Erika Christakis on The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide

Erika Christakis addresses the topic so many would rather ignore, what are we as a society to do with ‘young men’s violent tendencies’?

In the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, there’s a lot of talk about guns. There’s a lot of talk about the mental health of the shooter. About a crisis in spirituality. Here’s Erika Christakis’s look at the the role masculinity plays:

We shouldn’t need Steven Pinker, one of the world’s leading psychologists and the author of the book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, to tell us the obvious: “Though the exact ratios vary, in every society, it is the males more than the females who play-fight, bully, fight for real, kill for real, rape, start wars and fight in wars.” The silence around the gendering of violence is as inexplicable as it is indefensible. Sex differences in other medical and social conditions — such as anorexia nervosa, lupus, migraines, depression and learning disabilities — are routinely analyzed along these lines.

For millennia, human society has struggled with what to do with young men’s violent tendencies. Many cultures stage elaborate initiation ceremonies, presided over by older men, which help channel youthful aggression into productive social roles. But in contemporary society, we have trouble talking about the obvious: the transition from boy to man is a risky endeavor, and there can be a lot of collateral damage.

Skeptics will claim that the perpetrators of horrific acts like the Aurora shootings are such aberrations that we can hardly build public policy around their evil behavior. But it’s a mistake to view mass murderers as incomprehensible freaks of nature. For example, we know that the young men who go on murderous rampages are not always sociopathic monsters but, rather, sometimes more or less “regular” men who suffered from crushing depression and suicidal ideation.

No reasonable person can imagine how despair could possibly lead to premeditated mass homicide. However, the fact that depression is so frequently accompanied by violent rage in young men — a rage usually, but not solely, directed at themselves — is something we need to acknowledge and understand.

Our refusal to talk about violence as a public-health problem with known (or knowable) risk factors keeps us from helping the young men who are at most risk and, of course, their potential victims. When we view terrible events as random, we lose the ability to identify and treat potential problems, for example by finding better ways to intervene with young men during their vulnerable years. There is so much more we need to learn about how to prevent violence, but we could start with the sex difference that is staring us in the face.

Read the full article: The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide by Erika Christakis, featured in the Ideas section at Time.com

Picture: JasonParis/Flickr

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Comments

  1. More Overwhelming Tropes. This is truly tiresome.

    It is odd that if you do a google news search for Family and Shooting you see some interesting factors emerge very quickly. Male shooters feature but so do Lady Shooters too – and they even have none Caucasian shooters – and all ages ranges too.

    It seems that Mass Murder Of Family members is fine, but if you Murder Strangers on mass it’s wrong. There do seem to be very odd priorities going on here and a pattern of Hysteria which is being used to abuse – stigmatise and frankly act like children having tantrums.

  2. I think it’s a slight exaggeration to say that “young men’s violent tendencies” is something that human society has struggled with for millennia.
    Yes, it might be true on individual basis. But on the whole, it seems more to me that human society has tried to take advantage of just those violent tendencies and by delegation of the use of force/violance expecting young men to put their safety and life on the line to stand in harm’s way in one way or the other (nightwatch/military/police/firefighters etc…)

    Sure, it’s not a one-way deal.

    • I think it’s a slight exaggeration to say that “young men’s violent tendencies” is something that human society has struggled with for millennia.

      Overwhelming, aint it?

    • wellokaythen says:

      When a community (of any size) goes to war, it is the society that goes to war, not just some of the men. Even if it’s only men holding the spear or looking through the bombsight, it’s societies that produce militaries, and societies include women. I would hate for anyone to get the bizarre impression of human history that men are always eager to go to war and women always try to talk them out of it. The women who inspired the Rosie the Riveter icon were happily manufacturing weapons used to kill people on a massive scale. Women assembled the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and they were proud to have done so.

      People raised in a violent culture are raised by both men and women. I would hazard a guess that the Newtown shooter had mostly female teachers growing up, and yet he is somehow only a product of male evil? What you will heard more often is this flipped around, so that if a man’s main influences have been women, that is men’s fault for failing to be good role models. If a man becomes a productive member of society, that is thanks to the civilizing role of women, but if he becomes a mass murderer that is due to the failure of men to raise other men properly.

  3. John Anderson says:

    “we lose the ability to identify and treat potential problems, for example by finding better ways to intervene with young men during their vulnerable years.”

    I don’t know if we ever had it. I keep thinking back to the controversy over the men’s center at SFU. The guy who started it struggled with suicidal thoughts and envisioned the men’s center as a way to help men. The women’s center opposed it as “The men’s center is everywhere else”. I would think that the first step in identifying and treating the problems would be to listen to the people who have / had them.

    • “The men’s center is everywhere else”?

      So why a Child’s centre – why a seniors centre – why have a centre for any group if they are so well accommodated in a society? In which case a Women’s centre has not place unless you insist that Patriarchy is the issue – which leaves everyone without a centre in the dark and lost.

  4. I wrote a article not a few weeks back on this very blog criticizing Ms. Christakis’ piece –

    “When we act as though the root cause of violence is some sort of masculine hardwiring, we shame males for being male to no positive end. This assumption reinforces stereotypes that are simplistic and harmful, and distracts us from looking at the real causes of antisocial and violent behavior. For example, we know that early experiences of trauma and abuse are a strong predictor for “social, emotional, and cognitive impairment” later in life, which then can often lead to destructive patterns of behavior. The underlying factors that lead to the shockingly high level of Adverse Childhood experiences are things we can attempt to address through education, better public policy, and other efforts to improve our society in myriad ways. I fail to see how any strategy targeting men for being men can be effective at doing anything more than stigmatizing, alienating, and further dividing the genders.

    Read more at http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-male-violence-and-stereotypes/#AfF6D2fZbCjzLovu.99

  5. <bI fail to see how any strategy targeting men for being men can be effective at doing anything more than stigmatizing, alienating, and further dividing the genders.

    Well if you are convinced that everything you don’t like is caused by pathology and has to be pathological, you just see an issue and throw Aspirin at it, and then complain because the Aspirin is a Pathological fail.

    I think the mindset that views all other humans through a pathology lens is pathological! Add myopia and it’s even worse.

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