Autobiography of a Former Nice Guy
I had a strange reaction to a story about a school shooting this week.
And I know that first sentence is never an uplifting way to start a reflection.
But this school shooting was indeed unusual.
It didn’t get too much attention. Maybe a half dozen reports on it, most copied or lightly shuffled copy from the Associated Press release.
And fortunately, although three people were injured in the shooting, no one died. So it won’t even make the data set for “mass shootings”.
I normally don’t even like reading content surrounding mass shootings anyway (I’d say “Who does?” but I’ll be damned if there aren’t like twenty plus 24 hour news networks…).
Research is clear that publishing a shooter’s name and motives/bio only serve as validation to other potential shooters that they, too, can live in infamy with the right amount of firepower. Yet the media publishes it all, desperate to dominate the new Attention Economy through whatever dopamine responses they can trigger.
And truly my heart has hardened to the individual instances. It’s so much harder to look the individual cases square in the eye.
Much easier to lament broad trends of societal decay in the abstract.
Much easier to cast these perpetrators of violence with broad brushes.
But I clicked on the article. I had to. And it was because of one word in the headline.
So, if you’re not as much of a masochist as I am and skipped the article, the TL;DR is, a middle school student brought a gun to school and shot three people before a teacher approached and disarmed and embraced the shooter until authorities arrived. Obviously due to the age of the shooter, there won’t be much additional information about motive.
I’d be lying if I said the middle school part was the most shocking, though it’s a close second. Or by the absolute audacity of the teacher that opted to face and disarm an active school shooter at whatever age.
Nope. All distant to the single pronoun in the headline.
I honestly thought I’d misread the headline.
Before sitting down to write this, I just threw out a number in my head that 95% of mass shooters were men. And I was low by a few percentage points if you reference The Violence Project’s mass shooter database (and by the way, spare yourself….) who put the number closer to 98%.
There are exponentially more articles and think pieces about “why only men shoot” than there are female shooters.
The perpetration of mass violence has been so dominantly male, and so frequently occurring in our society, that we have been forced to develop an archetype of the school shooter. We’ve even given them a cute if derisive nickname: incels.
Real talk, when I first hear the term incel I thought it was some type of organization.
Googling the term took me into a corner of Reddit I’d only heard of: The Redpill community.
By the way I’m not going to leave you all in the dark here if I’m throwing out terms foreign to you. Reddit isn’t easy to explain but it shouldn’t be super foreign to you that it’s a website that exists and literally every conceivable human topic is discussed on it. EVERY. CONCEIVABLE. TOPIC. In it’s tenure it’s gotten, ahem, “flak” for not appropriately moderating hate speech, propaganda, violence, and gore on its platform (all valid critiques, even if their motives stemmed from the noble ideals of free speech). Anyway, plumb the depths of Reddit at your own risk (and take the NSFL (not safe for LIFE) tags SUPER SERIOUSLY)
The concept of the red pill is pulled straight from The Matrix. Neo chooses the red pill to ‘wake up and see the truth’ vs. taking the blue pill and waking up blissfully enslaved in the Matrix.
This Redpill community is oriented around men sharing “the truth” about women, and how badly they couldn’t get them.
The basic gist of it is, these guys are great! It’s women that are the problem. They referred to themselves as involuntarily celibate, or incel, and they treated it as a cross to bear for their moral superiority to women. Women were craven and cruel beasts who manipulate and entrap men in relationships to survive. These were nice guys, doing all the things society says they’re supposed to do, and that women can’t see that is just, like, totally their fault...
Ironically, the original ethos was “We don’t need no stinkin’ ladies, amirite guys?!?! ::sobs audibly::”
But, because the internet, the community quickly turned violent.
And now, the term is being broadly applied to perpetrators of violence more generally. “Did you hear about the mass shooting?” “Ugh, yea, some fucking incel can’t get a lady shot up the place!” “LOL”
“Um…. not the right response Dave?”
The notion that sexual frustration or repression makes men commit acts of violence is a somewhat trodden road. And it’s hard not to notice patterns. But I think that’s sort of a cop out that disservices and severely misunderstands the range of male emotion, and undervalues the overarching harm ideas about toxic masculinity have in our society.
Also, I very much used to consider myself a ‘nice guy’.
So, usually the ellipses marks a tangential shift. I’m not going to do that to you today… I just needed to insert a brief pause. You know, to insert some oxygen.
And to allow myself the time to ease your mind a little.
I am not violent. Nor have I ever been. When I lived in St. Louis I had a punching bag in my room that I would occasionally exercise to but it was never to release aggression. To be perfectly honest it was because I saw the world was crazy and didn’t want to have a super soft jab if it ever came to it.
And I always considered myself to be a nice guy.
This was an intellectual opponent to the “bad boy”. All the girls I knew dated guys that were mean to them, or didn’t treat them with respect, or were just acting like boys and hormones overlook flaws. (remember at a time when it was considered ‘cute/romantic’ when a boy would be mean to or hit a girl. ‘It’s cuz he likes you!’ was usually the take… Major cringe shit you guys).
Because as we all have seemingly come to accept, boys can be dicks. “Boys will be boys'' isn't just a cute phrase. It’s hand-waved rapes, domestic violence, and murders throughout human history. Hanging out in large groups of dudes almost guarantees someone will get into a fight, or get sucker punched, or will make a girl feel uncomfortable. And GOD FORBID you’d fall asleep in one of these packs...
Anyway I didn’t have a lot of guy friends.
I was nice to girls. I treated them like people. I kind of don’t know any other way to treat anyone.
And I had scores of girl friends.
IMPORTANT DISTINCTION: I had zero girlfriends.
All of my hormones were firing, and I was attracted to girls. I mistakenly assumed the hormones did most of the work. All I had to do was be in the area of girls and treat them like people and be friends with them and one day they’d look at me a little too long one afternoon, pulses would quicken, lips would part slightly, cue saxophone (which I’d taken the liberty of studying....)… Y’know like the movies!
Of course it doesn’t work like that.
It involves making your intentions known. And, at least in my darkest anxieties, being rejected repeatedly.
So I rarely put myself out there, and when I did it would be ham-fisted and awkward. And my affections were invariably being thrown at a girl with whom I’ve already established a pretty intimate, albeit nonsexual, friendship.
A whole lot more of those girls I didn’t even pluck up the courage.
Back in my day, it was called being “Friendzoned”.
And it was fine.
I look at it like, I had these great friendships with really great girls (now women) that shared in all my triumphs and pitfalls through life. I accepted the affection they were willing to give. It was exclusively platonic. It was occasionally frustrating, but it was my frustration. And the frustration almost always faded. And I loved these girls. I still love (many of) these women.
And these girls loved me back. They just didn’t want to have sex with me. In broad hindsight (and probably rationalizing a bit), I didn’t know or love my mind/body/spirit enough to have a meaningfully satisfying sexual relationship with anyone anyway… I also probably wasn't attractive to them (this is key)
But also, and this is important... Fearing the no made me never even ask... so I never get to know how they felt because I didn't have the emotional maturity to find out.
All for the better I guess.
Besides, I got a lot out of the relationship. I felt love for another person who saw me and valued me, and chose me as a friend. Called me when they wanted to talk to someone. I wanted those reciprocal cues from my relationships, and boys (at the time, and still really...) aren’t friendly to their friends like that. Or even that nice to their friends in a lot of cases...
Luckily for me, I would later learn how to distinguish this one-sided love for others with the reciprocal and consensual love shared with a partner. But yeah, it was a few decades.
The most striking thing about the school shooter article was the framing of the attacker.
Of course they couldn’t elaborate on the girl or her state of mind due to rules surrounding minors. Inadvertently, this forced the media to do the right thing and not biograph the shooter. Still, the way the brave teacher reacted to the incident sheds a lot of light on the double standard for shooters:
From the Guardian Article: Gneiting, meanwhile, said she hopes people can forgive the girl and help her get the support she needs.
“She is just barely starting in life and she just needs some help. Everybody makes mistakes,” she told ABC News. “I think we need to make sure we get her help and get her back into where she loves herself so that she can function in society.”
All motives aside, this girl performed exactly the same act as far too many young men in the past 20 years. Not one word of sexual frustration. Probably you as a reader don’t even assume it’s a factor. But it’s a near autonomic response when the shooter is male.
Seemingly the biggest gripe with respect to male shooter apprehensions seems to be that they aren’t killed on site in some sort of vigilante justice (Arm the teachers?!).
But not in this case. Her victims approached her with compassion. They saw a girl in a mental health crisis, possibly a victim herself. They couldn’t imagine what would lead her to do this horrific act. They treated her with dignity and respect, maybe for the first time in a while (I’m still not sure what mental state is required to shoot into crowds and empathy in this context gets super messy, but it usually isn’t socially active well-liked people...)
I hope she gets mental health support the same way I hope all these young men get the mental health support they need.
YES, I also hope she faces consequences for her actions. This is partly a vestigial reflex from my own toxic masculinity and ‘eye-for-an-eye’ upbringing, but also we do need to hold people accountable when they breach the social contract (ahem, insurrectionists, looking at you fucks!)
So many police handle mental health crises poorly (or exacerbate them with their presence) it’s a major pillar of the Defund the Police movement to shift policing to a mental health role.
Who knows how much less violence there would be in our country if people took mental health more seriously from the ground up? Or understood/cared enough to truly understand what constitutes mental health (as distinguished from “mental fitness” or “mental superiority” lauded by some corners of society)
Mental health is a universal prerequisite, and mental dis-ease needs to be better understood and more compassionately treated in our society if we ever want to kick the ball forward.