Monday, July 23, 2012


The media say that the FBI are searching for a motive for the Aurora, Colorado massacre.  "Why?" is a frequently asked question, number five on the five w's list:  who, what, when, where, why.  Answers to the whys of human behaviour, though, tend to be speculative.  DNA or other evidence will often help nail down who, what, when, where, and even how, but give no hints to why.

If we knew why random, senseless atrocities occurred, we could predict them and stop them before they happened.  But I suspect there is no why.  Perhaps the shooter will offer a reason besides "I'm the joker," but even an explanation given by the perpetrator will not create a satisfying why.  Nonetheless, we would very much like one.  This article suggests that needing an explanation seems wired into the brain:

BEHAVIOR; Mind Fills The Need To Explain

"While mapping the brain, they [neurophysiologists] were amazed to find that when the area responsible for an emotion was electronically stimulated, subjects experienced the mechanically induced feeling, then instantly came up with reasons for their responses."

Many people will come up with a why.  We need to, but I suspect events like the Montreal Massacre, the Columbine massacre, and the tragedy in Aurora ultimately arise from the unique experiences and chemistry of the shooters.  Perhaps it would be more helpful to examine, question, and circumscribe the how.


  1. by b_b at 10 hours ago Why is Everyone Is Asking "Why?"?
    "Why?" is an important question, in my opinion. Maybe it can't always be answered, but thinking about it can be informative. For example, is this man's behavior an extreme manifestation of of some popular discontent? Why is often neglected in explanations except in these extreme cases. "Why do kids do drugs?" is a much more informative question than "how do kids get possession of drugs?" or "how can we stop them from doing so?". This type of thinking has led to the failed war on drugs, just as an example. Asking why we live in a society where murder is basically normal, and media ratings spike whenever an especially dramatic murder or murders occur is worthwhile. Who, what, where and how are just facts, and that's all they are. They give the illusion of informing, while only providing information.

  2. Thanks for your thought-provoking and challenging reply b_b. "Why" is an important question and I may have been too glib to discount it. It's just harder to pin down a "why" with any accuracy - but we are so desperate for an explanation, a cause, a culprit - that we point to various whys to help ourselves understand, even though they might be just a small piece of the puzzle. The Columbine kids played violent video games - but were violent video games the "why?" The Columbine kids were teased and bullied -- and I'm very glad that anti-bullying programs are finally getting out there. You might be right. Maybe there is something we can do to reduce some of the whys. (I think, by the way, that the Second Amendment has a lot to answer for.)

  3. by b_b at hubski Why is Everyone Is Asking "Why?"?
    I think the question of why is often avoided in these scenarios because no one wants to be seen as legitimizing the act. I think reasons can be perceived as excuses, and shooting people at random certainly cannot be excused. But this doesn't change the fact that everything has causes, and that sometimes those causes reflect poorly on us as a whole. It is easier to just state that this was a senseless act for which there isn't a sufficient explanation, end of story.
    As to your point about the 2nd amendment, one thing I can't wrap my head around is that the 2nd amendment guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear arms. It does not specify what type of, nor how many arms are permissible. Unless we are to say that anyone who can afford a nuclear weapon should be able to have one, then I think we can all agree, independent of our individual love or distaste for guns, that some limit exists. Having a hunting rifle is a far cry from having an arsenal. Where should the line be drawn? I don't know, but I sure enjoyed the hell out of this history lesson: