I’m of the generation that started off in one world and then crossed into the next during my formative years.

While those before me barely understood how to use a typewriter, I spent much of my childhood building computers and typing at a rate that would put most secretaries to shame.

My generation was the first to start off talking on a phone with a 6-foot long spiral cord, and then carry around high-powered computers in our pockets as we entered adulthood.

As soon as we entered kindergarten or first grade–since, back then, kindergarten wasn’t required–our teachers did a little bit of math on their abacuses and realized that when we graduated high school, it would be the year 2000.  I know you think I’m kidding about the abacuses, but when I started school, that’s actually what we did math on.

Graduating high school in that seminal year somehow carried a lot of weight.

It wasn’t just a number; it meant that humanity was getting a sort of “new start”, in the minds of a lot of people.  Therefore, it was generally instilled in us from an early age that it was up to us and those born at a similar time to change the world drastically and, essentially, fix all the epic screw-ups of our parents, grandparents, and every previous generation.

The funny thing is, while we were starting to learn the world and contemplate how we might change it when we finally got all grown up, it actually did change into something that nobody before our generation could have fully expected or adapted to.

Just about every piece of academic information suddenly became free.  Yes, I know that if you want to really drill into a topic, you still have to take a free online course from an actual university; but essentially, it became the new big thing that, if you didn’t know something, you could type it into Yahoo, Excite, Altavista, and later, Google, and then…you knew it.

This was really cool, and our parents, teachers, and, once we got all grown up, our bosses thought that this was the best thing ever…until they actually got a taste of what it was like to be around someone who knew more than they did.

Not long into my adult-ness I got hired on as a Computer Assisted Drafter at a door company.  This wasn’t because I’d ever done drafting of any kind before, and certainly not because I knew a thing about wood-working, beyond a few projects in elementary school; but the boss had realized that the digital age–whatever that meant–had arrived, and all the famous ink-and-paper magazines said that it was going to make her rich if she embraced it.  Therefore, she eagerly hired the first freshly minted grown-up who knew a particularly great amount about computers to do all the computer-thingies that she and her other employees didn’t really understand.

My first task was to start learning the drafting program, and my second task was to remove the plethora of viruses and other malware from all the computers on the network so that the program would actually run.  That was cool, and dollar signs began to flash before my boss’s eyes.

My next task was to actually start drafting.  This was easy enough: plug in the numbers, draw the lines, and print it out on a really big piece of paper so the guys in the shop could build it.  Except that the head of the woodworking department, who was over me, didn’t trust anything that wasn’t written in graphite.  Therefore, my final task before I could be happily away in my new career was to learn how to teach a person born in the ignorant world of pencils and paper that computers could do things better.  We were running Windows Millennium Edition, so this wasn’t an easy task.  Ultimately, though, despite all the difficulties this entailed, the company failed for the most venerable and inane of reasons: the boss liked to play fast and loose with the books, and apparently “going digital” didn’t make that any more legal.

From this, it quickly became apparent that simply knowing how to do one’s job wasn’t enough to be successful at making money.  One first had to figure out how to deal with the obtuseness of human nature.

Funny thing: in all of our classes on learning “the theory of how to do everything”, not one class was taught on how to actually get along in society.  Stuff like “how to talk to your boss without making him mad” and “what a checkbook is for, and how to make the numbers be nice to you” just weren’t considered important.  Thusly, Millennials, for all our unique insights into what technology does and doesn’t change, and despite being the foremost experts in turning an ignorant world into a knowledgeable one, it’s become a famous fact that, as a group, we simply can’t hold down jobs to save our lives.  People are just too stupid to know when they’re being stupid, and being as how (according to everyone more than 10 years older than us) we were supposed to teach the world how to drastically change for the better, we’ve largely done what any brilliantly unwise person would do and tried to actually teach people how to stop being stupid.

Wikipedia has the following to say about the Millennial generation:

Millennials [were predicted to] become more like the “civic-minded” G.I. Generation with a strong sense of community both local and global…[Some attribute] Millennials with the traits of confidence and tolerance, but also a sense of entitlement and narcissism…Millennials in adulthood are detached from institutions and networked with friends…Millennials are somewhat more upbeat than older adults about America’s future, with 49% of Millennials saying the country’s best years are ahead though they’re the first in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt and unemployment…Some employers are concerned that Millennials have too great expectations from the workplace.  Some studies predict that Millennials will switch jobs frequently, holding many more jobs than Gen Xers due to their great expectations…[Some describe] Millennials’ approach to social change as “pragmatic idealism,” a deep desire to make the world a better place combined with an understanding that doing so requires building new institutions while working inside and outside existing institutions.

That last part is a real pain in the butt.  As children and young adults, we were stuck playing the game of, “Yes, teacher/parent/employer, you are older and therefore much wiser than I am.  Sure, I’ll teach you how to open your word processor…again.”  Being the lowest person on the social totem pole because of your age, and having the best insights about how to actually get stuff done in this strange new world is a really fast path toward unemployment, unless you learn to (A) forget that you know what you’re doing, and become satisfied with doing everything the stupid way–at least until your so-called superiors retire, die, or stop telling you how to do things–or (B) try to be your own boss…just like every other unemployed person.  So, “changing the world”, apparently, must first start from a position of not doing anything to change the world, or being jobless.

About that.  Changing the world, I mean.  Sitting on the fence between the world of mostly-unwilling ignorance and the world of willful ignorance means that pretty much every modern “social change” movement not created and run by Millennials looks a lot like a pipe dream created by those who grew up with a search engine good enough to avoid ever having to look at anything they don’t want to.  While the older generation could, in most cases, rightfully claim to be doing the best they knew how, based on the information they were given, the generation after us sounds a little tinny when they say that “something is a basic human right” because they read it on  How do these people who started life with the best access to information that the world has ever seen still not realize that the kinds of supposedly radical changes they’re totally bent on bringing about have either failed or caused total economic, social, political, and governmental meltdowns every time they succeeded?

Sure, it must be a good idea to let Russia keep pushing west, through Ukraine, in spite of the treaty they signed at the end of the Cold War.  Maybe if we shake our fingers at them hard enough, they’ll march back to their own territory like Germany did in 1939.

The truly galling thing about this, though, isn’t the naivety of post-Millennial 20-somethings, but how the previous generation seems to have decided that if something shows up on the Internet when they type “social justice in Crimea” into Google, it must be absolute truth.  Did they totally forget about voting for education reforms that involved teaching HTML code to high school kids who showed any particular aptitude in computing?  It would take me under an hour to create a not-too-shabby-looking web page saying that cheeseburgers cause cancer because cows are naturally-occurring GMOs.  But I won’t bother to do that, because it’s already been done, and a lot of people already believe that cheeseburgers cause cancer because…”GMOs!!!!”…to a sufficient degree that they’re willing to start a protest in front of Burger King.  They might even bring their very-skinny-but-still-cute-enough-to-post-pictures-on-Pinterest vegan cats with them.

To put all this another way, Millennials who really absorbed and believed what they were taught in school tend not to start “blooming” until they’re in their thirties, if ever.

Wikipedia also notes that some sociologists refer to us as the “Peter Pan Generation”, and as horrible as it might seem to be called that, I can’t help but agree with this assessment.  How does a person learn how life works before the dawn of the Information Age, then learn how to be the fore-runners of that age, then learn how to avoid pissing people off by being too good at it, and then finally learn how to have a career (read: wait for the older generations to die or retire) without taking a long time doing it?  If we’re lucky, we’ll have started our careers by age 35, and not hate ourselves for the dead end careers we picked back before all the careers that were profitable and fun switched with all the careers that didn’t used to be.  Some of us are bloody lucky to land a “career” at a fast food restaurant by virtue of having a bachelor’s degree.  And our parents’ generation is all up in arms because we complain about having $50,000 of student debt and want the minimum wage to be raised.

Well, except for those Millennials who, against everyone’s wishes, didn’t attend or finish college.

Sure, there are a lot of people my age who managed to buy degrees that will eventually pay themselves off.  However, most of the people I know who were born around 1982 did what all the adults told them to and ended up with little more than very expensive pieces of paper and a few years wasted in college housing.

One the upside, additional time spent learning things means that, to an even greater degree, those who spent at least a little time studying the “cutting edge” in such institutions know more about this “brave, new world” than people who didn’t attend college, at all.  On the down side, we’re once again stuck trying to convince people older than us that we do, in fact, know some better ways in which to do things, that are different from how they’ve always been done, without getting into trouble for saying so.

It’s worth noting, however, that there is a very sizeable contingent of Millennials who have figured out how to “live the American Dream.”  Overwhelmingly, these are the people who were uninterested in, or just too stupid to understand all that new-fangled computer stuff, back in high school.  Sorry, but those Millennials who were good at these things know exactly who and what I’m talking about.  They did as their parents and grandparents did, before them, and got jobs doing stuff that wasn’t, in any way, going to change the world.  Some examples include accounting, vehicle repair, construction work, bartending, marketing, and anything involving keeping your head down in a bureaucracy.  Perhaps the rest of us realized too late that anything that has generated tax revenue consistently for a few thousand years will, by extension of a famous proverb, result in job security–even if it’s the sort of thing that only a trained monkey could totally avoid feeling suicidal about.  Surprisingly, most people who actually got into computers when Forbes was predicting that people who got into computers would get rich, currently do computer repair or technical support for close to minimum wage.  After all, how much are people really willing to spend to keep a computer running when they can get a cheap-and-crappy new one for around $300?

I’ve never met a business owner who wasn’t willing to save a penny, now at the cost of a dollar, later.  Computers are like that, and contrary to what one might expect, business owners are willing to pay more than most to keep theirs running.  That should put things nicely into perspective.

This has been a rather long rant, and what I really mean to say by all of it is that people of other generations gripe way too much about people of my generation not “hitting the ground running”, “grabbing life with both hands”, “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps”, and all that jazz.  The fact is, we did all that, and it turned out that both the ground and life were covered in grease.  A lot of us fell flat on our faces with suddenly-ending careers, nervous breakdowns and other mental health catastrophes, stock market crashes, unrealistic expectations instilled in us from an early age, and so on.  That we’re at all willing to try–yet again–to get back on our feet in spite of how painful and discouraging our early adulthood was, is a sign of just how great this generation really is.

And we are going to change the world, damn it.


The World’s Wrongs Aren’t As Wrong As You Think They Are


I just saw something about “things we didn’t know were made with sweat shop labor”.  It’s sardonically funny because it’s utterly obvious to anyone who knows how humanity has worked for all of our history.  Realistically, the only way to have everything we want without doing this kind of labor, ourselves, and without having other people do it, is to have robots do it all–which would mean mass unemployment, especially for those who are already poor.  (No, “fair trade” with foreign entities isn’t feasible in most cases, because it’s ultimately impossible to enforce where those collecting your money spend it–whether on their workers or on themselves.  Or, we could enforce it, but that would require sending soldiers into a sovereign nation and killing people who resist.  Embargoes against countries who refuse to participate in fair trade tend to result in economic collapse and death by crime, warfare, and poverty for people in those countries.)  The short explanation of why things are done this way is because, like everything else our society does, it’s the method we’ve found that “works” with minimal problems.  It’s not necessarily good, but it’s better than everything else we’ve tried, so far; therefore, any truly helpful suggestion for change is going to have to involve a more complete solution than, “let’s just pay more for stuff, and shame those who don’t or can’t do that!”

These items include:
-Food (Cheap labor is required to grow it plentifully.  In almost all countries, farmers are the poorest of the poor.  Here, farmers aren’t poor, but farm workers still are–which is an improvement from the global norm, if we’re being honest about it.)
-Clothing (Textile workers have pretty much always had it rough.  Working with fibers can mess up your body if you do it enough.  A lot of people I know struggle to buy clothes at the current price.  Multiply that price that by 500-1000%, and a lot more folks will start freezing to death in the winter.)
-Drugs of all kinds (Which come from crops…therefore use cheap farm labor.)
-Plastic objects of all kinds (If we want them to be plentiful, and therefore affordable, that requires cheap labor, and a huge supply of petroleum.)

This article sucks:

Yes this is messed-up…but I don’t think anyone reading this has ever gone a day in their lives without benefiting from these abuses.  In fact, the computer or mobile device you’re using right now–regardless of brand–was made using these practices, unless you paid about 10x what every other comparable model costs.  (I know this because I’ve been building computers since I was a little kid and have a pretty good idea of where the parts come from, and what they would cost if we made them using better practices.  All the local computer stores pay minimum wage to build computers, and would pay less if they could get away with it.  The reason you can get a computer or smart phone for under $1,000 is because the parts were made in sweat shops and assembled by underpaid techies.)  Worse, the people who like to share such statistics about “sweat shop labor” are usually the same people who support organic farming, which pits food shortages against human rights abuses and outright lies (for marketing to sensitive shoppers), when you get right down to how it works.

The local political party/advocacy group/guilt factory where I live, the Chico Peace and Justice Center, is all about making people feel bad about <insert verb here>, while providing only the most superficial and infeasible alternatives.  I’m sorry, but I wish that people would pay more attention to figuring out why people do what they do, under the assumption that nobody is “born evil”, rather than going around condemning people for doing whatever they can to deal with life as well as they can manage.  All the injustices in the world exist because they help meet somebody’s needs, or have done so in the past (and no better solution has become readily available); therefore, any meaningful solution requires us to put ourselves in the “perpetrator’s” shoes and figure out why they need to do what they do in order to be OK with life.  Yes, this includes actual villains like S. Hussein and A. Hitler, even though what they did was obviously unacceptable.  They both had very human reasons, though, and if you really dig around in their history, you’ll see that they were just trying to meet their personal needs, and sometimes those of the people around them.  Did they both deserve what they got, in the end?  Yeah, I think so.  Would you have acted in a similar fashion, given the same upbringing and life experiences?  That’s a harder question to answer, and I hope that one would hesitate to do so blithely.  I think that if our local (or not-so-local) activists were to seriously consider why these unfair practices exist, they would have a lot less anger, and not feel as much like they need to look down their noses at us “plebeians”, for one silly reason or another, no matter how <insert political leaning here> either person or party might be.


The Parable of the Circular Track

Imagine that life is lived upon a circular track.  It’s not a race, of course, but rather, an event wherein every participant uses this opportunity to better themselves.  Here, we seek to become more physically and mentally fit.  We seek to improve our running, jogging, and walking techniques, and to learn proper pacing.  The more we learn, and the harder we work at it, the faster and more steadily we are able to proceed around the track.  Eventually, we decide we’ve had enough, and walk off, hopefully better than we were when we stepped on.

There’s a huge throng of people on this track–everyone who’s alive right now.  It’s crowded, and we often bump into each other, sometimes becoming annoyed or aggravated.  Still, we do our best to see what’s ahead, and to respect and travel peaceably with those around us.  Some people on the track have gotten into better shape than others.  Some have learned pacing better than others.  The most sought-after teachers are those who have learned how to better themselves and those around them at a great rate.

The Runner In Front

About 50 feet ahead of you is a runner who’s moving a bit faster than you are.  He appears to be confident and in decent shape.  Naturally, you assume that this person would be good to learn from, so you shout ahead, “Please share your understanding with me, so I can go faster, too!”

The runner glances back, and, seeing that you’re moving slower than he is, begins to tell you everything he’s learned, since–obviously–he must have some insights that you haven’t gathered, yet.

The Runner Behind

About 50 feet behind you is a runner who’s moving at about the same pace as you.  She’s in decent shape, but seems to have little or no interest in going faster.  Consequently, you shout back to her, “Let me show you how you can go faster!”

Assuming that, because you’re in front, you must be more skilled than her, she accepts your offer and tentatively begins trying to emulate you.

Teacher vs. Student

The reality is, however, that the person in front of you is actually almost an entire track-length behind you; and the person behind you is almost an entire track length ahead of you!

The person in front has no grasp of pacing, and keeps urging you to run faster; and the only reason you can see him is because he keeps trying to run faster than he has strength, and has repeatedly fallen down due to exhaustion.  At the moment you see him, he’s desperately trying to catch up, again, still confident that if he only runs fast enough, he’ll be able to re-join his friends.

The person behind you has no immediate interest in running faster because she’s found her rhythm: by running just a hair’s breadth faster than you are–imperceptible to the untrained eye–she’s able to consistently out-pace everybody else on the track.  She doesn’t care who’s going faster or slower, but is still keenly interested in improving herself, and is willing to take advice from anyone who gives it, in hopes of learning something new.

So, whose lesson do you really want to learn?  Chances are, you can learn valuable lessons from both people, but you’ll only be able to run alongside one of them for any noteworthy distance, before the other vanishes from sight.

The Lesson This Track Teaches

Sometimes, we latch onto the teachings of those who appear to be more wise than we are, because we desperately want to speed ahead and improve ourselves as fast as we possibly can.  In doing so, we primarily rely upon our perceptions of social currency, and trust that whomever has the most (according to what we presently value) must be the person(s) most fit to teach us.  We look to gurus, priests, PhDs, celebrities, popular friends, and others, and do everything in our power to emulate them.  Simultaneously, we dismiss or seek to teach–but not learn from–those who, by our current standards of perceived social currency, seem to have nothing to teach us.  Only after we’ve spent years, or even a lifetime following those who are more clueless than we are, do we sometimes come to realize that we’ve been valuing the wrong things.

So, here’s the lesson:

Sometimes, the person who’s the least attractive to our current sensibilities is the person most fit to teach us the things we desperately want or need to know.

Government is Broken Because People are Broken–So How Do We Fix It?

This is a reply to a discussion on Facebook.  For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to copy/paste the post that started the discussion, then my reply, below.  The discussion “ran the gamut” through partisan politics, the need to regulate businesses, the problems with regulating business, corruption in government, etc.  My response, below, is after many, MANY other comments, but I hope you’ll get the “jist” of the discussion from what I’m putting in this blog post.  I encourage people to continue the discussion in the comments section!

Original Post (Erin W.)
May 14th, 2013
if there ever were a week to start leaning libertarian, this would be it….. 🙂 i invite people on both sides of the isles to consider the possibility that BOTH sides are corrupt. this is not so we can become more cynical, it’s so we can learn to hold our OWN favorite politicans just as accountable as we hold the ones we didn’t vote for.nothing really changes unless republicans start caring more about corruption in their OWN party than in the other, and democrats start caring more about corruption in their OWN party than in the other. democrats will never eradicate corruption in the republican party and republicans will never eradicate corruption in the republican party. change only comes when we start with ourselves. that is what it means to be the change.

to republicans i plead- look into the crimes you see happening now. now look back at previous administrations and recognize with humility the SAME THINGS HAPPENING. to democrats i plead- look into the crimes you saw happening in previous administrations. now look at the current administration and recognize with humility the SAME THINGS HAPPENING.

few of us want to believe it. we are much more comfortable with the soothing idea that our side is wonderful and the other side is corrupt. we rationalize and justify with great effort to avoid challenging our easy way of looking at things. our desire to be right is often so much more powerful than our desire to see what’s really going on.

we cannot begin to heal our nation until we can recognize this.

i don’t know how to help in this process. i wish i knew. i suppose i can start with me. i can do my best to be the change.

My Response

The fact is, neither conservatives, liberals, business, nor government merit more trust than the others.  They’re all just “people.”  What happens when you give a person authority over another person?  Most people will immediately begin to exercise it unrighteously.  I’ve worked for enough small businesses to see that one doesn’t have to be more than a low-level assistant manager at a “po-dunk” shack-of-a-business to start exercising unrighteous dominion over everyone whose current position is lesser than one’s own.

So, the real question is, how do we manage the human tendency to behave thus?

Clearly elections don’t work; we just end up with “leaders” who are good at playing to the public sensibilities.  This is a “macrocosm” of high school student government fiascos–and basically the same sorts of people get elected.  The only main difference is how sophisticated their deceptions are, and how many people they’ve duped into helping them do it.  Sure, they don’t promise “free Cheetos for everyone,” but they do dangle silly, unreasonable incentives that their given parties are favoring at the moment.  “Immediately deport all illegal immigrants!”  “Cut all emissions in half by 2020!”  What the claims are really doesn’t matter; they’re designed to get votes and place those running in positions of power and comfort.  Think your party/candidate is different?  You probably just haven’t really dug into the implications of its/his/her promises, yet.  (Note: you may need a doctorate degree in a particular field to do so meaningfully.)  So, let’s look at other ways of dealing with this problem of humans needing leadership, but nearly every human being someone who should NOT lead other humans.

I’d almost further the idea of a simple “lottery” to elect people to office.  This would weed out those actively seeking power (since those people are almost always the ones who SHOULD NOT have power), and ensure an even demographic of rich/poor/black/white/Ivy Leage/community college, etc.–and thus ensure fair representation in the same way that random sampling ensures representative/valid statistical outcomes.  Sadly, not everyone is actually decent at leadership or smart–or especially WISE–enough to get things done sensibly.  (Note: education does not equal competence!  Most of our greatest, most renowned thinkers dropped out of school and got any degrees they had “meritoriously,” after having done something worthwhile that they weren’t formally educated in.)  So, from this, we’d end up with, essentially, a farm run by the farm animals.  This might sound egalitarian and all that, but in reality, most people just aren’t cut out for the kinds of responsibilities that are required of those who lead a nation (or even a small city, or even a Best Buy).  I wrote an essay on the topic of why not all people should be taught to be “leaders”, in case you’re interested: “What it Means to Be Yourself—and Why You Should Buck Current Trends in Education”.

So, if elections guarantee that we get power-hungry, corrupt, and usually feckless leaders, and random sampling guarantees that MOST of our leaders will be feckless, unqualified (i.e. lacking the necessary skills and talents), and spineless (since they’re inexperienced at commanding people)–and still corrupt, in the end; then what is a good system of government?

Let’s look at a benevolent dictatorship!  Monarchy is basically the same thing as a benevolent dictatorship, but is couched in more pretense of “propriety.”  Despite our cultural preferences, this is much more sane than any other option–so long as the dictator is extremely benevolent, extremely wise, extremely ethical, and extremely intelligent.  Some such people exist and history has record of them!  Sadly, their successors are almost always the opposite.  For a Biblical example, look at Solomon versus his son, Rehoboam.  The latter was so feckless, entitled, greedy, power-hungry, and unwise that he raised taxes to the point of dividing the kingdom of Israel into two pieces (which later shattered into countless more pieces)–and they’ve been at war (under various names) ever since.  For a contemporary example (a little less stark, but good enough for my purposes), look at Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, who freed Brazil’s under class, only to be succeeded by a long chain of military despots who reversed all the good he’d done (and then some).  (See my poem, “The Cowardly Artist,” for a reference to him and his successors.)

Oligarchy doesn’t work because it has all the same flaws as Representative Democracy–albeit trending toward more competency and less “deadlock” among legislators–but has even more tendency toward corruption than our current form of government, by way of having more obvious, more vulnerable, “points of attack” for would-be bribers to exploit, and less accountability, since there are fewer people of equal position to “check and balance” them.

Pure direct democracy is much like the “circus” of random selection, but adds a huge layer of complexity to getting anything done, and would basically guarantee our destruction the first time we get attacked by another nation (militarily), by way of not having a clear, fast, and efficient power structure.  Also, who’s going to tally the votes?  There’s your “quota of corruption!”  I tend to like a lot of things about adding elements of direct democracy to other forms of government, but doing it as a pure, direct democracy is fatal.

So, how would you handle this?

Should we place our trust in those who “know better” and trust that they actually do, and won’t take advantage of us?  How would you ensure it’s so?

Should we trust the under-qualified masses to somehow figure it out?  How do we mitigate the risks?

Do we combine several forms of government, much as the Founding Fathers did–only different?  How do we avoid their mistakes without creating even more serious ones?

Should the people really be allowed to run things?  If so, what do we do when the people make bad choices?  Do we let them do it, anyway, hoping that the mistakes aren’t fatal, and that we’ll all eventually learn from them?  If we don’t allow it, then we don’t really have democracy, now, do we?(!)  How do we ensure that we do learn from them in a timely fashion, rather than simply passing around (often-pointless) blame and fear, as we do now?  Are we, as a society, anywhere near mature enough for this level of responsibility?  If not, who is, and how do we find them?

Personally, I currently favor somehow putting reasonable, minimal, safeties in place, but letting the public make all the mistakes they want until we finally “grow up” and stop being rash, easy to bribe (with “cookies” from our leaders, as above), overly-emotional (i.e. avoiding near-solutions because of the problems their flaws created–rather than seeking to perfect them), etc.  Honestly, though, this solution also scares me because I don’t believe we’re ready for it–and that the only way to become ready for it is to simply do it.  This will almost certainly result in a dysfunctional society for a decade or more (or just a few years if we’re really quick on the uptake), and people are likely to die of starvation, in riots, and in plenty other “creative” ways.  It will leave scars–but will we let them cripple us or teach us?  I just don’t know how people would react…

Please share your thoughts, below.


Update 6-25-13: Erin W. pointed out a parallel to the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, which I find quite apt.  For those not familiar with it, here’s a link:

Do you think this closely related or a stretch?

Why WOULDN’T there be another shooting? Lessons not yet learned…

This essay hasn’t received my usual amount of “polish,” so please have mercy on the grammar, punctuation, works-cited, etc.  Here it is:


I recently read a portion of “Animals in Translation” by Temple Grandin, a renowned animal science expert.  One case she mentioned was that of a large-scale problem of roosters who were somehow predisposed to murder chickens while attempting to mate with them.  The farmers had grown used to this, but to an outsider, it came as a shock.  “Why would you ever think this is ‘normal,'” was the key question (paraphrased) from Grandin to the farmers.  Nature would NEVER produce roosters like this–but humans did.

So, let me rephrase this in terms of school shootings and other acts of unexpected-yet-horrible violence in developed nations, committed by people whom we’d never expect capable of such things.  Clearly, this is a trend.  It’s been going on since at least the 1990s.  When I was in high school, some of us found the causes of the Columbine shooting so obvious that we painted shirts with bulls-eyes and the date of that then-recent shooting–which we wore to school the next day (except for those of us who got caught by our parents).  Our rebuttal to the media frenzy–that has never changed its tenor since–was, “what made anyone think that this wasn’t going to happen somewhere, at some point?”  My further question, nearly 15 years later, is, “why are we still scratching our heads when a heart-to-heart with many of our local high school students would tell us the reasons?”

Let’s look at the “profile” of those who have, so far, committed these acts.  Common threads include:

1) Being socially ostracized or otherwise isolated–whether via having unusual apparel, being exceptionally quiet, etc.

2) Exceptionally-high intellect.  If you take those people described in #1 and weed out anyone whose IQ is less than, say, 130, you’ll have a much more specific–and accurate–demographic.

3) Under-appreciated.  These kids (and some adults) have been of the kind who are marginalized in society–economically, socially, etc.  They’re much too unique (in terms of personality and such) and too smart to find a place amongst normal folks.  They’ve struggled to somehow “make it work,” anyway, so instead of becoming the leaders of the local academic scene, they’ve become the American equivalent of “pariahs.”

4) Many have had bad home lives–but not all.  Broken families seem to be a common theme, but since about 1/2 of all families in the USA are now “broken,” this isn’t much to go on.  More aptly, one might say that they don’t find relief from the pains of school and/or work by coming home.  Thus, their internal “pressure tanks” have had a dearth of opportunities to vent.  Anger, resentment, feelings of being unloved, feelings of being under-appreciated, unwanted, etc. have built-up for years–and probably even decades.

5) Soft-spoken, submissive, or otherwise amiable personalities (at least, outwardly).  These people don’t tend to lash out at others when they’re feeling bad, as most people do.  Sure, they might get snippy once in a while, but most of their acquaintances will remark at their being generally unremarkable.  (The Columbine shooters were remarkable for their dress and some threats they made just before their shooting, but their personalities before that were often described as being “quiet” and “withdrawn.”)  Having no tendency toward “venting,” these people continued to build toward and “explosion.”


If you combine these factors (and perhaps some others that aren’t immediately coming to mind) in sufficient amplitude, you’ll have the “formula” for an explosive outburst of random violence–probably followed by suicide.  Why suicide?  The world has been hateful to these people (intentionally or not), and once they’ve said their piece (i.e. killing some people), they decide that there’s no way they’ll let law enforcement, psychologists/psychiatrists, the public, etc. any more opportunity to make their lives miserable.  Obviously, death is the only “escape route” when seen from this perspective.

So, getting back to my initial point, the problem of school shootings, random bombings (by American nationals), and so on isn’t AT ALL about what weapons such people have at their disposal.  Sure, they’ll use the best weapons they can get–but a chemical or fertilizer bomb is both impossible to prevent the creation of (by someone not on a “watch list” of some kind), and impossible to outlaw (since that would mean outlawing farming and/or cleaning products).  Therefore, there’s only ONE way to stop these random, horrific acts of violence: fix the underlying problems.

Let me ask, then, why so many literal geniuses drop out of school (K12, college, etc.)?  Out of the roughly dozen geniuses I’ve met, very few have ever gotten a chance to “shine” in society.  Those who are able to be gainfully employed at all do so in whatever trade they’ve fallen into–which is almost never something they’d wanted to do.  One works at data entry, cropping newspaper ads to be put online.  Several are disabled with mental illness–doubtlessly brought on by how others have treated them throughout their lives.  A few work in minimum-wage jobs (some of which are in the computer repair industry).  Not many have ever been able to use their vast mental prowess to “make something of themselves,” since our system of labor and schooling is exactly wrong for geniuses to do well with.  So, instead, they become jaded and bitter.

If you want to stop the school shootings, you (that is, all of us in our society) need to find a way to value–to TREASURE–the gifted among us, instead of making their lives a living hell.  Do you have a teenage child?  Ask him or her to introduce you to all the people he/she knows, who are considered “unpopular,” and too smart for their own good.  You might just find yourself a future killer–or, if you’re willing, an opportunity to change such a person’s life for the better, before something terrible happens.  That is, assuming they’re not too jaded to even speak with you by now.

Of course, most gifted kids (like I was) slink off into ignominity and never do anything nasty to anyone–but there are always a few who dream of something more…”poignant.”