Taking the Popular Wisdom Seriously is a Little Disturbing, No?

Dylann Roof

As a quick following-up to this morning’s earlier post on how quickly we tend to conclude, but only in some cases, that certain gunmen in mass shootings are “lone wolves” (whose actions couldn’t be anticipated), it occurred to me that there’s a largely unseen ramification to attributing individual, psychological motives to the actions of white guys as opposed to the ease with which many of us seem to attribute planned, political motives to pretty much everyone else who does something heinous.

For this sort of popular wisdom seems to suggest that, while everyone else is a rational actor (whether we agree with them or not, of course), we just have to accept that white men are, to whatever extent, unpredictable and psychologically disturbed.

Isn’t that the hidden message contained in the way that many of us often approach understanding these sorts of events?

Now, don’t misread me: I’m not advancing this position myself — not at all. Instead, all I’m doing is taking the usual or popular analysis of motives, in such situations, seriously; for although it may be offered as a way to make sense of such shootings it could, instead, strike some as even more unsettling, since it seems to suggest that there’s all sorts of white guys walking around who  could just go off at any second.

For, as I said, we often say that, in those cases, the causes are individual, idiosyncratic, and therefore unpredictable, and thus, by definition, unpreventable — making it something just to be tolerated, I guess. Like a lightning strike.

“Who could have seen that coming…?”

“It’s senseless violence…”

Though it’s the rational actors, the ones whom we believe make meticulous and coordinated plans, who occur to us as the terrorists, it’s not unthinkable that its the apparently lone wolves who might be even more of a threat, no? For at least we assume that the actions of former group can be prevented, if we just understood their motives and methods better….

So, though it’s likely unrecognized by many who talk this way, sewn into our usual explanations seems to be an even more disturbing theory some of us apparently hold about white guys — no?

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