Bobo says we need “More Treatment Programs.” He babbles that after a tragedy like the killings in Aurora, Colo., people use the event to indict whatever they don’t like about society. But dealing with it is about psychology, not sociology. Of course, he’s very vague on how to fund the treatment programs he calls for. Mr. Nocera has a question: “Penn State Is Hit Hard. Is It Hard Enough?” He says the N.C.A.A. ordered sanctions with some teeth. Too bad the football program wasn’t also suspended for a while. Mr. Bruni looks at “The Divine Miss M,” and says as the latest antics of Michele Bachmann show, she and others on the right have a curious religion. Here’s Bobo:
Early in the morning of Sept. 4, 1913, Ernst Wagner murdered his wife and four children in the town of Degerloch, Germany. Then he went to Mühlhausen, where he feared the townsmen were mocking him for having sex with an animal. He opened fire and hit 20 people, killing at least nine.
This is believed to be one of the first spectacular rampage murders of the 20th century. Over the next 60 years, there was about one or two of these spree killings per decade. Then the frequency of such killings began to shoot upward. There were at least nine of these rampages during the 1980s, according to history Web sites that track such things, including the 1982 case of a police officer in South Korea who massacred 57 people.
In the 1990s, there were at least 11 spectacular spree killings. Over the past decade, by my count, there have been at least 26 rampages. These include Robert Steinhäuser’s murder of 16 people in Germany, Seung-Hui Cho’s murder of 32 at Virginia Tech, Anders Breivik’s shooting spree at a summer camp in Norway in which 69 died, and the killing of 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., last week.
When you investigate the minds of these killers, you find yourself deep in a world of delusion, untreated schizophrenia and ferociously injured pride. George Hennard of Belton, Tex., was angry that women kept rejecting him. He drove his car through the window of a restaurant and began firing, killing 14 women and eight men.
Tim Kretschmer, 17, hoped to become a professional table tennis player but felt that the world didn’t appreciate his abilities, in that or anything else. He returned to the German school where he had graduated the year before, went straight for the top-floor chemistry labs, killed nine teenagers and then another six people during his escape.
It’s probably a mistake to think that we can ever know what “caused” these rampages. But when you read through the assessments that have been done by the F.B.I., the Secret Service and various psychologists, you see certain common motifs.
Many of the killers had an exaggerated sense of their own significance, which, they felt, was not properly recognized by the rest of the world. Many suffered a grievous blow to their self-esteem — a lost job, a divorce or a school failure — and decided to strike back in some showy way.
Many had suffered from severe depression or had attempted suicide. Many lived solitary lives, but most shared their violent fantasies with at least one person before they committed their crimes.
The killers generally felt tense before they acted but at peace and in control during the rampage. Some committed suicide when they were done. But a surprising number just gave up. They’d made the statement they wanted to make and hadn’t thought about what came after.
The crucial point is that the dynamics are internal, not external. These killers are primarily the product of psychological derangements, not sociological ones.
Yet, after every rampage, there are always people who want to use these events to indict whatever they don’t like about society. A few years ago, some writers tried to blame violent video games for a rash of killings. The problem is that rampage murderers tend to be older than regular murderers and they tend not to be heavy video game users. Besides, there’s very little evidence that violent video games lead to real life violence in the first place.
These days, people are trying to use the Aurora killings as a pretext to criticize America’s gun culture or to call for stricter gun control laws. (This doesn’t happen after European or Asian spree killings.) Personally, I’ve supported tighter gun control laws. But it’s not clear that those laws improve public safety. Researchers reviewing the gun control literature for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, were unable to show the laws are effective.
And gun control laws are probably even less germane in these cases. Rampage killers tend to be meticulous planners. If they can’t find an easy way to get a new gun, they’ll surely find a way to get one of the 200 million guns that already exist in this country. Or they’ll use a bomb or find another way.
Looking at guns, looking at video games — that’s starting from the wrong perspective. People who commit spree killings are usually suffering from severe mental disorders. The response, and the way to prevent future episodes, has to start with psychiatry, too.
The best way to prevent killing sprees is with relationships — when one person notices that a relative or neighbor is going off the rails and gets that person treatment before the barbarism takes control. But there also has to be a more aggressive system of treatment options, especially for men in their 20s. The truly disturbed have always been with us, but their outbursts are now taking more malevolent forms.
Well, when you can order up 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the internet it does make it easier… Here’s Mr. Nocera:
In 1982, the president of the University of San Francisco, the Rev. John Lo Schiavo, suspended the university’s basketball team. The school had had a legendary basketball program — the great Bill Russell won two national championships as a player in the 1950s — but it had gotten out of control. Tutors were taking tests for players. Some were taking no-show jobs from boosters. The N.C.A.A. had twice put the university on probation.
By late 1981, as yet another scandal was erupting, Lo Schiavo had had enough. He pulled the plug before the 1982 season. He said he did it because the basketball team didn’t reflect the values of the university. The school’s self-imposed “death penalty” lasted three seasons, and although U.S.F. was never again a basketball power, Lo Schiavo said he never regretted his decision. “We had to make the point,” he said years later, that “we intended to be good citizens.”
Early Monday morning, the day after Pennsylvania State University took down a statue of Joe Paterno that stood outside Beaver Stadium, the N.C.A.A. announced its sanctions against the school. For an organization that is usually as slow as molasses, it moved with astonishing speed; it was scarcely a week after the release of the Freeh report, which outlined in devastating detail the conspiracy at the top of Penn State that enabled Jerry Sandusky’s campaign of sexual abuse. Perhaps it was motivated, as Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, claimed, by the unprecedented nature of the scandal. Or perhaps it was because the organization needed to get this out of the way before the upcoming football season.
I had advocated that the N.C.A.A. impose the death penalty on Penn State, and that didn’t happen. I still think Penn State should stop playing football for awhile — not so much to atone, but to remind its fans and its community that football had become too important at Penn State; that football had, in fact, corrupted Penn State. I wish Rodney Erickson, the Penn State president, were willing to follow Lo Schiavo’s footsteps.
But he’s not going to do that; even now, football remains too important in the Happy Valley. Nor, of course, did the N.C.A.A. impose the death penalty — Emmert claims it was, in part, because innocent bystanders would be hurt. But that’s a silly excuse; its sanctions invariably hurt players and others who have done nothing wrong. That is the nature of the beast.
Having said that, the sanctions were tougher than I thought they would be: a $60 million fine, a big reduction in athletic scholarships, a four-year postseason ban, a Soviet-style eradication of all victories since 1998, and more. Penn State players will be allowed to transfer to other schools without having to sit out a year. (Why every player at every school isn’t granted that basic right is a question for another day.)
On the one hand, the sanctions point to the degree to which the N.C.A.A. views college sports through the prism of money. The fine, Emmert said, was about equal to the annual revenue of the Penn State football team. The decision not to suspend football was, in part, a business decision — which only makes sense since college football is very big business. In effect, a moral transgression was being punished with economic sanctions. On the other hand, the sanctions ensure that Penn State will be awful for the foreseeable future. Its fans will have to find other things to do instead of investing their collective identity in Penn State football. That will be a useful discipline.
What was most galling about Emmert’s news conference was its sanctimony. He kept talking about the “values” that athletics was supposed to embody, about how college sports is supposed to be an integral part of academic life, and how it should never overwhelm the mission of the university. “Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” he said.
But at big-time sports schools, football is always placed ahead of everything else. The essential hypocrisy of college sports is that too many athletes are not real students — and no one cares. Coaches make millions and lose their jobs if they fail to win. Universities reap millions by filling stadiums and making attractive television deals. They serve as the minor leagues for the pros. Everybody knows this — including the N.C.A.A. The notion that the Penn State case is going to change all of college sports is absurd. College football almost can’t help but corrode academic values. Nothing that happened on Monday is going to change any of that.
Except, perhaps, at Penn State itself. Without question, the school has been shaken to its core by this scandal. It used to pretend it was better than other football programs. It can’t anymore. The combination of the scandal and the sanctions create, at least, the possibility that a school that once placed football above everything else may finally learn perspective.
Last but not least is Mr. Bruni:
What I find most fascinating about Michele Bachmann — and there are many, many more where she came from — is that she presents herself as a godly woman, humbly devoted to her Christian faith. I’d like to meet that god, and I’d like to understand that Christianity.
Does it call for smearing people on the basis of flimsy conspiracy theories? That’s what Bachmann just did to Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by essentially suggesting she might be a mole for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Does it endorse scaring young women away from immunizations that could spare them serious illness? Bachmann did that during her memorable presidential campaign, when she blithely drew an unsubstantiated link between a vaccine for the human papillomavirus and mental retardation.
Does it encourage gratuitously divisive condemnations of Barack Obama as “anti-American,” one of many incendiary phrases in her attacks against him in 2008? And does it compel a war against homosexuality waged with the language and illogic she uses?
She has said that gay men and lesbians are dysfunctional products of abuse and agents of “sexual anarchy,” and when the singer and songwriter Melissa Etheridge was battling breast cancer years ago, Bachmann helpfully chimed in: “This may be an opportunity for her now to be open to some spiritual things, now that she is suffering with that physical disease. She is a lesbian.”
Bachmann’s concept of Christian love brims with hate, and she has a deep satchel of stones to throw. From what kind of messiah did she learn that?
Over recent days she has drawn attention for the letter that she and four other Republican lawmakers sent to federal intelligence and security agencies last month. It expressed fears that the Muslim Brotherhood might be infiltrating the government, and it mentioned Abedin. She’s Muslim, after all.
My aim here isn’t to re-litigate Bachmann’s crimes against reason and decency, all widely documented.
It’s to wonder why we accept her descriptions of herself, and in turn describe her, as a deeply religious woman. That grants too much credence to her particular, peculiar and highly selective definition of piety. And it offends the many admirable people of faith whose understanding and practice of religion aren’t, like hers, confrontational and small-minded.
Bachmann is an evangelical, and has spoken rhapsodically about the experience of being born again. After that moment, she said, “I absolutely understood sin, and I wanted no part of it.” She plunged into politics nonetheless.
We routinely place her in the “religious right,” a phrase that frustrates me, tidily linking a certain set of political beliefs with profound devotion. We talk much less frequently of any “religious left,” and that disparity implies that a seriously faithful person is most likely to land on just one end of the political spectrum.
Tell that to the Nuns on the Bus, who rolled across the country last month focusing on social welfare and expressing alarm about the impact that cuts in federal spending might have on struggling Americans. Their politics line up more neatly with liberal than conservative policies, but the nuns reflect a Catholicism no less true or widespread than that of the bishops carrying on about gay marriage and birth control.
Speaking of gay marriage, both the Reform and Conservative branches of Judaism in this country have embraced it, and the Episcopal Church in the United States has developed a special blessing for same-sex couples. Leaders of these denominations would tell you not that they’re flouting Judeo-Christian tradition but that they’re doing full justice to their faiths, which hinge on more than reflexive fidelity to chosen passages from ancient writings. They hinge on the human intellect and its ability to filter timeless values through modern understanding.
Because he’s a social liberal, Cory Booker, the Newark mayor, is seldom mentioned in terms of religion, but it turns out that he’s made a study of the Bible, as well as other sacred texts, and given considerable thought to faith. On his Facebook page a few months ago, he mused thusly:
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people. Before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all His children.”
I know many progressive, big-hearted Christians who rise to that challenge, and it’s wrong for a single Christian label — without asterisk or annotation — to be attached both to them and to the likes of Bachmann.
So maybe it’s time for annotations. Most of us distinguish, rightly, between Muslim extremists and other followers of Islam. Perhaps we should start noting the difference between Christians of real compassion and those of exclusionary spite.
Bachmann’s on to something: dangerous fundamentalists have indeed set up camp deep inside the capital. She can find one in her office. She need only look in the mirror.