This article appeared in the Standard-Times of New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 4/28/99
Page C4, Opinion; Copyright 1999 by Beth David

Fractured values system is creating angry outcasts

We expect writers to have the right words because they're the tools of the trade. When the world needs words, magic words, healing words, the writers are compelled to oblige.

So when the news broke of mass murder at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, the writers wrote. And they wrote questions. How could this happen? How could this twisted and complicated plot be kept secret for so long? Can't we blame someone? How do we stop it from happening again?

It's all-consuming, this need to understand why regular kids become murderous monsters. Even as we tell ourselves not to watch it or read it or obsess about it, we do. Because we have to put it into words: poems, songs, speeches ... eulogies.

Anti-abortion activists say abortion is the culprit. Pro-choicers go slack-jawed in amazement and remind them who's bombing clinics and shooting doctors.

Disciplinarians say punishment is the answer, fueling one of the fastest growing industries in the country: prisons.

The self-righteous blame the First Amendment. Technophobes blame the Internet. Sports haters blame overpaid athletes with bad attitudes. Hollywood haters blame movies and sitcoms. Traditionalists blame working mothers.

But mostly, we look for an adult to blame. The thought of Harris and Klebold being wholly responsible, with only the help of some friends, terrifies us. Even as we revel in blaming teen-agers for most of the unruliness around us, we can't believe they're capable of independently planning and executing this complicated and bloody operation.

Each passing day reveals something else that should've been noticed, a place along the way where these boys could've been stopped, or at least diverted. Maybe it's the Hawkeye Pierce Phenomenon. Hawkeye was that kooky surgeon of the MASH 4077th. He got away with reprehensible behavior because of his exceptional surgical skills.

President Clinton gets away with despicable behavior because people think he's a good president. The jocks in high school get away with bad behavior because they win games. So maybe the outcasts got away with their eccentricities because they were really very bright and obviously capable of serious accomplishments.

Schools are microcosms of society. It takes more than a few jocks pushing their weight around to create the almighty pecking order. It takes a societal structure that supports the caste system. It's called institutional racism. And when the self-entitled ones fancy themselves suffering from its bias, look out.

Because nothing on Earth is more lethal than the white, middle class male who feels unjustly deprived of his birthright. These men expect more. After all, they do grow up to be presidents. The system belongs to them. That's what all the movies say and all the TV shows show: white boys taking the world by storm and winning the girls in the process. And if it doesn't work as expected, someone must pay.

It's not enough to focus on the potential violence of the outcasts. We need to focus on the abuse created by the system itself, a system that creates those outcasts. Only then can we build a society where everyone is valued -- jocks and misfits, women and minorities, computer geeks and the technically incompetent -- valued enough to believe that there's hope in engaging the system legitimately.

The stars of a high school, whether they be jocks, cheerleaders, debaters or valedictorians, should not be allowed to bully anyone, but they take their cues from us. And a bunch of adolescent Hitler worshipers shouldn't be allowed to bully classmates under the guise of free speech. But they take their cues from us.

It's easy to blame the video games, the guns, the bomb-making books. But these are only the tools the boys used for their scheme. Remove those tools and other, more deadly ones will undoubtedly replace them. Don't we hear constantly about the days when kids used their fists? Then bats. Then knives. Then guns. Now bombs. What next?

And there will be something next. There always is. It's built into the system.

Surely you don't believe that taking a writer's tools away would silence her. Maybe she'd paint a picture instead. They tell me a picture is worth a thousand words.

Beth David owns YASNY Designs in Fairhaven.