“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”—Aldous Huxley, Brave New World1
The deadly assaults American teenagers committed against their classmates, such as Kip Kinkel at Thurston High School, and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine, shocked many in the Western world and outside. Each time after such tragedies, we lean in great detail about the shooters’ personal lives, but the true motives, as well as the true causes for those motives, often remain meticulously hidden from public view.
Opinion leaders misuse such school attacks only to pronounce their political dis- or approval of, for example, the arms industry, violence in the media, or violent computer games. The true story is buried underneath a pile of speculation.
However, research shows that all, not some, not many, but all young school shooters carry with them a history of child maltreatment.2 It’s not the case that all maltreated children will become murderers, but it is the case that all school murderers had been maltreated earlier in life.
Violence in the Media
After each bloodbath, media and public go looking for simplified answers. Rather than digging deeper, we blame gun laws, violent computer games, devilish pop music, heartbreak, bullying, or the rise of right-wing populism, but the fact that hundreds of millions of people are exposed to these matters on a daily basis, without every turning into murderers, refutes the argument that these things make people violent.
After all, the book series Lord of the Ring or Harry Potter are also about hateful wizards who want to exterminate entire peoples. Nevertheless, not a single fan of these series spends years of his life preparing and planning a mass murder of innocent people. If violent books don’t turn youth into murderers, why would computer games do so?
Even if hateful internet pages could incite people to become mass murderers, why, of all the millions of internet users, has this exclusively affected a handful of people? In reality, we overestimate the media’s persuasiveness.
A Muslim scholar who, for example, studies the Bible, won’t suddenly convert to Christianity. A company manager who out of personal interest reads Karl Marx’ The Capital won’t turn into a convinced socialist overnight. Nor will an “innocent and shy boy turn into a stone-cold monster” merely after reading about right-wing conspiracy theories.3
On the other hand, malicious people can draw inspiration from various media sources. However, such sources of inspiration never are the cause of the hateful emotions that later form the foundations of terror. The Islamic State warriors in Iraq and Syria may plead loyalty to Koranic verses, which they read as justification for their acts of terror, but the texts were never the cause of their emotional hatred.
Instead, those hateful emotions have a different cause. Isn’t it obvious that terrorists, jihadists, mass murderers, school shooters and dictators all come from broken families, and that even as young children they had been confronted with inhuman violence against their souls?
To children who grow up in a culture of hate, hate is the only kind of love they’ll ever know.