Besides horrifying the world with its gruesome spectacle, the April 16 massacre at Virginia Tech produced a wave of rhetoric that said less about Cho Seung-hui's crime than the mind of America.
It's natural, of course, to want to know why someone would commit such an atrocity. We think that if we can explain it, we can prevent its recurrence. But there's not much evidence of that. Interviews with serial killer Ted Bundy 25 years ago only revealed a man without an ordinary conscience. Likewise, Cho's video "manifesto" depicted a young man spewing incoherent rage after a lifetime of such silence that some thought he couldn't speak English or was a deaf mute.
Consider the bizarre ruminations of our talking heads:
First was the inevitable debate about gun control. President Bush set the tone by expressing his sorrow ... and his opposition to gun control at the same time. Depending on your stand on the issue, the massacre was proof that gun sales should be illegal or that everyone should carry a gun to protect himself in case he encounters a mass murderer.
The National Rifle Association, naturally, regards the 32 deaths as collateral damage of our supposedly inarguable right to bear arms. But what makes the Virginia Tech scene unique is its operatic spectacle. In actuality, as many children and teenagers die, less dramatically, of gunshot wounds every four days in America. And, as Bob Herbert of the New York Times points out, studies inarguably prove that the more available guns are, the more likely a young person is to die of a gunshot.
Hillbilly/heroin-addict Rush Limbaugh blamed – what else? – liberalism for Cho's behavior, as did Newt Gingrich, who made the same charge about the Columbine shootings in 1999. Their evidence? Rush cited Cho's raging against the rich.
Newt, in his own involuntary impersonation of Cho's incoherence, told George Stephanopoulos that liberals have created a culture in which "we refuse to say that we are, in fact, endowed by our creator, that our rights come from God, that if you kill somebody, you're committing an act of evil."
Huh? "What does that have to do with liberalism?" Stephanopoulos asked. Newt then raved on about preadolescents wearing prostitute and pimp costumes at Halloween. Gee, I sure hope ole Newt runs for prez again.
The event also became an occasion to critique the nation's drug culture. Arianna Huffington, talking head and owner of the Huffington Post, argued that the antidepressants Cho took may have played a role in his behavior. Many of those who committed similar crimes, such as the Columbine shootings, were also on antidepressant drugs.
If Cho was in a homicidal rage because of Prozac, his victims were ... pussies, according to John Derbyshire and Mark Steyn of the National Review. Incredibly, the two writers ranted about the "corrosive passivity" of the students for not rushing forward to disarm Cho.
Michelle Malkin, doyenne of the right-wingers, agreed but reached into deeper doo-doo. The corrosive passivity, she argued, is a result of universities' becoming "coddle industries" that shield students "from vigorous intellectual debate" and "stoke passivity and conflict-avoidance."
Thus, she concludes triumphantly, "as the erosion of intellectual self-defense goes, so goes the erosion of physical self-defense." The mind reels. I guess Michelle will next be organizing a team of intellectual wingnut mud-wrestlers.
Camille Paglia was trotted out by Sarah Baxter of the Sunday Times of London to make an even broader diagnosis of social problems that created Cho. Her explanation: the "crisis of masculinity" in America. "Young women now seem to want to behave like men and have sex without commitment," Paglia said. "The signals they are giving are very confusing, and rage and humiliation build up in boys who are spurned again and again."
Combine the sexual frustration with Camille's description of the general situation of young men today: "There was a time when they could run away, or hop on a freighter, go to a factory and earn money, do something with their hands. Now ... everyone has to be a lawyer or paper pusher."
Thus Cho, frustrated by girls who rejected him, could not hop a freighter to work off his anger. Instead, he killed his classmates.
I could go on. It was the work of Satan. It was his autism. It was his narcissism. It was homophobia blended with misogyny. The list of explanations is as endless as the critique of American culture.
The fact is, we have no idea why some people become homicidally insane. Nor is there much meaning to be made of such events except, perhaps, that every life can end without a moment's notice.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology. His website is www.cliffbostock.com.
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