The anatomy of violence in schools runs like this: First, a loser, who enjoys all the trappings of middle class life—including parental unconditional approval—and who has no predilection for self denial or control, decides to expand his sphere of misery. The latest prototype in Canada was an infelicitous 15-year-old boy, referred to occasionally as “Felicity,” from Orleans, Ontario, who went darting about Cairine Wilson High, plunging a knife into fellow students.
Next, as was the case in the Columbine affair and in other incidents around the US, his compatriots, the children, commence the ritualistic, exculpatory rhetoric, taught to them by progressive educators and liberal parents. As one automaton said: “He was poked at and made fun of-the kids in Columbine felt neglected until their deaths.” In a word, the perpetrator, who suffered from acne, buckled under the psychic pain of overactive sebaceous glands.
It’s time for the pop-psychology explanations of how an essentially tender soul was pushed to attempt murder. When the mental health mavens appear on the scene, the narrative expands some, but generally retains its idiotic thrust. Having been played for all it’s worth, the-culture-of-violence causal factor has given way to the more in-vogue bullying theory.
Skin-deep qualities have always determined the pecking order in schools. Still, Janis Ian’s haunting 1975 song, “Seventeen,” would not have been written today. Angry teenagers nowadays are simply less inclined to ruminate about their angst, and more likely to act on it. Social justice, they are taught, pivots on redistribution. And redistribution is achieved by making some pay for the lesser fortunes of others. When taught to reject the harsh reality of inequality, of not having everything one covets—the anger of entitlement easily bubbles to the fore. Be it popularity or pulchritude, there is a sense that, someone ought to pay for the pain of being without.
Furthermore, where once kids might have seen dignity in a brave and stoic face, now, the cultural cognoscenti have declared these to be pathologies, symptoms of repression and denial. Is it any wonder that some kids—the bad ones, at least—feel that the culture of share-your-feelings-with-the-group gives them permission to take the rage of entitlement to its deadly conclusion?
Having turned the perpetrator into a cause celebre, society exonerates the youth and his parents from responsibility. As Hillary Clinton said, “It Takes A Village,” and we must all share the blame. Replacing individual with collective responsibility is vital in the grand scheme of things, because blaming everyone is like blaming no one: “Let my kid and me off the hook, and when the time comes for your kid to stray, we will respond in kind.”
By incorporating rather than expunging the offender from its moral midst, the community further blurs the lines between innocent and guilty, good and bad. This fudging serves to suspend these occurrences in an ethical limbo and make them sufficiently ambiguous to the future offender.
The cry then goes out for more focus groups to educate about bullying and to plump fragile egos. The major domos know not of the research that indicates “aggression is more frequently associated with positive self appraisals than with low self esteem.” In her 1997 monograph on post traumatic stress disorder, Professor Marilyn Bowman points out that, while “every kind of social problem is analyzed as the outgrowth of low self esteem,” and while “treatment programs to teach people how to love themselves are put forward as the means of raising self-esteem,” not only is “the relationship between emotion and well being not robust, causal or meaningful,” but, on the contrary, there is a dark side to self-esteem. “The prototype aggressor,” explains Bowman, “is a man whose self-appraisal is unrealistically positive.” Like all efforts to drum up ignorance, this one can be dangerous.
Finally, in order to sustain this self-reverential and self-referential world, and to ensure that, in the words of Allan Bloom, the only enemy that remains is “the man who is not open to everything,” the communal will makes one last paroxysmal gesture. Said a pastor on the stabbing scene: “You’ve got to totally accept him, totally forgive him.” As in Columbine and Taber before it, a community now prepares to bestow instant forgiveness. People can now begin to speak of being on the mend. Everyone “moves on,” until the next time, that is.
©By ILANA MERCER
A version of this article was published in The Calgary Herald
April 2, 2000.