Sunday, June 01, 2014

How We All Miss the Point on School Shootings

(Or, if you prefer, how the guy who wrote this essay misses the point on school shootings.)

Written by author, thinker, and life enthusiast Mark Manson, "How We All Miss the Point on School Shootings" has been passed around a few times on facebook since the UC Santa Barbara shooting last weekend, and it strikes me as being a really good example of how somebody can write something that sounds like it has a point, but which actually has no point at all.  Seriously, you walk away from this knowing less than you did in the first place.

I mean, just consider this passage from the first part of the essay:

"But this 'witch hunt' we go through every time a school shooting happens is a total ruse. Elliot Rodger didn’t become a killer because he was a misogynist; he became a misogynist because he was a killer. Just like Eric Harris didn’t become a killer because he loved violent video games; he loved violent video games because he was a killer. Just like Adam Lanza didn’t become a killer because he loved guns; he loved guns because he was a killer."

Massive leaps in reasoning.  Manson can't POSSIBLY know any of this is true.  C'mon.  Rodger became a misogynist because he was a killer?  What the hell is that?  Psychology?  No, it's bullshit.  This guy has no idea what he's talking about.

Manson goes on:

"And each time, as a culture, we work ourselves into a frenzy debating the angry exterior message, while ignoring the interior life and context of each killer. We miss the point entirely."

What's amazing with this little paragraph is that it comes right after a section where Manson goes into how "the interior life and context of each killer" is, in fact, parsed to death!  The guy is contradicting himself out the wazoo and encroaching on incoherency.

And now Manson starts just making shit up:

"According to the FBI, mass shootings (defined as shooting events that kill at least four people) occur on average every two weeks in the United States. Yes, every two weeks. Yet we rarely, if ever, hear about most of them."

Okay, we DO, in fact, hear about them.  Indeed, these average ordinary mass shootings are essentially one of the main motivations for gun control advocates.  Sure yeah, the school shootings get wall-to-wall press saturation coverage, which means there's necessarily going to be a lot more chatter about them, but it isn't as though people are ignoring all the rest.  I mean, all the rest is why this shit is an epidemic instead of a bunch of isolated incidents.

Continuing, Manson now pretends to be a psychologist, calling the actions of school shooters "all very conscious and deliberate," which must mean these shooters aren't crazy.  Of course, as actual psychologists tell us, deliberate action doesn't make ANYBODY less crazy!  And he even admits this a bit later in the essay:

"Most shooters do have serious mental health or emotional issues, but they all plan their attacks months or even years in advance."

WTF?  He's saying that these shooters, in spite of their serious mental health problems, aren't crazy.  Okay.  This entire essay is just a total mess in terms of its logical through line and assumptions. 

Manson then goes into an interesting analogy between school shooters and terrorism.  But it doesn't really go anywhere, sort of musing without any teeth or payoff.  So it's a dead end.  I mean, so what if school shooters are like terrorists?  Manson doesn't say.

Then he starts getting into bland platitudes:

"Here’s what doesn’t get the headlines: Empathy. Listening to those around you. Even if you don’t like them very much."

Well, it's hard to argue with that, I mean, in the abstract, but, in its simplicity, and its inadequacy as a real plan of action, or even as analysis of the context and situation, it just underscores the fact that there is no magic solution for this problem.  As he observes, it's a wildly complex issue.  But there is no single "point" we're missing about this.  There are MANY points, and that makes this whole essay a useless exercise in mental masturbation.

But wait, it gets better!  And by "better," I mean "worse":

"Despite being relevant and important discussions, the glamorous headlines are ultimately distractions — they just feed into the carnage and the attention and the fame the killer desired. They are distractions from what is right in front of you and me and the victims of tomorrow’s shooting: people who need help."

Oh.  My.  God.  Manson ends his essay with something ripped off from a freaking Hallmark card.  I'm almost insulted.

This entire essay is utterly devoid of meaning, and worse, it's an attack on the overall discussion itself which always reemerges whenever these events make the headlines.  This discourse, while frustrating in its seeming inability to get answers, is real and necessary, especially in a democracy such as ours.  Manson's essay, in stark contrast, is totally fake, providing a seeming "solution" which does nothing.  I mean, sure yeah, help people who are hurting, for God's sake.  But really, that's just a slogan, one without any real world significance.

So, while I urge everyone to inform themselves as much as they can on this issue, to engage in public discussion on it with as many people as are willing to participate, do yourself and all of America a favor and don't share this stupid f'ing essay.  Like I said, you know less after reading it than you did before you read it.