“In the high school halls
in the shopping malls
conform or be cast out…” ~Rush, Subdivisions
In April 1999, my sister came home from work early and turned on the television just in time to see the very earliest moments of the news coverage of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. She says that one of the first interviews with a student who escaped the carnage said of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, “Those were the kids we cast out.” She says she has never seen the interview again.
Fast forward to last summer: James Eagan Holmes, an orange-haired loner in tactical gear, uses assault rifles and tear gas to commit a mass murder. Fast forward again to December: a skinny kid named Adam Lanza uses a Bushmaster assault rifle to murder 26 people at a grade school, including 20 children.
It is so easy to say that these people were broken machines. No one wants to imagine that another human being has enough darkness inside himself that he or she could do such a thing, so we use vastly oversimplified labels to dehumanize them: monster, pure evil, alien.
If I had a time machine and could check, I’ll bet none of these perpetrators were diagnosably mentally ill at all. I’ll bet that they were just so bitter and angry and dark from an entire life of being bullied and badgered, isolated and spit on, that they just finally decided to do the awfullest, blackest, most vindictive thing a human could imagine: kill the most innocent.
Did the victims deserve it? Of course not. But deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
I’m still waiting for this headline: Former Tiny Infant Kills 33 in Shooting Rampage.
Another thing that negates the whole “monster, pure evil” paradigm is that Holmes and Lanza and Lee Harvey Oswald were all once tiny children themselves. What changed them from innocent children into soulless monsters?
One report about the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, said, “…he was ostracized and mercilessly bullied.”
Or this: if these exact same people had first turned their guns on themselves, they would be regarded with nothing but pity and sympathy. These monsters.
As I thought about this and discussed it, a coworker drew a diagram. It showed that you can blame guns, the NRA, mental health care, school security, etc. “But the elephant in the room,” the coworker explained, “is bullied kids.”
Like he was reading my mind.
There is a noisy, shallow campaign across American schools right now to stop bullying, propagated by people who have no idea what it’s like to bullied. It’s the popular kids, and they pay lip service to anti-bullying campaigns while never really understanding the nature of the very bullying they continue to do.
We have to look at ourselves and the society we have constructed. And I don’t mean that we need to look at the government or the medical system or the gun lobby. I mean that we need to look into the mirror. Who did this? Who made these lovely children into people so dark and awful, so burdened with suffering that they collapsed under its weight?
You did this. You. You murdered 20 children in Connecticut the minute you bought your ticket to see Die Hard with a Vengeance. You murdered those children the minute you clicked on an internet story about Lindsay Lohan. You murdered those children when you yelled “kill him” at the television during the Super Bowl. You murdered those children starting 30 years ago, when you called the class weakling a “fag.” You murdered those children with you selfishness, your shallowness, your petty indifference. And you blame some kid with a gun because you don’t have the courage or the intelligence to look in the mirror and take the blame for the world you have helped construct.
Look in the mirror now, and say it: I did this with my suburban home upgrades. I did this with my reality television. I did this with my monster truck rallies. I did this with my emptiness.