The rampage on Virginia Tech university campus reminds us of some pessimistic predictions about future of modern society social scientists had offered. To top them all, sociologist Max Weber grimly spoke of the disenchantment of people in the ‘iron cage of rationality’.
If we are wise and sensitive, we would not be able to brush those predictions aside considering them only a result of intellectual senility gripped by some kind of dooms-day prophecy. Any underestimation of such prediction would also have to ignore the fact that killings on Virginia Tech is prefixed by innumerable precedents.
Shooting in Columbine high school in 1999 by students was not less shocking. In 2002, Germany mourned on two such incidents of killing by students in the months of February and April subsequently. It is a recurrent mishap in some or other part of the world almost every year.
In India we almost every year read news of youths committing suicide- killing of the self on some or other pretext of failure. The frequency underlines a pattern rooted in and supported by society, as Sociological imagination would help us comprehend. Hence, it is absurd to have the student Cho Seung-Hui, who gunned down people on Virginia Tech, reduced into a mere individual and incident to be attributed to some kind of psychic disorder.
Absurdity of post incident Analysis
In the aftermath of Virginia Tech we had ourselves busy discovering a thing or two which could prove the killer an outright psychopath, lovelorn and thus the incident as an aberration due to an abnormal individual. We tend to trick ourselves into believing that Cho was an autistic as he was always found quiet and self-indulged. That he was visiting Psychiatrist and therefore it must be his mental disorder that wreaked this havoc, are related to age-old reduction of sociological problem into a simple psychological one, as a reading of Emile Durkheim’s work ‘Suicide’ can suggest us. Hence, in the popular discourse it ended with a simple but ludicrous suggestion of psychiatric counselling for any such student who exhibit predilection for quietness. Such clinical conclusion is quite absurd in the face of details ferreted out by the investigators.
After first round of shooting, the gunman goes to the post office to mail the package of writings and videos, which he had prepared with meaningful intent. Days before the fateful incident Cho is said to have practiced with the weapons in the nearby shooting range. Moreover, Cho spews hatred for all those he knew and poses with gun and knife in the video. As Cho was quoted from the video by all the national dailies on 20th April, 2007, “you had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option”. I have italicized the self-explanatory and analytically important portion of Cho’s words. Everything that Cho offers, in letter and deed, speak loud and clear about the troubled relationship between individual and society, grueling expectations from individual in a fast changing socio-cultural and economic conditions, and off course the worsening complications of individual mind. I am afraid the incident can not be narrowed into a mere problem of individual mind?
Interpreting the action
The killing of others and self is more like a helpless resistance to the ruthlessness of a dysfunctional society. When individuals are marred by the sense of insignificance of the self and superiority of a popular notion of rationality, they repress themselves every now and then. Eventually individuals are susceptible to two possible results of such repressions. They undergo the process Franz Kafka described in ‘Metamorphosis’ and become a weird conformist creature who everybody only leer about. Second possibility is that they might just revolt against all the self-repressing mechanism. Killing one’s own self and others underscores a last ditch effort to sense significance of self as well expression of no faith in self as well as society.
Youths, thus, end up as Arjunas. Whenever faced with a situation like moral battle of Kurukshetra, they are all only helpless. Our new age society perhaps need to gear up for evolving a pertinent mechanism toward youths.