by Ian Tingen
Today, I came across an article on Newtown shooter Adam Lanza. Specifically, the focus was aimed at the FBI’s release of an affadavit detailing the contents of Lanza’s home. Depending on the outlet, you either saw that Lanza had a small armory or that Lanza was a reclusive video game addict. Perhaps you saw that the speculation that Lanza was severely mentally ill. Maybe you saw that he had pictures of dead bodies and researched school shootings.
In other words, you saw lots of finger pointing. Understandably so: Sandy Hook’s death toll and the age of most of the victims make for a particularly horrific set of circumstances, one we all want to understand.
Or do we?
What concerns me is the shape of the dialogue talking about what led to Lanza’s rampage. Every niche that has been called out as a possible culprit vehemently rejects the notion that their essence could somehow be partially responsibile for Adam Lanza. This is usually immediately followed by blaming another niche – one giant game of “Not Me”.
This is a tragedy. The wake of one of the worst mass killings the US has suffered should be a time for reflection, not redirection.
Most often, we see this call in regards to guns. I think it’s a good time for the game industry to do the same. It might even be time for school districts to consider if they’re providing services adequate to help and screen students like Lanza.
“But what about the fact that Lanza was an individual acting alone?” Yes, he likely was. But this fact doesn’t magically remove our responsibility to untangle the factors outside of the man that helped shape him. We have no right to an easy explanation for Adam Lanza, and owe it to ourselves to understand his grim complexity.
As a culture, we are obsessed with the idea that individuals have total control of their destinies. Partially because of this, Americans tend to think an individual’s acts (and especially their failings) are a function of something essential about that indivudial’s personality. This phenomenon, dubbed the fundamental attribution error by psychological science, has a convenient flipside – when considering our own missteps, we tend to blame the environment before we blame ourselves.
This cognitive quirk makes it easy to deal with Lanza, while sidestepping any meaningful dissection of the things that could have enabled him. We cannot allow our brains to get the best of us in this circumstance, however.
Malcolm Gladwell‘s book Outliers deconstructs the notion of success by deftly demonstrating just how powerful circumstance is in shaping a person’s fate. We need to be brave enough to look inward, now, and similarly deconstruct tragedy.
Lives are riding on it.