is to remember one of his grade school teachers who told him that she believed that he had some good inside him even though he did so many awful things at school.

I just think that you are right and we need to be more mindful of each of our small interactions with people because every contact has potential to shape another person.

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