It is a difficult week to be a news junkie. Alberto Gonzales will be testifying before Congress tomorrow, and only the most devoted Bushie won't get some perverse glee out of watching the inevitable raking over the coals. But the following days also promise the worst kind of national hand-wringing over the Virginia Tech shootings: what did we do wrong? Or, more to the point, what did others do wrong?
The familiar faces will be on display: improperly trained or incompetent security, violent video games, gun control. Hip hop lyrics might make a showing, whether or not the young gunman listened to them, and in the darker corners of the echo chamber of our national discourse I would expect to see some talk of immigration, forgetting that Cho Seung-Hui was here legally. In the more helpful realms, there may be talk yet again of better and more interventionary counseling for college students.
The problem with the answers and accusations that will come are that they will simply redirect us to facets of the problem without seeking out its fundament. At base, no one knows why this happened. We may eventually get as much information as we have about Harris' and Klebold's states of mind in Columbine, but we won't have any way of knowing how we might reconfigure the cultural landscape such that it wouldn't happen again. A parallel example: do we really believe that misogyny will disappear if and when gangsta rap does? Although such lyrics surely need to be scrutinized in the public light, believing that their banishment will fix anything is fantasy.
After all, we could easily argue that the real cause here is our society of sociability. There are no hermits visible in our society (they make for dull television), and isn't the Internet supposed to allow you to find your own society no matter how far-flung? The angry loner is always inflicting violence upon the social group in which they see themselves not fitting (either directly or by proxy). Why do they choose to exact some kind of "revenge" if not that they believe that they should be allowed to fit in, that their inability to incorporate themselves within the group is an affront to their very personhood? There is no Loners Club on college campuses. In our binary culture, only two things can be at fault for the inability to fit in: the loner or the group. And the loner makes his choice.
But what is to be done? The processes of clique formation and anger at exclusion seem hardwired into us at that age (or perhaps at any age). One wishes one could wave a magic wand in front of all students and convince them of the joys of chasing wisdom instead of wealth, power, inclusion. But teachers will never make the priorities of the young but can only hope to shape them, augment or expand them.
There is no causal link that will be established that would have prevented this. There is only one operational link that would have mitigated its effects: gun control. Bombs can be fashioned, guns will always be available on the black market, but by tightening the marketplace in firearms the severity and frequency of such incidents might be constrained. Anyone wanting to address the shooting without honestly taking up the issue of gun control is simply wishing to use the incident as an opportunity to soapbox about vague cultural bogeymen without providing real answers.