What’s really causing mass shootings?

Every time America experiences a mass shooting the exact same scenario plays out. Everyone freaks out (for a day) and tweets about their thoughts and prayers. Politicians on the left rush to the nearest camera and clamor on about the need for stricter gun regulations, because now is their time. Politicians on the right bemoan the left for being opportunistic and taking advantage of a tragic situation. Pundits have a scripted back and forth on television, largely plagiarized from what they said after the last mass shooting. And then what happens? Nothing. We forget. We move on. It becomes yesterday’s news, overshadowed by whatever it is Donald Trump tweeted about this morning. Everyone feels satisfied they’ve said their piece, and then we wait for next time to do it all over again.

At no point in this scenario does anyone seem to bring up why these mass shootings happen. It’s not the gun. Guns might well make it easier, or maximize the damage one can do (and perhaps certain, common sense regulations should be instituted to limit that), but the gun is not the why. The gun did not go to Eric Harris of the Columbine shooting and say, “Hey man, I really think we should go shoot up some kids today.” And then Eric was like, “Yeah Gun, let’s do it.” No. That doesn’t happen. Guns are simply a tool, but they do not answer why someone would want to inflict such pain and suffering on anyone in the first place.

Fortunately (if that is the proper word to use here) these people–these mass shooters, these monsters–often leave behind a note or journal of some kind. They let us know precisely why it was that they acted. And I have to be honest, it is hard to fault their logic. Here is what Eric Harris wrote before Columbine:

“The human race isn’t worth fighting for, only worth killing. Give the Earth back to the animals. They deserve it infinitely more than we do. Nothing means anything anymore.”

“If you recall your history, the Nazis came up with a “final solution” to the Jewish problem…Kill them all. Well, incase you haven’t figured it out, I say ‘KILL MANKIND.’ No one should survive.”

As horrible as it might seem, and as difficult as it might be to acknowledge, what these kids are getting at is an existential truth of humankind. They are touching on the same themes that Nietzche and Tolstoy put forth. As Tolstoy once wrote:

“Only unusually strong and logically consistent people act in this manner. Having realized all the stupidity of the joke that is being played on us and seeing that the blessings of the dead are greater than those of the living and that it is better not to exist, they act and put an end to this stupid joke; and they use any means of doing it: a rope around the neck, water, a knife in the heart, a train.”

What Tolstoy is saying here, clearly, is that the only logically consistent thing to do in the face of the continual suffering life presents to all of us is to commit suicide. Death is the only permanent solution to suffering.

This is the same kind of philosophy guiding most of the murderous mass shooters. They’ve come to view the world in such nihilistic terms, seeing it only for its immense darkness, only for the hell that they and everyone has to endure. And can we really blame them? Turn on the news. The world is a miserable place. It takes a lot for most people just to make it to the next day, hating their jobs, their spouses, maybe even their kids. And this isn’t event to mention the true atrocities that happen all over the world—children dying from malnutrition, their skin sucked between their ribs; people fleeing tyrannical madmen only to be bombed into oblivion; rogue regimes starving their people of even the smallest pleasures.

The world is a dark place. Humans, throughout history, have done terrible and unspeakable things, and continue to do so. Can we really blame a poor kid for coming to the conclusion that perhaps the world would be better off without humanity—that humanity itself might benefit by walking “hand in hand into extinction”.

I say none of this to absolve any of the atrocities committed by those who would seek to end the lives of innocents, as mass murderers do. What they’ve done is beyond redemption, and they ought to be punished accordingly (though naturally they tend to take their own life). What I am saying, however, is that if we truly wish to limit these mass shootings, and not simply have an insane, cyclical debate about guns, we ought to try and understand why someone would do something like this, and then address the root cause.

How do you convince someone that the world isn’t such a dark place and that humanity deserves to go on despite our abominable failings? I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know how you convince someone that there may be hope for us yet, that we and the world may not be beyond redemption. I don’t know. But it’s something we all ought to start thinking about before this happens again.

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