Like most people, I’ve been shocked and distressed to read about the recent incident at Virginia Tech, in the USA. Before making any comment, I would like to extend my prayers and sympathy to all those involved, to the grieving families, students and staff and to the chaplains, carers and the police and medical teams […]
Like most people, I’ve been shocked and distressed to read about the recent incident at Virginia Tech, in the USA. Before making any comment, I would like to extend my prayers and sympathy to all those involved, to the grieving families, students and staff and to the chaplains, carers and the police and medical teams involved in the investigation.
One thing that has bugged me about the coverage of not just this event (contrary to the coverage, not the worst School-realted killing in US history HT Brad Boydston), but similar incidents is the ease with which journalists slip into using the word, senseless.
In dictionary terms, we have two common uses for senseless; either lacking meaning or purpose, or lacking common sense. The latter is less common and refers to making a provocation, or taking a risk with no real “sense” of the consequences. The former is more common and it works well to use the word this way to describe, for example, unintended civilian deaths in a war, or accidental deaths through misadventure.
But too often, senseless is used as a synonym for tragic, which is lazy, wrong and misleading.
I think it is becoming clear this sad incident is not without meaning – on the contrary there might well be things here, in the life of this sad young guy and in the trend of school/college shootings, that we need to learn from.
That doesn’t exhonerate the crime or, for example, lay blame on the college – far from it. But maybe there is a “sense” to all this. Julie Clawson, writing at OneHandClapping put it this way,
“I in no way want to justify Cho’s actions or blame the victim’s for his choices. I know we don’t know much about Cho and what other issues he was dealing with. But I have to wonder at how people like him are pushed to the edge. When normal people won’t interact with the guy who’s a bit off, when one sees valid concerns in the structure of society and feels powerless to have a voice against them – what then are constructive ways to work for change?”
… the moment we can start to ask those sorts of valid questions the crime ceases to be senseless.
In today’s Guardian, Lionel Schriver made some interesting points about the phenomena of school/college violence, before turning to the well-worn issue of gun control,
“I do not believe that the choice of schools or colleges for the pursuit of grievance or, often, for the staging of what I call “extroverted suicide”, is arbitrary. For most of us, school and university are the seats of profound and formative emotional experiences, and the psychological power of these locales does not necessarily abate with age…”
“As for why America in particular sponsors these killings … as I write, relatively little has been made public about the shooter in Virginia, but that won’t be the case for long, which is probably as he would have wanted it. Anonymity is the last thing most of his fellow campus shooters have sought.
Time was that appearing in the newspaper for doing something dreadful was a fearful prospect. But Americans appear to have lost touch with the concept of shame. Now that my compatriots have eschewed the old distinction between fame and infamy for the all-embracing concept of “celebrity”, all that counts is being noticed. Even posthumous attention beats being ignored.”
Alienation, unrequited lust, inability to articulate social criticism, desire for recognition and fame, lack of shame – these are not excuses or justifications, but they are reasons and in the presence of such reasons this crime is not senseless; there are lessons to be learned, issues to be pondered.