Virginia Tech and (violent) creative writing

There’s been some discussion on the other thread of the fact that Cho Seung-Hui was a creative writing student. Let’s dispose of the claim made by some wingnuts, desparate to throw up a smokescreen to obscure the fact that gun control is the only way to prevent such killing sprees or just deranged, that being an English major is some sign of degeneration and potential madness. The other issue raised, and it’s been raised very prominently by Cho’s English professor, Lucinda Roy, is whether action should have been taken resulting from his violent creative writing term papers. There’s an interesting article about this from Sarah Elizabeth Richards at Salon.

But I’m not sure all the issues are properly separated out. There really are a number of issues that arise for analysis and discussion.

The first point to make is that, as one of “America’s most dangerous professors”, Michael Bérubé argues at Pandagon:

The critical thing to remember is this. It is all but impossible to prevent shooting sprees before they happen. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported yesterday, college counselors don’t have any reliable way of identifying students like Cho Seung-Hui or restraining them once they’ve been identified. Sure, it would be nice if we made it a bit more difficult for people with a documented history of mental illness to purchase guns, even as we assure everyone that we have no intention of infringing on anyone’s Second Amendment rights. But you can’t lock up people on the grounds that they have written disturbing things in their creative writing classes. You can’t profile anomalous people for preventative detention: East Asian English major — OK, boys, let’s bring him downtown for deconstructive questioning. And you can’t simply “lock down�? a campus once there’s been a shooting.

I’ve seen some commentary suggesting that the College should have informed his parents, or suspended or expelled him. But Universities are not High Schools and students are adults with rights.

Some are arguing that university instructors should be turned into thought police, ever alert to detect the signs of a “loner” and a “potential crazed killer”:

“Traditionally, [instructors] have thought of themselves as nurturing academic or creative faculties. They don’t think of themselves as counselor or being warning systems for spotting mental health problems,” says Rob Jones, senior vice president and general counsel for claims management and risk research for United Educators, an insurance company for more than 1,000 educational institutions. “We’d like them to think of whether they could be gatekeepers for identifying students at risk.”

There are overtones here of the displacement of responsibility for all sorts of childhood issues and problems onto schools and teachers, but university staff do not stand in loco parentis.

And issues about free speech and freedom of expression arise. As Guy Rundle pointed out in yesterday’s Crikey:

Take, Seung-hui’s play (parts of which were reproduced on Crikey yesterday) submitted for his class, and which led his tutor to wonder if she should call the police. The violent plot concerns a sexually overcharged family in which the family friend has killed the father in order to possess the mother, and the son is fuming with the thwarted desire to murder him.

Shocking really — for Seung-hui has clearly plagiarised Hamlet, which follows this plot pretty much to the letter. The violent discourse echoes an earlier, funnier Shakespeare work Titus Andronicus in which the heroine has to write her murderer’s name in the sand with a stick held between her arms because the hero has cut out her tongue, eyes and hands.

Titus Andronicus is an incredibly confronting and shocking play, particularly the rape and maiming of Lavinia. Its power to revolt, to challenge, to subvert and disturb is powerfully at work in Julie Taymor’s excellent film adaptation. So, it’s not just Tarantino, or violent games, or whatever. Great art – including the cherished and lauded masterpieces of the canon – can be profoundly unsettling when it deals with the violence that people are moved to do to one another.

Similarly, some of the extremely sadistic violence reported in some of the students’ work that Richards’ interviewees discuss in the Salon piece has its parallel in things that are part of the culture – whether some varieties of Manga/Anime, where torture is a common leitmotif, or De Sade for that matter.

In terms of the responsibility of teachers, clearly there’s a distinction between actual behaviour that may threaten or target other students and the instructor, and what is actually or potentially part of the coursework (remembering that quality isn’t necessarily guarenteed from students who are, after all, learning creative writing and have various ability levels). For instance, this seems to me to be the right action from one of Cho’s professors:

In October 2005, one professor, poet Nikki Giovanni, kicked him out of her class because his work was “intimidating” and scared students. Her female students stopped coming to class after they said Cho was photographing their legs with his cellphone.

If a student’s behaviour is intimidating or disturbing to other students, then clearly the teacher has a responsibility to deal with it.

But this point remains:

“Lots of great literary works are deep and dark and disturbing — that would be Kafka,” says Deborah Landau, director of the creative writing program at New York University, who plans to discuss university protocol with her staff in the wake of Monday’s massacre. Yet teachers increasingly are being expected to distinguish between students’ pushing their creative boundaries or showing frightening warning signs. That’s a tall task, especially when students routinely hand in twisted texts dripping with bloodshed, cruelty, perversion and extreme sex scenes, say teachers.

Creative writing teachers point out that they’re not trained therapists and not equipped to determine when a student is potentially unstable. That’s why instructors aren’t held to the same liability standard as psychological counselors, explains Sheldon Steinbach, a higher education attorney with Dow Lohnes, in Washington, D.C.

I think that there would be, as the article argues, a duty to consider what action to take in the case of the submission of violent work, but in the absence of corroborating behavioural problems which interfere with the educational and pedagogical process, I’m not sure that the suggested search for a correlation with “strange” behaviour or appearance is appropriate. The aftermath of the Columbine shooting saw lots of kids targetted, and in many cases arrested, for all sorts of things, including being Goths when their parents didn’t like that. There are some very troubling issues to contend with, and I’m sure many of Cho’s teachers were prospectively and are retrospectively contending with them. But I’m not sure that displacing the responsibility for such actions and their prevention onto professors and universities is the most appropriate judgement. As Gus Van Zandt perceived, guns are the elephant in the room.

<img src="http://larvatusprodeo.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/lavinia.jpg&quot;

Laura Fraser playing Lavinia in Titus, after she has been raped and her hands cut off and tongue cut out.

Picture courtesy of Xah’s movie stills page.

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Posted in Books, Writers & Writing, Crime, Disasters, education, Film, TV, Video etc, USA
33 comments on “Virginia Tech and (violent) creative writing
  1. …or even the claim by some wingnuts that the only way to prevent such killing sprees is via gun control.

  2. Paul Norton says:

    Having spent quite a few years on my university’s disciplinary and appeals committees, and having studied student discipline and conduct statutes from a number of universities, it would be virtually inconceivable that any kind of disciplinary proceedings could be initiated against a student on the basis solely of “disturbing” content in an assignment whose content was known only to the student and their instructor, unless the content was written with the deliberate intention of intimidating or harassing the instructor or libelling a member of the university (e.g. if Birdy, as a student in one of my courses, wrote an assignment which was a pastiche of the bombs he lobs my way on comment threads and included a threat to destroy my career if he didn’t get a high distinction) – or unless the institution had a student discipline policy which was completely at odds with basic principles of academic freedom.

    Some Australian universities are developing programs for academic staff to be pro-active in identifying and assisting students who may be “at risk” in their personal lives, as well as in terms of academic progress. This raises a range of questions about what can realistically be expected of staff in terms of inter-personal sensitivities and perceptiveness, knowledge of appropriate procedures for intervention and referral, etc., especially given the precarious and cash-strapped terms on which so many of us are employed.

    It is not difficult to see where some of the proposed policy responses to this week’s tragedy could lead. Personally I would not like to be expected or required to call the counter-terrorism hotline whenever one of my students expressed (say) a pro-Hamas or pro-Hezbollah sentiment in an assignment or even a tutorial discussion, in the absence of any behavioural evidence to suggest that they were something other than peaceable and law-abiding.

  3. Pavlov's Cat says:

    1) Classes in creative writing do, in fact, bring nutters out of the woodwork. There has been at least one person in every writing class I have ever taught who was either in need of, or already getting, professional help. Those are inevitably the students who are most resistant, recalcitrant and disruptive.

    2) The handing up of profoundly disturbing work (I never got anything as bad as the Cho stuff, but I did have in one class a Vietnam vet and gun nut who either thought he was an ex-CIA assassin or really was one, and wrote about it endlessly) puts the teacher in a position where s/he has to take action of some kind.

    3) Such work has to be given a grade, and since disturbed work is inevitably bad writing, the grade is usually bad, which makes everything much worse.

    4) Lately the status of students as ‘clients’ has radically changed the classroom dynamic. Students are coming to regard themselves as customers paying for a commodity. What many creative writing students are paying for is validation, high marks, and doing exactly what they like in class. The bit from the Cho story that really froze my blood was the moment when one of his teachers asked him to do something or stop doing something in class and he replied ‘You can’t make me’ — one of the few things anyone ever heard him say, apparently.

    And it’s true: you can’t make them. You can’t make them stop photographing other students’ legs with their phones, or anything else. Creative writing in particular brings in a lot of money to universities that are desperate for it; if as a teacher you appeal to the university to do something about a difficult student — or if such a student complains about you — the university is unlikely to back you.

  4. Chris says:

    Let’s dispose of the claim made by some wingnuts, desparate to throw up a smokescreen to obscure the fact that gun control is the only way to prevent such killing sprees

    I strongly support the gun control measures that have been introduced in Australia, and I think they could go even further. However, I’m pretty skeptical that similar gun control measures would have much of an beneficial impact in the short to medium term in the USA. There are just so many legal and illegal firearms there it would be decades before it could start to have an effect, let alone the immediate problems of confrontations caused by people unwilling to give up their guns. Even in the long term, with pretty leaky land borders would they be able to stop the import of guns? Border control hasn’t exactly been a success when it comes to illegal drugs or immigrants.

  5. Pavlov's Cat says:

    Sorry Paul, our comments crossed — but I think they sort of reinforce each other.

  6. Kim says:

    Yes, Chris, it would take decades, but I see no reason why that should make us throw up our hands in defeat.

  7. j_p_z says:

    “Some are arguing that university instructors should be turned into thought police…”

    Talk about shutting the barn door after the fact. Hordes of university instructors have long since turned themselves into thought police, on their own authority and initiative, and with little to no accountability to anyone, in the name of zany and utterly undefinable agendas like “social justice” and “social change,” whatever those critters may turn out to be.

    As Mr. Zappa once asked, “Who are the brain police?” The answer is easy. They’re those folks wearing the “Question Authority” buttons, who fly into a pissy self-righteous rage the minute you try to question *their* authority…

  8. Katz says:

    The operating culture of universities was established when they were elite institutions for the very scholarly, persons with religious vocatons, and the very rich.

    They were difficult institutions to get into. It was easy to screen out persons who didn’t fit. Often, those decisions were outright discriminatory. However, their effects were to create and to reproduce a culture of politesse.

    Structurally, universities are very different today. However, their operational cultures have not changed to confront new realities of persons with purely instrumental, mercenary and psychotic motives for enrolment.

    Thus, there is a crisis of identity whenever academics are confronted starkly with the new realities of tertiary education.

    The temptation is to tweak the old culture a little to cope with some of the more egregious eruptions of reality.

    But this response is insufficient.

    There are only two workable responses:

    1. Exclude persons who don’t want to or wo cannot operate within traditional university culture.

    2. Abandon the old idea of the university and recognise that universities are, among other things, degree mills and outpatient wards for the mendacious and maladjusted in our society.

  9. Chris says:

    Yes, Chris, it would take decades, but I see no reason why that should make us throw up our hands in defeat.

    True, though I suspect money and effort would probably be more effectively spent trying to fix some of the more fundamental causes (eg identification and treatment of mental illnesses, people feeling extremely isolated in society) rather then trying to reduce the result of the problems. Even if you remove the guns, they’ll still be able to kill other people, just less in most cases.

  10. I’ll second what PC said, having run the odd creative writing workshop. Cho’s writing by itself is difficult but not conclusive.

    The issue to me is his behaviour towards other students – weird text messages, photographing people, then the stint in the local mental health unit. I can’t help thinking that the dots should have been connected.

    BTW I think the academic’s name is Lucinda Roy; his (initially concerned) tutor was Nikki Giovanni.

  11. Kim says:

    Thanks, SL, right you are, and I’ve fixed the post.

    I can’t help thinking that the dots should have been connected.

    But who does the connecting and what do they do then?

    Perhaps on a very small campus it might be possible to do something? But it seems like the committal to a mental health facility is about the most extreme thing that could have been done. And it didn’t “prevent” what happened.

    To what degree are universities responsible for the mental health of their students? That’s the issue, I think – the odds of anyone becoming a mass killer, are, after all, extremely minute.

  12. Kim says:

    Even if you remove the guns, they’ll still be able to kill other people, just less in most cases.

    Maybe so, Chris, but someone with a knife isn’t going to be able to kill 33 people.

    But I think the broader issue goes beyond mass killers in educational facilities to the very high rates of shootings generally in the States. I’m under no illusion whatsoever that gun control measures are easy, or that we’d ever get to the point I’d like to get to, but still, if you look at the fact that legislative gun control measures have in fact gone backwards in the Bush era, I think it becomes incredibly important to keep campaigning.

    As to mental health and alienation in society, now there’s a massive issue that’s probably not responsive to anything but fiddling around the edges in terms of actual policy intervention.

  13. But who does the connecting and what do they do then?

    That is the $64,000 question, Kim. Retrospectoscopes provide a great view

  14. Kim says:

    That’s my point in the post, really, SL.

    If you’ve got a campus with 20 or 30000 students (or more), you’ve got a very different environment from a high school. Plus the students are adults and therefore have rights to privacy and the responsibility for their own behaviour.

    Some of the loopy/disturbing behaviour can be picked up in classes, or in dorms, but who’s going to collate all that information?

    And – if for instance – a student is sending annoying or harrassing text messages to another student, then is that the university’s responsibility?

  15. If he’d only had Linux on his PC, rather than TEH WINDOWS, this would never have happened.

  16. Pavlov's Cat says:

    SL and Kim — the dots had already been connected. The real problem is what should, or could, have been done about the picture.

  17. Kim says:

    Yes, I’m aware, Dr Cat, but I think it’s something of a fluke that they were. I’m trying to get at two points – first, that in most instances, they won’t be, and secondly that in the absolutely overwhelming majority of cases, the person who’s painting the dots won’t turn out to be a crazed killer.

    As Michael Bérubé says:

    It is all but impossible to prevent shooting sprees before they happen.

    My questions, therefore, are:

    (1) Could a lot of damage be done in terms of surveilling/intervening in students’ lives in an attempt to do so?

    And I think there will be a big attempt made. That’s why I referred to the harrassment of many high school kids in the wake of Columbine. The attempt will almost certainly fail, but it will lead to all sorts of undesirable consequences in so doing.

    (2) In any case, is it desirable and/or practicable for university teaching staff to attempt to intervene when either their students produce work that is, or may be, disturbing, or when they feel that a student has problems other than educational ones?

    Again, I’d make the point that staff are not trained to make these judgements.

  18. Cho’s writing stands out more for its sheer bloody awfulness, reminiscent of an engineering student or a full fee paying business studies student essay, than its disturbed images, but the combination of both certainly sets off alarm bells.

    But lots of things set of alarm bells. For every Cho who ends up a mass killer, and lets face it – there’s only one Cho, there are at least 100 others I know of, equally frightening, who get a stalker suspended conviction, and then goes on to spend life fairly innocuously living in a bungalow in their parents garden, going to collectors fairs and /or obsessively debating almost rationally on the net on some topic.

    So the alarm bell is set off – what do you do? Approach and say “You alright mate?” or “You seem like a nutter” or hand them an appointment card with the campus counsellor?

    Psychology and psychiatry are a mixture of science and art and are orientated to healing not prediction. And certainly not any precise prediction of murder or crime.

  19. Kim says:

    What you said, FXH.

  20. Mark says:

    When I was working at another university a few years back, a student held admin staff hostage in the head of school’s office with a knife, threatening to commit suicide if his fail grade wasn’t changed and claiming that the university had failed in its duty of care to him by not seeing that his problems – which he cited as loneliness and poverty – were serious.

    He was talked down, and then arrested. He ended up in a psych ward.

    Obviously this incident was very threatening to the admin staff concerned (the head of school himself was off at a meeting with someone higher up – as they usually are).

    He’d already been referred to the campus counsellor. But campus counsellors aren’t psychiatrists, doctors or psychologists either, and are usually over-worked and underpaid.

    I doubt there is anything that the counsellor could have done to “prevent” his later manifestation of violent and threatening behaviour on campus. In most instances, as I understand it, they can refer students to other health professionals, but can’t take responsibility themselves for the “cure” of the student. And nor can, or should they, have the responsibility to discern whether a student will become a threat to others unless there are clear signs that that is the case.

    I hadn’t taught this student myself, but I understand other lecturers had thought him bright but very depressed. He wasn’t exaggerating about his financial situation. But no one ever thought that he would act out violently.

    I’ve encountered more than a few students in my ten years of tertiary teaching who have appeared to me to be suffering from mental health problems. I really don’t think that there’s anything much I can do as a teacher – except to suggest a counsellor if they discuss problems with me in the context of assessment (which I’ve done). But I don’t see that I can or should do anything in my professional capacity with respect to students in a class room unless their behaviour becomes problematic for the class or for me. In these circumstances, I can see that they’re having big problems, but I don’t have the training, or I think the right to invade their privacy to suggest anything unless it arises as a result of an educational/pedagogical issue.

    So, yep, what FXH said.

  21. Darryl Mason says:

    Everyone seen the image of Virginia spree killer Cho Hui in Marine uniform?


    How About A Nice Game Of Solitaire…

    Don’t go thinking about what you see there too long and hard, kids. Remember, there are no conspiracies, just too many paranoid people.

    Anyone else amazed that no video geeks have gone and made a YouTube short movie from the Cho plays yet? Anyone else here read Richard McBeef and Mr Brownstone?

    For a few days, Cho’s work was being read by more people than Shakespeare. Now that is frightening.

    Have a great weekend all.

  22. Chris says:

    But I think the broader issue goes beyond mass killers in educational facilities to the very high rates of shootings generally in the States.

    I totally agree. Sadly, mass shooting murders are not uncommon in the US. So much so that I suspect the smaller ones don’t even make the news here in Australia anymore. It was common enough that I used to refer to them as the monthly mass murder when I lived in the US. Its only when they’re especially large or at schools that they get worldwide coverage anymore.

    If any event was going to change gun control legislation in the US, it was Columbine, but nothing really changed in the end.

  23. anthony says:

    As Mr. Zappa once asked, “Who are the brain police?â€?

    I believe Mr Zappa was asking a rhetorical question there JP.

  24. Christine Keeler says:

    Well, as somebody pointed out on RN this morning, until a few days ago Mr Cho was a law-abiding citizen.

    Other than the fairly obvious suggestion relating to easy gun availability*, it’s difficult to know what to do in these circumstances. If you’re going to ping everybody who’s depressed, troubled, and who writes violent obsessive drivel, there’s half of Hollywood locked away for a start (and yes, I’m looking at you Joe Esterhaus).

    It seems that he wasn’t psychopathic or clinically insane, and the only predictor of his act was the act itself. He clearly needed help though.

    *(also musn’t forget co-ed dorms)

  25. Brian says:

    I don’t have any answers to this one, but I want to draw attention again to what the forensic psychiatrist Paul Mullen, who is clinical director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, said the other day:

    There are certain things that they have in common. I mean, obviously no group is going to be exactly the same, but there are certain obvious things.

    They’re almost all male, there is one exception. They’re young. They tend to be in their 20s. They are typically social isolates. They very rarely have close friends or confidants. They almost never have an intimate relationship, although they sometimes have had brief relationships, which have usually failed.

    Interestingly, they’re not like many offenders, they don’t tend to have problems with alcohol and drugs. They’re certainly not impulsive, quite the reverse. These are rather rigid, obsessional individuals who plan everything extremely carefully. And most of these massacres have been planned for days, weeks, sometimes months ahead.

    The other thing about them is that they are angry and resentful at the world, they blame the world for not having recognised their qualities, for having mistreated them and misused them. Resentment is central to their personalities.

    They spend their time ruminating on all those past slights and offences. And they begin to develop a hatred for the whole world.

    Perhaps most important of all, these people are on a project to suicide. They go out there to die, and they go out to die literally in what they see as a blaze of glory. They are seeking a sort of personal vindication through fame or, more precisely, infamy.

    So the dreadful thing about this is that these are suicidal young men whose disgruntlement, anger and rage at the world has led them to kill en route to suicide. [Emphasis added]

    He says that in three Australian cases suicide failed. Martin Bryant set fire to a house around himself but panicked and ran out. The ones in Monash and La Trobe were overpowered by other people.

    Mullen says that:

    about 5 to 10 per cent of them have serious mental illness, the rest are just very disturbed, unhappy, angry and suicidal men, which means that they’re not normal by any means, but they’re not, they don’t have illnesses like schizophrenia or manic depressive illness or anything like that.

    My impression is firstly that you can’t help these people when they are adults, or even during adolescence, unless they accept the need for it.

    Secondly, there is usually (I’d suggest always) much that is dysfunctional in the relationships and personalities around them.

    We were talking about this today to a friend with long experience in counselling teenagers in a school and more recently in fostering situations. Sometimes these isolates put up a shell around themselves that even a skilled person can’t break through. With teenagers you might have a chance in working with others in the social setting around them, but in the case of a university student it’s not practical or appropriate for unskilled , in this sense, lecturers to be doing more than what Mark and others above suggested.

    From what I can see the problems stem from very early childhood. There is often a lot of aggression in young kids. I’d suggest the critical time for intervention is age 2 to 8. Beyond that it becomes progressively difficult.

    There was a further discussion on Breakfast with Fran Kelly, Paul Mullen and Robert Hare. I can’t listen again now because of proximity to bedrooms, but Hare emphasised, I think, that there is much that is similar in these cases, but there is always some new aspect as well. Neither suggested that you could pick who was going to go off like a cracker. I guess that if they were looking for help they’d let someone know. The shell they put around themselves is form of protection. But at the same time artistic expression is a window into the inner world.

  26. Mark says:

    They’re almost all male, there is one exception. They’re young. They tend to be in their 20s. They are typically social isolates. They very rarely have close friends or confidants. They almost never have an intimate relationship, although they sometimes have had brief relationships, which have usually failed.

    Brian, without going necessarily to the other characteristics Mullen mentioned, there are quite a few kids like that at universities.

  27. Alan says:

    Actually, we now know that Cho was involuntarily committed, as a danger to himself and others, in 2005. I’m told that should have disqualified him from buying a gun under federal law but the state and federal governments don’t talk much when it comes to enforcing the existing gun laws. So, a bureaucratic cockup as much as anything else.

    Berubé is wrong.

    There are often concrete warnings of these events and the no-onecouldhaveimagined stuff is essentially an excuse because, in the US, the right won’t touch guns or mental health costs and the left won’t touch privacy or compulsory psychiatric treatment. Brooks Brown, a Columbine survivor was on Triple J this week describing just how predictable and preventable Columbine was.

    I’m not proposing SWAT teams yelling ‘Hut! Hut! Hut!’ as they burst into creative writing classes. When Cho approached the gun shop he should have been turned away and the relevant agencies should have been notified. The involuntary commitment, the stalking history, the behaviour in class and the gun purchases should have rung bells.

  28. nasking says:

    Quiet imagination…lonely walks…desperate moments…actions taken in the night…love for the unknown…searches…love lost…romance gained…the slip between…

    someone speaks…attempts to control, direct

    energy exerted

    some we get the best from

    some the worst

    in the fit of imbalance, what is available…?

    amber steps…or ridicule?

    and how is it taken? depends on the HOST

    priests stand outside ready to exorcise

    athletes do the same

    poets search the mountains for a muse

    film makers for a producer

    and some…live in the space in-between

    we pretend to care, to talk, to acknowledge

    but our egos are barriers

    lost in the window dressing of our past

    and pretence of our uncertain future

    we walk past

    time and time again

    news unchanged

  29. Katz says:

    Patterns aren’t predictive.

    Patterns merely provide post facto rationales.

    If communities locked up or excluded or denied certain rights (like owning a gun) to persons on the basis that these persons adhered to certain patterns of behaviour associated with even such a narrow category as “spree killer”, the following would result:

    1. The circle of exclusion would continue to expand as new danger signs appeared to emerge.

    and/or

    2. It would become politically and administratively impossible to discriminate against the ballooning number of persons who would fall within the burgeoning laundry-list of suspect behaviours.

    And with all the resentment such a policy would excite, the policy may even serve itself as a spur to action for otherwise dormant spree killers.

  30. Brian says:

    They’re almost all male, there is one exception. They’re young. They tend to be in their 20s. They are typically social isolates. They very rarely have close friends or confidants. They almost never have an intimate relationship, although they sometimes have had brief relationships, which have usually failed.

    Mark, I’m sure you’re right, but as a society we should not accept this situation or say that it is a free country and it is up to those individuals to socially integrate or not as the case may be. Individuals are not as free as sometimes imagined.

    Of that broad set a smaller subset, according to Mullen, has anger and resentment plus a fascination with violence and guns in particular. Within a gun culture it is an easy step to spree killings, but difficult to spot and do anything effective.

    So I would agree with Kim that it is important to keep up the pressure for change on gun laws, though someone could do a serious study why, as I understand it, Canada has similar levels of gun ownership with a significantly lower incidence of using them in homicides. Perhaps they have.

    My point is that there is a very limited amount that anyone can do when social isolates reach adulthood. If society wants to intervene we need to look at a totally different set of policies targeting a much younger age group.

  31. professor rat says:

    Rush Limbaugh is not a bad bloke you know. He got out of the ‘Nam draft and he takes drugs illegally. Pretty hip. He reckons this shooter was a ‘Liberal’
    ( ALP type) because his main beef was ‘ the rich’ and that rings true to me.

    It was the ‘Best and the brightest’ who murdered millions of Vietnamese after all. The ‘Liberals’ starting with the democrat Kennedy and ramping up massively with the ‘Great Society’ LBJ. The government for good or ill is the great teacher.

    Asians could kill a couple of million Americans and still be short of even-stevens for the war on Vietnam.

  32. Helen says:

    And with all the resentment such a policy [of exclusion / incarceration / etc of suspected nutters] would excite, the policy may even serve itself as a spur to action for otherwise dormant spree killers.

    Absolutely right Katz. Such a policy would fuel the very paranoia that leads to these things. It might have the result of preventing a few massacres and provoking others that might not otherwise have taken place.

  33. Brian says:

    Skepticlawyer linked to a Washington Post article by Lionel Shriver entitled What the Killers Want. I’d like to endorse her recommendation.

    It covers all the main dimensions. I thought of excerpting a few quotes, but you really need to read the whole thing.

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