crime, cultural evolution, feminism, gun control, institutional prejudice, LGBT issues, masculinity, mental illness, misogyny, Newtown Connecticut shooting, patriarchy, politics, Polytechnique, privilege, psychology, racism, rampage killings, Sandy Hook, sexism, supremacy crimes
Note- As with my previous post about Polytechnique, for the same reasons, I will not be giving the names of any of the killers discussed here. Also, fair warning: this is a really long, detailed post on a difficult and emotional subject. I’ve broken it into subsections.
I recently wrote about the Polytechnique massacre and others that target women, examining how these acts are part of a violent backlash against feminism and the push towards gender equality. I didn’t expect to be writing about this kind of tragedy again so soon, but then, on Friday, a young man walked into an elementary school in Newtown and another rampage killing took innocent lives. I shelved the piece I’d been about to publish on Friday; we need to talk more about the issue of rampage killings. This time we’ll pull back the focus from violence against women to examine the phenomenon on a broader scale, as it affects victims of different backgrounds, genders, nationalities, races and religions. The usual scapegoats are in the forefront of the dialogue right now, and behind them is that elephant we don’t want to address. As with Polytechnique and it’s ilk, there’s a common thread in these crimes, and it’s not mental illness or access to guns. We need to talk about how these killers are affected by the cultural credo of masculinity and aggrieved entitlement.
I want to be very clear as we get into this that when we talk about masculinity we aren’t talking about men per se, or male in the sense of biological sex. Being male doesn’t make one violent, just as being female doesn’t make one nonviolent. What we’re talking about is the culture of masculinity. We’re talking about gender expectations and stereotypes, institutional prejudice and privilege, and threat to that privilege. The Polytechnique shooter felt that feminism broke the rules, so to speak, whereby he, as a man, was entitled to dominance and success. He believed feminists (by which he meant any woman who transgressed traditional gender roles, for example by pursuing an education in engineering), were the reason he wasn’t the success he ought to have been. They’d usurped his rightful place, and before he took his own life he would make them pay for it. He would assert, in hyper-masculine fashion, his rightful dominance over them. He would put them in their place. That’s the crux of rampage killing: an assertion of ultimate dominance, ultimate control and backlash, and, as per our cultural definition, ultimate masculinity. This is the elephant in the room.
Breaking Down The Scapegoats
As with any great tragedy, the media have scrambled around the clock to find new information about the Newtown shooting and relay every scrap they can find to a shocked and distraught public. A natural point of focus has been on the shooter: why did he do it? How could we have prevented it? How can we prevent future crimes like this? Two modes of thought have dominated all subsequent dialogue: gun control and mental health care. While both are important issues, as a response to this tragedy they’re both scapegoats.
Let me say first and foremost that I wholeheartedly support gun control, and if Newtown is what finally gets that ball rolling in the US, then that’s a positive response. Nobody needs the kind of weaponry that is widely available for public consumption there, guns and rifles whose only useful purpose is ease of killing and an increase in destructive power.
But focusing on gun control to the exclusion of all else is a scapegoat and a bandaid solution to a complex problem. The problem in a rampage killing is not really the weapon the killer chooses- it’s the fact that they choose to kill. And while restricting access to guns would certainly help by eliminating the option of a particularly deadly weapon, it won’t stop rampages and it won’t necessarily limit the number of victims.
Take a moment to look at the statistics on rampage killings worldwide. While firearms certainly dominate, they’re far from the only weapon used. Other common weapons include blade weapons such as knives and machetes, as well as bombs, grenades, vehicles and arson. The very morning of the Newtown shootings, in central China a man carried out a rampage attack on an elementary school using a knife. In this instance all of the victims survived, albeit with severe wounds. However, school attacks targeting elementary and preschool children have been on the rise in China since 2010, resulting in many deaths and severe injuries. Since guns are strictly controlled, knives are the weapon of choice for Chinese rampage killers, alongside hammers, axes and box-cutters. In South Korea in 2003 a man carried accelerants and a lighter onto the subway and started a fire that claimed the lives of 198 people, injuring a further 147. Other rampage arsons have had extremely high numbers of victims. In Thailand and the Philippines, among other nations, there’s a history of rampage killers who use grenades. There are also several incidents worldwide where suicide-by-mass-murder has been accomplished by downing an aircraft.
Rampage killings are highly premeditated, and carried out with all the dedication of a suicide mission. They’re not determined by the weapon available; rather the weapon is selected after the plan to kill is conceived. So while limiting the availability of firearms is an admirable (and sorely needed) initiative, it will never address or prevent rampage killings. If a gun isn’t available they’ll pick up a knife, or a can of gasoline and a lighter, or determinedly plow a car through a pedestrian pathway. We need to address both the weapon and the perpetrator.
Whenever an individual does something inexplicable and horrible you can practically time your watch by the arrival of mental illness as the scapegoat of choice. Or, as Chris Rock put it when talking about scapegoating in the wake of 9/11:
(Warning- there’s a lot of offensive language in this clip, although Rock uses it intentionally to make his point)
That train’s never late. If there’s an obvious racial or religious angle, eg, people will flock to that (9/11 = Islam, eg). But if an individual belonging to the race, religion and gender of privilege does something horrific the immediate speculation is what mental illness that person had in order to do what they did. You’ll hear it on the news and in conversation. The more progressive will use it as a platform for better mental health services, while plenty more will demand simply that something be done about these sickos. Whether that’s institutionalization, imprisonment, forced radical treatment or even extermination depends on who’s talking and just how frightened and ignorant they are about mental illness.
It’s understandably tempting to dismiss a disturbing criminal action as an aberrant illness, but the reality is that, with only a very minor exception, mental illness doesn’t cause violence. The only time mental illness can cause violence in and of itself is in a tiny subset of sufferers who 1- are severe, and 2- are untreated, and 3- are suffering either schizophrenia with psychosis, or major depression or bi-polar disorder again with psychotic features in either case. Within this miniscule subset when violence does occur, it overwhelming occurs in the home, affecting family and caregivers. It’s exceptionally rare for these sufferers to target strangers, however, when it does happen, it understandably makes headlines. The tendency we have to then mistakenly perceive these headline-grabbing cases as common is known as the availability heuristic, and it’s an interesting bit of psychology. It’s the same thing at play with airplane crashes and other unusual but shocking events that we mistakenly perceive as being far greater threats than they are. In a nut shell, we remember outliers more vividly than the norm, and are prone to overestimating the outlier’s prevalence when assessing risks. Compounding the problem when it comes to mental illness as a scapegoat for violence is flat out bad and irresponsible journalism where facts are misrepresented and prejudices reinforced (as we’ve so far seen in the Newtown reporting, with unfounded suggestions that the shooter was mentally ill and that such an illness would account for his actions).
Sometimes we do get confirmation that a perpetrator suffered a mental illness, but what the media typically fails to report (and we fail to understand) is that the mental illness in and of itself didn’t cause the behaviour. In these cases the mental illness may be no different than right- or left-handedness in terms of impact on the crime- it’s simply another facet of a complex individual, and bears no relevance to the particular incident. Other times there’s a compound effect of a mental illness plus a known predictor of violence, such as substance abuse, poverty or previous exposure to violence (eg, abuse). In these cases the alternate factors are the accurate predictors and causal links to violence, not the mental illness in and of itself. A “sane” person with a substance abuse problem or history of exposure to violence is significantly more likely to commit an act of violence than their “crazy” neighbour who isn’t a substance abuser and hasn’t been exposed to violence. Even if that neighbour has schizophrenia or psychopathy, two disorders commonly raised in fears of mental illness and violence. You’re three times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by someone with schizophrenia, and a psychopath is far more likely to be a successful business leader than a serial killer.
Another point worth remembering is that mental illness is more common than people generally think it is. If mental illness caused violent behaviour, you’d be seeing it everyday, in your street, your office, and likely your home. In Canada one in five people experience a mental illness in their lifetime. These are people you know, whether they confide their illness in you or not. There’s no reason to be afraid of those who suffer mental illness- you more likely than not already have close ties with someone who suffers from one.
Finally, those with mental illness are far more likely to suffer violence than cause it. In the United States, for example, a person with mental illness has a 25% chance of being victimized by a violent crime. In contrast, the general population has a 3% chance. It’s really adding insult to injury to scapegoat such a vulnerable, innocent and victimized population for violent crime.
“I Am ________’s Mother”
In the wake of the Newtown shootings a mother’s plea for her allegedly mentally ill violent son went viral, and considering the press it’s getting I want to take a minute to look at it in more detail. In the letter, the woman writes that she is the Newtown shooter’s mother, as well as the mother of other rampage killers, and pleads for aid and mental health intervention before her son expresses his mental illness in the same fashion. Many readers have taken this piece to be evidence that mental illness is the problem here, but there’s something important few people have noted about it: this woman’s son doesn’t have a diagnosis. At 13 years old, with forced hospitalizations in his history, he has yet to be diagnosed with any mental illness or developmental disorder like autism (another suggestion his mother makes). The suggested disorders his mother raises are not usually that difficult to assess, and two of them (Intermittent Explosive and Oppositional Defiant Disorder) are highly controversial in the psychiatric community. Both have been accused of medicalizing normal childhood and teenage behaviour, and if you read up on the alleged symptoms you’ll likely understand why.
Based on the mother’s descriptions of her son’s outbursts, a multitude of things other than mental illness or developmental disorder could be happening here. The two that jump out at me are a brain lesion or tumor, or an abusive home. The former is a legitimate concern when a person suddenly begins to display irrational anger or mood swings, and was actually a causative factor in the Texas Bell Tower shootings. The latter would certainly see a child reacting with allegedly irrational anger and over-sensitivity. Looking at the rest of the mother’s blog, she talks about how her son is well-behaved and well thought of by others, but irrational and angry around her. She also describes the chaos of the family home including a recent ugly divorce, her own bursts of anger directed at the children, and even her desire to kill them and herself.
It’s not my intention to demonize this woman; my point is that we simply don’t know what’s going on with her, her son or her family. I don’t know if someone is abusing this boy, of if he has a disorder or a brain tumor. But looking at the information available it’s clear that there’s more going on here than her viral post lets on, and it’s questionable whether her son is in fact irrationally violent or disordered. Uncontrollable behaviour disorders don’t suddenly disappear outside the home or with other caregivers, and if his alleged illness is occurring around and towards his mother, then there’s far more likely a situational cause (eg, anger over mistreatment or stress boiling over from a chaotic home life) than a mental disorder at play. It’s also not uncommon for children to express emotional and behavioural problems while in the midst of a divorce, especially when that divorce is combative. Likewise, a child taking heavy duty antidepressants and antipsychotics (which are not in fact indicated for his age group or his behaviour as described) is being placed under significant physical and psychological stress. That cocktail alone could explain some of the behaviours she describes. It’s equally unclear who prescribed them and if they’ve been prescribed responsibly; we already know that psychotropics are dangerously overprescribed to children and teenagers.
The bottom line here is that her story doesn’t provide any evidence that her son actually has a mental illness or developmental disorder, let alone that either condition causes violence. It just doesn’t wash, and shouldn’t be floated as anecdotal support for this scapegoat. The account is moreover stigmatizing and damaging to those who do suffer mental illness and/or developmental disorder, painting a false and frightening depiction of them as ticking time bombs apt to lash out violently at innocent people. As a side note, it’s also worrisome that she’s published her child’s photograph and is now appearing on news shows under her real name, with reference to the city the family lives in. There are serious ethical concerns about this exposure (and, to be frank, exploitation) of her son with her personal assessment that he’s a future mass murderer.
Alongside mental illness, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been raised as a cause for the shooter’s actions. There in fact seems to be some confusion as to ASD’s classification, with some presuming that it’s a mental disorder. To be clear, ASD is a developmental disorder (you can read more about it here). Speculation on this front is largely based on comments by acquaintances and the shooter’s estranged brother that he was both antisocial and “weird,” and they thought he might have Aspergers. There are only three things we need to say here: 1- vague speculation by third parties is not a reliable diagnosis, 2- ASD is a far more complex condition than simply being “quiet,” “weird,” a loner, antisocial, etc, and 3- ASD does not cause this kind of violent behaviour. Even if the shooter is found to have genuinely been on the autism spectrum, as with an existing mental illness, it wouldn’t explain his actions.
You can read Autism Speaks’ statement in response to this speculation here.
The Elephant In The Room
We think of rampage killings as senseless, the random acts of mentally ill people who got their hands on a weapon. In addition to ignoring the facts about mental illness, developmental disorder and weapons access, we repeatedly ignore a striking pattern between these killings as they happen around the globe. With literally only a few exceptions to hundreds of cases, rampage killers are men. In the West they’re predominantly white men who identify as heterosexual and Christian. Let’s flip this for a second, because I don’t believe anybody could reasonably claim that dozens of instances of black men carrying out rampages, or women carrying out mass shootings, would be ignored as having a racial or gendered context. We wouldn’t be jumping to individual mental illness or gun control as the real problem with that clear a pattern in front of us; instead we’d be eager to discuss cultural factors relating to gender and race. We need to acknowledge the elephant: rampage killers have a clear profile.
Since I’m talking about rampage killings as a worldwide phenomenon, I’m going to leave race and other region-specific identifiers out of it for this discussion. But that’s not to say they aren’t important factors- they equally represent an individual’s status as a member of the cultural majority and play just as directly into the factors I’m about to discuss. In the West this is very much a white male problem, however I don’t want to limit the breadth of the discussion by making it regional. With that in mind, I’m only going to discuss the overarching, dominant element in these crimes as they happen around the globe: masculinity.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, when we talk about masculinity we aren’t talking about biological maleness. Outside of exceptional cases like the aforementioned brain tumor affecting aggression, biology isn’t a deciding factor in rampage killings or other violence. Just being a man isn’t going to make a person violent (as with anyone’s race, sex, orientation or ethnicity). What is a deciding factor is cultural perceptions of gender and status quo. What we’re talking about are cultural definitions of masculinity and the gender status quo, not men.
A common factor in rampage killings worldwide is a subscription to patriarchy and consequent gender stereotypes. In line with the patriarchal division of gender, men are perceived and promoted as the natural leaders and dominant sex. Intelligence, capability, stoicism, worldliness, aggression and strength become masculine. Feminine traits, on the other hand, include nurturing, docility, weakness, domesticity and emotional acuity. You’ll no doubt recognize this division- in the West it’s in our media, advertising, literature and toys, for a start. Culturally we push these gender stereotypes from day one, and we push them hard. When individuals fail to adhere to the correct gender performance, we severely chastise them. Despite advances in gender equality, we still overwhelmingly adhere to these stereotypes and patriarchal beliefs (not surprising when you weigh thousands of years of patriarchy against only about forty years of gender equality promotion- real change takes time).
Let’s break down those cultural male gender traits. “Real” men are: intelligent, capable, stoic, worldly, aggressive, strong. Men are the breadwinners and the innovators, the politicians, CEOs, doctors, scientists, professors. Equally, they’re strong and above emotion. Real men don’t cry. Real men protect women and their families. Real men are casanovas. Real men bring home the bacon. This stereotyping sets some men up for a very hard time when they fail to meet their expected success threshold, or when their status and male identity are threatened.
Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel discuss the issue of masculinity and rampage killings in this excellent article (it’s well worth a read in it’s entirety). Although their work focuses exclusively on school shootings, it’s valuable to the broader discussion here. What Kalish and Kimmel identify as the key factor in an individual’s propensity for rampage killing is “aggrieved entitlement,” which comes wrapped up in those cultural concepts of masculinity. The killers have a desperate desire to answer perceived failure as a man with a hyper-masculine violent response. It’s revenge and spectacle, a sort of martyrdom and ultimate retort to perceived challenges to the killer’s masculinity. That’s the unique message of a rampage killing, and that message is what we need to understand and address. This is what separates suicide from murder-suicide and mass-murder-suicide in these cases.
When we look at rampage killers we invariably find stories of rejection and perceived or real failure. They’re men who’ve been fired, divorced, lost large sums of money, can’t get dates with the women they desire, aren’t the top student, or didn’t get into school. Again and again as the details emerge we see a killer who experienced at least one failure, dip or struggle in representing masculinity as the culture defines it. They’re equally often the “weirdos” targeted for bullying (which with men often takes the form of gay-baiting, a particularly potent threat to masculinity). These are the factors that threaten their identity as successful and “real” men, that “emasculate” them. As Kalish and Kimmel discuss, these sorts of threats to masculine identity are a classic predictor of male suicide.
That’s the first half of the equation. The second half is that aforementioned sense of entitlement. It’s classic privilege and ego- these particular men chafe so badly under the perception of failure because they believe themselves to be superior. They’ve bought the cultural message that they, as men, should be on top. The perceived inferiority, be it job loss or a romantic rejection, becomes a blinding humiliation that demands redress. Going back to Polytechnique, the blame was placed on feminism and women at an engineering school for not knowing their “place,” and consequently, the killer believed, derailing his rightful opportunities as a would-be male student (and consequent academic and career success). But aggrieved entitlement isn’t just about punishing the perceived source of emasculation. It’s also about proving that the killer is indisputably a real man, and this is where a rampage becomes the redress of choice.
Kalish and Kimmel also raise the phenomenon of “masked suicide,” meaning suicide committed by engagement in a socially acceptable or even laudable act that will kill the participant. They argue that this phenomenon applies to most rampage killers, and I think they’ve hit the nail on the head. The majority of these men commit suicide or are killed by police, having initiated a violent situation that they had no reasonable expectation of escaping. Many only stop their rampages and kill themselves once police are closing in, while others purposefully invite “suicide by cop” (attacking officers knowing that they’ll respond with lethal force). For an aggrieved, entitled man so wrapped up in the cultural perception of correct masculinity that a normal experience of life’s ups and downs reads as a crushing humiliation and public emasculation, masked suicide is a clear means of committing suicide while simultaneously affirming, even enhancing masculinity. It’s the warrior culture, the masculine as strong, aggressive, warlike. To kill violently is the ultimate assertion of power, which is exactly what these men believe they’ve been wrongfully denied and/or challenged over. But rather than ship out to a warzone (which some of them have tried to do, and failed), a rampage killing offers the chance to also punish the society that aggrieved them. They may choose a specific target to punish for allegedly emasculating them (coworkers, classmates, women, etc), or they may just lash out in the most violent, hurtful way they can think of with a random target. For these men rampage killing is seen as the trifecta of ultimate masculinity, revenge and acceptable suicide, with the spectacle of it broadcast into every home around the world.
The following are actual quotes from rampage killers (taken from the Kalish and Kimmel article):
“Murder is not weak or slow-witted… Murder is gutsy and daring.”
“I die like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of the weak.”
Or, taking the iconic power and image of another figure:
“I am The Joker.”
Their perception of power, strength and righteousness in violence is clear, and it shouldn’t be surprising to us to hear it described that way. We teach boys that retaliation and violence are manly. Girls cry, boys hit back. Revenge plots make for popular movies, video games and books. Action movies are guy movies. Battle is considered a noble, manly pursuit. The issue isn’t specifically the presence of violence in our culture, it’s how we package violence. Right now we overwhelmingly package it as a powerful, ass-kicking, badass, glorious and emphatically manly thing- is it any surprise that when other factors combine to make some men suicidal, “emasculated” and filled with a sense of aggrieved entitlement that their response will be a rampage killing? We’ve set them up to see it as a perfect way to get back the masculinity and dominance they feel they’ve lost. As Kalish and Kimmel put it:
“It was not because they were deviants, but rather because they were over-conformists to a particular normative construction of masculinity, a construction that defines violence as a legitimate response to a perceived humiliation.”
Gloria Steinem has also discussed this aspect of rampage killings, using the term supremacy crimes. The article is somewhat out of date (published in 1999), but still an important read for it’s discussion of the masculine power of violence our culture promotes. Steinem also discusses this aspect in relation to other violent crimes like serial killings, and again the pattern is clear. These are very much crimes of supremacy, sparked by threatened superiority and driven by a need to both punish others and reclaim that supposedly rightful dominance.
So What Do We Do Now?
Aggrieved entitlement and supremacy aren’t magic keys to predicting violent crime, but they do provide a damning profile and point out cultural factors that contribute to rampage killings. Part of the solution is restricting access to firearms and other deadly weapons. Part of it is providing accessible outlets for support and counselling, and de-stigmatizing mental healthcare so that these men who do feel overwhelmed, humiliated and suicidal have a place to seek socially acceptable help. And part of it is addressing how our culture defines masculinity and promotes violence as a masculine act of dominance.
There are many excellent points and discussions already happening about how to restrict firearms, so I won’t re-hash them here. They’re already the primary focus of our response. As for supporting and de-stigmatizing mental healthcare, that won’t happen so long as the public and media continue to wrongly scapegoat mental illness as the cause of violence. That demonization is exactly what’s behind the dearth of services and fears of being publicly identified as mentally ill by seeking help. We need to stop maligning mental illness and start recognizing it as both a serious health issue and a normal health issue. And last but by no means least, we need to acknowledge the evident profile of these killers. If we want to effectively address this issue and make progress in preventing future tragedies, we need to start taking a hard look at how these acts exist within, and are informed by, our culture. Specifically, we need to change our outdated and damaging gender stereotypes and the perception of violence as righteous and masculine.
One word that comes up again and again in discussion of these men is one I despise: emasculated. It reveals a great deal about the speaker’s mentality and views on gender. Emasculated means literally to be unmanned. To have one’s masculinity taken away, and consequently rendered inferior. To be like a woman. Similar ideas are expressed in our common language: like a girl/woman, pussy, wuss, cunt, bitch, whore, slut- all gendered language meaning female and shorthand for indisputably inferior. On the other hand we have: man up, grow some balls, grow a pair, be a man, take it like a man, and a whole slew of references to testicles, the penis and facial hair as signifiers of strength, greatness and superiority.
In the push for gender equality we’ve become a little more comfortable with our girls being like the boys, but even that tiny inch of progress away from gender stereotypes and sexism can’t similarly be said for our boys. Give a girl a transformer and she’ll at least earn the odd smiling nod for being a tomboy. Put a woman in a suit that covers up her curves and cleavage and she’s one step closer to respect and promotion. But give a boy a baby doll and there’s serious opposition. Ditto the stay-at-home dad. It’s still widely considered unmanly to be caring, nurturing, emotionally expressive or emotional whatsoever, or to express any weakness (such as admission of failure or inability). It’s also largely considered unmanly to be subordinate to a woman (pussy-whipped), or less than totally in command. For many men this culture means they have no emotional outlet or support, and normal dips and rises can feel like catastrophic identity threats.
We need to address gender stereotypes and our cultural sexism and misogyny, because that’s the root of any man feeling emasculated and threatened by a loss of male status and identity. Likewise, addressing these issues lessens the impact of homophobia and gay-baiting- if being a woman isn’t inferior, then being feminine (as in the classic stereotype of a gay man) is likewise no longer inferior, insulting and threatening to status. In short, we need equality.
The other issue we must address is our cultural perception of violence (specifically violent vengeance) as manly and honourable. I’m not proposing that we have to eliminate all violence from our screens and books, but again, it’s the context in which the violence is presented. I’ve already revealed on this blog that I’m a big action movie fan- I like a cool explosion and fight onscreen, as many do. But when that violence is glorified in the culture at large, and in particular when it’s tied to concepts of masculinity and dominance, we have problems. I can’t say where the specific line is in terms of what’s acceptable and what’s a bad influence, but in general we know good and damn well when something is glorifying violence and sending the message that violence is righteous. And once again we have to look to our language and broader culture to address how masculine and glorified violence are encapsulated there. The tendency to promote violent language as positive and powerful (“I killed it,” “I destroyed that,” etc), and to promote a concept of masculinity where boys hit back and violence is manly, are far more problematic and influential than an action film.
Which brings us to the publicity these killers get by their actions. As we’ve discussed, a key motivator for these men is spectacle. The world is going to see and acknowledge their strength and masculinity, see their anger and feel afraid. It’s critical that we stop giving them the attention and infamy, the power, they’re seeking. This includes ranking rampages as deadliest (AKA best, from the killer’s perspective), constantly invoking the names of past killers who broke records and caused the most memorable devastation, descriptive language that builds the killer and his actions up as powerful and iconic, and making the killer’s face and name the focus of news reports. If we focus on anyone, focus on the victims and survivors. If we talk about the incident, talk about what happened, not who did it. There’s an excellent breakdown here by forensic psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz of what more to avoid in reporting these tragedies. As it stands, we inadvertently glorify them.
And finally, on a broader scale, addressing racism, xenophobia and other prejudices is sorely needed to eliminate the other perceived status quo threats that drive some killers. We need to address these crimes at least in part as backlashes to civil rights and changing worldviews. As with Polytechnique, some of these killers see themselves specifically as soldiers in a warzone, fighting a political force (civil rights, eg) they feel threatens their way of life (privilege). In that regard education is paramount, as is vigilance in stopping hate speech and propaganda (especially refusing to give it a platform as a legitimate opposing view on the news).
We don’t have to walk away from these tragedies shaking our heads and terrified by an inability to address them. We do have the ability to address them, and if not entirely prevent them, at least significantly diminish their severity and frequency. There’s a saying that’s common in courtrooms, and it’s become a sort of personal credo for me: fiat justitia ruat caelum. Let justice be done though the heavens fall. It’s basic meaning is justice at all costs, justice as the highest principle. But for me it means something more specific: pursue what’s right even though your known comforts and culture systems may crumble, recognize that what you’ve grown up knowing and assuming isn’t sacrosanct or even necessarily correct, and don’t be afraid to question even the biggest pillars of the culture. Gender norms, stereotypes, patriarchy, the ignorant ideologies that have dominated past decades and centuries- until we look critically at the things we too often assume are untouchable, we can’t progress, or find justice.