"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Monday, April 30, 2007

Why Didn't the Men Do Something?

There's a lot being said recently about various aspects of what went down at Virginia Tech. There's little doubt that when something serious like this happens, people tend to see the situation through their various lenses--seems to me that it's difficult (though not impossible) to have an "unbiased" view of such a tragedy right away; fear and anger run pretty high after something like this. And by the same token, the instincts of a lot of people tell them to jump right into the conversation, to voice some opinion. I think part of the psychological motivation here is a tendency to want to know why--a tendency that is made more powerful when we are afraid and angry.

Given all of this, I've been hesitant to write about it at all: after all, there are so many facts we don't yet know, so much we may never know, it's good to be guarded (I think) against coming to many immediate-yet-definite conclusions.

That said, as a man and a feminist, I feel like a response to certain trains of thought going on around the massacre is in order.

Too Political?
First up, some people are complaining that others are using the massacre to further political points. I would respond to this in the same way that Lindsay from Majikthise does (though I'm sure I wouldn't do it as eloquently):
If people of good will think that they have an apt political point to make, let them make it without assailing them for somehow taking advantage of the tragedy. That goes for both the gun control and the anti-gun control camps.
Current events should shape policy discussions. It's not a question of exploitation. It's a matter of proffering solutions and offering critiques while our increasingly fragmented national attention is focused on an issue.

If Instapundit thinks that the concealed carry ban caused the tragedy, let him say so. I think it's a dumb argument, but I don't see why there should be any kind of inverse statute of limitations for offering it. Yesterday I made fun of some wingnuts for rifling through their personal anxiety closets in public, trying to come to terms with the killings--but I was mocking them for saying stupid and venal things, not for "exploiting" anyone's death. Trying to enforce an arbitrary line between "human" and "political" responses to tragedies is a political strategy in its own right.[emphasis mine]

Why Didn't the Manly Men Step Up?

It's disturbing to me that anybody who hasn't been in some similar situation as the students themselves would have so little empathy so as to sit in judgment of the victims. It's not that I don't think the question "Why didn't anybody rush him?" can't be asked--I just think it ought not be asked in terms of blaming those who didn't rush him. We might ask it in terms of just how people tend to react in these sorts of situations--does the principle of the diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect have anything to do with people's reactions? There are likely lots of factors involved--why not ask questions with these factors in mind, rather than simply asking "why didn't anybody do anything?"

First up, Nathanael Blake of the conservative site humanevents.com thinks the lack of people taking on the gunman shows the men at Virginia Tech are wusses:
College classrooms have scads of young men who are at their physical peak, and none of them seems to have done anything beyond ducking, running, and holding doors shut. Meanwhile, an old man hurled his body at the shooter to save others. Something is clearly wrong with the men in our culture. Among the first rules of manliness are fighting bad guys and protecting others: in a word, courage. And not a one of the healthy young fellows in the classrooms seems to have done that. When Kip Kinkle opened fire in Thurston High School a few years back, he was taken down by students, led by one who was already wounded. Why didn’t that happen here?

Rules of manliness? I think that standing up to bullies is central to what we might call Rules of Humanness, but (to oversimplify), it's the idea that there are so-called Rules of Manliness that got us, in part, into this situation to begin with. What are the rules of manliness? Cho most likely thought the some of the rules of manliness involved killing people with guns. When we pretend that there are hard-and-fast rules that people should "already know" regarding their gender, we're asking for trouble.

And on that note, one interesting wrinkle regarding the example that Blake brings up is that, in that situation, the shooter, Kip Kinkle, made the mistake of shooting the girlfriend of one of the people who eventually did rush him, Jake Ryker, right in front of Ryker:

Then Kinkel, the 15-year-old suspect, turned toward the group and allegedly shot Jake Ryker's girlfriend, Jennifer Alldredge, in the chest and neck. That shocked and enraged Ryker, a well-built, outgoing wrestler. He stood up. The gunman aimed at Ryker, pulled the trigger and sent a round clean through his right lung.

A second later, the suspect's rifle ran out of rounds. The boys heard the click, click, click of the shooter trying to fire with an empty magazine. So Ryker made his move - literally using wrestling moves he had learned on the Thurston team.

It's probably not a good idea to generalize too much in any case from a couple of examples, but it strikes me as interesting that Krinkle got taken down in part because he pissed off somebody's boyfriend.

What's a Man to Do?
Which brings us to John Derbyshire's comment:
As NRO's designated chickenhawk, let me be the one to ask: Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22. At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren't bad. Yes, yes, I know it's easy to say these things: but didn't the heroes of Flight 93 teach us anything? As the cliche goes—and like most cliches. It's true—none of us knows what he'd do in a dire situation like that. I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I'd at least take a run at the guy.

I have to admit that, hey, I'd like to think that I would have tried to do whatever was the smartest thing to do in that situation. I think that even now, all this time later, it's not clear what the smart thing to do was. The people who confronted Cho in any way whatsoever are dead, so that doesn't look like it was the best way to go, even in retrospect, except from the perspective of possible lives saved, which is pretty hard to judge. Personally, I'm pretty sure I would be too frightened to do it, and I don't really have any particular reason to disbelieve that Derbyshire really thinks he would.

But if we're going to play the what-people-should-have-done hypothetical game, then why don't we ask some other hypothetical questions? Why didn't Derbyshire bother to ask ourselves if we would have noticed Cho's alienation, for instance. Why not say "I would like to think that I would have noticed this guy's depression and tried to get him some help"? Why not imagine that one would be better at spotting the potential for this sort of thing happening? Hell, while we're at it, why not imagine that we had a better support network for people with depression in the US such that things wouldn't ever have really had even the potential to get this bad? Why is Derbyshire's imagination about his abilities limited to doing more violence?

One reason, and I'm making an educated guess here admittedly, is that rushing the guy would be manly, whereas, y'know, paying attention to somebody's alienation is wimmin's work.

For that matter, it seems an equally pertinent question to ask why people didn't take his sociopathic tendencies more seriously from the get-go:
More than a year before the Virginia Tech massacre, Cho Seung-Hui was accused of stalking two female students and was taken to a psychiatric hospital because of fears he was suicidal, authorities said Wednesday.

In November and December 2005, two women complained to campus police that they had received calls and computer messages from Cho, but they considered the messages "annoying," not threatening, and neither pressed charges, Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said.

What is it that makes guys like Derbyshire ask "Why didn't somebody rush him?" but not bother to ask the more interesting and helpful questions about how to prevent the situation at the outset? Probably some rule of manliness that I didn't get the memo on...
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