Mass Shootings & Sexual Harrassment

Two years ago Malcolm Gladwell wrote an essay positing how school shootings spread. I highly suggest the article to anyone who is either a fan of Gladwell's writing, or the subject itself. The first basic premise is that it takes an inordinate amount of bravery to be the first to commit a mass shooting.

Imagine, if you will, walking into a room filled with people, pulling out a firearm, and shooting indiscriminately to cries, screams, and pleas for life. Imagine seeing the carnage your actions created. The act would require some amount of mental illness, such as an inhumane lack of empathy. It would require pain on the part of the shooter, because what other emotion could cause such a heinous act. But it would also take a bit of bravery.

I am willing to guess that most mass shooters, like Dylan Roof, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, Adam Lanza, or one of the hundreds of others, expected to die. They appeared strangely willing to give their own lives in exchange for those of their victims. It's sick for sure, but also brave in the most literal sense of the word.

The amount of bravery required to commit these mass murders, Gladwell's second premise, decreases as the number of instances grows. In other words, commonality breeds acceptance. Bravery only exists in primacy.

I think of a time as a young boy when I was on the banks of a creek with some friends. Dangling over the creek from a large tree's main branch was a rope. The first of us to grab the rope, swing over the river, and land in the creek, was Mike, the most adventurous and least scared of us boys. He went first, which made it seem okay---for many reasons---for someone else to go second, and then third and so on. I eventually gathered the courage required both to swing from the rope into the creek and to not be the only abstainer, though it took the act becoming 'normal' through the actions of the others for me to partake.

Well, I have a theory. But first, I must preface my theory by saying what may become quite obvious soon. I have no training whatsoever in psychology. None. Here goes:

The same thing that Gladwell posits is happening with mass shootings, is happening with victims coming forward against the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, Roy Moore, and of course, Donald J. Trump, who proudly boasted of walking in on naked girls in the Miss Teen USA pageant, an act I was pretty sure was illegal---not to mention the exact thing the bathroom bills against transgendered people are designed to prevent. Oh the irony. But I digress.

The point is that shooting a person and coming out as a victim of sexual harassment require bravery. Just ask Anita Hill.

Anita Hill was not seen as a hero all those years ago when she came forward against Clarence Thomas, a man who would eventually take a lifetime position on the Supreme Court, where he has sat in silence since 1991. Hill was seen as a woman trying to ruin a man's life. She was not believed and inexplicably, Thomas was. It took bravery for Hill to come forward against a man, a powerful man, and she knew it. We all knew it. But ultimately Hill's hearings and Thomas's appointment to the bench netted no societal change. It appears that the number of---mostly--- women who over the years have tried to come forward to try to illuminate the culture on what predators men in power can be, may have been enough if they had occurred in such a sequence as to foster the bravery needed for the next wave, for what are essentially copy cats.

Most school shooters these days are indeed labeled copy cats. They are often seen as copying the Columbine Shooting, the quintessential school shooting. There were other school shootings before Columbine, of course. I remember the Stockton Schoolyard shooting) back in 1989, for example, which would be analogous to the Anita Hill claim---powerful, but ultimately not able to inspire followers in its solitude.

The number of claims against Harvey Weinstein, coming at us in a barrage, is the Columbine of the modern the Sexual Harassment milieu. The barrage has given the victims the strength needed to come forward in that it is now more acceptable to accuse. Less bravery is needed these days.

This type of grand societal change may have sticking power. Millennials, perhaps the first generation raised in a culture with zero tolerance for sexual harassment, are growing more powerful and influential, especially in social media. Those who lived in and created a culture of harassment are dying off and being replaced. This may bode well for sexual harassment, even as it appears to spell doom in an increase in mass shootings.