Monday, February 15, 2010

Evil. That's the only way I can explain it.

I've been thinking all weekend about the shooting at University of Alabama - Hunstville. Friday afternoon, seeing it on the news...then hearing that it was a faculty member denied tenure...then hearing more of the information as it came out.

Lots of people have tried to explain it, tried to come up with reasons. I don't see any "reasons" that would make sense to a reasonable person. I have to conclude - as I did with the guy who was the shooter at Virginia Tech - that this is an individual who chose to give in to an evil impulse, and as a result, ruined their own life and the lives of numerous others.

I don't even want to address the question of mental illness, which some have brought up: I have known people undergoing treatment for various problems, and all of them would be aghast at the thought of doing something like this.

But I do see the same, usual, disturbing trend on some of the commentary sites: trying to find either a political issue to get behind, or even some way of blaming the victims (indirectly, of course, and they'd never actually own up to it and would be ANGRY if you suggested that was what was being done). And it makes me sad.

First of all, of course, is the whole "guns" issue. My understanding is the shooter had a non-permitted handgun. Meaning, I am to assume (I don't know a whole lot about these things) that she got it illegally.

So: what the freak is making the gun laws "stricter" going to help? I doubt, based on what I've read of her background, that she could have gotten a gun legally.

But of course, there are people who claim, "Make guns illegal and this won't happen any more." No, it just means that someone will go to a black-market dealer for their gun. You can't legislate away evil, as much as you'd like to.

The second issue I've seen discussed is the tenure process. Yes, it's stressful. Yes, I suppose it's a lot worse at Research I schools than teaching-oriented schools like the one I'm at. Yes, I suppose at some schools the process is a lot less transparent than it is at mine (where you pretty much know, as you are making your tenure or promotion packet whether you have a decent shot at it or not). Oh, yeah, there are still political stupidities that get in the way - but that's what the appeals process is designed to deal with.

And even at that: if you don't get tenure, that doesn't mean you are unemployable. It may mean you want to get out of academia - I know, had I not got tenure, it would have meant I would have considered long and hard if I wanted to stay in academia, or get an agency job instead, or call up the guy I knew in grad school who ran a consulting firm and see if his offer of a job still stood. There are always other options.

I suppose, actually, that's the big difference between someone who does something horrible and impulsive (actually, it's more common for people failing to get tenure to commit suicide than to do something like this): the ability to say "There are always other options."

I was once asked to leave a position. It's nearly 20 years ago now so it doesn't really hurt any more to think of it. At the time, my main thought was, "I'll just find a job. I'll wait tables, or clerk in a shop. I'll do SOMETHING to earn enough money to live on." Of course, I wound up staying in academia - when I thought it through more I realized that the "being asked to leave" was really probably not evidence that I shouldn't be a biologist, but rather, evidence that I didn't want to be at a large, Research I school - where you were looked down upon if you went home over Christmas break to spend time with your family, rather than staying in the lab or library and working.

Anyway. I'm sure lack of foresight plays a role in these things.

But I've seen other, more disturbing things. The biggest one being that people say "Oh, this is because people in the South treat northerners badly."

Wait, what? You're justifying someone killing three people, wounding others, because MAYBE the town was less friendly to her than it might have been?

Okay, this rankles me. I LIVE in the South. I come from the North. Yes, it was strange and a little uncomfortable at first. I will admit that most of my first year here, I was alternately going, "What have I done?" and sending off applications to schools - even ones without positions open - closer to "home." None of them panned out - and by the time my tenure process rolled around, I had settled in. I mean, I'm still not wild about being 10 hours from my nearest family member, but I would be highly unlikely to leave this post just to become closer.

One thing some of the commentary on websites has revealed to me is that there are still a lot of folks out there with some pretty pervasive prejudices about the South. About how "intolerant" Southerners are, how stupid, how narrow-minded.

The seven-year-old in me wants to retort, "Takes one to know one." Seriously, some of the most smug and closed-minded people (though they never could see that) were from the supposedly liberal and "enlightened" Northeastern cities.

The South is pretty much like everywhere: there are some really wonderful and kind people, there are some people who are basically good but who may have a few blind spots about things, and there are some people you prefer to avoid. But I really haven't seen any more narrow-mindedness here than anywhere else. If anything, people seem more willing to live up to their failings or prejudices rather than trying to explain them away or claim "no, that's not really what I meant..."

But blaming "the South" for this - that's blaming the victim. That's like saying, "well, it's kind of ok she shot those people, you know, because they live in a place full of intolerant jerks."

Incidentally, if you look at the ethnic backgrounds of the victims...not one of them is a "good ol' boy" redneck type.

(And UAH apparently has a very high density of Ph.D.s, which, while that doesn't necessarily indicate open-mindedness, also means that the town is not exactly the inbred backwater some of the commentators want to make it out to be).

I've also seen this being blamed on "bullying." And again, that makes me irritated. Because: if bullying makes a person a killer, then there are an awful lot of us running around who are like powder kegs. I was bullied A LOT in school. (Fortunately, it ended around high school). Yes, bullying sucks. But as an adult, you learn how to deal with it: again, you maybe decide, "If this is how people act to each other, maybe I don't want to be in this particular place" and you find a place where people DON'T bully each other (and, I suspect, bullying in an academic department is the exception rather than the rule. I know there are some pretty non-collegial departments out there, but I've never really truly seen "bullying."). Or you grow a thicker skin. Or you figure out a way to razz back at the bully, if it's verbal can tell people to F off if you have to.

So again, I don't see that as a valid motive. And even if bullying is horrible, it doesn't justify a person being killed. (Their car coated in peanut butter, maybe. Or the toilet seats in the john they use regularly wrapped in Saran wrap.)

Again, the only explanation-of-sorts I see for this: this person was tempted to do something evil. They gave into the temptation. I know that "evil" is an unfashionable word in this day and age, that people like to believe that actions can be explained away in some other means, but I do think in cases like this we have to call evil "evil."

And yes, I have seen the stories hinting at a pattern of past behavior - the brother killed, the possible mail-bomb. Which even more puts me in a mind to say this action can only be explained by "evil" - someone whose conscience didn't develop properly, or who learned to override it.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family of those killed and wounded. And with the entire campus at UAH. I cannot imagine what it would be like going back to work on a Monday after something like that happened.

1 comment:

Heroditus Huxley said...

...and if the university wasn't a "gun-free zone," it's possible someone would have shot her after she took her first shot.

I plan to ignore that particular policy when I go back to campus. I cannot stomach the idea of someone killing my defenseless colleagues and students. I'd rather be fired than permit that to happen.

(After which, I'd just see if the NRA needed a paid speaker--there's no way I'd keep silent if that was why my school fired me.)