The media, bullying victims, guns, school shootings – isolation, rejection & despair – how bullied victims become mass murderers
The following is part III – the continuation of a transcript of an interview between Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, PhD and Professor Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, revealing that the media encourages school shootings – “the media, by portraying school shootings, makes this now thinkable, imaginable, to other kids who are bullied.” Click here to read Part II: https://patrickwanis.com/blog/jobs-titles-situations-bring-evil-people/
Professor Zimbardo: Right.
Patrick: Okay. The second thing, when I – because I still seek an answer for the tipping point because you talk there about – not only in the Stanford experiment but even other situations – of stress. How does physical, mental and emotional stress break someone to the point where they, therefore – one day they were so quiet and shy and normal; the next day they’re someone that’s committed an act of evil and atrocity?
Professor Zimbardo: Yeah, I mean it’s – take Cho, the Korean boy at Virginia Tech. What drove him to do this horrendous deed to kill so many people and kill himself? Is he unique? When we look at the pattern, there’s been nearly a dozen school shootings in the last 10 years. And you say, “Well, what is common across this? If there’s a pattern, there must be a commonality?” And in almost all these cases, these are kids who were rejected; they were bullied; they were outcasts; they had no friends; and the new situation is in America, everybody has access to guns if they want.
So these are kids who in the past would just be shy, would be the rejects, and now you have a gun. And they’re saying, “Okay. Now we’re going to even the score.” Why doesn’t this happen in other countries? Well, partly it’s because other countries don’t have access to guns as easily as in America, but also now, the media, by portraying school shootings, makes this now thinkable, imaginable, to other kids who are bullied. That’s the way you deal with it. You don’t suffer in silence; you strike back.
Patrick: So are you saying the very fact that we’re aware of this gives us greater possibility, potential or plausibility of committing these same acts, repeating these same acts?
Professor Zimbardo: Yeah, absolutely. That is, once we become aware that there is a new option possible; that when I am bullied, I don’t have to take it. If I have a gun, I can kill the bully. I can kill those who didn’t support me. You know, that becomes an option. Most people don’t act on it. When I say there’s been a dozen shootings, you know, out of tens of thousands of high schools. So it’s still the rare event, but we’re trying to understand both the rare event and the common event. And even though it’s a rare event, what I’m saying is we can still understand it. It’s not simply, “Let’s look at the mind of the murderer.” After the Virginia Tech shootings, all of the media were focusing on “Let’s focus at the mind of this Korean boy. Here’s this crazy kid doing these crazy things.”
If you look at that video he made, he said, “I warned you,” and essentially said, “I needed a friend. I needed somebody to talk to me.”
Professor Zimbardo: Here’s a kid who lived in a dormitory, who had meals in that place. It wasn’t a commuting kid. He was there all the time, and for the past year no one had talked to him, and he had not talked to a single person for a year.
Professor Zimbardo: How did that not be noticed? So there I’m implicating the system. How could you have a college system in which there is a student that doesn’t talk to anybody, and nobody talks to him for a full year without somebody recognizing, “Hey this is not normal”?
Patrick: So the sense of isolation, the sense of rejection, the sense of being an outsider, can easily create resentment, bitterness, anger and even a sense of revenge. It’s almost like a crying out.
Professor Zimbardo: Yeah, it is a crying out. I’m saying there are many, many people who feel the same. The big question that’s hard to understand is: What is the catalyst for action? What is the catalyst where somebody feels that, feels isolated, rejected? I mean I did lots of research really on shyness. Shyness is really a common feature of most people’s lives, especially adolescents. They feel shy, feel rejected. We know bullying is a common factor in many of our middle schools. The problem is what makes somebody react on that to say, “Now, I’m going to kick butt. I’m going to take action into my own hands”?
But the same thing is we don’t understand — what is the catalyst for heroic action? So for me what psychology has to begin to address is how do these motives get translated into action? What is the trigger? You said the “tipping point”. We don’t know. We meaning no one in psychology knows.
Patrick: There are a few catalysts. You’ve mentioned them. One is stress.
Professor Zimbardo: Yeah.
Patrick: One is obviously stress. The second is you’ve used the example there of the boy at Virginia tech who is isolated; who is rejected; who is angry; who then doesn’t see any hope.
Professor Zimbardo: Right.
Patrick: Now, he’s – because I think this ties into your new book about the time paradox?
Professor Zimbardo: Right.
Patrick: He now is in such – he’s in the present moment to the extent that he feels complete despair. He can’t remember the past, and if he thinks of the future, he doesn’t see the situation changing. Correct?
Professor Zimbardo: Right, hopeless. Right. He’s trapped in what I call “the present fatalism”. See, there are two ways to be present-oriented. You could be present hedonist which means you take pleasure in life; sex, drugs, rock and roll, good friends, good times.
Patrick: “Instant gratification,” I call it.
Professor Zimbardo: Instant gratification, carpe diem. But you can also be present fatalistic which is, “Nothing I do makes a difference. My life is controlled by fate, by Allah — if you will, if you’re Muslim – also by the bullies, by welfare.” You give up. That leads to a sense of learned helplessness, “Nothing I do makes a difference. Now that I have a gun, it makes a difference.”
Professor Zimbardo: Little kids can take on big kids, and all you need is a gun.
Patrick: What you’re saying here is there are some things that seem to be possible factors in the tipping point; stress, rejection, isolation, sense of helplessness, hopelessness, powerlessness, and you use the word fatalism — This is my fate. I’m completely hopeless. I cannot change it. Maybe I can have a sense of power with the gun, but some of it is more about just wanting to hurt other people because I feel hurt. Correct?
Professor Zimbardo: Yeah, absolutely. What I’m saying is you’ve identified a set of predispositions that when somebody has that composite, then we can predict that they are at risk for doing something dangerous. But not everybody that has that profile carries it into action so all I mean to say is we don’t know why two people who have that same profile, one of them will take action and one will just suck it up and suffer in silence.
Patrick: Yeah. Recently I spoke with Dr. Peter Breggin who is known as the Conscious of Psychiatry, and has also written books on medication. His newest book is “Medication Madness,” and he talks about the dangers of antidepressants resulting in death, suicides, murder and acts of violence. Did you see any patterns of the use of antidepressants with these violent incidents?
Professor Zimbardo: No because we didn’t actually look at it. I mean we never focused on the role of medication or drugs in any of these things.
Patrick: That could be another trigger, could it not?
Professor Zimbardo: Yeah. We just did not look at it. Essentially what I’m looking at – I’m a social psychologist so I’m over emphasizing the importance of situational factors; what are the things outside of a person, what are the things in addition to a person’s disposition, their personality, their traits, their character style, that can trigger these reactions? So we know from the prison study it’s playing a role. It’s following rules. It’s being part of a group where the group has a social norm of – if you’re a guard, the social norm is, you know, “We have to punish prisoners. Show them who is boss.” But it’s also being de-individuated, I call it. That is, a sense of anonymity; that nobody knows who I am, and nobody cares. So just putting people in uniforms takes away their individuality.
Click here for Part IV – the continuation of this interview – Losing your individuality, conforming and becoming dehumanized leads to evil acts: https://patrickwanis.com/blog/losing-individuality-conforming-dehumanized-leads-evil-acts/
Anointed “The Woman Expert” by WGN Chicago, Patrick Wanis PhD is a renowned Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert who developed SRTT therapy (Subconscious Rapid Transformation Technique) and is teaching it to other practitioners. Wanis’ clientele ranges from celebrities and CEOs to housewives and teenagers. CNN, BBC, FOX News, MSNBC & major news outlets worldwide consult Wanis for his expert insights and analysis on sexuality, human behavior and women’s issues. Wanis is the first person ever to do hypnotherapy on national TV – on the Montel Williams show.