Friday, April 03, 2009

The silverback in the room?

On the heels of this latest gun massacre, today in Binghamton, New York, 20/20 tonight will air a special report on the "50 such shooting rampages that have occurred since Virginia Tech," reports Diane Sawyer.

I wonder if the show will confront the elephant in the room: that the common denominator in virtually all* of these tragedies (aside from the gun itself) is they were perpetrated by a man.

What to do about this? What is there to do, short of trying to fundamentally denature men as a gender?

* And I'm writing it that way only because I haven't seen the show or examined its list of 50 shootings. Would it surprise you if men have been the culprits in every last one of these massacres?


Anonymous said...

One of the first was Brenda Ann Spencer of 'I don't like Mondays' fame, but she's an anomaly.

But it's mostly men, men caught up in the macho ego thing where not getting what you think you're entitled to justifies random slaughter, the same justification for any war or act of agression.

Anonymous said...

There is an interesting spat between Russell Brand and Geldof described at the end of the wiki piece, an old dog and a young dog scrapping over territory?

Anonymous said...

Anybody else bothered by the word "rampage"? which is defined as "a state of violent anger or agitation".

It usually doesn't fit the situation because in many cases, the (sociopath)gunman is described as cool, methodical, calculating, level-headed and purposeful.

"Rampage" is a word which is used to incite fear among women and to exploit their natural anxiety of powerful forces they can't control - as if a very pissed-off elephant is going to trample a daycare center.

Why is 20/20 using Virginia Tech as its starting point? Seems kind of arbitrary. Is their some sort of Asian-bashing going on here?

Athol Kay said...

I think men more easily go to the extreme end of the spectrum than women do. So yes - men are the crazed gunmen of the world.

But we're also the ones that make "women and children first" more than just an abstract notion.

Take the recent shooting in the nursing home in North Carolina. The nurse that was killed was a male and acted as a human shield for his patients being shot 27 times.

Brought enough time to allow the female nurses time to get the other patients being locked doors and hide with them.

Steve Salerno said...

First of all, apparently I got it wrong on the 20/20 special--it's next Friday at 10 eastern. The title: "If I only had a gun."

Anonymous said...

I am the Anon 7.50, and female. I wasn't casting aspersions on male gender characteristics, just pointing out that such behaviour is not exclusively male.
Women are still heavily socialised to not express violence and rage in an overt way. My comment also does not generalise to all men, there are plenty of men who do not express overt violence and rage. Considering these events in general terms is not particularly helpful.

Having said that, most law enforcement agencies divide these perpetrators into two general categories, organised (cold and calculating) and disorganised (red mist rampagers)--with the organised being far more deadly and dangerous and likely to get away with it. Film and TV cop shows apart, it's scary how many organised types are caught purely by accident, stopped for speeding etc.

Current psychiatric thought puts the incidence of sociopaths in the general population at about 10%, both male and female. Not all of these are mass murderers of course.
There is a school of thought that holds that mega success in any field requires a personality with a major streak of sociopathy.

Anonymous said...

'But we're also the ones that make "women and children first" more than just an abstract notion.'

Again, it's unhelpful to generalise and yes, men do act in a heroic manner at times but studies of natural disasters, stampedes and many first hand accounts of shipwreck give the lie to the noble sentiment "women and children first".
It's a nice thought but when the chips are down it's every man for himself. Women and children who wait around to be rescued are usually the first to fall as they're the most vulnerable.

Emergency services personnel are now taught to save themselves first, as it's now recognised that a panicked human, male or female, does not bother with sentiment when survival is at stake.

Noadi said...

We have a culture where "going out with a bang" is portrayed as a positive thing for a man to do in countless movies. Most suicidal men and women just kill themselves but is it surprising that some men would choose a way that guarantees they're remembered. This may also be the motive behind a lot of "suicide by cop" where a person will provoke a shootout or similar situation in the hope of being killed.

Maybe it's just because women in general tend to commit fewer violent crimes than men, that they are more likely to blame themselves than others for their problems, or that they are more likely to seek help since many men still consider asking for help as a sign of weakness. I don't know, just like I don't know what we could do to stop these murders. Better access to mental health services might help but you still have the problem of getting men to ask for help.

Sarsabu said...

All (not virtually) tragedies were perpetrated by a gun or guns.

Dimension Skipper said...

I confess I had to Google "define: silverback". I had no clue what it meant. Now that I know, is that some kind of racial commentary? ;-)

More seriously, I was in Borders yesterday browsing some books in the psychology/self-help sections and (unfortunately I can't remember the source) I read a passage which mentioned that men are more prone to these types of rampages or calculated killing missions, but women tend more toward self-mutilation. My own surmising is that men tend to turn their thoughts and emotions outward and women inward. No scientific basis for that and no hard numbers or studies to cite, just call it a hunch based on anecdotal evidence. (Of course, I would also guess that the vast majority of gun owners tend to be men too, so maybe it's just a simple matter of probability. Still, men being the primary gun owners does not necessarily mean that women don't have access to many of the same guns if they so desired.)

Aside from the predominant maleness of the "50" list was there any noticeable trend with re to the various perpetrators' races? Just wondering. And no, I'm not making any assumptions or thinking it even begins to prove anything if there is such a trend toward one particular ethnicity. I'm truly just wondering. Off the top of my head, I would say the incidents that typically (though only vaguely) pop to my mind have been white males. But I could be wrong.

I apologize, Steve, if you didn't want to bring race into this, but once I looked up the silverback reference my mind then caught that whiff of "inherent racism" (note: I'm kidding!) to your comment and that led to a whole train of thought (that perhaps was better left off on a sidetrack)... Honestly, I'm not a person who normally looks at things with a racial perspective (as far as I know or believe, anyway).

Elizabeth said...

Current psychiatric thought puts the incidence of sociopaths in the general population at about 10%, both male and female. Not all of these are mass murderers of course.

The majority of psychopaths (or sociopaths, if you prefer) are male, however.

It's not the matter of socialization, obviously, though that plays a role to an extent as well. We are clearly talking about biological differences. Blame the excess of testosterone, perhaps; yes, that macho ego and hubris and the need to release anger through physical violence, often directed at others in a strangely understood act of revenge on the society for their real or perceived inadequacies and failures are predominantly male traits.

To be sure, the males of other species fight, suffer and die in battles over their territories and mates. But you don't see them causing such massive mayhem on other members of their species because of their wounded egos.

A little bit of that denaturing that you mention, Steve, would be quite useful, IMO.

Elizabeth said...

And here is another one, this morning and nearby, too:

Elizabeth said...

I wonder if the show will confront the elephant in the room: that the common denominator in virtually all* of these tragedies (aside from the gun itself) is they were perpetrated by a man.

I'd be surprised. That particular elephant usually goes conveniently unmentioned.

I am always sadly amused (if that's the right emotional state) by the various societies' efforts to improve their functioning through controlling women. Say, we cover them up head to toe and lock 'em up inside the house, outlaw abortion, limit their access to education and employment, stone them for infidelity (ditto for getting themselves raped), etc. and things will be just great. Safe streets, free of temptations, a proper moral order for all, etc. etc.

You never hear a proposal to curb male violence or even honestly address it on a large scale as a way to create a better society. We are just so used to it, like fish are used to living in water. Any ideas to challenge this status quo appear unthinkable (you mean, there is life outside our fishbowl??)

BTW, next time you watch the world news and see images of some major violent upheaval, pay attention to the narration that accompanies the images. While you see (mostly young) males causing mayhem all around, you don't hear the reporters noticing that. Instead, you hear gender-neutral reporting ("New protests erupted in So-So in response to Such-Such blah blah blah")

Anonymous said...


To quote an old Archie Bunker line, "Would it make you feel any better, little girl, if they was pushed out of windows?"

Steve Salerno said...

DS (et al), just quickly on a getaway evening: No, there was no intended racial component to the title. A "silverback" is simply a dominant male gorilla; so the title was simply a play on (a) male dominance and (b) the "800-pound gorilla" and/or the "gorilla in the room" (which I also reference as "elephant in the room" in the post itself).

Sheesh--it's getting to the point where we can't even use words in their intended, literal fashion anymore without worrying about hypothetical racial (or otherwise-un-PC) overtones. Remember the outcry a few years ago about someone's use of the word "niggardly"? I don't care how "close" it is to the offensive how lame is that?!

RevRon's Rants said...

"All (not virtually) tragedies were perpetrated by a gun or guns."

This statement is inaccurate, and is indicative of a tendency to pick only the low hanging fruit in addressing any problem, while ignoring the real source.

I own several guns, as do many of the people I know, and not one of those guns has ever perpetrated a crime. Being inanimate objects, guns are only capable of doing what the human hands holding them instruct them to do.

The rush to eliminate inanimate objects can only result in their replacement by another inanimate object, if the commission of a violent act is the intent. As a matter of fact, anyone so inclined can make far more destructive implements using readily-available and uncontrolled components. The majority of combat deaths in Iraq, for example, aren't the result of the individual being shot with one of the omnipresent AK-47s, but with IED's, which any kid can design and build.

Anonymous said...

Not a gun owner or enthusiast but Switzerland has the highest per capita gun ownership in the world and almost zero crime. With no standing army, each citizen must do some kind of National Service including firearms training and is then issued with an assault rifle to take home.
The UK has draconian gun control, knife crime--particularly amongst teenagers and --is rife.

Cal said...

I read something that some of these acts occur when winter turns to spring, and specifically in April. Columbine, Va. Tech, and now Binghamton have all happened in this month. The theory is that the turn toward warmer weather brings out all the rage that has built up over the dreary and cold winter months.

I'm sure that the appropriate scientists will attribute some of this to the higher levels of testorone in men. But, I admoit I haven't heard of any steroid abusers doing this.

My question is why has there has been a rash of these incidents in the past 25 years? The first one I remember was the McDonald's in San Ysidro, Ca. in 1984.

And since race was brought up, I'm going to relate it specifically to this topic. I will be curious to see how many black men (or women) are shown in the 20/20 special. One thing talked about in the black community is that we generally don't do this type of killing. In fact, the first thing I think of when I heard of an incident is that some disgruntled white guy did it. But with the Va. Tech and Binghamton, I'm sure I will now be thinking either white or Asian.

In the crack wars of the '80s and '90s, there would be incidents where some gang member would do drive-bys and hit anybody. But, the planning that is shown in many of these workplace or school incidents does not seem to usually involve a black guy. Just my observation...

Elizabeth said...

Here is yet another one:

Elizabeth said...

Analysis: Nation negotiates minefield of bad news

AP National Writer
Sat Apr 4, 4:22 pm ET

PITTSBURGH – Does the name Byran Uyesugi ring a bell? Odds are not. What about Robert A. Hawkins? Or Mark Barton? Terry Ratzmann? Robert Stewart?

Each entered the national consciousness when he picked up a gun and ended multiple lives. Uyesugi, 1999, Hawaii office building, seven dead. Hawkins, 2007, Nebraska shopping mall, nine dead. Barton, Ratzmann and Stewart — 24 dead among them in 1999 (Atlanta brokerage offices), 2005 (Wisconsin church service) and last week (North Carolina rehab center).

And each has been largely forgotten as the parade of multiple killings in America melts into an indistinguishable blur. We bemoan, we mourn, we move on.

What's even more disturbing is that the list above was cherrypicked from a far lengthier tally of recent mass shootings in the United States. And now, this weekend, on a crisp, sunny Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, the lives of three police officers ended in gunfire after a domestic dispute turned lethal.

The mass shootings that left 14 people dead in Binghamton, N.Y., on Friday were horrifying, depressing, nationally wrenching. They were also, to some extent, unsurprising in a society where the term "mass shooting" has lost its status as unthinkable aberration and become mere fodder for a fresh news cycle.

"We have to guard against the senseless violence that this tragedy represents," President Barack Obama said in Europe on Saturday. Senseless violence: Two centuries from now, if we're not careful, it could be an epitaph for our era.

Even in a media-saturated nation that encourages short memories, these numbers are conversation-stopping: Forty-seven people dead in the past month in American mass shootings and their aftermaths. It's to the point where on Saturday, dizzyingly, the mayor of Binghamton found himself offering Pittsburgh its sympathies.

Put aside for a moment the debate over guns. This isn't about policy. It's about asking the urgent question: What is happening in the American psyche that prevents people from defusing their own anguish and rage before they end the lives of others? Why are we killing each other?

Full text:

Dimension Skipper said...

Steve, I really was only kidding. As I thought was made clear by first my little winky guy emoticon [ ;-) ] and then later where I said: "(note: I'm kidding!)"

I was just trying to have a little minor fun tweakin' ya since you were the one (if I recall correctly) who felt (at least initially) that the chimp cartoon a little while ago so clearly betrayed its creator's inherent racism toward Obama (or at least could be easily intepreted that way). I was just riffing really and I was quite surprised to check back now and find that you apparently took my comment waaaay more seriously than I ever meant it.

Anyway, I'm sorry to have inadvertently caused you any trouble as I assure you that was not my intent at all.

(But the general topic also really did make me wonder as to the racial makeup of the list, but honestly just in an academic sense.)

RevRon's Rants said...

"What is happening in the American psyche that prevents people from defusing their own anguish and rage before they end the lives of others? Why are we killing each other?"

I think that one short (and admittedly over-simplistic) answer is that our society suffers from a dearth of bootstraps. We are constantly fed stories of people who were once abject failures, until they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps. Yet we also live in a culture that so worships "success" - or at least the material aspects - that admitting failure, and a need to pull one's self up by said bootstraps, is unthinkable. And when one's life takes a serious downturn, we are supposed to still maintain a happy-happy, joy-joy demeanor. At some point, for some people, the strain of that facade simply reaches a breaking point, and headlines get written.

Since males are genetically predisposed and have long been historically, and sociologically conditioned to be the hunters and protectors in the family/clan unit, it would follow that we are more likely to express ourselves through violence. It is only recently that this country has even considered allowing females to engage in sanctioned violence. Combat was, for centuries, an almost exclusively male endeavor.

And it is still unacceptable in American society for a man to show more than a tinge of emotion, and it is especially unforgivable for him to weep openly, save perhaps in response to the death of a loved one. Even then, we don't want to see it. Alan Alda aside, our culture still perceives tears as a sign of weakness.

With males still feeling the weight of the hunter/protector responsibility, coupled with society's intolerance of weakness and/or failure, it should come as no surprise that a cork gets popped once in awhile. And while it might be satisfying for some to *really* oversimplify the equation by summarizing that men = bad, such a smug assumption can only serve to increase the pressures that push some men over the edge.

For anyone who might be reaching for their righteous umbrage, I am certainly not excusing or justifying violent behavior. But if our only attempts to deal with the problem are after-the-fact assignments of blame and efforts to eliminate specific tools used in the acts of violence, we are doomed to continue reading grisly headlines.

Anonymous said...

Do you think colonel Dave Grossman is right about TV and game violence?
Or half right?

Story goes that a WW2 general figured out that only (I think) 15% 20% of troops in combat would fire at the enemy.

By the time Vietnam came round, the military had managed to make that percentage go up considerably.

The WW2 figures have been disputed but I wonder what truth there is in it all.

He says that the use of conditioned response to shoot at human shaped tartgets was a major factor in breaking resistance to kill for the military.
He also says that video games are highly desensitizing.

otin said...

It's probably the women that make the men so crazy that they go nuts. It's a very plausible theory!

Sarsabu said...

USA has the highest gun ownership per capita followed by Yemen. Hmmmmmm.

No need for IEDs when one has such easy access to guns. I'm sure if Iraqi kids could go down to their local supermarket and buy any weapon of their choice - the stats might be different.

RevRon's Rants said...

"No need for IEDs when one has such easy access to guns. I'm sure if Iraqi kids could go down to their local supermarket and buy any weapon of their choice - the stats might be different."

First of all, it's much easier to obtain the materials to make an iED than it is to get a gun. Any 8-year-old could get everything needed at Home Depot without even raising an eyebrow.

Furthermore, Iraqi children need not go to the supermarket. They are given weapons freely, along with the indoctrination required to inspire them to use those weapons. So long as our focus is upon eliminating the weapons, rather than countering the motivation to use them, our efforts are doomed to failure. It's like trying to eliminate the danger of ant bites by standing on a mound, stomping individual ants. Might seem satisfying in the short term, but will have negligible effect on the problem, and will end up with us continuing to get bitten.

RevRon's Rants said...

As I've previously pointed out, when I was growing up, virtually every kid I knew had at least one gun - a higher ratio than we see even among gang members nowadays - and there simply weren't any of the incidents like we see today. The prevalence of firearms is not the sole - or even predominant - determining factor in the incidents of violence. Yet we continue to proclaim that it is. All I ask is that we look at the problem objectively, rather than emotionally, and determine and address the pertinent factors logically. It's our only hope of reducing the kind of horrors we read about every day.

Sarsabu said...

I have many friends who hunt and therefore have guns. I have no interest. It doesn't worry me. This is nothing emotional in what I am saying - just fact. The easy availability of guns means they are available to people who for whatever reason decide to massacre today or any other day. A little bit of control might just save a few lives. I would rather have a person coming at me with a big knife than a AK47. Although in both cases I would take the late great Richard Pryor's advice and run.

Steve Salerno said...

This isn't the first time we've had this debate on SHAMblog, so I feel a bit redundant in adding my voice to the chorus. But I will reiterate my one concern about guns that distinguishes them from all other commonly available weapons of random violence: They are capable of killing in mass numbers at a distance. If my family and I are standing across the street from you--even across the room--you can try to kill us by throwing a knife, but you probably only get one chance at it, and you probably will fail at any rate. That is not the case with a gun, and I think that must be factored into the discussion.

Btw, if I've been unresponsive to direct questions asked of me in recent days, it's because I'm visiting with the kids/grandkids in Vegas once again. Please bear with me. I intend no slight to anyone.

Anonymous said...

A fascinating and illuminating article by Grossman, Anon 7.20, with the latter part about the video game training particularly pertinent.
Should be required reading for all parents and lawmakers.

And of course he's right. We learn everything by constant, tedious repetition until it is ingrained. Add an emotional buzz to that repetition with no other psychological restraints and you have the makings of a compulsion.

RevRon's Rants said...

"A little bit of control might just save a few lives."

We already have laws that would provide the necessary control. What we *don't* have is cooperation between law enforcement agencies to facilitate putting those controls into practice. A single, comprehensive database listing individuals who have been convicted of violent crimes, have had restraining orders issued against them, or have been diagnosed as mentally deficient by qualified psychiatrists and case workers would severely impede most potentially violent individuals from obtaining firearms legally. And as we all know, if people choose to obtain weapons via the black market, legislation won't have any appreciable effect beyond preventing law-abiding citizens from obtaining the means to protect themselves.

There will continue to be random and unpredictable acts of violence, beyond what can be controlled or prevented by law enforcement. While I agree that we must do something to reduce such incidents, I don't go along with measures that will provide questionable results at best - and frequently subvert basic Constitutionally-guaranteed rights - simply because they are emotionally appealing to some. And in the final analysis, the endorsement of a measure which fails to effectively address a problem falls clearly within that emotional, knee-jerk definition.

RevRon's Rants said...

Just for the record, I don't agree with the NRA position that citizens should be allowed unrestricted ownership of weapons for which there is no valid hunting, self-defense, or competition uses, such as the AK-47, civilian-version AR-15, or especially the various rifles in the .50BMG caliber.

Anonymous said...

"mentally deficient"

Revron - wtf does that actually mean?

Have any of the previous massacre stars actually had any contact with or history of mental health services or doctors?


RevRon's Rants said...

"Revron - wtf does that ["mentally deficient"] actually mean?

Someone who has an established record in some area of the criminal justice system of mental problems which could manifest as violent behavior.

"Have any of the previous massacre stars actually had any contact with or history of mental health services or doctors?"

Yes, Londoner. The kid who committed the Va Tech massacre, for example, had been under psychiatric care, and was deemed highly unstable. Had there been a sharing of databases between law enforcement organizations, he would never have been able to purchase a firearm legally.