The top trending article on the website of National Review this week is a piece by David French which attempts, in the wake of the recent carnage that unfolded at Santa Fe High School in Texas, not to offer a solution to the horrific trend of school shootings, but more of a diagnosis. Pointing to the insight of Malcom Gladwell, whose own position is influenced by the work of Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, French is convinced that “each mass shooting lowers the threshold for the next.”
He argues that none of these incidents can be examined in isolation from the others and that they represent a kind of macabre cultural trend, beginning with Columbine, in which the shooters become more and more indistinguishable from their peers. In other words, it might be the case that mass shootings are not only the result of grievances or disturbances on the part of the perpetrators, but really embody the unfolding of a chilling script that was written by shooters who have come before them.
Perpetrators will need less and less personal justification for considering mass violence. Looking for warning signs, then, won’t be nearly as easy, at least according to Gladwell. And if it is true that Columbine marked a watershed moment, then it might be worthwhile to look more deeply at the motivations of those who perpetrated that crime. They discussed their motivations in quasi-spiritual terms and articulated their lack of belief in any inherent meaning in reality with religious conviction. That would seem to indicate that the phenomenon of school shootings, as vexing a psychological, sociological, legal and cultural problem it is, may also be a spiritual one.