Friday, April 20, 2007

Mass Killers - to run amok

Neil (Ninglun) had a very good post on one of his blogs discussing the pressures on Korean students in Australia and their various responses. The post was written in the context of the Virginia Tech massacre and explored in a very sensitive fashion the surrounds to one of the discussion threads about the massacre.

I think that the post deserves wide readership for what it says about the pressures/issues associated with people from one culture learning (or working) in another. However, my personal feeling is that the assailant's behaviour - I will not remember his name for reasons I will explain in a moment - had little to do with either Korean and US culture.

This morning I listened to a very interesting radio discussion exploring the pathology of this type of killing.

The two speakers, both expert in their field, made the point that while you could identify some of the personality characteristics of the people who committed these acts, there was no way that you could use this for predictive purposes. The characteristics were simply too widely spread in the general community for use in predicting individual, isolated, random cases. They then went further, suggesting that our collective approach to these cases was fundamentally flawed.

Studies suggested, they said, that the males involved (they are all men to to this point) wanted to commit suicide. Holding a grudge against society, they wanted to do so in a spectacular fashion that would gain maximum media coverage, registering their name for history. In doing so, they were influenced by past cases.

We can see this in the Virginia Tech case where the killer referred to Columbine.

They then went on to suggest that the media coverage already given to Virginia Tech probably guaranteed the next generation killer. The only solution was to remove the coverage, so that people considering this course of action knew that they would die written out of history and popular consciousness.

To support this view, one gave the example of the Malays and amok. I had forgotten this and had indeed forgotten that English had incorporated a word from Malay that described the phenomenon.

In the amok case, Malay men would take a machete and kill people until they themselves were killed. The practice died down because the British colonial police did not kill the assailant but instead tried to capture them alive and send them to jail. This destroyed the whole point.

In an Australian context, the sad and unheroic Martin Bryant in jail is highly unlikely to attract others to do the same.


As is his way, Neil has continued to extend the post I referred to at the start of this post.

As I said in a response to a comment from Neil on this post, I love Neil's topsy posts, posts that grow and evolve as he gnaws away at an issue. This approach appeals to regular readers like myself because it takes us on a journey with Neil as his thinking evolves.

Those who have read the continuing dialogue between Neil and myself will know that we do not always agree. We come at things from different world views and often follow very different paths. I find it quite remarkable how often those paths bring us to the same end point.

Neil wrote.
I can’t help thinking that the Great Blandness and Homogeneity being imposed from above here in Australia has done a disservice because it does not correspond to reality.

... the Howard-driven rush towards homogeneity makes a nuanced consideration of intercultural migrant issues far more difficult, because it favours lack of reflection, lack of response to the lives actually lived by people and the values by which they live, and lack of empathy

This is a diverse society, not a monocultural society. Teachers, especially ESL teachers, confront this every day. Sure, it is in the interests of all to negotiate integration and acculturation, but we also need to understand, and respect, the diversity that is out there. A one-size-fits-all approach is both lazy and counterproductive.

In quoting Neil I have left out some words that link to our different paths, different interpretations of the Australian experience, to focus on the core where there is agreement. I do not think that my editing in any way affects Neil's arguments.

In his post, Neil points to tensions in a Korean context between migrant parents and their children, between the old way of life and the new. This is not unique to Koreans, but has been experienced by all migrants.

I have experienced it in my own small way as I struggle to keep my children's interest in, to give them access to, the New England experience in the face of the overwhelming power of Sydney Eastern Suburbs' acculturation.

All migrants know that they have left their country behind, but they still carry with them the realities of past experiences and history. The adoption of the new culture by their children can be very painful because it severs the roots with the past, driving home the permanence of the move and the consequent loss of key elements in personal identity.

We need to be sensitive to this, to understand why it happens, to recognise differences in responses between cultural groups.

I have always supported celebrations of the different cultures that have come together in Australia, not just because this enhances understanding but also because it provides validation of our people's different pasts, affirming the value of those experiences and easing the pain that can be associated with the migration experience.

I see no conflict between all this and my writings on Australian history and culture. In fact, just the opposite.

My pride in Australia, my emphasis on the need to understand the diversity of the Australian experience, my sometimes attacks on views that I see as misinterpreting or invalidating elements of our past, meshes exactly with my support for celebration of the different cultures that have come together in Australia.

This is starting to move in a different direction. The key point is that I think Neil is very right.

Later still

I seem to be doing a Neil!

I noticed from the site stats that this post was picked up quite quickly by the search engines even though I deliberately left certain words out of the heading.

Checking the searches led me to this post. I think the post is well worth reading because it amplifies the point I made.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reference, Jim. That is another of my "Topsy" entries in which one thing leads to another over two days. It has finished expanding now, I hope...

Jim Belshaw said...

Neil, I love your topsy posts. In this case I think that the outcome is a quite outstanding post providing insights across a range of issues.