Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Scapegoating Satan and Metal Bands

Last week in South Africa a student, Morne Hamse, was arrested for a school attack in which he killed one of his classmates and wounded three others with a "ninja sword." Following the familiar story arc that seems to accompany cases like this, prosecutors first blamed the student's "experimentation with Satanism" but have now decided that he was actually influenced by a metal band whose music he enjoyed.

For some reason, prosecutors in these cases have trouble recognizing what is really going on and spend all sorts of time and effort identifying scapegoats with dubious connections to the case.

Harmse's parents have described their son's actions as a desperate attempt to "make a stand" after years of being bullied.

There's a certain species of idiot that contends bullying "builds character" and is good for kids. Here's a news flash - that's bullshit. Bullying for a lot of kids is really fucking awful. Those that don't go on to commit crimes are nonetheless more likely to become abusive adults and are often dogged by depression and other psychological problems that prevent them from living up to their full potential.

Bullies need to understand that sometimes when they bully mentally ill kids they are going to get killed or injured. A small percentage of the most messed-up kids will fight back, sometimes with deadly force. I'm not arguing that this is a justifiable crime or that the perpetrator shouldn't be removed from society - that's a given for anybody who hacks up another person with a sword. But I do wish that prosecutors would just look at the obvious motives in front of them instead of trying to figure out if they can find a way to blame the crime on music or occultism. They did the same thing with the Columbine shooting, another case of mentally ill kids retaliating with deadly force after years of bullying.

If we could get past this mindset maybe we could actually address some of the underlying problems. Schools need to step in and address bullying before it ever gets far enough to provoke even a mentally ill individual to violence. Also, students with mental illnesses should have access to decent and affordable mental health care to keep them from doing anything drastic. I know from personal experience that at least in the United States when kids are bullied the schools rarely do anything about it, and health care for mental illness is both stigmatized and underfunded. Finally, we could redirect a lot of resources our society currently spends trying to ban music, books, and occult practices that have nothing to do with any of these crimes.

UPDATE: Hamse appeared in court today and claimed that a ghost he met in a field instructed him to become a Satanist. Either he's agling for an insanity defense (how does South Africa handle insanity in criminal trials, anyway?), he's schizophrenic, or there's a ghost out there who's making a lot of trouble. I'm guessing it's one of the first two because I've never in my life come across a ghost that even mentioned Satan, and besides, real ghosts are pretty rare. On the other hand, about 0.5% of the population is schizophrenic.

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Dean Wilson said...

Here here! Excellent post, and I agree completely.

An example of similar reasoning is with Heath Ledger's death. Nearly everyone I encounter puts it down to him playing the Joker, totally ignoring the fact that he was a drug addict (having taken cocaine and heroine, I believe), and he thought his wife was going to file a paper for sole custody of their child. I'd say that has more to do with him overdosing on sleeping tablets than his playing the Joker.

So, likewise this applies to school shootings and the like. Hell, I was bullied quite a bit as a child, and all it did for me is build resentment. In many cases it can become so extreme and prolonged that it breaks the spirit of a child, who may, like in these cases, react with violence. It is unfortunate, and I agree that this doesn't excuse the actions (murder is still murder at the end of the day), but it does give us some insight into the "why" of it all, which should help us better prevent it from happening again. But no... let's blame the occult, music, TV, and videogames. Indeed, often the influence of violence is from the parents of children or from other school kids who could potentially be beating up others. And they wonder where the notion of violence comes from. *shakes head*

Anyhow, great post. Very lucid.


Ananael Qaa said...

I think it's just a lot easier for a lot of people to blame influences that are "out there" than to accept that under the right circumstances otherwise normal people can do some pretty heinous things. On top of that, mental illness is a lot more common than most people think it is. 24% or the population suffers from depression, 6.5% from bipolar disorder, and 0.5% from schizophrenia. That's almost one person in three.

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame once chronicled a list of various logical fallacies. The one the whole media hysteria reminds me of was called something like "reaching completely bizarre conclusion with no accompanying evidence." The example he gave was: "My car won't start. I'm certain that the spark plugs have been stolen by rogue clowns."

Psyrkus said...

He, :D
I like clowns

Here's my contribution... The Video.
If ruining THIS was a crime... then Harmse would indefinately be guilty as charged!