Dave Cullen – Columbine

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You can look at the story of Columbine and think it’s just a bunch of whiny, privileged white males. That’s okay. People write off people’s troubles in similar ways. As we know, black people are less intelligent and cultured, so who cares what’s going on in Africa?

The world is full of stories. People murder and cause terrorist attacks all the time and it’s not something I feel comfortable reading. The purpose of the storyteller is to extract the meaning out of it. This book is not just the recounting of the events in Columbine and what came after/before. It’s a gigantic argument why the story even matters in the first place. Cullen does an amazing job. No scene is without purpose. No scene exists only to spout details. Each detail has insight into another topic. Like the best non-fiction, Columbine is more about other subjects than its title.

Cullen dispels two big, contrasting myths. There’s the ‘psycho villain’ myth, and the ‘revenge of the nerds’ myth. The truth is actually somewhere in between, or at least split between the killers. The truth was, Columbine Massacre was instigated by a single person.

The writings about psychopathy here are integral. Psychopathy was the cause of the massacre, and also what people miss. People believe in Just World and want to believe that moral people are also good social presence. If someone’s charismatic and hot, then he cannot be bad. However, the fat dude who sends you a message on Facebook is a creep. Such a world is ordered, easy to navigate and we know what to fear.

Psychopaths blow it apart. The true danger isn’t the socially inept person. He’s too timid and his doors are blocked. In order for him to cause social crime, he first needs to become a part of society. Psychopaths are the most desirable people. They’re aces in imitating social cues and personalities but they have no good intentions. They don’t even have empathy.

In truth, there’s nothing like ‘what a killer/rapist/thief’ look like. People who want to deliberately harm – and psychopaths do – need to conceal themselves. How else can a rapist do his crime, if he can’t convince his victim to trust them in an isolated setting? Eric Harris was successful. Women loved him. When he apologized, everyone was convinced. He knew exactly how to hint about the killing to see who’s on board. People couldn’t believe Eric would do it because of his social skills, but his high social skills are directly related to his lack of empathy which pushed him to massacre. It’s a bizarre thing. The most dangerous people are designed to look benign.

What’s ironic is during all the time leading to Columbine, it was Dylan who got the most flak. Dylan was only in it to kill himself. The journals are up online if you want to read it. Dylan was soaked in self-loathing. His character was truly tragic. While I’m not excusing what Dylan did, he’s perhaps just as a victim as the others. He barely even shoot during the massacre. His depressive state and feelings of powerlessness made him an easy target for a psychopath needing an accomplice. Harris provided him a way out. Psychopaths are hard to stop, but what if someone reached out to Dylan before?

This situation reveals something dark about our society. It’s caused by our overall preference for socially skilled people over everything. Yes, this would happen again. In the end, what we want are people who can act like Harris. We want charismatic people who can lead, who look good and can tell jokes. Dylan may have been almost innocent, but socially he’s useless. What’s there to do with a depressive suicidal? Speaking from an evolutionary standpoint, we will always support Harris over Dylan. Harris can navigate social situations gracefully, and for a social animal nothing is more important.

Aside from the killer’s psych, the book reveals the many shades of tragedies with multiple victims. Not everyone comes out the same. The stories of survivors, or the bereaved, are vastly different. Cullen tells the story they deserve with empathy. After such a tragedy, you need a spotlight on your unique position. No matter how many suffered with you, your misery is still real. Lumping it up with everyone else is insulting.

It’s also a story of media, and how the way we report events affect their influence. For those who are interested in media studies, this is essential. The parts about the eyewitnesses’ unreliability are fantastic. Such tragic stories have a stronger demand for precise details. These situations, by their nature, confuse us and we need every information we can have to understand them. The intensity of these situation also leads to confused memory. It’s almost funny how people thought there are multiple killers. One person saw Dylan & Eric with trenchcoats. Then they took off and a different person saw them.

An important arc is the story of Cassie, the supposed martyr. Initially it was reported she claimed to believe in God right before being shot. In reality this exchanged happened with a different student who survived. Yet people were quick to believe Cassie’s story and stuck to it even once the truth goes out. It goes to show you what kind of moral responsbility the media has. The reporting of this story affected lives. A survivor in trauma who needed her story told has been pushed aside while everyone lives in a lie.

I don’t think the conclusion of this book was that tragedy was inevitble, that Eric and Dylan were pure evil and we’re all victims. What makes the book so dark is that it shows how badly we function when tragedy strikes. Aside from the aforementioned psychopathy, there’s a coverup, ganging up on parents without knowing why and a parent who becomes a ranting anti-abortion activists. If anything, it’s almost fatalist. What could we do? We’re only human. Why disclose that we could’ve prevented it, and put us in harm’s way?

Cullen’s prose is sometimes too fiction-esque. Writing a non-fiction book like a fiction one, with dialogue boxes makes it look silly. The author wasn’t there, and if he were he could only have this exactness if he recorded it. I prefer writing as summary, since that’s the only thing you can do. Cullen’s prose is also precise enough to let it slide. He’s fantastic in choosing the right details. Physical descriptions never enter. Instead, it’s all about the people and what they did. I know a lot of people who say they can’t read a book without understanding the physical reality of it. Here, Cullen wrote a powerful story by only describing the people in it.

Some will write this off and say it’s just two white privileged white kids. Perhaps, but perhaps underneath every school shooting or underneath every crime rests a story like this. The difference is, we had a lot of cameras on the scene. Columbine is important because of what it tells us about us – that, yes, this will happen again. As social animals, we’ll always take Eric Harris above others. We’ll tell stories that make us feel good – our son is a martyr, they were just evil villains, they were just bullied kids. Cullen does have answers, they’re just incredibly pessimistic.

4 out of 5

The Right to Die

Without the right to die, there is no right to live.

The right to live means your life is yours. No one is allowed to take it from you. This right relies on the belief that life belongs to the individual. That’s why we find murder so horrible, but also why many are against capital punishment.

A duty is something you must do. You do not have a choice to give up a duty, unlike a right. People have the right to drive cars today, yet it doesn’t mean they must. Therefore, the right to live means you’re allowed to live, not must.

A person doesn’t choose whether to be born or not. Life is something that is forced upon us. The paradox is that we cannot chose between life and death unless we’re already alive. In order to choose, you have to exist first.

The problem is, if you choose not to live there is no easy way to do it. All suicide methods are painful. The quickest suicide methods are the most painful, while the less painful ones take a lot of time.

This is a terrible place to be. The damage from a bullet that missed the brain is horrible. Chocking on helium might not be so painful, but it takes time and the result of failure is equally horrifying. Either you’re living with a memory of trying to kill yourself, or you have brain damage.

Why force people into this position? A person didn’t choose to live. If the person finds that life isn’t satisfying or worthwhile, the person sees no way of improving his situation then he deserves a painless death. A person may not even be interested in improving. It could be that once you look back at your life, you decide you don’t want to carry that past anymore and want to die.

Suicidal people are trapped. Either you continue living and continue suffering, or you do something painful that might get rid of it. You do it all because two people were certain it was a good idea to force a child into the world.

Sure, everyone suffers in their life but not everyone finds the suffering worth it.

Suicide will hurt others, too, but is that a good reason?

We don’t expect a person to have sex with another if he doesn’t want to. Witholding sex is hurting. Sexual frustration can do its damage. Yet we don’t expect the attractive person to have pity sex just so the unattractive person will feel better. In fact, we push for saying that no matter how you act, nobody owes you sex.

I agree with this, and that’s why I take it further. Nobody owes you their life. A suicide of a close person is painful, but what would you prefer for that person to stay and stay in pain?

Suicide prevention is inheritenly selfish. People who don’t want you to kill yourself want it so they won’t experience grief and loss. That’s okay, because loss is terrible. Yet, if you truly cares about the well-being of a person, you wouldn’t try to ‘prevent suicide’. You would listen to the person and try to understand him. If you start off with the conclusion that suicide is bad, you’re not interested in listening.

Also, how do we know that the grief the people will feel is not as bad as the cotinous suffering the suicide person feels?

Euthanasia will actually ease the pain. Instead of impulsive suicides that will suckerpunch everyone, people will be able to prepare. There will be a date, and people could say their final goodbyes. It will also be cleaner, and the body can easily used for medical research or organ donation.

Nobody owes you anything, true. The world doesn’t owe you sex and it doesn’t owe you a fulfilling life (it also doesn’t owe you help in giving birth). If this is all true, then suicidal people owe us nothing and we shouldn’t prevent it. If we want to have a compassionate society that recognizes the pain of these tragic deaths, we need to have enough empathy to realize it’s okay to die.

Most people who object to this right, in my experience, have been successful and well-adjusted people. They assume that since life is working well for them, it therefore works well for everyone. It’s not. Some of us are born with a chemical imbalance, in the wrong environment, or made a series of mistakes we don’t want to carry any more.

We did not choose to live in the first place, so let us choose to die.
Let my people go.