The formual media script for the Columbine shootings has been that the killers were just as much victims (if not more so) as were the people they murdered. They were “good kids” whose self-esteem was deprived of them by bullies and the rest of powerful society. I wrote below that the FBI has now exposed this theory as garbage. Eric Harris, in partular was not motivated by a perceived weakness but by a maniacal pride. In a great NY Times op-ed, David Brooks makes the same point and applies the principles we should have learned to today’s terorrists:
Harris wasn’t bullied by jocks. He was disgusted by the inferior breed of humanity he saw around him. He didn’t suffer from a lack of self-esteem. He had way too much self-esteem.
It’s clear from excerpts of Harris’s journals that he saw himself as a sort of Nietzschean Superman — someone so far above the herd of ant-like mortals he does not even have to consider their feelings. He rises above good and evil, above the contemptible slave morality of normal people. He can realize his true, heroic self, and establish his eternal glory, only through some gigantic act of will.
“Harris was not a wayward boy who could have been rescued,” Cullen writes. Harris, the F.B.I. experts believe, “was irretrievable.”
Now, in 2004, we have more experience with suicidal murderers. Yet it is striking how resilient this perpetrator-as-victim narrative remains. We still sometimes assume that the people who flew planes into buildings — and those who blew up synagogues in Turkey, trains in Spain, discos in Tel Aviv and schoolchildren this week in Basra — are driven by feelings of weakness, resentment and inferiority. We cling to the egotistical notion that it is our economic and political dominance that drives terrorists insane.
But it could be that whatever causes they support or ideologies they subscribe to, the one thing that the killers have in common is a feeling of immense superiority. It could be that they want to exterminate us because they regard us as spiritually deformed and unfit to live, at least in their world. After all, it is hard to pull up to a curb, look a group of people in the eye and know that in a few seconds you will shred them to pieces unless you regard other people’s deaths as trivialities.
If today’s suicide bombers are victims of oppression, then the solution is to lessen our dominance, and so assuage their resentments. But if they are vicious people driven by an insatiable urge to dominate, then our only option is to fight them to the death.
We had better figure out who these bombers really are. After Columbine, we got it wrong.
UPDATE: For a very interesting theological discussion on sin, pride and the nature of man, see the comments section of A SATAN COMPLEX