February 4, 2006

Point / Counterpoint

Point:

Friends: Jacob couldn’t have done it

They firmly believe it’s a set-up or a case of mistaken identity.[…]

“He did have Nazi flags in his room, but that doesn’t mean he was a bad person,”

Ok. Well, that’s one way to look at it. Once you take a hatchet to the patrons of a bar, that does tend to weigh more on the “not such a nice person.” And I guess the police didn’t have much doubt that it was him, since there were witnesses in the bar. People do tend to remember when you’re swinging a hatchet around. Especially in this area, it gets noticed.

So, anyhow.

Counterpoint:

Teen Wanted in Gay Bar Shooting Caught

A teenager accused of going on a rampage at a Massachusetts gay bar with a hatchet and a gun was in a Missouri hospital Saturday after two shootings in northern Arkansas that resulted in the death of a police officer and a woman accompanying the wounded teen, state police said.

Point/Counterpoint is all about you coming to your own conclusions.

But ever since this story hit the news, I have had trouble really processing it. The reactions of the friends have just been surreal for me. I don’t know why I focused on them. I guess it is upsetting to me… the reinforcement.

I haven’t heard any details about his capture, except that an officer was killed in the process, and another woman also died. In Arkansas. Unbelievably, the situation is actually got worse. But he’s been caught. How did this all happen? WTF?

Posted by James at February 4, 2006 10:46 PM
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Ours is a culture that prizes violence over reason. We forget to teach and encourage kids to learn and think critically. Add to that misunderstanding the old saw, "Everybody has a right to their opinion." Add to that the omnipresent media -- consistently sensationalist, irrational, and irresponsible. Adults -- not always parents -- who can't or won't care. The general selfish lawlessness you encounter, even in a supermarket parking lot. A little girl thinks Nazism is an acceptable hobby. A little boy attacks strangers with a hatchet and a gun. I try to wrap my brain around this stuff. I hope our pockets of civility survive.

Posted by: ThirdMate at February 5, 2006 7:17 AM

I've thought about this sort of thing a lot. Violence really bothers me. And although it might annoy my husband that I see some of this kid's friends as "young" and not necessarily "evil incarnate," I would like to point out that I'm the one who actually did stuff to protest the Iraq war before it happened, and I'm the one who's a Girl Scout leader, I'm the person who volunteers in school... I'm not a bad person.

I don't think the problem is we've "forgotten to teach and encourage kids to learn and think critically," as TM puts it. The people who learn and think critically themselves *have not* forgotten to teach it to children, I do assure you. I'm in my daughters' school every week and have been since they started attending there (as long as one teacher or the other would have me, and in the library if they wouldn't), and I can assure you that the vast majority of teachers, in that elementary school at least, are doing an incredible job of teaching children to learn and think critically.

I personally think the problem is human nature. Or animal nature... nature. We recently had a very unusual thing happen -- a female postal worker shot and killed a number of people at her old workplace. She *was* on mental leave. But the point is, women don't usually do that. Why not? Women are exposed to this same horrible society as men.

My answer -- human nature. Women were the ones, in the days when technology was a rock and a pointy stick, who had to care for the young because they provided the only food for the young, and so they needed badly to learn how to form relationships so somebody would take care of them while they were laden with a nursing child. Women compete to form relationships. Men were the ones who had to kill stuff and feed the women when they were incapacitated. Obviously I'm not saying women didn't do that too, before and after children, but it was in the best interest of the females to form lasting relationships, with both men and other women. It was in the best interest of the men to be able to run fast and kill things.

And there it is. And throughout history, men have run fast and killed things.

And that's such an oversimplification. We also, all of us, shun what's different. Because fitting in and working with the group was also part of survival. Sickly, weird things were a drag on the group.

Are you not both yourselves allowing your cynicism to be fed by the sensationalist, irrational, and irresponsible media? (A description I agree with, but not surprising since a hanging used to be an exciting event that you brought the kids to.)

For every one psycho, stupid, pathetic Nazi who kills somebody, how many people are having a painful operation to remove bone marrow or a kidney to donate to a sibling? How many adults are taking a weekend away from what they want to do to hang out with kids they think need them? How many people are donating time to build a house for a poor family? How many people are reading books to kids in hospital waiting rooms? Why add to this?

Posted by: Maggie at February 5, 2006 10:38 AM

Human nature... Hmm. Good points, all, Maggie. Sometimes I think we as humans must transcend mere "nature," and thank you for eloquently pointing out times when we do. My post was a cynical outburst of the disappointment I feel when we don't try. Thanks for reminding me that we do some Good.

Posted by: ThirdMate at February 5, 2006 12:10 PM

I'm disappointed and frightened to see this happening at all, never mind so close to home.

By the way: The kid was stopped by police and died from his injuries, so he will never stand trial for his crimes now.

Perhaps there is something in our nature that makes us have violent toward the unknown. Perhaps. And htere is also somehting in our nature that makes us do good. But I don't know where that knowledge leads me when something like this happens.

WHat I'm learnign from this story is how friends react when one of them goes nutzoid. Maybe that is human nature as well. Some can't believe it. Some blame the media for reporting it (!!!!). (BTW - I'll be the first to say that the media gets things wrong in reports. But it seems like all the essentials here are accurate)

Good friends support each other in good and bad times. Do kids learn how to support each other and guide each other? How do you tell your friend it may not be the best course of action to glorify nazism? I'm sure you don't believe they're going to go after people with an axe. But, apparently, you don't always know someone as well as you thought.

Do I think his friends could have stopped him? I have no idea, really. Maybe you can't stop someone like that -- maybe you just get out of the way. It seems like the community tried to help in its way.

I don't know. How do you comprehend this sort of rampage?

But ask yourself, too, how would your group react if one of your own went off and did something like this? What do you say to each other next time you're hanging out wherever?

"Gee, that was too bad." or "That's f---ed up?" Or do you blame the police, the city, and everyone but your friend? Do you start to look for blame from the outside? Isn't that the kind of thinking that gets someone into an outrageous situation in the first place?

Posted by: James at February 5, 2006 1:00 PM

Those are good questions.

I know that personally if one of my friends goes off in a different direction, I tend to back away. But the worst direction I've ever known somebody to go is (take your pick) Republicanism or Born-Again Christianity. And while I may disagree with the tenets (or actions) of both, I don't think they're anywhere on par with Nazism.

There are so many lost, confused, and unsupported people in the world. I think it goes against our nature to take care of them. I think a lot of "learning," especially the kind of guidance that TM was posting about, is actually learning to suppress our natural instincts which tell us to run with the pack and kill anything that appears "threatening," where "threatening" can take on a wide range of values.

What good does that information do you? Well, it helps me to be less discouraged. Because it's very easy to read the news and get discouraged. Where's the human race going?

I don't think the human race is going backward. I think we're making very slow progress forward. And so I personally tell myself that I'm not going to see huge strides in my lifetime, but maybe I'll see a few small good things happen. And I focus on my own little battles, like making 24 girls better people who want to make a positive difference in the world. Imagine if those 24 girls touched 24 more.

Posted by: Maggie at February 5, 2006 2:37 PM

I have to agree. I can't see the world as getting worse. Clearly, when you take a look at history, we have barbarism as a thread throughout. And while I will criticise our government up and down when I think it's doing somehting stupid, we've got a system here that has a l ot of room for improvement but also allows for improvement.

That is certainly hopeful. And the fact that this sort of behaviour is an isolated incident has to count for something.

Posted by: James at February 5, 2006 2:43 PM

Regarding people who support friends that make the worst possible decisions: these "friends" of the perp's struck me as misfits who were desperate to be liked or fit in with a group, but didn't choose a nicer group.

For whatever reason - I don't know, maybe they were sociopaths, maybe they just had lousy self-esteem - either they didn't want nicer friends, or they didn't think they COULD have nicer friends. Because the friends' comments seemed to range from "yay, white supremacy is cool" (meaning you're going to end up having a lot of creepy friends) to "I sorta don't like that stuff, but YOU'RE really neat" (meaning you're just so grateful this person speaks to you that anything he does is okay in your book).

Posted by: Julie at February 5, 2006 7:19 PM

Right, that's a good summary of what I was seeing.

But I wonder more about being a good friend than having good friends.

I dunno. I guess Maggie's point yesterday was that not much thought is going into it. And as much as that bothers me too, I guess it's accurate.

Posted by: James at February 5, 2006 8:42 PM

This is a generalization, of course, but women are placaters naturally. I think when a woman has a friend who says something or does something or acts in a way that she doesn't agree with, she tries to find the part that she can agree with. And I think you can do this so much that you're suddenly saying and supporting ridiculous things. I had a friend when I was younger who was raised in a racist household. She would say something and then I would say the polar opposite, and then she'd find something about what I had said that she agreed with, and she'd say it.

Again, I think it's in female nature to try to keep relationships.

There seems to be a "white trash" component here as well, people who have nothing finding a reason to hate somebody else to make themselves feel better. It's extremely frustrating and depressing that there are people like this. But I wonder whether it's possible to prevent them from developing. Can their energies be channeled into something positive? Is there a way to find them all and help them? It's hard for me to even want to help a neo-nazi.

Posted by: Maggie at February 6, 2006 7:10 AM

You can be a good friend to someone who wants a good friend, but you can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. He chose to immerse himself in that culture, and maybe didn't know the difference (or didn't care) between friends and enablers.

I don't know if he had friends outside of that myspace crowd - people who could have helped him find better things to do with his time. Perhaps he did at one time, and he pushed them away. I wonder if we'll ever find out.

Posted by: Julie at February 6, 2006 9:02 AM

I think online groups can be very dangerous. I've read about anorexic and bulimic girls being enabled, as Julie says, by online friends who brag about how few calories they ate or how many times they threw up. It is unlikely they'd be able to find a group like that IRL, and more likely they'd have friends telling them they're gross or that they should eat to be healthy. Before I read that, I quit reading my running newsgroup because I decided it had become too important in my life and it simply wasn't *real* enough to be that important. But I can see how people get sucked in when they have a similar interest to a group of people online. Maybe people need to be taught in school now about online groups. I know they're taught about strangers, and internet safety, but I don't know if this is included. And I'm not sure exactly what you say. You really need to monitor yourself to determine whether it's just a healthy club, or whether it's a kooky mind-altering obsession.

Posted by: Maggie at February 6, 2006 11:50 AM

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