Ginandtacos confesses to harboring violent thoughts as a picked-on teenager. But he never carried out his perverse fantasies. Indeed, as he writes, it was understood by every victim of bullying that there was a clear line that separated imagination from execution. But things seemed to change a few decades ago, and he wonders why. (The map below shows school shootings since Sandy Hook.)
In recalling my childhood, there were a few isolated episodes of bullying, which included yours truly as perpetrator. By and large, however, I simultaneously inhabited different spheres of influence, from sports to music to “the smart guys.” I was very good at the first, mediocre at the second, and pretending at the third, though my teachers believed that I should have achieved more.
Now I should mention that I’m a product of the 50s and 60s, the “relative halcyon days” I often write about. I grew up in California during its truly golden era, or so it was thought. My cultural inspirations were probably Howdy Doody, television cartoons, the Lone Ranger, and other assorted action heroes, including the guy who wore a cape. I do remember spending countless hours outdoors playing.
I had my guns and hats and holsters that properly outfitted my forays into make-believe worlds of cowboys-and-indians. I also had the leftovers of my dad’s WWII service, which included a helmet lining and a backpack of some sort. So I re-fought America’s enemies—in my head. (The photo below was taken a very long time ago. That toy gun at the left was delivered by Santa Claus.)
I don’t know what changed, when, and why. Blaming the media coverage or entertainment or shoddy parenting all feels lazy and unconvincing. Spree killers have always received heavy media attention. Entertainment has always glorified war, fighting, and violence (particularly of the Death Wish“revenge” variety). There have always been lots of bad, negligent, or abusive parents. This generation of kids, however, is noticeably different in how willing some of them – still a very small minority out of the whole, yet far too many overall – are to turn their normal reactions to normal juvenile and adolescent social problems into concrete plans for mass murder.
I have always been hesitant to write this because people do not readily admit to having ever harbored a violent thought. We’re all supposed to say that when we got picked on as kids we had emotionally healthy, adult responses and we never thought about shooting things or blowing stuff up like the Good Guys did in every movie, game, comic, and TV show we saw. But I think that recognizing that this is not especially rare is an important part of being able to understand why the distinction between thought and action has weakened and devise some useful ideas about how to strengthen it again.
Then comes this article on the recent Las Vegas shootings:
Before 6 on Sunday morning, just hours before they killed two police officers and a civilian in a display of antigovernment violence, Jerad and Amanda Miller left their two beloved cats with Kelley Fielder, the next-door neighbor with whom they had been staying. Ms. Miller, 22, promised to return later. Mr. Miller, 31, did not. He gave Ms. Fielder a tearful hug, and said, “I got to do what I got to do.”
“ ‘The revolution has begun’ — that’s what he kept saying,” Ms. Fielder said Monday. “All Jerad wanted to do is talk about overthrowing the government. I thought he was talking smack.”
Oh, and this morning:
TROUTDALE, Ore. — A teen gunman armed with a rifle shot and killed a student Tuesday and injured a teacher at a high school in a quiet Columbia River town in Oregon then likely killed himself, authorities said.