Sunday, November 04, 2007

School Shootings

A little over a year ago "Fifteen-year-old Eric Hainstock walked into Weston High School, armed and aiming to be heard Friday morning; then, authorities say, he committed a crime that reverberated across the country.

"Hainstock shot and killed his school's well-respected principal, John Klang, a 49-year-old father of three who attempted to wrestle a handgun from the boy in a school hallway, authorities allege in a criminal complaint filed Friday afternoon." Source

When it comes to school shootings almost no one talks about the system that creates the shooters. When it comes to this issue I think it is time we start to do so. This essay by Daniel Quinn is a good place to start.

Quote from Quinn's Essay: When our children start becoming murderers, we typically don't wonder what's wrong with the system that's turning them INTO murderers, we wonder what's wrong with THEM. Imagine an assembly line that out of every hundred vehicles turns out one that is horribly defective. Then imagine--instead of examining the assembly line--taking the defective vehicle out and shooting it. Then, when the next one comes along--instead of examining the assembly line--taking THAT one and shooting it. And when the next one comes along--instead of examining the assembly line--taking THAT one out and shooting it.

I was amused last year when, after the Jonesboro massacre, the prosecutor of THOSE boys vowed to go after them so fiercely that he was going to SEND A MESSAGE to the youth of America. And what was the message? WE'RE NOT GOING TO PUT UP WITH THIS SORT OF THING. Understand that? We're not just going to put up with it!

We're not going to CHANGE anything--no no, everything's perfect the way it is. We're just going to punish the hell out of you. And that'll send a message. So the NEXT bunch of boys who think of massacring their schoolmates will stop and say, "Wait a second! Hey! What was that message about massacring your schoolmates? Oh, I remember now. If you massacre your schoolmates, they're going to send you to jail for a thousand years. Or is it two thousand years? Well, I guess if it's going to be a thousand years, we'd better not massacre our schoolmates. If it were only twenty years or fifty years, then we could go ahead. But a thousand years, wow. I can't do a thousand years."

Was that the problem in Columbine--that these boys just had failed to get this message? Were they under the impression that they were just going to get slapped on the wrist for gunning down their classmates and blowing up a school and crashing an airplane into a city block? Did they do all that--or plan to do all that--because they had the mistaken idea that no one would mind?

No, it's perfectly clear that they were not under any illusion about the consequences of their actions. They expected NOT to survive their adventure.

The question I want to leave with you as designers is this. How have we gone about nurturing children who have so little to live for and so much to hate that they'll happily throw their lives away if they can murder 500 classmates, blow up a school, and crash an airplane into a city block? Please don't tell me about violent video games and violent music. Instead, tell me how we've gone about nurturing children who WANT violent video games and violent music, who THRIVE on violent video games and violent music.

In general (it can be said with reasonable justification) natural selection works on this principle, "If it doesn't work, do it LESS." Any gene that works against reproductive success tends to be eliminated from the gene pool--is found less and less in the gene pool until it finally disappears. Doing less of what doesn't work is a principle that is practically instinctive to the human designer. But when it comes to our social organizations, the people of our culture follow a very different principle: If it doesn't work, do it MORE.

I almost always get a laugh with this statement. I'm not sure whether it's the shock of recognition or if people just think I'm kidding. I'm certainly not kidding. The principle is best seen at work in the institutions dedicated to maintaining the stability of our structures and systems. It's an anti-evolutionary principle, a principle that keeps anything new from happening.

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