South Dakota Top Blogs

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Friday, June 3, 2022

Profile of a shooter: abject nihilism

The school shooting in Texas came at a time when a man I correspond with had raised a question about whether our society is creating an entire class of alienated people who get desperate for some sense of equity within that society.  We were discussing the motives of mass shooters and had noted that some seem motivated by racial hatred, like the one in Buffalo, N.Y.,  and some by a sense of retaliation for being excluded from the category of those whose lives matter.  

We were recalling a mutual friend who was a high school guidance counselor who had received recognition for his successes in helping troubled young people find their ways to more untroubled lives.  Our mutual friend is no longer with us, but the principles of respect and fairness he lived by stay with anyone who knew him and the school he worked in.  He said that a functioning high school did not allow social hostilities to develop  on campus, and he was adept at helping students find constructive pathways to the recognition they sought. Violence on campuses reflects social problems in the community.  The hard task for educators is to make schools a refuge from those community hostilities, providing students with a vision of a beneficial way of life.  American public education was notable for its successes in that regard--until politics intruded into it.  The counselor said that many students believe the world is out to oppress and defeat them, because that is the face it shows them.

Salvador Rolando Ramos

He made the point that while counselors advise students on academic matters and their plans for the future, the aspect of their work that was most demanding was dealing with troubled adolescents.  What troubled young people in school the most was the problems they brought with them from their families and the outside community--racism, gender attitudes, religious bigotry, and social and political prejudices.  The counselor developed policies and programs in coordination with school administrators and teachers to insure that those attitudes were excluded from the way the school operated.

When schools launched anti-bullying campaigns, he upset many education officials when, in a speech he made at a teachers' convention, he said that any educator who glibly talked about bullying didn't know what they were talking about.  He said it was a misleading term because people think it is a matter of students physically intimidating the weaker kids.  That is not the problem.  The problem is students bringing prejudices, hatreds, and bigotries from the outside into the school setting.  Students bring to school personal histories and experiences  and the attitudes they absorb from families and the social milieu in which they live.  The term "bullying" is used to cover hate-motivated acts of prejudice and discrimination practiced in the community. The  counselor said he objected to the term because it was used to cover up more insidious motives for student misbehavior, such as racial, religious, and gender hatred.  

When the counselor retired, he was often hired as a consultant to school districts who were reorganizing to address issues they were facing.  This was shortly after the Columbine massacre, and he was asked to explain the reasons that a couple of young men could hatch such a plot.  He said he couldn't; reasoning was not part of it.  He said you have to begin with the fact that the majority of adolescents "can't think beyond lunch."  To say that is not a disparagement of teen-agers, but an acknowledgment of the stages of human development.  Kids are making the transition from dependency to independence and need to understand that education is provided to save them from living by trial-and-error, which few of them would survive.

As for the Columbine shooters, much conjecture has been made about what motivated them, but the counselor said there was one irrefutable fact that is known:  they had reached a state of abject nihilism.  It is true of many of the mass shooters.  They plot the mass killings and then kill themselves.  The big question is how and why they reached that state.  The answer will be complex.

It was reported of the Uvalde shooter:  "The gunman in Tuesday’s elementary school massacre was a lonely 18-year-old who was bullied over a childhood speech impediment, suffered from a fraught home life and lashed out violently against peers and strangers recently and over the years, friends and relatives said."  But the most troubling question is why he chose to kill elementary school children.  

And, of course, there is the matter of easy access to weapons of war.

Mass shootings have become a routine part of American life.  But there are also many who claim that the contention that America leads the world in mass shootings is a myth.  The nation is unable to deal with mass shootings, so they keep happening and keep increasing.

Abject nihilism defines us.

No comments:

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States