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Blame Game
Finger pointing, furthering agendas and tragedies

So once again, America is faced with a relatively minor tragedy, and once again many Americans overreact, use a tragedy to exploit personal agendas, and everyone looks for something or someone to blame. Of course I'm talking about Columbine High School massacre.

I don't mean to sound insensitive -- I really do care that a dozen kids were murdered due to angry teens seeking revenge on all those who have wronged them (and taking out on many of those who hadn't). But more kids than that probably die each every day (in the U.S. alone) because of things like cars, bikes, jaywalking and so on. Look at how many kids we've accidentally killed in Kosovo due to collateral damage. America can be hypocritical and whiny! It is really sick and sad that so many kids lost their lives so tragically -- and I don't mean to minimize it by saying it is a minor tragedy -- but society does need to keep some perspective. This is not even the biggest school massacre in the U.S. -- that one was on May 18, 1927, at the Bath Michigan School, killed 45 people (38 elementary students) by a series of dynamite explosions. Andrew Kehoe, a school board member and treasurer and farmer, blew up the school, his pickup truck (with him inside) and burned down his farm (not necessarily in that order). So while it is a tragedy, we always have to keep perspective, not over sensationalize, and realize that things could have been worse. We will get over it!

It is during such tragedies that you get to see a nice cross section of humanity.

What bothers me most, is rather than focusing on all the great stories about what happened -- like the student and teachers rushing to each others aide, about how many cared and how the community is trying to pull together, the heroes and so on -- the press instead (majority of it) feeds on the horrors and pumps up societies fears with headlines like, "Could this happen in your town?". Why doesn't the press talk more about how rare these things are and allay fears instead of trying to magnify them? Show some stats, like show how much more likely your kids are to die in some freak weather accident or die on the drive in to school (or in after school activities), rather than becoming the victim of some homicidal shooting spree on campus? I guess that wouldn't get the ratings that fear mongering does.

Sadly, many take the low-road, and use these tragedies as a way to further their own agendas. The media is all trying to "out do" each other with who can get the best weeping parent or student shot, or the best sound bite -- asking moronic questions like, "How does it feel to have your child murdered while at school?" The President runs out and offers a speech about how he feels their pain. Politicians are preparing to offer legislative solutions that will do nothing of value, other than get them in the limelight and pretend like they care too. Of course, now we are focusing in on the blame -- who or what is at fault. Every antifreedom nut, is out there blaming the tool for the actions of kids who have been giving signs of serious problems for months -- and been ignored. Some think the lack of omniscience by school officials or bureaucrats is some major societal catastrophe that could have been avoided. Some are blaming Hollywood or movies. Some are blaming the breakdown of society due to single parent families, hate-mongers, or video games. The media is running around blaming and attacking Goths (Gothic Music) -- and Oliver Stone is probably creating a script to rewrite history and blame it all on a big conspiracy by Government to cover-up the Kennedy assassination (with Nixon's help).

When is enough enough?

Everyone is looking for the quick fix, and for something to blame. Make it easy, make it neat. Quick attack and blame that which is different or you disagree with -- then you can outlaw that, and pretend like you've made a great contribution to society. Won't the world be a better place then? I don't think so... and since you asked (or not), I can tell you a bit on my opinions as to where blame lies, and likely does not.


I was into Pre-Goth (Bauhaus, Tones on Tail, Siouxie & the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy) and there was a bit of goth later. My friends and I used to frequent the clubs. My roommate of many years ran underground nightclubs in and around L.A. (I helped on a few) and he did a cable access TV show for a while -- and it wasn't rare to have some of the bands over or have interesting parties. I wasn't "in" the scene as far as painting up or anything myself, but I was involved. We had another roommate, a teen runaway that we let live with us (against the law -- because the State feels that she would have been better off living with her junkie Mom, or probably the OD'd corpse of a Dad). She was into the scene -- at least if you consider sleeping in a coffin (with the lid nailed up so she couldn't suffocate), having her own little "alter", and wearing white make-up and black lipstick, a "Goth". Anyway, enough with the history -- the point is what I know, that the media seems to ignore.

These kids weren't bad -- they were just kids. Goths are mostly just ridiculing everything that others held dear, and satirizing it, because they were outcasts and they would take their outcast status and revel in their differences and uniqueness. They took the cards that life dealt them, and their differences, and they adapted to being outcasts at an age when you are looking for a place to fit in. The irony of course is that they created the exact same cliquish social culture that they ridiculed in others (but at least they were usually a little more empathetic towards others differences, and it was a counterculture). They created a new identity, and found a place to fit in -- and that is probably better than being completely asocial and cast outs.

To hear the media attacking the whole scene for one or two extreme examples is quite frustrating. It does no good, and is not a fair representation. Why don't we just pretend that everyone that ever listened to the Beatles was dropping acid and a threat to society (like some of their parents might have thought)? Pushing Goths' to be "like everyone else" will do no good. They are not like everyone else, and they've finally gotten enough chutzpah to admit it, and find their own temporary identities. I wish more kids could learn this. I rather have a Goth as a kid than some little super-social, mindless, follow-the-crowd popular type. (When the latter leaves school, they have a tougher time when they learn that high-school doesn't really matter). Sure the Goths are into "dark" things, they are focused on the occult -- and I don't think that is healthy or good for them (long term). But it is really only a danger if it becomes a complete obsession -- and anything that becomes an obsession is a danger. For most it is just a phase -- kids trying on different identities to see which one they really want to be. So there are far bigger concerns for parents than their kids listening to "weird" music, or trying to be "different". And Goths are no more of a threat to society than most other counter culture music scenes of the past -- like Jazz, Rock and Roll, and all the rest.


I've already had to deal with a rash (foul, pustule filled, weeping rash) of questions about "shouldn't we ban guns to avoid these things?" The Movie stars and TV Stars are already blaming guns -- of course. I say "of course" because they want to get the attention off of Hollywood, and so they are quick to point the finger somewhere else. Scapegoating and agendas are forever. But I've got news for you -- the guns didn't do this. They didn't whisper to the kids, they didn't drag the kids out there, and everything the kids did was against the law already. The kids sawed down a shotgun (taking a saw to a shotgun is a 10 year felony)! I think the kids sawed down the stock too (probably another 10 year crime). The kids pulled the trigger. The kids were already intent on murder and mayhem. They built bombs, and killed quite a few with them. They were violating plenty of laws -- and plenty more laws would not have prevented them from doing what they did. Talking about the guns in this is a way to dodge any true communication and to avoid looking at true societal problems!

You can't even assume that guns magnified the scope or effectiveness of the killing. Otherwise they may have just used gasoline and fire extinguisher and made a flame thrower? How many could that have killed? Maybe they would have made more bombs, mortars, or made a car bomb. These kids were intent in going out in a blaze of glory, and contrary to what some want to think, it could have been worse.

Now I know some will say, "but if the guns weren't available...". This is like saying, "if we didn't have water, people wouldn't drown". Tough, we have them. America has hundreds of millions of guns, the world probably has billions, and they are fairly easy to make and buy (even where they are illegal) -- and we know that trying to outlaw something never works anyway -- look at are rabidly successful drug war. You can't keep guns out of the hands of criminals who want them. Get over it. The only question is will more restrictions (which will mostly apply to law abiding citizens) help? I don't think so. In fact, if a teacher, administrator or armed guards had a gun, or the cops with the guns had been there sooner, then they might have been able to distract from the systematic murders, and saved more lives. Guns were actually the cure as much as they were the problem. So I'm not saying the availability of guns didn't contribute to the problem (it did) -- I'm saying that you can't do anything about it, and the guns didn't pull their own triggers. The problem is the actions of the kids -- not the tool they used. They use shotguns -- most Americans aren't against shotguns, and shotgun control isn't going to do anything! A shooting like this happened in England and they have far less tollerance for freedom (and gun freedom) than we do. So how can more gun laws (usually banning pistols and assault weapons) fix any of this? How is blaming a tool for the abuse of it's operator going to do any good at all? Let's focus on the problems -- not the symptoms.

The Internet

Some say, "they got the knowledge how to make bombs off the Internet". Maybe -- that's the cost of free speech. I have news for others -- I made pipe-bombs as a kid, as have many other adults I've talked to. It isn't something that a 14 year old boy can't figure out if they want to. Come on; container, fuel,accellerant (oxidizer), and an ignition system -- it ain't rocket science (OK, so it is pretty close -- but it isn't hard). Those who want to, can teach themselves how to make these things on a weekend. My great-grandfather had a sort of flesh claw as his right hand (thumb and ring finger pincher) because he managed to blow his hand apart (and a good piece of his leg) while playing with explosives as a kid in the late 1800's. This isn't new!

As adults we know it is stupid and dangerous. It is a good idea to help kids to learn to avoid such dangerous things, since many are hurt by it (I've got a few scars myself) -- and you want to help others (especially kids) avoid the mistakes you made. But you can't take away knowledge, curiosity -- and it is near impossible to stop information. Heck, there are a probably 10's of thousands of people that could make an atomic bomb if they really wanted to. (Anywhere from small fizzle, to a multistage H-bomb). Eliminating free speech won't get rid of those intent on mayhem -- it may make it mildly harder for them -- but they still will figure out a way. It may, very mildly, reduce the amount or frequency, or ease at which mayhem is done -- but at what cost? Should we really assume that everyone with a curiosity is actually a terrorist? Should we pretend that the knowledge on how to mix fuel and accelerant (oxidizer), which is early basic chemistry, is something so terrible that it must be expunged from humanity, and create a thought police to protect against model rockets and basic physics?

The System?

Of course if you want to place some blame, there is plenty to go around. We know that these kids were questionable stability. And while they were making videos about mayhem and talking the talk. Nobody did anything. But can you blame them? Really? If you tried to deal with every kid that said something stupid about "killing" or "violence" society would collapse under the burden of psychoanalysis. How many times did you say something stupid as a kid? In hindsight it is easy to remember those comments as "ominous warnings", but at the time there are 10,000 of other kids making the same or worse comments. You want to arrest every boy that has played with "fireworks"? The facts are that you just can't effectively predict this stuff. We can get better, and there were some blunders made. We need to work a little to improve the situation -- but let's face it, you just don't know! More laws aren't going to fix that either!

The Media

At least when we look at the media there is some relevance to the blame. I was traveling and in the airport, someone asked my "Why is this happening so much?" While I don't blame the media for pulling the trigger, at least we know statistically that it is happening MORE because of the media. The News showing and sensationalizing this stuff for profit, gives these things a lot of attention. This sticks in kids minds, "if he could do it, I could do it". That doesn't make it the media's fault -- but I would bet hard earned money that if the media did not sensationalize and play up these stories, then you'd see a lot less of this stuff happening (it just wouldn't get etched in the minds of kids).

That means running 10,000 more of these stories, and what we can do about it, is just counterproductive. It doesn't help us! It is like focusing on a pain you have -- does focusing on that discomfort make it better (or make it go away)? Of course not, it just makes you more aware of it, meaning it is MORE painful, and you obsess over that which you can't change. Let it go!

That is just the problems with the T.V. News. Need we talk about the movie-manuscripts of how to play Rambo and mow-down your classmates? The Natural Born Killers, Gang Flicks, and so on. Movies make heroes. People (childred) see characters that they want to mimic and "want to be like". Sadly many movies and shows have been making some pretty dark heroes -- they've been turning assassins, gang members, or those that kill innocents and seek revenge, into heroes. Is it a surprise what is happening? Do you know how many wannabe's we make by glorifying "attacking the system" and "seeking final revenge"? Of course I don't think we need more bad laws to try to fix the movie-violence problems -- but we may need the public to wizen up and not take their kids to these things, and maybe NOT go themselves -- so that Hollywood gets the idea that violence is a flop. When a movie gets too violent, why don't people go to the box-office and demand their money back? That would send a message -- without more bad laws! Of course the answer to that question is not pretty. Hollywood caters to the demands of the masses -- and these movies sell! The reason we have these movies is because people keep going to them. Then the same people who watch those movies like to hypocritically blame Hollywood when something like this happens. How dare Hollywood cater to our (their) tastes? More importantly, and realistically, the problem of too much violence only causes a fraction of 1% of marginal humans to go "over the edge" -- so should all of us have to give up freedom (to see bad movies) to maybe prevent those few from snapping?

Whose to blame?

So who is at fault?

Perhaps we need to look at ourselves (as a society). Everything was the fault of "us" -- not some "them"!

We frequent the movies that promote violence! We tolerate the freedoms and our constitution which allow the 99.99% of good gun owners to own tools that are only abused by the .001%. We as a society (especially in school) pick on, and have been picked on, because of differences. We allow kids to dress differently, and listen to different music. We try to allow late teens some freedoms to learn about life as template adults. We even allow schools to become bureaucratic messes that frustrate kids and make them frustrated with the stupidity of the system. We create millions of dumb laws and rules that kids know are stupid and hypocritical -- laws that create contempt for all laws (for those that aren't good at differentiation).

But what can we change, and what do we want to?

We can't micromanage the lives of teens who are trying to learn to be adults -- doing so will not make them better, and it will not make society better. The parents might not have been as diligent as they were supposed to be, but who knows? There are some parents who do everything right, and still have kids that make dumb and deadly decisions. It is stupid to second guess them all in hindsight, or blame them for something they may not have done wrong and something that society can't fix it.

We can't ban all offensive music and all offensive dress. That won't make the world a better place either -- and freedom of expression, does include the freedom of offensive expression. And we can't teach tolerance by demonstrating a complete intolerance. While I do think schools could demand better behavior in school and teach responsibility better, I don't think this is some magic key that is going to make our societal problems go away.

Many systems are stupid and bureaucratic -- especially high school (to know-it-all teens). But that stupidity and bureaucracy might be the most important experiences taught in school about real life! We can try to make it better (and we should) -- but it will never be better enough! Even with a Utopian set of rules, kids will still be frustrated! And we could never reach my utopia anyway (too many want to try to micromanage the world for it's own good).

We can't put every kid in counseling who every says anything violent. Heck, I remember from elementary school (probably 3rd grade) a little song,

Glory, glory, hallelujah...
My teacher hit me with a ruler...
I came around the corner with a loaded .44
my teacher will teach no more.

I'm sure I wasn't the first kid to hear that in the early 70's, either. (Actually, many people sent me emails their varieties and some dated versions that seemed to go back to the turn of the century). And contrary to what some people might think, I turned out OK. Kids talk, they make noise, they feed off each other. Most still know right from wrong -- and the gross majority don't go on murderous rampages. Look at the odds -- we have probably 50+ Million kids, every few months (at most) 1 or 2 do something stupid like this. It isn't surprising that it happens -- it is more surprising how rarely it happens. Which shows how good a society we basically have. Kids are learning to rebel against some authority (like over controlling parents) and trying to create their own identities -- that is their stage -- only a very select few choose this poorly. Kids make many mistakes, and most learn from them. We just have to hope that most mistakes aren't too serious.

The knowledge is out there, and we can't take it away -- we can only combat bad knowledge with good knowledge! The same way to combat bad speech. You don't eliminate all free speech -- you fight the bad speech with GOOD speech. The same way with guns. You teach right from wrong, good from bad, responsible from irresponsible, safe from dangerous. Some will make mistakes -- you can't stop that without doing serious damage to individuals and to society -- you can only try to minimize it.

So the whole point of this article can be summed up as -- who you blame reflects on you. It only shows who you want to blame! Everyone is at fault, and no one is at fault. Tragedies happen -- and what we do about them reflects on us as a society, and as individuals. Sure we all want to help -- and we want to do something to make sure it doesn't happen again. But every action has reactions. Some of our quick fix cures will be far worse than the disease -- people just have to choose for themselves. Do we really want to be the kind of nation/society/individuals that every time there is an abuse of some freedom(s) runs around outlaws those freedoms in order to prevent more abuses?

Created: 04/23/99
Updated: 11/09/02

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