The Problem Behind Columbine


I have just finished listening to the audiobook version of David Cullen’s book Columbine. I didn’t go out of my way to get it, but it popped up at the top of my recommendations this month, and having not actually known much about the event, I decided to get it. I was eight, and lived a few dozen miles away at the time; I remember it being all over the news for a few days, and that it was a ‘big deal’, but that’s about it.

The book is good. Short of poring over the material the book is derived from, it has everything and anything you could possibly want to know about the Columbine attacks. It’s structured well, it’s engaging, it’s accessible, it’s detailed, and it’s personal.

But it shouldn’t exist.

The unfortunate reality is that we, as a nation (perhaps as a species), are fascinated with mass murder and school shootings. It’s a phenomenon that’s so far out of the average person’s grasp of reality or comprehension we can’t help but wonder what would drive a person to commit such an atrocity. And so, we investigate. We become psychologists, investigators, and philosophers. We pore over the details, the nuance, and context. And we come to conclusions. It was the prevalence of guns, it was the lack of guns, we don’t focus on mental health, it was video games, it was how they were raised.

The reality is, murder is low in places where gun laws are loose, mass murder occurs where gun laws are tight, the vast majority of mentally ill are harmless, millions play violent video games and don’t kill people, and the progeny of some of the most peaceful people on earth have undoubtedly wound up murderers.

But I’ve yet to see a single article pointing to ourselves.

I’ve talked about the phenomenon of media contagion before (as seen below), and long story short, I got angry because I thought there was something that the media could to do about these shootings, and they weren’t. What I now realize, is that these media companies are in it for the money, like all businesses, and as such, they cater to their customers: Us. We are the ones that want the details, we want to know why, we want to solve the problem, we google the attackers, we buy the books, we read the articles, and we draw the conclusions.

The shooters know this, that’s why they put out manifestos, its why they go for style, its why they go for flare, it’s why they go for the ‘high score’, it’s why they inspire others, and its why they commit the attack. They know we’ll be there to lap it up and give them an entry in Wikipedia.

I’ve skimmed over a number of these mass shooters’ manifestos and motivations by now, but it never dawned on me until I finished listening to Columbine that the reason for these attacks are all the same: They are narcissistic psychopaths. Their manifestos may tell you otherwise, but every single one of them is in it for the infamy and the satisfaction they are ruining and ending lives. That’s the only reason. And we feed it.

If we really want to stop mass murders, committed with guns or otherwise, we need to be satiated with the fact these perpetrators do it because they are scum. That’s it, we don’t need any other reason. We need to resist the urge in reading the articles, reading the books, watching the movies, and googling their names. When referring to the events, we need to say some dirtbag shot up a school, refer to them as such (perhaps something a bit more emasculating), give the victims the only attention and promptly move on. Next story. Don’t give it 30 seconds.

I realize in this piece, that in some way I am contributing to the issue, that it’s something that needs to be talked about in the first place, that writing it may help the problem in some way, and I can guarantee that almost everyone who writes about these people feel the same way. This is wrong, and this is the last I’ll cover the subject. I won’t be reading another manifesto, I won’t be buying another book, I won’t be reading another article, and I won’t be googling another name. I have the answer and everything else doesn’t matter.

These events, despite our most human tendencies, need to be treated with utter triviality, worth barely a mention, anything else just contributes to the problem.

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