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January 10, 2013 12:44 PM   Subscribe

The Depressive and the Psychopath, an article about mental state of the killers responsible for the Columbine high school massacre of 1999.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (76 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
I won't get to this today, but thank you for calling it what it was . . . a massacre.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:46 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sure others will mention it but let me say that Dave Cullen's book Columbine also covers the psychological assessments of both Klebold and Harris(as well as going further into detail on how Harris actively manipulated the therapists in the youth justice program they both went to after the van break-in.)

(Also it is fantastic.)
posted by whittaker at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yes, this post was inspired by Cullen's book, which does an excellent job of look what happened before, during and after the shooting.

Bit of tough read at times though, obviously, especially if Newtown is still on your mind.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:57 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great, now we can follow Wayne LaPierre's helpful suggestion about making a national database. The problem is that if we make a national database of psychopaths, he might be surprised by some of the names on the list.
posted by Dr. Zira at 12:58 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Great, now we can follow Wayne LaPierre's helpful suggestion about making a national database. The problem is that if we make a national database of psychopaths, he might be surprised by some of the names on the list.

A national registry of people with mental illnesses is a terrible idea, since it would mostly lead to people not getting treatment.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:02 PM on January 10, 2013 [40 favorites]


Psychopath does not mean 'person with political views I dislike.'
posted by shakespeherian at 1:06 PM on January 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


argh. the Slate article hung my browser twice now. I have not been able to finish reading it (as I would like to) any one else having this prob?
posted by supermedusa at 1:07 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


My problem with the idea of any national database of individuals is that it could be gamed to include anyone any politician wants to include.
posted by Dr. Zira at 1:08 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Actually it does. It's just not a causative link in the direction you imply.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


what i would like to know is whether a psychopathically small anterior rostral prefrontal cortex is something that can be epigenetically triggered, or if it's an immutable feature from birth. if meditation can increase grey matter, perhaps certain behaviors/experiences can grow/shrink the relevant types of grey matter as well?
posted by facetious at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Definitely interesting to see the two of them distinguished in their motivations (Klebold as depressed, Harris as an out-and-out psychopath). It's been awhile since I saw either, but I don't remember Bowling For Columbine or Elephant making much of an effort in that department.
posted by mannequito at 1:12 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


i'm with roomthreeseventeen...the db idea is a tangle of potential abuse.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:13 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


We all have serious mental health issues if we take our mental health policy cues from Wayne LaPierre.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:20 PM on January 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


The last sentence of this article is absolutely bone chilling. The idea that there are murderous individuals so profoundly broken as to be completely incapable of rehabilitation is nightmarish stuff.
posted by Dr. Zira at 1:25 PM on January 10, 2013


Colin Wilson advanced a similar theory about killer couples in A Criminal History of Mankind; writing in the early 1980's his prototype was Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. He was more interested in how their dynamic influenced the otherwise apparently normal Myra to do such horrific things; as with Harris at Columbine, Brady's motivation was more obvious.
posted by localroger at 1:27 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I prefer Mark Ames' interpretation, who blames the toxic culture of Columbine itself for causing the massacres.

Every fake attempt to understand "why" Columbine happened has always turned into an act of willful self-deception. At first their parents were blamed. But then we learned that both grew up in two-parent homes, and both openly loved their parents, even apologizing to them in video diaries. As Harris noted, quoting Shakespeare's The Tempest, "Good wombs hath borne bad sons." Then the Internet was blamed, Doom was blamed, violent movies, the NRA, lack of religion:everything was blamed except the most obvious cause of the attack: Columbine High School.

And what a horrible place it was - and is. After the massacre, numerous parent, students, and ex-students went public about the school's "toxic" culture of brutality. Students were routinely beaten, assaulted and humiliated right in front of the teachers and administration, whose jock-principal not only tolerated it but loved the bullies. As one jock from the Columbine High football team bragged after the massacre, "Sure we teased them:If you want to get rid of someone, usually you tease 'em. So the whole school would call them homos."

Officially, Columbine is not a suspect in the crime. Yet it has continued to see unprecedented white upper-middle-class violence. A year after the massacre, two Columbine students were killed across the street from the school in a Subway Sandwich shop; a boy on the basketball team committed suicide (as did one of the victims' mothers); and two students were caught a couple of years ago with a list they'd drawn up of Columbine students they were planning to massacre.

Indeed on forums around the web, Harris and Klebold are literally heroes to thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of American kids. There have also been numerous school massacres and planned massacres since 1999 where the perpetrators referenced Columbine as their model. Every year, as April 20th approaches, the number of plots exposed soars. Recently, school massacre plots were uncovered in Reno; Platte City, Missouri; and Tacoma, Washington, among others.


I've just finished reading Ames' free book Going Postal, which contextualizes workplace and school massacres as 'slave rebellions' against the crushing soullessness of post-Reagan America. I'm not sure how accurate his reading is, but it makes intuitive sense to somebody who was a teenager during the Columbine massacre. It's how the massacre was understood by my classmates, and the image of the killers as romantic figures still persists: look at Tate in American Horror Story or the tumblr fandom around James Holmes.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:29 PM on January 10, 2013 [42 favorites]


The idea that there are murderous individuals so profoundly broken as to be completely incapable of rehabilitation is nightmarish stuff.

According to Cullen's book, released in 2009, there has been progress in that area, where psychopaths are educated about their differences (disability?!) and how to proceed along a more logical path to avoid harming others/going to jail. etc. No idea on the current state of that work.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:30 PM on January 10, 2013


I prefer Mark Ames' interpretation, who blames the toxic culture of Columbine itself for causing the massacres.

A high school culture is not going to have a profound impact on a psychopath who is determined to kill, one way or the other. I don't buy it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:33 PM on January 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


This has been written about multiple times now (the first article is from 2004!). Also the news that psychopaths have different brain structures is not new knowledge. Dave Cullen's book is great, and so are the writings from Dylan Klebold's mother.

We know why they did it. What we can't seem to figure out is how to stop it from happening again.
posted by agregoli at 1:36 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ames actually specifically rebuts this article on page 59 of his book: This reality-inversion, this contemporary blindness to the obvious instit- utional cause of Turner’s rebellion is almost a verbatim description used by most commentators today to describe Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s murder spree at Columbine High School, in which fifteen were killed and twenty-three injured, as well as nearly every rage massacre before and after, whether in workplaces or schoolyards. Slate’s Dave Cullen thought he solved the why riddle in his article, “The Depressive and the Psychopath: At Last We Know Why the Columbine Killers Did It,” published on April 20, 2004, the fifth anniversary of the massacre. Cullen wrote, “[Eric Harris] was a brilliant killer without a conscience, searching for the most diabolical scheme imaginable. If he had lived to adulthood and developed his murderous skills for many more years, there is no telling what he could have done. His death at Columbine may have stopped him from doing something even worse.” Cullen’s breakthrough, like the Richmond Enquirer’s, is essentially this: Eric Harris murdered because Eric Harris was an evil murderer. Cullen rides this line of reasoning further down the light rail line of idiocy, implying that Harris was a Hitler in the making who was stopped in the nick of time, and we should all be grateful that he only managed to kill a dozen students or else he surely would have gassed us all. Yet what’s missing from Cullen’s explanation is a context for Harris’s rage attack on Columbine High School. Even Hitler is given a context by serious historians—the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles and the failure of Weimar Germany—whereas rampage murderers, like slaves once before them, are por- trayed as having killed without reason. Their murder sprees were and are explained as symptoms of the perpetrators’ innate evil, or of foreign forces, rather than as reactions to unbearable circumstances. Blaming evil or psychology is far more comforting. Cullen even admits this, calling his explanation for Columbine “more reassuring, in a way.” Indeed he’s proud of this convenient “reassuring” aspect of his theory—he thinks it makes his version of events more palatable, and hence, more persuasive. Another journalist, Joanne Jacobs, summed it up even more simply: “Evil, not rage” inspired the Columbine killers, she wrote. Well, that settles that!

And again, later in the book:

Slate’s Dave Cullen, commenting on Harris’s Web diary rants (which are often comical in the list of things he hates, such as “Cuuuuuuuuhntryyyyyyyyyy music,” “Star Wars fans,” “all you fitness fuckheads,” and “morons” who mispro- nounce words like “eXpresso”), concluded, “These are not the rantings of an angry young man, picked on by jocks until he’s not going to take it anymore. These are the rantings of someone with a messianic-grade superiority complex, out to punish the entire human race for its appalling inferiority.” Indeed.
Other, more serious psychology experts disagreed. In the APA Journal, the two development psychology academics observed, “Research indicates that chronic targets of peer harassment become increasingly withdrawn and depressed. The other, much less common reaction to bullying is hostility and aggression. Why did Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have this more extreme reaction? It seems that bullying and victimization were not just individual phenomena, they were part of the school culture at Columbine High.”


If they were random psychopaths, why were there so many other school shootings, before and after? And why did so many people identify with and idolize Klebold and Harris? We need to fix America's mental healthcare system and it's toxic culture, not go on a witch-hunt for little Dexters.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:39 PM on January 10, 2013 [22 favorites]


Psychopath is a pretty offensive label. You don't call people "depressives"; you say they have depression. If we want to be progressive about this stuff, it's kind of important to separate the condition from the identity.

Second, psychopathy is a scientific model. The author commits an individualistic fallacy when he presumes that psychopathy is even a real thing located inside a person, and that that is sufficient an explanation. Even the Wikipedia article on psychopathy makes it clear that a lot work also gone into understanding the *causes* of psychopathy. More generally the "dysfunctional mind account" for psychosocial problems has been challenged in other literature. When we say such-and-such kinds of people are beyond redemption, it seems to me to be more a lack of imagination than any rigorous examination of the issues.

Third, this is a dated article. ANAP but surely more insight has been made in the last decade, in particular the the idea that maybe psychopathy is a spectrum should be a pretty obvious one (recently there was an article about psychopathic traits correlated with certain professions). And so this article kind of undermines itself when it won't take the step of empathizing with the Other.
posted by polymodus at 1:42 PM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


I prefer Mark Ames' interpretation, who blames the toxic culture of Columbine itself for causing the massacres.

Seriously, Mark Ames and anyone who proscribes to his idiocy can go jump into a flaming pool of shit. There are many many many "toxic cultures" around the world, places where people get bullied, where people are assholes to other people, and they don't all result in massacres. It's staggering that anyone even thinks to give him ink. Classic bullshit victim blaming.
posted by incessant at 1:44 PM on January 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yeah, the more I read from Ames, the less plausible he makes. Responding to criticism with "That's just what slaveowners said!" makes you pretty instantly ignorable.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:50 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was a high school freshman during Columbine, and Mark Ames' article sounds exactly like what I would have written on the topic, for publication in my friends' 'zines.

This is not in any way, shape or form a compliment.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on January 10, 2013 [25 favorites]


Colin Wilson advanced a similar theory about killer couples in A Criminal History of Mankind; writing in the early 1980's his prototype was Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. He was more interested in how their dynamic influenced the otherwise apparently normal Myra to do such horrific things; as with Harris at Columbine, Brady's motivation was more obvious.

The part of Wilson's thinking that has stuck with me is that it takes two to tango -- that is, Brady, however malevolent in his urges, would not have committed the murders if he hadn't come across Hindley who, effectively, in her devotion to him, enabled him. It's like the worst kind of love story, but nevertheless a love story, and cliched at that: two lone people against the world.

I haven't read much about Harris + Klebold but I get the impression that it was the same dynamic.
posted by philip-random at 1:55 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Except that he uses rage massacres to identify how horrible American culture is post-Reagan, which I think is correct. The way he interprets rage massacres is close to how they were received by people - he talks about family of the victims of post office shootings saying that the shooters had a point. And it's obvious that the more strapped American society becomes - the more we remove social safety nets, the more mass layoffs, the more dehumanization - than the more massacres they'll be. And this is what's happening, and it'll keep happening with increasing frequency unless America starts treating its citizens like human beings.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:55 PM on January 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


which contextualizes workplace and school massacres as 'slave rebellions' against the crushing soullessness of post-Reagan America.

What work is "contextualizes" doing here? Does it mean "happened at the same time" or "significantly correlates with"? 'Cause if Ames is asserting that the "soullessness of post-Reagan America" was a driving factor in the violent massacres of the time, then he needs to explain why there so few, relative to the number of post-Reagan era Americans with access to guns.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:55 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


What work is "contextualizes" doing here? Does it mean "happened at the same time" or "significantly correlates with"? 'Cause if Ames is asserting that the "soullessness of post-Reagan America" was a driving factor in the violent massacres of the time, then he needs to explain why there so few, relative to the number of post-Reagan era Americans with access to guns.

He does this in the first chapter of his free book, where he outlines a history of slave rebellions and talks about how few slaves actually rebelled and how many that did were stopped by other slaves. I'll probably quote it in the inevitable Django Unchained thread.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:00 PM on January 10, 2013


I was a high school freshman during Columbine, and Mark Ames' article sounds exactly like what I would have written on the topic, for publication in my friends' 'zines.

I'm in that age group and the "toxic culture of bullying caused it" thesis had a lot of currency with me and people like me as well. To an extent, I think it was the interpretation we needed to start a conversation about bullying and school culture, and to that extent, it was useful enough.

It does not, however, seem to have much basis in the actual truth of Columbine.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:00 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


He does this in the first chapter of his free book, where he outlines a history of slave rebellions

Could you briefly summarize this for us? It isn't clear to me how many useful comparisons can be drawn between rebellious slaves and youthful spree killers.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:11 PM on January 10, 2013


I just watched Bowling for Columbine last night and Gus Van Sat's Elephant last week, both on YouTube
posted by growabrain at 2:14 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ugh, I had forgotten about Elephant until just now. Thanks, growabrain. :shudder:
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:15 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you got about a half-hour free, I totally recommend Jello Biafra's spoken word piece "Hellburbia"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 2:20 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Could you briefly summarize this for us? It isn't clear to me how many useful comparisons can be drawn between rebellious slaves and youthful spree killers.

The slave rebellions are more matched to workplace shootings, which are the main focus of the book. The idea is that most people, slaves and slave owners alike, viewed slavery as a normal thing. There was no context, no idea of rebelling. The only people who rebelled at first were people like John Brown, who were 'crazy' enough to see that what everyone thought was normal was wrong. So they'd 'snap' - get arms and companions and start killing their masters. But they didn't have any support, so the 'rebellions' would start and end with them murdering a few people. Often they'd be stopped by other slaves who internalized the will of their masters.

Ames claims that post-Reagan American workplaces are so toxic and dehumanizing that there needed to be rebellion. Once somebody shot up a post office, that gave other people the idea. The same thing happened with offices and schools. But like slave rebellions people see them as isolated incidents of madness, not attacks against an unbearable social order. There was even a mental illness created to explain rebellious slaves.

I'm not saying I agree with all of this, but it's more interesting than a 9 year old article.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:23 PM on January 10, 2013 [21 favorites]


My entire world view is under examination right now as I approach the end of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow, but I have to wonder whether Klebold and Harris would have been viewed as anything other than an evil and calculating pair of killers by the media and the rest of the public if they had been people of color.
posted by bearwife at 2:29 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well bearwife, the media was pretty sympathetic (rightly, I think) to the kid who was part of the DC sniper team– he was generally treating as a victim of his controlling elder, much like Kiebold is in the article– so I'd have to say "Yes."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:34 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying I agree with all of this, but it's more interesting than a 9 year old article.

Really? Because from here it looks like a natural extension of the eXile's shtick: a bunch of speculative assumptions on the motivation of public figures, founded in a myopic view of history and a sincere desire to offend.
posted by griphus at 2:38 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


(That being said, there's a time and a place for the kind of things that are written in The eXile. A discussion based on facts is not one of them.)
posted by griphus at 2:40 PM on January 10, 2013


Ames claims that post-Reagan American workplaces are so toxic and dehumanizing that there needed to be rebellion

So, basically Ames is asserting that these workplace and school spree killers are Hobsbawmian primitive rebels?
posted by octobersurprise at 2:41 PM on January 10, 2013


Repeating a link from the Newtown thread, it's unlikely that the causes of the Columbine shooting were purely psychological, or purely social. Rather, the combination of someone primed to violent responses with the sort of stressors and lack of supportive environment described in other articles is a bad combination. Even if you believe that Harris was going to commit some horrific murder no matter what - that that was his nature and it was just a matter of time - there's some analysis that can go into determining why the high school that he and Klebold attended; why didn't he just wait a few years and go join Blackwater/Xe or something?
posted by eviemath at 2:42 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


(That being said, there's a time and a place for the kind of things that are written in The eXile. A discussion based on facts is not one of them.)

When there is a discussion based on facts, rather than a link bait article from Slate that's been posted thousands of times, I'll keep that in mind.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:42 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


When there is a discussion based on facts, rather than a link bait article from Slate that's been posted thousands of times, I'll keep that in mind.

Okay. Preliminary data from the US BLS' annual Census of Fatalities or Injuries lists 452 homicides in for 2011. That would be the lowest number ever. 2010 would be third-lowest at 518. Overall crime is in decline across the country. We are currently enduring the worst economic malaise since the Great Depression. if American society has been ever-worsening, ever sickening since 1988, spurring ever greater levels of rebellion among the populace, how do you explain these facts?

I'll dig into the data more deeply when I'm home and off my phone. So far all I've been able to find on postal workers specifically is this article from Wikipedia, wich lists 16 incidents of US postal worker workplace homicides between 1983 and 1997, 3 such incidents in 2006, and 0 since. Primary cite seems to be from a 2009 book, plus it's wikipedia, so obviously it may not be comprehensive
posted by Diablevert at 3:02 PM on January 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


But Diablevert, don't you see? We're slaves! We're all slaves! Statistics don't matter!!
posted by incessant at 3:05 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ames claims that post-Reagan American workplaces are so toxic and dehumanizing that there needed to be rebellion.

I've got a few problems with his thesis, right off the bat.

One, I'm generally nervous when someone connects a seemingly unrelated social problem to something they already didn't like. So when the right claims that school shootings are caused by divorce (as has happened after Sandy Hook), I require strong evidence that they're right. This also goes for people on when Mark Ames examines them and finds Ronald Reagan at the center of it all. Maybe he's right, but his conclusions are, to me, suspect.

Second, the fact that family and friends of the shooters think they have a point is interesting information, but it's information about the family and friends, not the shooters. It doesn't tell us why they did what they did, just how people close to them perceive it.

Finally, I'm not sure if your description of John Brown is from his work, but it's pretty off. John Brown wasn't a slave, he didn't snap and kill white masters, and his wasn't an early slave rebellion. John Brown was a militant white abolitionist who staged a paramilitary raid on a federal armory in the years immediately before the Civil War. If schools are like slave plantations, John Brown's raid is more like a sympathetic teacher stealing a tank to set the students free than it is like Columbine.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:12 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you read or at least skim the free book you'll see that Ames addresses all those points, traces a history of postal and workplace murders, interviews survivors, and explains in detail why there aren't more. The fact that these sort of murders are commonplace - there was another shooting this morning - points to Klebold and Harris NOT being random psychopaths. It also, more usefully, points to a way to stop this (though removing guns will also work)z
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:12 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also meant to add that common doesn't meant that something is not the work of random psychopaths. They're basically on two unrelated axes. One is about how many people in the population would do something, the other is about why they would do it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:15 PM on January 10, 2013


This is a little too Fox-News-mind-of-the-killer, isn't it? Neuroscience and cognitive psychology have been retreading the same ground for two decades, but when it comes to infamous people, we have all the answers.
posted by Nomyte at 3:39 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nomyte: for what it's worth, I do not get the 'we have all the answers' vibe from Cullen's book at all.
posted by whittaker at 3:43 PM on January 10, 2013


Well bearwife, the media was pretty sympathetic (rightly, I think) to the kid who was part of the DC sniper team– he was generally treating as a victim of his controlling elder,

Klebold and Harris were friends and peers, not elder and junior. Mohammed was essentially Malvo's stepfather (and, I'd add per Malvo's most recent disclosures, Malvo's sexual abuser too.). And while Klebold and Harris were immediately and falsely depicted as lonely victims of bullying by their targets, for a long time Malvo and Mohammed were both labelled as psychopaths.

I don't believe our society treats killers like these similarly. I think depictions depend greatly on color.
posted by bearwife at 3:43 PM on January 10, 2013


"I Will Never Know Why," by Susan Klebold.
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you read or at least skim the free book

dude it's hard enough to get people to read the actual articles that are linked in the post
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


Cullen’s breakthrough, like the Richmond Enquirer’s, is essentially this: Eric Harris murdered because Eric Harris was an evil murderer. Cullen rides this line of reasoning further down the light rail line of idiocy, implying that Harris was a Hitler in the making who was stopped in the nick of time

It's hard to give this these sentences and everything else you quote any sort of sustained thought, because it displays a willful ignorance of what Eric Harris was attempting to do. He hoped and planned to set off bombs that will kill hundreds if not thousands, so it sounds like Cullen was right on the money, though he didn't use such reductive and simplistic reasons as "evil murderer". He reported, at length, on the investigation and findings of "Supervisory Special Agent Dwayne Fuselier, the FBI's lead Columbine investigator and a clinical psychologist". Harris is stunning because he wanted people to know exactly why he did what he did. He left copious notes, videos and explanations, it's not a mystery.

Mark Ames, quite simply, is full of shit.

When there is a discussion based on facts, rather than a link bait article from Slate that's been posted thousands of times, I'll keep that in mind.

That article was written by a reporter who covered Columbine for over ten years, and wound up writing a book about it. The article you're so dismissive of contains a lot of the copiously and meticulously referenced material that later wound up in a book.

I strongly suggest you rethink your sources and reasoning on this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:18 PM on January 10, 2013 [16 favorites]


Charlemagne In Sweatpants: "If you read or at least skim the free book"
The link to the book in the linked article doesn't seem to work. Does anyone have an alternate link to a copy of the book?
posted by Dr. Zira at 4:20 PM on January 10, 2013


If you read or at least skim the free book you'll see that Ames addresses all those points, traces a history of postal and workplace murders, interviews survivors, and explains in detail why there aren't more.

I am confused. If the fact of these things happening is like a symptom of a disease affecting society, why does the worsening or improvement of the symptom not chart the progress of the disease? How can the number of murders be evidence of a broader trend because there are so many --- commonplace, as you say --- and also evidence of a broader trend because there are so few (there are good reasons why there aren't more)?

If something being commonplace is evidence of it being pervasive and bad, how can the same thing becoming rarer not be evidence that is less pervasive and not so bad? Take, for example, postal worker shootings. Wiki list 15 postal worker killings in the US between 1983 and 1996. From 1997 to 2010, the BLS census lists 7 (there were also 8 postal workers killed by robbers). Did the post-Regan malaise that was inspiring such incidents decrease or not?

Over the past 20 years, workplace homicides have steadily decreased from a high of 1,080 in 1994 to 458 in 2011, a decline of well over 50 percent. In 1992 the US population was around 260 million; today it's about 313 million, suggesting the per capita rate of US workplace homicides has dropped even more. By the way, that number includes robberies and killings by relatives --- indeed, such killings account for the majority of all killings that happen in the workplace. Killings by coworkers and students, clients or patients accounted for about 20 percent of workplace fatalities in 2011 (p. 10, I think I'm adding that up right).

Obviously, the BLS's numbers don't cover all homicides. A student killing a student wouldn't be covered in them, though a student killing a teacher or a teacher killing a student would. But you posit that such killings of one's co-workers, or one's fellow students and teachers, for the young, are evidence that something's gone wrong with society, a form of misdirected revolt against authority. If so, people seem to have gotten a lot less revolt-minded over the past decade.
posted by Diablevert at 4:41 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could you briefly summarize this for us? It isn't clear to me how many useful comparisons can be drawn between rebellious slaves and youthful spree killers.

It doesn't hold for all of the spree killers, before or since, but I think the parallels are that people who are held by the legal bonds of society (such as mandatory school attendance or chattel slavery) who find those circumstances intolerable (obviously why on slavery, and there is pretty good evidence of Columbine High school being a brutish place even by american high school standards) want to lash out and strike back.

I think another analogy would be the recent suicides by bullied females being very much from the same root cause, just expressed in a different way, and not just females, lots of bullied males also commit suicide in high school, two in my class and some days I almost made it three (although never had ideation of killing the school, I just wanted out).

I don't think these two causes are mutually exclusive. People can be pushed to do horrible horrible things, either to themselves and/or others. See running Amok as was very well explained in the sandy hook shooting thread. It is NOT limited to the US high school society or Facebook or any such thing. It appears to be a human problem (as is murder in general).

As far as removing guns solving this, wouldn't that just push the problem further under without treating the actual disease? Like taking morphine to ease the pain of the tumor that is actually killing you. This violent outbursts are obviously a symptom of something deeper, whether toxic cultures, psychopaths or a combination of the two.

Slashdot also did a really, really compelling thread(s) on this called tales from the Hellmouth at the time that are a horror show of what hell High school can be. If anyone believes this kind of treatment of people who maybe aren't all that stable to begin with (which is pretty much most adolescent males) isn't going to result in some lashing out I don't know what to tell except talk to more bullied people who have no way out (like slaves).
posted by bartonlong at 4:55 PM on January 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Charlemagne in sweatpants: "The fact that these sort of murders are commonplace [. . .]"

Actually, though I don't have the stats handy, I'm reasonably sure these are actually still some of the least likely sorts of murders. They're just widely publicized and "shocking". Last I heard, most murders involved fewer than three victims and were domestically oriented. Feel free to prove me wrong.

"[. . .] there was another shooting this morning [. . .]"

Absolutely has nothing to do with overall rate or prevalence of spree-killing, psychopathy, etc.

"[. . .] points to Klebold and Harris NOT being random psychopaths. It also, more usefully, points to a way to stop this (though removing guns will also work)."

I don't think you really have made a case here, and I think we're lacking adequate information to decide what proportion of humanity is likely to experience psychopathy nor do we have adequate data to guess at what rate they might commit violence.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 4:57 PM on January 10, 2013


Psychopath does not mean 'person with political views I dislike.'

That depends on what political views you dislike, doesn't it?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:18 PM on January 10, 2013



Psychopath does not mean 'person with political views I dislike.'

That depends on what political views you dislike, doesn't it?


There was a thread recently which took the political views of the Unabomber relatively seriously.

Charlemagne in sweatpants: "The fact that these sort of murders are commonplace [. . .]"

Actually, though I don't have the stats handy, I'm reasonably sure these are actually still some of the least likely sorts of murders. They're just widely publicized and "shocking". Last I heard, most murders involved fewer than three victims and were domestically oriented. Feel free to prove me wrong.


Again, this is addressed several times in Ames book. That these are unconsciously political actions, and that most people don't do them because it simply doesn't occur to them. He also claims that massacres breed more massacres. I don't fully agree with the book, and I'm just starting to digest all its ideas.

Oddly enough, the closest thing I've seen to Going Postal recently is this Onion article: Everyone At Office Planning Shooting Spree For Same Day
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:22 PM on January 10, 2013


So I'm actually unfamiliar with this Ames character. Two minutes of Wikipedia have set off my "Alex Jones Alarm".

Can someone who is more familiar second that?
posted by graphnerd at 5:24 PM on January 10, 2013



So I'm actually unfamiliar with this Ames character. Two minutes of Wikipedia have set off my "Alex Jones Alarm".

Can someone who is more familiar second that?


He co-founded The Exile, along with people like Matt Tabbibi. It's mostly known for publishing The War Nerd and has been linked at least 12 times on this site. I really hope Prison Planet or Infowars don't have the same credibility here.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:30 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, though I don't have the stats handy, I'm reasonably sure these are actually still some of the least likely sorts of murders. They're just widely publicized and "shocking". Last I heard, most murders involved fewer than three victims and were domestically oriented. Feel free to prove me wrong.

Here is a list of mass shootings in the US since 2005. It's 65 pages long. By my count, approx. 130 people, including shooters being killed or killing themselves, were killed in mass shootings in 2011 in the US. That's over about 35-ish incidents.

The US had a total of 8,583 gun murders in 2011. Here's the always excellent Guardian Data Blog on the issue of gun deaths.

The US averages 20 mass shootings a year.

So, mass shootings are statistically rare, but they are not uncommon.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:32 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Based on what's been quoted in this thread about Columbine, he doesn't seem interested in facts, but pet theories.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:36 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is actually the article I had in mind when I sarcastically suggested we make a list of psychopaths:

What Psychopaths Teach Us About How to Succeed.

Board and Fritzon took three groups—business managers, psychiatric patients and hospitalized criminals (those who were psychopathic and those suffering from other psychiatric illnesses)—and compared how they fared on a psychological profiling test.

Their analysis revealed that a number of psychopathic attributes were actually more common in business leaders than in so-called disturbed criminals—attributes such as superficial charm, egocentricity, persuasiveness, lack of empathy, independence, and focus. The main difference between the groups was in the more “antisocial” aspects of the syndrome: the criminals' lawbreaking, physical aggression and impulsivity dials (to return to our analogy of earlier) were cranked up higher.

posted by Dr. Zira at 5:37 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Reiterating from the sidebar the fact that the two boys were definitely not the bullied underdogs they were originally believed to be:
7. Outcasts: Perhaps the most pervasive myth is that Harris and Klebold were rejected outcasts. They were not captains of the football team, but they were far more accepted than many of their schoolmates. They hung out with a tight circle of close friends and partied regularly on the weekend with a wider crowd.
posted by canine epigram at 6:25 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]




Dr. Zira, there was recently a takedown of Kevin Dutton in the New Republic that I found pretty compelling.

Stout had me at "Strangely, nowhere in this book about psychopathy does Dutton accurately define psychopathy, so I will do so here..."
posted by Diablevert at 6:41 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why? I think natural variation:

As Harris noted, quoting Shakespeare's The Tempest, "Good wombs hath borne bad sons."

(I also have a great deal of contempt for Ronald Reagan, but that's another thing).
posted by ovvl at 7:15 PM on January 10, 2013


Here is a list of mass shootings in the US since 2005. It's 65 pages long. By my count, approx. 130 people, including shooters being killed or killing themselves, were killed in mass shootings in 2011 in the US. That's over about 35-ish incidents.

The US had a total of 8,583 gun murders in 2011. Here's the always excellent Guardian Data Blog on the issue of gun deaths.

The US averages 20 mass shootings a year.

So, mass shootings are statistically rare, but they are not uncommon.

The list of mass shooting seems to include any shooting where more than one person was killed at time, and seems to include quite a bit of just plain crime/gang related activity. While still not a good thing it is NOT the same thing Columbine or Sandy Hook. The average number being pegged at 20 seems to include all of this kind of things as well. In addition relying on Brady Campaign stats about crimes committed with guns is kinda like using studies from oil companies to talk about climate change. They are bringing a HUGE political agenda to the argument and they seem to sensationilize events to make them seem more common in general to further their agenda.'

The guardian data blog states several times that gun murder rates are declining in the US at a pretty good rate while at the same time the numbers of guns are increasing (and likely gun ownership rate). Which also buys into things like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, etc are rare. They also seem to be very prone to the copycat thing-and occur in clusters which also magnifies how often they seem to occur. It terms of actual number of deaths from spree killings it seems to be a fairly small number of the overall homicide rate, vanishingly small, although tragic enough for there senselessness and loss to the victims families and friends. In addition to the small numbers involved the most states with the highest rate of homicide seem to be the states with already pretty strict gun control measures in place (like DC and California).
posted by bartonlong at 9:12 PM on January 10, 2013


The list of mass shooting seems to include any shooting where more than one person was killed at time, and seems to include quite a bit of just plain crime/gang related activity

The definition of mass shooting used in the linked list is '3 or more people' shot in a single incident. There is no single accepted definition. The FBI apparently uses the standard of 'four or more people' killed in a single incident.

While still not a good thing it is NOT the same thing Columbine or Sandy Hook

What are your parameters here? Only shootings at educational institutions? What is the point you are trying to make?

In addition relying on Brady Campaign stats about crimes committed with guns is kinda like using studies from oil companies to talk about climate change. They are bringing a HUGE political agenda to the argument and they seem to sensationilize events to make them seem more common in general to further their agenda.'

Fee free to point out any inaccuracies in their data. It all seems to be sourced from police blotters or news media.

The guardian data blog states several times that gun murder rates are declining in the US at a pretty good rate while at the same time the numbers of guns are increasing (and likely gun ownership rate).

This is misleading. The Guardian data blog only states that the overall US gun murder rate is declining (3% drop from 2010-2011), and does not mention gun ownership at all. Although if you have any actual evidence that gun ownership is helping reduce gun deaths, I would be happy to see it. Especially if it also considers accidental gun deaths.

Whether a 3% overall decline in gun murders is a 'pretty good rate' is left as an exercise for the reader, especially in the context of a declining overall crime rate. I will note that some states experienced substantial increases in gun murders, for example:

-Arkansas (18% increase)
-Colorado (12% increase)
-Indiana (29% increase)
-Kansas (16% increase)
-Louisiana (15% increase)
-Mississippi (15% increase)
-Nebraska (31% increase)
-North Carolina (17% increase)
-Ohio (11% increase)
-Oklahoma (18% increase)
-Tennessee (11% increase).

I left out the states with tiny gun crime rates, where a single extra murder could cause a 50% increase or similar.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:35 PM on January 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I just started reading Columbine this week. So far the plodding style is a bit of a turnoff; I'm all for simple declarative sentences but it reads like it was deliberately pitched at an eighth-grade reading level. I'm not far enough into it to judge Cullen's interpretation of motive and psychology but so far I'm not seeing any impressive critical analysis.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:32 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


sevenyearlurk: I would say that Cullen's book is (and is intended to be) comprehensively observational rather than analytical.
posted by whittaker at 9:25 AM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


What are your parameters here? Only shootings at educational institutions? What is the point you are trying to make?

Well for the purposes of this thread, that we are talking about the motivations of shooters in incidents like columbine (and sandy hook) not about the motivation of just regular criminals. The two type of crimes are not really the same thing or have the same motivation or carried out by the same kind of criminal. A gang shooting or drug deal or home invasion or whatever that results in a 3 or 4 people shoot is not the same thing as someone walking into a public place like a school or mall or workplace and shooting it up and conflating those statistics is being less than honest, likely to further a preconceived political agenda.


Fee free to point out any inaccuracies in their data. It all seems to be sourced from police blotters or news media.


just like with people who pick and choose which data to use for climate change arguments it is not so much the data is wrong, per se, just that it is presented in such a way as to reach an already decided upon conclusion-i.e. that guns are bad and should be banned and if they are that murders will stop.

I don't have any direct, primary evidence that gun ownership rates are increasing. What has happened in the last ten years is the total number of guns owned by civilians in the US has increased. By supposition I take this to mean the rate of gun ownership has also increased. I do think a huge number of the guns were bought by people who already own guns, but I think I am pretty safe in assuming at least a small increase in households/people who own guns from that number. And I don't find it surprising that with more guns around, more are used to murder other people. Guns are a good tool for that. However it doesn't seem to be increasing the overall murder or violent crime rate, just the GUN murder rate. And it seems that this number is presented in a way that people killed with guns are somehow more dead than people killed with...whatever other tool that was handy at the time.

I don't think guns, by themselves, have much of an effect one way or the other on the violent crime rate, and marginal on the murder rate. They do some to facilitate a few nutcases like at Columbine at Sandy hook to some kind of twisted going out in a cool way thing, but if these crazy people didn't have guns to use they would probably resort to arson, bombs, poison gas, etc. There are examples of all of these in our culture and others btw and the prevalance or lack of guns doesn't really seem to matter much for the formation of psychopaths, or they need to las h out. That is the larger point I was trying to make, and banning guns or a certain type of gun is likely to have an effect or not the effect you think it will.

For every human problem their seems to be a obvious, common sense solution that is easy to implement and usually wrong-to paraphrase Mencken (i may not have spelled that right, but I am in a rush and don't have time to research it right now).
posted by bartonlong at 11:35 AM on January 11, 2013


but if these crazy people didn't have guns to use they would probably resort to arson, bombs, poison gas, etc.

But for all the other forms of attack you mention there are regulations, laws, and technology that mitigate the harm that they may inflict. There's fire alarms, sprinklers, and fire-resistant building materials for fire. The materials to build most bombs and poison gases are controlled by government or industry associations. Also, some of these materials are going to be dangerous to handle, requiring special facilities and equipment, multiple people, or technical knowledge. There are obstacles both by the nature of the substance and put in place by people that do make them more difficult to use than a firearm.
posted by FJT at 6:36 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think guns, by themselves, have much of an effect one way or the other on the violent crime rate, and marginal on the murder rate.

Higher rates of gun ownership correlate with higher homicide rates.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:37 PM on January 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cullen's book on Columbine is comprehensive, and makes an excellent case that Harris and Klebold wanted to be considered as terrorists, not school shooters. They killed 13 people and injured another dozen, but their plans were for a death toll in the hundreds or even thousands. They only fell back on shooting individuals after their bombs didn't go off.

Which, incidentally, is a great support for the control of dangerous substances which can be turned into bombs. Harris and Klebold didn't have access to proper bomb materials, and made do with instructions from the internet which falsely promised they could use common materials. If there'd been better gun control as well, there might not have been any fatalities at all.

Cullen is also the author of the Slate article, and no-one has done a better job of patiently gathering the facts from the morass of speculation than he has. I prefer that to hand-waving theories from authors with an axe to grind and no knowledge of history.
posted by harriet vane at 4:34 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cullen keeps up with the case too. In 2010's The Last Columbine Mystery he writes about a meeting between the parents of Harris (the psychopath) and the parents of one of his victims.
posted by harriet vane at 4:41 AM on January 12, 2013


One more and then I'm done: I believe the simple declarative sentences and the structure of the book (focusing first on the victims and the killers in the first half, and then on the killers and survivors) is meant to be an echo of In Cold Blood, the original 'true crime' story which is much more objective and comprehensive than a lot of what followed it in the genre.
posted by harriet vane at 4:35 AM on January 13, 2013


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