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Friday, February 08, 2002

Captain on the Bridge-part 2-Troubled Teens-Here's one of the buffet items that got spiked with too much Creole Torpedo- Den Beste overstates the need to place blame on people like the Columbine shooters and Talib Johnny and not look at root causes. He is right that we tend to trot out our pet whipping boy (gun control, permissive culture, lax parenting, et al.) after these tragedies to little effect. Here's a (hopefully) representative sample of the piece.

Whenever someone commits a particularly inexplicable crime, there is always an effort to try to figure out why. We saw that happen after Columbine. It's excessive exposure to violent video games and movies. No, it's because they were socially isolated by the kids in their class. No, it was because of rock music. No, it was because they were Goths. We're seeing it again now with John Walker Lindh. People are delving into his family life, examining how his parents behaved. ... Absent extreme mental illness, either we have to hold everyone responsible for their own actions, or else we hold no-one at all individually responsible for anything. Why did Klebold and Harris shoot up Columbine high school? It's because they decided to do so. It's as simple as that. Who is responsible? They are. Since they're both dead, it's an unsatisfying answer. We want someone to blame, someone we can punish. But sometimes you can't get what you want. Is it possible to prevent that kind of thing from happening again? Yes, but the price is too high. Klebold and Harris and John Walker Lindh are statistical outliers, and when a society is as big and varied as ours is, one in a million is damned well a long way from the center of the bell curve. The only way to prevent that kind of thing is by completely regimenting society in ways I could never accept.
Well, we can't prevent all shootings or perversions. We can take a better interest in our youth (not just ours but our neighbors) and try to get them to move in more useful directions. Having been more than a bit of a loner as a teen, I could have use a few more interested adults to encourage me along. I remember helping chaperone a region-wide Vineyard youth retreat this fall. During an after-service prayer session, as the teens were circling up to pray with one another, I was led to look for the loners who wound up outside the circles, the kids that were like I was a quarter-century ago. After a few non-responses, I struck up a conversation with a recently suicidal 15-year-old who had lost his dad and was struggling being the "man of the house." My dad's still with us, but I was able to relate to a lot of what the kid was going through and allowed him to get a lot off his chest. I made sure that the people at his home church were up to speed on where he was at (they were). My trip was made when the kid went up during open-mike testimony time at the final session on Sunday and thanked me for taking him aside the night before. I don't think that kid would be the next mass murderer without my help, but somewhere, there's a kid that is on the edge of doing something that will ruin or end their life. A little bit of caring could bring that kid back from the edge. Talib Johnny should pay for what he did, but we'd be better off if someone had given a damn five years ago when he started his quest for something more certain than the relativism of his childhood.

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