Saturday, May 28, 2022

Shrodinger's Serial Killers

Jonah Goldberg over at The Dispatch has a lot of my ideas, stated more clearly and elegantly, about school shootings.

Anyway, in that NPR segment Cory Turner says that experts say that we should make schools “softer”—i.e., more welcoming and nurturing—not “harder” as in more secure. I think there’s a bit of a category error here. Making schools more nurturing and supportive is not in conflict with making them physically safer. I don’t know this, but I am pretty confident that there are some schools that are incredibly well-designed and heavily guarded that are also quite nurturing.  If you see a family home with a state-of-the-art security system there’s no reason to assume it’s less loving and nurturing inside. My friend Charlie Cooke is armed to the teeth; he is also as far as I can tell a wonderful and nurturing dad. 

Regardless, I just don’t believe that schools have become less tolerant since Columbine. I don’t think bullying has increased. If anything, I think the opposite is true. “Antibullyism,” Izzy Kalman writes at Psychology Today, “unofficially launched in response to the Columbine massacre of 1999, has become the most popular social movement in history.” Even you think—as I do—that that’s probably an overstatement, the point remains. Over the last two decades schools have leapt into the anti-bullying cause. I am sure there is less bullying in my high school today than there was when I attended.

And I am older than Jonah and know there was far more bullying at my school when I was there.  Mill city 1960s. We didn't define such things as an assault then, so if you asked men my age thirty years ago if they were the victim of an assault when they were young, most would have scoffed and said no. For openers,if you fought back and won or at least came to stalemate, you didn't think you had been assaulted. Even then, you might still just think of "assault" as something that needed an adult, or at least later teen initiator to qualify. If you asked men now, now that we have been taught to notice the physical reality, there would be a lot of hesitation and uncertain looks before answering. By the simplest definition, nearly all boys were assaulted. It was just part of reality. Lot's of 'em thought the whole thing was fun to boot, like an informal sport of who could "take" who.

Very few of us became mass shooters, except of frogs. The kids who came closest to such actions - the kids who ended up at youth detention and eventually prison, were generally the bullies, not the bullied. Though that does remind me about the reality of their psychology.  Bullies do not have low self-esteem, they have unreasonably high self-esteem, overestimating their class rank and the number of friends they have. It is when the world refuses to reinforce their narcissism that they lash out. So in the discussion of mass shooters who were bullied, I wonder how many would have been described as the ooposite by their peers.

Probably not.  That's likely only for regular level violence that makes only local news. The mass shooters do seem to have universally noted to be weird, not just mean.


David Foster said...

"Bullies do not have low self-esteem, they have unreasonably high self-esteem"...I believe this is generally true--I've seen studies showing this conclusion...and if that's the case, what might be the implications of 'self-esteem-building' as practiced over that past few decades?

bs king said...

I have a vague memory of a study that also showed regular bullying goes up in proportion to number of social connections, so some of the kids who take the most flack are also the most popular. It's complicated.

I can't recall where I saw someone theorize it, but I've been intrigued by the idea that anti-bullying campaigns didn't work because they changed kids, but rather because they reminded teachers/coaches/et that bullying was a bad thing. They had some suggestion that many regular bullies are more well liked or otherwise protected by teachers/authority figures than their victims, which is why they can go so unchecked. Of course I liked this theory because those were the dynamics at my high school...some of my classmates who did the most bullying are still friends with the teachers as adults. I'm not sure how much solid evidence there is for this, but there was a good point made that we try to change kids behavior all the time and it mostly doesn't work. Anti-bullying campaigns do appear to have worked, so it seems like there was another factor.

With mass shooters however, I agree it seems to be some combination of aggressive + weird. Vivid imagination seems to be part of it too.

JMSmith said...

When I was in high school fifty years ago, a bully was a low-status tough who tried to increase his status in the tough community by beating up a dweeb. I was not afraid of the high-status toughs because they would have lost caste beating up a dweeb me. But from what my children have told me, today's "bullying" is not about beating other kids up. Not with fists, at least. Today's bully is mean and non-inclusive and he makes some other kids feel bad. I'm not belittling this. The old "sticks and stones" maxim is wildly untrue. But bullying certainly is not what it used to be.

HMS Defiant said...

I think that people miss the point about mass school shooting incidents. Perhaps I'm just not seeing it here. I think you know. I pretty much put it on the mean girls. There is no changing that situation in any school. The outcasts are sometimes fragile. They're not all poets who dream of being chicken farmers. Thanks to the no guns in school policies they have an open field when they snap.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

No one is ever going to do the study to see if rejection by the girls is one of the big motivators, though there have been a few of the shooters who have said that explicitly.