Over the last few years there has seemed to be an increasing amount of stories regarding violence in schools. Obviously the recent Columbine High School slayings has focused our attention on violence perpetrated against students. The question that I have is why all of a sudden are these incidents even occuring? Maybe, suddenly isn't the right word. I'm sure that incidents like these have been occuring for more than just a few years but we have become more aware of these acts and so it seems like they are just now happening.
The experts brought in to study these case will tell you that part of the problem has to do with these few individuals not feeling as if they are part of society. That they are shunned by their peers and forced to the fringes. Thus, at the edges of society they seek ways to make themselves stand out. They do this by "getting back" at those that have spurned them. This manifests itself in the form of violence.
I don't buy that argument. If this were the case then there would have been these events throughout history. In every society there have always been those who are forced to the fringes. In some cases these people stay there, keeping to themselves and whiling away their time. Others, not content on being on the outside, work hard to get on the inside and become productive members of society.
Yet, there are only a select few that choose to lash out. Why only these few? Why not the others who are on the outside? Why aren't there others in every school who feel as if the only way to get attention or to make a mark for themselves is to resort to violence?
Another argument that the experts use is that these people have become immune to the effects of violence. That the proliferation of scenes of violence on television, in movies and in video games has dulled our senses to the realities of such violent behavior.
Again, I don't agree. I grew up on shows like Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner and Coyote, GI Joe, Transformers and the Japanese anime series which started it all, Starblazers. I've watched movies like Apocalypse Now, the various Rambo movies, Chuck Norris flicks, Clint Eastwood (both past and present) and other movies which show numerous scenes of violence. My friends and I played cowboy and indians, set up huge snowball fights and other things that kids do. Yet, to my knowledge, not one of us has ever killed anyone. We're not out robbing or murdering. We're not stealing cars or vandalizing property. We've all grown up and have our lives to live. Some are more successful than others but we are all doing our part in society.
It would seem that those individuals who commit these acts also watched violent films. Usually repeatedly. In some instances it appears they were trying to recreate or imitate certain scenes. Yet again I have to ask the question: why only these individuals? Why have not a larger percentage of people who have seen these movies, watched those tv shows, played the video games resorted to violence whether they are a kid or an adult? Why only a select few?
The final argument that the experts use in trying to explain these incidents is that most of these incidents were perpetrated by males and as such males are more prone to violence due to their genetic background.
This is the only argument which makes any sense. Genetics plays such a large part in our lives that it has become invisible. Genetics is the reason why people like Arnold Schwarzenegger can work out and get huge amounts of muscle mass but people like Martin Short do not. Genetics is why Stephen Hawking, though physically handicapped, is able to use his mind in a manner which few on this planet ever have or will. Genetics is what allowed Michelangelo to create the works of art that he did while giving Mozart the ability to write the works of music he did.
Having said all that, if it is genetics that determines who we are it would stand to reason that genetics also determines who among us will be more or less aggressive than the rest of us. It would also determine who is more apt to become addicted to something (alcohol, drugs, food) than someone else. Thus, a persons genetic makeup, to a degree, determines ones actions.
Does that in any way justify theses acts? Of course not. Everyone who lives in this country agrees to abide by certain rules of conduct. One of the highest rules is to not harm someone else intentionally. This actually isn't written anywhere but is common sense. You wouldn't want anyone pummeling you so don't do it to someone else.
However, since it can be determined with relative certainty that a persons genetic disposition can determine a persons actions, ought not there be a way to prevent these acts? This question has been bantered about for at least a century. At one point in time phrenology was used in an attempt to determine who amongst us had a criminal disposition. Today, personality tests are used in a similar manner.
The problem with both these approaches is that neither works. Just like a polygraph (a lie detector), there are so many variables to consider that they are unreliable when trying to determine a persons propensity to commit a crime. The only thing we can be certain about is that a person who commits a crime will probably have some sort of mental deficiency.
There have been studies done on the brains of criminals, both mass murderers and common thieves, to determine if there is some structural flaw which would account for their actions. In only a few cases has any evidence been produced showing that a criminals brain is structurally different in a significant manner which might account for what they had done.
My personal opinion is that those who commit crimes, whether they be a kid who blasts away in school or an adult who goes on a rampage, are naturally predisposed to commit crimes due to a chemical or evolutionary quirk. By that I mean, regardless of the time era in which these people live, these people would have committed similar crimes. The fact that guns didn't exist in the Roman era would not have stopped these people from committing a similar crime. They would simply have used the weapons at their disposal.
Now for the big question: If a person is naturally predisposed to commit a crime should they be held responsible their actions? After all, it is well established that a person who lacks the mental capacity to comprehend that what they are doing or have done is wrong cannot be held accountable for their actions. This is the now infamous insanity defense that many defense lawyers attempt to use to justify their clients actions. If a person is found to have been insane at the time of their act, they will get a lesser sentence or be acquitted on all charges. At least one New York mafia boss tried to use that defense but it was rejected and he is now sitting behind bars.
So what are we to do? Is there any way that we can either predict or prevent these acts? Unfortunately the chances of us being able to predict such behavior will be based on our ability to use genetic testing. This process raises numerous privacy issues as well as concerns that the information derived will be used in a manner inconsistent with its intended purpose. For example, if your genetic disposition is given to an insurance company, will your rates go up because you show a genetic tendency for cancer or some other high maintenance affliction? Knowing that your child has a high likelyhood of violence, will that cause you treat them differently?
These are just two minor examples of what could happen if we use genetic testing to determine a persons predisposition towards violence in an effort to prevent violence. Yet, would it be worth it to know in advance that a person has a tendency towards violence? That would be an interesting question to pose to the parents of those killed in Columbine or Jonesboro.
It's always easy to say in hindsight that had we known this would happen, we would have prevented it. The real question is, are we willing to do what it takes to know in advance?