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Friday, July 29, 2022

We are very good at killing kids and other atrocities

Something went terribly wrong at Uvalde, Texas.  Most people would think that the killing of two teachers and seventeen kids in a school is wrong,  but such  shootings are so common in America that they are one of the things the country has become known for.  Wrong, certainly, but routine. 

Somebody released videos of the almost-400 law enforcement officers at the shooting site which inspired malicious criticism of the officers.  In one case, an officer is shown looking at texts on his mobile phone.  People were enraged that an officer would be diddling around on his cell phone when he was supposed to be dealing with an active shooter.  They flooded internet sites with their angry disparagement of the officer.

It turns out that the officer's wife was one of teachers shot, and he was responding to messages from her.  She later died from her wounds.

Another video shows an officer going up to a hand sanitizer dispenser in the school hallway and applying some to his hands.  That action also inspired a spate of angry derogatory remarks about the officer.

It turns out that the officer had been instructed to help medical attendants with aiding the shooting victims.  The medics wore sanitized gloves and the officer thought he should take some sanitary precautions when handling wounded children, too.

The people who jumped to disparaging conclusions about the policemen's actions are typical of that portion of the population that chooses to live in a state of small-minded malevolence.  Their main contribution to society is a hateful stupidity. They are the people who are always ready with some carping criticism about the events and people they observe, and some of these people have influence.  Over the years, I have noticed how such people are a pernicious force that, like a malignant tumor, contaminates and infects the life around them.  They are part of what went terribly wrong at Uvalde.  

One evening at a professional meeting in Dallas, I was seated at dinner with a woman professor from a fairly reputable college in Minnesota.  She launched into a denigrating harangue about  the personality traits of one of the presenters at the meeting, who was a well-known, acclaimed scholar, and she  spent the evening denigrating a host of other people, interlaced with accounts of her own importance.  She was accompanied by two young male professors from her college who seemed to be in a state of thralldom and nodded agreement with her malign pronouncements.  More than 20 years later, I regard her as one of the nastiest horrors I've encountered.  I was stunned that a professor would exhibit such a degree of petty but intense malice and get away with venting it in front of professional colleagues.  That episode that night, however, illustrates a factor that underlies the mass shootings and other gun violence that pervades the nation.  A toxic social environment emanates from people like her and poisons the atmosphere.

The police presence at the Uvalde school and the 77 minutes of their bumbling around before taking down the shooter are cause for intense and aggressive examination of what was going on.  The Texas legislature issued one of the first reports, which said:

“Other than the attacker, this report did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its investigation. There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives.”

They had not, apparently, included all the comments elicited by the police performance as part of the total incident.  They focused on the flaws of the shooter, but not on the social malignancies with which he lived.

National Public Radio News summarized the boy's life:

By the time he reached fourth grade, investigators say he was clearly struggling academically as he was identified as "at-risk." A speech impediment that was not addressed or treated likely contributed to an overall lack of friends and bullying by other students, according to testimony from his family members.

Problems continued into middle school and high school, when the gunman "had declining attendance, with more than one hundred absences annually beginning in 2018 along with failing grades and increasingly dismal performance on standardized and end-of-course exams."

At age 17 he had only completely ninth grade and was then involuntarily withdrawn from Uvalde High School because of his lack of attendance and poor academic performance. After dropping out of high school, the gunman "turned down a dark path," becoming more isolated from those around him, according to the report.

This account details the failings of the shooter.  But it also details the failings of the people and agencies around him.  People will talk endlessly about what a horrible person he is and the awfulness of his background with no realization that their sanctimonious chatter is perpetuating and intensifying those toxic conditions so that other young people may get caught up in them.

A factor evident in mass shootings is that the shooters know their own lives will end.  They shoot themselves, as the Columbine shooters did, or commit suicide by cop.  Very few are captured alive.  In the aftermath of a shooting incident, mental illness is usually brought up, but that evades the real question:  What has brought the shooters to the point that they think no life, including their own, is worth living?  In all the analysis of shooters'  motives, this question never seems to be asked, and certainly not answered.  There is a lot of discussion of what constitutes psychopathology, but little about what influences in the shooters' environment make them give up on life.  Investigators seem to avoid trying to identify the ways that other people and influences contribute to a shooter's mentality.

The pissing in a punch bowl theory applies here.  That theory holds that a drop of piss ruins not just the punch but the whole party.  As teachers understand,  you can have a great class of interested and cooperative kids, and one resentful, complaining student will join the class and it turns into an unruly, clamoring mob.  One person can unsettle a group, a community, even a nation.  

When mass shootings occur, particularly of children, we suffer national heartbreak, and the media leads us in a ritual of commiseration.  We would be more to-the-point if we asked if our words and actions contribute to the infirmity that pervades our country.  The refrain that we have freedom of speech is what people invoke to justify what they say, but many seem to think that freedom absolves them from the effects of what they say or do.  Still, we know that accusing and slandering words contribute to the minds of those looking for reasons to  commit malefic acts.

We may despise and condemn mass shooters, but we first need to find out what made them that way.  Maleficence is contagious.  Have you pissed in the punch bowl lately?

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States