"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer



Austin. San Ysidro, CA. Killeen, TX. Columbine. And now on Monday morning in Blacksburg, VA, 33 people were shot to death by a psychopathic student named Cho Seung-Hui.

Each time it happens we seem a little bit less shocked. As a nation, I mean. Austin was before my time so I can only imagine how the country must have had trouble coming to terms with it. Nothing like it had ever happened before. When I got the notion to write about this, I first looked up the worst shootings in history, for some perspective. Not only was Austin 1966 the worst shooting in US History until Monday, it's also considered the first. Yes, there were others. St. Valentine's Day, for example, or a bombing in Michigan in the '20s that killed over 40.

However, these and other massacres were for power, money, and protest. The difference here is the crazed lone gunman, with no agenda, no motive, killing randomly. The line that made Austin the benchmark was this complete lack of reason, however twisted it used to be. Without knowing why such a horrible thing happened, we lack the power to prevent it. And that makes it much scarier. For example, there all kinds of movies about gangsters, bank robberies, cowboy outlaws, and war. All kinds of genres where scores of people get killed. Yet, these movies can be comedies, dramas, actions, or even chick flicks. Movies about serial killers and mass murderers? Nuh-uh. There's pretty much one genre there: thriller or horror.

The most common trait I've read among mass murderers is that they are psychopaths. That is, they lack a conscience. A sense of morality, of right and wrong. Many of us have wanted to pick up a gun while waiting in line at the post office or when we got cut off on the freeway (OK, bad example if you live in Los Angeles), but before we act, this impulse is checked by our conscience. And if this check is removed, it's probably conceivable that the resultant psychopath is much more likely to visit these edges of their soul. The human being at it's core is a very selfish animal and it will commit any act to get it what it wants if there aren't limits or accountability. That's a scary proposition right there.

I was talking with a co-worker while walking to lunch on Tuesday about all this. He noted these mass shootings always seem to happen in rural or suburban areas, and that the perpetrator is always a downtrodden, picked-on soul, or in this case a minority. He kind of placed the onus on the parents for keeping their nerdy, minority, or weaker kids out of the types of environments to protect them from the torture usually doled out by the cool kids and the frat boys. He gave our culture it's due, with the gratuitous violence plaster all over our movies, TV and video games games. But at the core it was the weak individual stretched to the snapping point finally lashing out.

Well, yeah, of course, to a point. Environment has place in all of it. All of these killers had something behind their anger. Usually revenge. But there's something deeper. If it were just environment and keeping your kids away from frat boys, not only would towns like Littleton and Blacksburg be overrun by serial killers and mass-murderers, there would be no individuality. None of the demented creativity that continually pushes our society forward culturally as well as scientifically.

Because here's the thing. It's the torture, the picking-on, that enforces our individuality. Like the old saying goes, "if it's doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger." Think of all the individuals in the world who have truly made a difference in their lives. Would they have become the people they did if their individuality wasn't challenged on a daily basis? Becoming a psychopath in response to this life-challenge is certainly the exception, not the rule.

Because, like I said, there's something deeper within the psychopath that's wrong. It's hard to imagine that such an absolute hole where their conscience should be is caused wholly by environment. Once our brains are hard-wired shortly after birth, there's little that changes, according to many scientists. All throughout nature, and life, things just go a little wrong sometimes. Chaos theory, right? A baseball manager's game plan doesn't quite pan out in the ninth. You burned your Pad Thai. A kitten is born with two heads. You get a divorce. Cancer. Things sometimes just turn sour.

Within the formation of the psychopath's brain, something turned rotten, or was just left out, early on. And as those individual's lives played out, their personality simply had to form around that rotten or missing part. When you have a hole in your soul, people around you are apt to notice. And as the human herd tends to do with someone abnormal in their midst, they ostracize and try to nullify, bring him back to the fold. A normal abnormal (forgive the expression) either becomes subdued and maybe spends their life as a mild mannered insurance agent, or grows stronger with his anger, checked by the moral compass, and uses it positively to become a much more dynamic person. He begins to contribute great things to his society because of his unique perspective and thinking.

The psychopath has no checks on his anger. As he sees in our popular culture, and our own human nature, violent reaction is often the easiest solution. He entertains these thoughts, enters these nether-regions of his psyche much more often. As Soon-Hei was, the psychopath is withdrawn, and people are further distanced from him, treating him poorly, or marginalizing him, and he becomes even more angry. It perpetuates itself to an inevitable conclusion.

Here's the interesting thing. We've always been violent in nature. This is why Austin as a beginning doesn't seem so strange. As our civilization has grown as a whole, it seems our violent behavior has been pushed back farther and farther to where it now shows itself in shocking outbursts like Monday's rampage. The blood used to flow on an almost institutional scale. The Romans filled the Colosseum by the thousands to see the carnage. Nearly every male member of society used to partake in war throughout history. There were public beheadings and executions for much lesser crimes than through which we comically debate "humane" capital punishment today. Even today, some less-developed cultures still participate in public executions today, and in Iraq, public death by violence is a daily occurrence on a huge scale.

Yet it seems we have deluded ourselves as too just how "civilized" we really are. As much as we seem to have banished public violence, our society is tearing at the seams, always about to blow like an overheated boiler. Our "Violence Quotient" has remained the same. Our most popular movies and video games are gorefests. Even as we try to reign in Boxing and Hockey, much bloodier contests like Ultimate Fighting have become enormously popular. Ostensibly, this would all seem a much better alternative to the blood-soaked gladitorial and public execution arenas. But underneath it all are human the time bombs, for whom violence is a real option, watching, learning, and being continually desensitized.

Things just go wrong.

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