James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University, writes in today's Los Angeles Times about the reasons for the apparently increased incidence in our society of mass-murders such as yesterday's Blacksburg Massacre. Professor Fox's excellent piece identifies five main reasons: (1) perpetrators with histories of frustration, and diminished ability to cope; (2) who externalize blame for reverses; (3) who lack emotional support from friends or family [possibly feeds Nos. 1 and 2]; (4) motivated by some precipitating event "they view as catastrophic;" and, (5) access to a weapon -- and modern weapons are exceptionally potent.
Professor Fox's piece also discusses such pertinent factors as the "eclipse of traditional community" and rootlessness spawned by higher rates of divorce and our mobile, urban population. The analysis is excellent as far as it goes, but I would add a couple of points.
First, Professor Fox correctly cites the Texas Tower Massacre of 1966 as a "dramatic turning point." In August of that year, Charles Whitman shot and killed 14 people from the observation deck of the Texas Tower, on the UT campus in Austin. "Dramatic" is the key word here. Whitman's killings occurred at the beginning of the modern media age. The wired world was still in the vacuum tube stage, but the event was captured on film and photographs and seen all over the world. The media effect is magnified today. Now that we have 24 hour cable news, the internet and You Tube -- there is no way to prevent deranged individuals from involving the whole world in their private psycho-dramas, with the innocent victims used as stage-props by crazies.
Professor Fox also cites, en passant, "the decline of church-going." Now there's a case of hitting the nail on the head. I'd go further, and say the decline of religious belief is positively pernicious, and is directly related to a higher propensity for random mass violence. If there is no God, as many claim to believe, and we are not ultimately to be judged: then why not go massacre people in big batches ? More prosaically, the decline of religion interferes with the maintenance of social order and harmony.
Professor Fox correctly points out that these events are rare, which, he says, should be "some degree of consolation." Small consolation indeed.
ADDENDUM (18 April 2007): On the decline of church-going, and the effective banishment of religion from our public square, and religion's not incidential role in maintaining the social order, Dr. Benjamin Rush, in "Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic" had this to say:
. . .Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius of Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament.It is foreign to my purpose to hint at the arguments which establish the truth of the Christian revelation. My only business is to declare, that all its doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society, and the safety and well being of civil government. A Christian cannot fail of being a republican. . . cannot fail of being useful to the republic, for his religion teacheth him, that no man "liveth to himself." And lastly, a Christian cannot fail of being wholly inoffensive, for his religion teacheth him, in all things to do others what he would wish, in like circumstances, they should do to him.I am aware that I dissent from one of those paradoxical opinions with which modern times abound; and that it is improper to fill the minds of youth with religious prejudices of any kind, and that they should be left to choose their own principles, after they have arrived at an age in which they are capable of judging for themselves. Could we preserve the mind in childhood and youth a perfect blank, this plan of education would have more to recommend it; but this we know to be impossible. . . But I beg leave to ask, why should we pursue a different plan of education with respect to religion, from that which we pursue in teaching the arts and sciences? Do we leave our youth to acquire systems of geography, philosophy, or politics, till they have arrived at an age in which they are capable of judging for themselves? We do not. I claim no more then for religion, than for the other sciences . . .
Hat tip: El Jefe's brother W.