Archives for June 2014

Scapegoating Our Children: An Ancient Epidemic

Why are high school and college students on a rampage against their peers? Eliot Rodgers’ horrifying mayhem in Santa Barbara is so well documented by therapists, friends, police and parents that we have a personal narrative which explains a great deal. But what is the collective issue that supported his murderous rage? Contagion for sure. Throughout history, adolescents always strengthen shaky identities through fads and epidemics: physical symptoms like purging, anorexia, obesity; a variety of malicious pranks often associated with intoxicants and sex; or temporary adherence to radical political and religious movements, all of which may stretch into adulthood as careers, ideologies and belief systems. In our own day the workhorses of political terrorism are, as usual, mostly   innocents: adolescents and young adults, scapegoats of a system, the young ones who haven’t yet forged their own firm beliefs and act out the desires of others.

The line between causation, individual struggles such as is apparent in Eliot Rodgers, and the collective “support” so evident in suicide bombing is a difficult one to parse, but they coalesce around action. In the case of suicide bombing and radical political movements, the leaders and those who inspire such actions — potential scapegoaters all — are the adults involved. There’s nothing new about that. Parents, teachers, mentors, leaders have always sent children, theirs or others’, off to do battle for one cause or another. I was drafted into the Vietnam War by my elders, not my peers. I’ve always thought that if senators, congressmen and presidents had to leave their ordinary lives as I did and go through basic training, then enter the  killing fields (or in my case, treat the victims), most wars would never be fought.

In another generation Eliot Rodgers might have taken a different path. Perhaps self-immolation (like the Buddhist monks) without hurting others. Or five-day-a-week psychoanalysis! Without YouTube to talk to, perhaps he would have managed to turn his feelings of humiliation and rage into a life of service, as the last comment to this website suggested.

Mental health services weren’t enough for Rodgers. Perhaps his affliction was just too deep for healing. But society has a role, too, by providing the means and the mode for his actions. The scapegoaters of the world will always be with us. They are us.  Healing our collective selves is sometimes easier than healing one person.