With guns and homemade bombs, two students executed a well-planned assault on fellow students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 15 including themselves and one teacher) and injuring many others. Eric Harris (18) and Dylan Klebold (17), reportedly intelligent students, belonged to a “gothic” clique called “The Trench Coat Mafia,” were obsessed with violence, and admired Adolf Hitler. (The assault took place on April 20th, Hitler’s birthday.) The killers reportedly targeted minorities and athletes, and “giggled” as they assassinated boys and girls at close range.
What explains this horrific tragedy? Many blame the availability of guns and media violence, but these don’t explain what drove these killers to act in such a violent and self-destructive manner. Children are not violence-mimicking automatons by nature.
These killers obviously experienced an intense, irrational hatred towards the world, and chose to satisfy their immediate desire to destroy and kill — even at the cost of their own lives.
The deeper explanation lies in the dominant cultural trend of this century: emotionalism.
Emotionalism means placing feelings above reason and reality — it means taking one’s immediate emotions as standards of truth and guides to action.
For decades now, children have been encouraged to do as they feel. Thanks to Dr. Benjamin Spock and his followers, parents became more permissive and submissive to little Johnnie’s desires and demands. Instead of Johnnie learning that reality is an absolute his mind must grasp and conform to by means of reason, he came to believe that his feelings are an absolute that reality conforms to.
His parents made this seem plausible, but deep inside he knew that the secret was to manipulate them by means of expressing emotions. Acting on his immediate desires stunted his conceptual development, which led Johnnie to feel insecure. Whenever his whims weren’t satisfied, he became frustrated and enraged, lashing out at his parents and reality.
When Johnnie went to school, he received further re-enforcement of his “philosophy.” Progressive pedagogy downplays truth, facts, logic and standards, and encourages the child to “learn” as he feels. Johnnie was taught that everyone’s opinion is equally valid, that truth and value are subjective — a matter of feelings. He was told that the way to achieve self-esteem is to just feel good about himself, without reason.
But deep inside Johnnie realized that reality doesn’t really conform to his desires, which made him feel much frustration, anxiety, helplessness and self-loathing.
Desperately needing to feel secure, Johnnie joined a group of boys who looked, behaved and felt as he did.
But Johnnie’s feeling of impotence in the face of reality intensified continuously. Ditto for his gang members. Their response was to blame others for the way they felt — to subconsciously project their self-hatred at others and the world.
Which others? For one, those of different skin colour or ethnic origin — people who look and behave differently than they do. Hitler’s theory of race superiority serves as a substitute for badly needed self-esteem.
Also, self-confident achievers — top students and athletes — make the gang aware of their own impotence, which generates hatred. Ditto for those who make fun of their weird behaviour.
As their hatred intensified, the gang became obsessed with hurting and destroying the hated. They identified with destruction — with war, weapons, mass killers, violent rock music, violent movies and other aspects of our nihilistic culture. The thought of destroying gave them a perverted sense of excitement and pleasure; they became an emotion-driven time bomb ready to
What about their future? It takes conceptual thought to project the future; emotionalists are focused on their immediate feelings.
What about empathy for the victims? Empathy involves projecting one’s values onto others, and other people’s suffering onto oneself. This presupposes conceptual thought, rational values and self-love. “Be selfless, not selfish,” say modern liberals and conservatives.
What about justice and morality? “Morality is relative,” preach modern liberals, “just go by the feelings of your group.” “You will be loved and forgiven regardless of your crimes,” preach Christians. “Nobody is responsible for their actions — it’s society’s fault,” add modern liberals.
Virtually everywhere the hater looked in our culture, he received a green light to act out his hatred.
Nobody was there to teach him that reality is an absolute, that reason is his only means of dealing with reality, and that feelings, while essential to achieving success and happiness, are not tools of cognition or guides to action.
Nobody was there to teach him that his own life was his most precious value, and that reason is his basic means of achieving all the values his life requires, including self-esteem.
All he found was a bankrupt culture encouraging him to be an emotionalist and letting him get away with faking reality and being irresponsible.