Duck! and Gather

Mass Murder and Patterns

Posted on: April 17, 2007

  • In: predictions
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Like pretty much everyone, I suppose, yesterday’s tragedy at Virginia Tech unsettled me. Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised by such events in this great nation, that one did surprise me. It surpirsed me by its setting — at a university — and, of course, by its magnitude.

But then, of course, my brain turns to looking for patterns. One sidenote: I suppose this blog could be entitled: “In Search of Obscure Patterns”. Most everything I’ve written or podcasted about here would fit under that heading. Anyway, on with this pattern.

The New York Times starts us off nicely with a timeline of Major Fatal Campus Shootings in America. The timeline stretches all the way back to 1927. But look closer.

There was one amazingly horrifying event in 1927, then another in 1966, and the third happened in 1997. But after 1997, these campus mass murder events start occuring every year. Every year, that is, except for the years 2000-2004.

Let’s look even closer. The 1966 event involved a former solider named Charles Whitman. I’d read a little about Whitman during my work on Personality and the Brain. It turns out that Whitman had developed a tumor on one of his amygdalae (I think it was the right one). This tumor transformed his personality, making him hyper-aggressive, and unraveling his social relations. So I’ll throw that data point out as a marker of larger social dynamics.

That leaves us with 1927, plus the collection beginning in 1997. What’s the pattern?
Well, the one that hits me concerns Strauss & Howe’s Fourth Turning model. According to that model, 1927 was part of the tail end of the prior “Unraveling”, and 1997-present comprises the tail end of the current Unraveling. Aha, we have some symmetry here.

But then how do we explain the missing 5 years: 2000-2004? First, note that it’s not as if there weren’t campus shooting events during those years. Rather, it’s just that these events were not “major” as far as the national news services are concerned (ie. many victims).

Still, why no major events during those 5 years? My best guess is as follows: for the 17 months from Columbine in April 1999, to 9/11 in September 2001, the nation was “on high alert” for Columbine-copycats. So I’ll bet that a little bit of research for that period would uncover foiled major plots.

As for the “quiet” period from 9/11 to March 2005, I think a different answer serves us here. I recall from a biography of Sigmund Freud that Freud once said his practice dropped off considerably during the First World War, but then picked up again after the war. Recall that Freud’s practice comprised therapy for insane people. Basically, the point is that during the war, people were too busy trying to stay alive to enjoy the luxury of going crazy.

Fast forward to 2001-2005. These were the days of 9/11, “condition Orange”, cowed Democrats, and so on. Basically, it was war time. But by 2005, it had been four years since 9/11, and there had been no terrorist attacks on our soil.

Accordingly, I believe, the major campus mass murder sprees began once again. I say “accordingly”, because I suspect the dynamic works like this: during war time, the crazy would-be shooter is, like everyone else, engaged in discussing the war, and thus is distratced from his own insanity. But as the war subsides, the latter thoughts emerge once more.

The last thing I’ll say here is that I see these horrifying events as symptoms of our time. In other words, symptoms of the Unraveling of the basic flawed assumptions of our society. If that is true, then the events yesterday at Virginia Tech are troublesome signs for this ailing nation.

for the money has gone too far

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