Friday, October 2, 2015

Say His Name

In the wake of yet another mass shooting, many people are calling for news outlets to maintain the anonymity of the shooter.  First of all, let me just say that I respect this position, and if you choose to refrain from using the shooter's name, more power to you.  However, though I respect this position, I disagree with it.  Here's why -

The arguments against using the shooter's name, as I understand them, are these -

1) Using his name when reporting on the shooting is somehow honoring him, and giving him fame.

My Rebuttal:
No.  It's not.  Attention is not the same as adulation.  Yes, if the news anchors were like, "The talented, brilliant and handsome Eric Cartman killed ten people today, which really showed the bastards who was the superior being.  A link to Mr. Cartman's manifesto can be found here..." OK, then yes.  That would be glorifying him, but that is NOT what is being said.  All of the attention is negative attention.

2) Giving the killer attention is giving him what he wants.  After all, these guys just do it for the attention.

My Rebuttal: 
Look.  I'm familiar with attention seeking behavior.  The nine year old who shoots spitballs in class.  The woman who has every food allergy under the sun, and is afraid of pineapples.  The guy with the obscenely huge truck.  These are all examples of things people do "just for attention".  "Mass murder" is not attention seeking behavior.  Yes, the desire for recognition may be a part of their motivations, but their pathologies go much, much MUCH deeper than "Hey, everyone look at me!"

3) Using the killer's name will give new killers someone to emulate.

My Rebuttal: 

I'm not a psychologist.  But I've read so many books about psychology, serial killers, mass shooters.  So many, you guys!  And I've watched a bunch of documentaries about this stuff too.  So yeah, I'm pretty much a psychologist. 

Mass shooters don't tend to be "copycats".  It might seem like that, because they all use guns and kill innnocent people, but they don't do it to honor other shooters, or because they idolize other shooters, at least not specifically.  Yes, they might get the idea to do a shooting because of other shootings they've heard about, but it's the actions that are inspirational to them, not the murderers.  

But aside from all these rebuttals and such, I honestly wonder: what is to be gained from preserving the shooter's anonymity?   Will prospective shooters of the future say to themselves, "Well, I was going to shoot up a movie theater today, but you know, when that last shooting happened, no one said his name, so...I guess I'll just get to work on this term paper."  

Have you ever read he Harry Potter books?  In them, the bad guy is named "Voldemort".  Voldemort is so very, very evil that most people are afraid to say his name, because it causes bad feelings.  I think this may be a part of the motivation behind the movement to stop saying the killer's name.  I think people are afraid when confronted with this kind of evil.  

But here's the thing.  By keeping the shooters anonymous, we are not helping the situation.  I honestly do not believe that keeping him nameless will act as any kind of deterrent for shooters in the future.  I truly don't believe that it will help.   What I do think it will do, is turn the shooters into nameless boogymen, which will create an even greater climate of fear.  Fear breeds irrationality.  Fear and irrationallity beget more violence.  

Worst of all, if we can't name the evil, the evil becomes disembodied and amorphous.  The shooters are anyone, could be anywhere.  And then the problem of mass shootings starts to seem like a problem that we cannot solve.  And we can solve this problem.  I truly believe that.  But we have to believe that we can, and we have to approach it rationally, without fear.


Interestingly, I do think there is one good reason for maintaining the shooter's anonymity; one that's never brought up - and that is protecting the family of the shooter.  Let's face it, if people know that your brother killed dozens of innocent shoppers at a mall, people are going to look at you funny.  Employers might not want to hire you; after all, what if you're just as batshit crazy as your brother?  Would a woman want to marry into your family?  Probably not.  Even if you're the nicest, sanest person in the world, the stain of what your brother did will follow you forever.  

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