5 May 1999
To whom it may concern,
It is not normally my policy to write about that which everyone and their grandmother is writing about. But then it is not normally my attitude to care what everyone and their grandmother is thinking about either.
These days, it seems that everyone is talking about the Columbine High School tragedy in Littleton, Colorado. And jaded as I may be, I somehow find myself caring, perhaps not as much about the immediate victims as I should, but at least about the event and the witchhunts that are occuring in the wake of the event.
Okay, I admit it freely: I'm a cruel and heartless bastard who hears about fifteen dead in suburbia and it doesn't horrify me. This world has too many people (last I heard, over six billion) and too many problems for the deaths of fifteen people (who are neither friends nor family; who at best carry a limited and localized significance), to phaze me.
No, my interest in Columbine is not for the death toll (many more people die around the world every day), but for the sociological phenomena. Not that I am a trained sociologist or anthropologist, admittedly -- however, having spent nearly 26 years either as an outsider or on the fringes of society, I feel I have something worth saying. As an outsider, I have been "privleged" to see society as it is, not as it necessarily perceives itself to be. And on the fringe, I have been able to verify that my perceptions were real and not just a disgruntled bias. So, I shall not claim my opinions here as unique. No, if they were unique, they probably would not be very important in this instance. In this instance, contrary to my normal habit, it is the very widespread feeling of agreement and the fact that this agreement is both understated and ignored, that makes these thoughts important.
I won't whine and belabor the point of how cruelly I was personally mistreated by peers during grade school. On a relative scale, the abuse I endured, while scarring, was mild. But many of my friends endured much worse.
More important than any abuse I endured, I managed to see firsthand how school adminstrators handle problem situations.
Sixth grade: Beth Frank constantly insulted me and intentionally knocked my books off my desk. I called her a "microscopic bitch", an invective tailored to her attitude and stature and it dug as deep as I intended it to. She complained to one teacher, who realized she had provoked the situation, and failed to do anything about it. She complained to a second teacher (who should have had less or no authority over the class since she was not there, and whose response was also unconstitutional since this was in double jeapordy), and the second teacher gave me so many days detention for using the "B word" and for insulting Beth and Beth walked away without any punishment since the teacher saw this popular student as innocent. On the bright side, Beth had no desire to discover how much sharper my tongue might be.
Eleventh grade: Hector Alvarez walked the same route home as I did every day. Every day he tormented me and spilled my books. One day I decided to literally give him a kick in the ass, so he decided to beat me up. Being that he was a wrestler and I was not athletic, he succeeded in giving me a black eye. Of course, my mother saw this and could not be convinced not to call the school. The principal said it was not his responsibility since we were off school property and then had a talk with me and told me that he could only punish Hector if he gave me a three day suspension as well, which of course I declined. On the bright side, having a black eye got a lot of people speaking and his peers gave him shit for being such an immature bully. When his friends convinced him he was very wrong and he begged me for forgiveness, I would not grant it and watched the guilt eat him alive by the way he would not even look at me for the remainder of the school year -- his bully days were done.
Twelth grade: James Kilwasser, a football player and wrestler, constantly found ways to harass me. In Phys. Ed. class he convinced a rather large basketball player that I said something, I never learned what, about him. The basketball player insulted and threatened me to the point where I could barely hold back the tears and my surrounding peers either joined in chorus or laughed at us. Surely an attentive instructor should have noticed. What happened? Nothing.
Later that year, James who had an adjacent locker, took my lock from me while I was going into my locker. I tried to take it back from him, bending his finger backwards. He punched me in the stomach with the lock in his fist!!!!!!!!! I was down on the ground and could barely breath. I spoke with the principal and James spoke with the principal, spouting all this crap about conspiracies against him. The principal told me he could only punish James if he gave both of us a double three-day suspension.
Even if you agree [sic] that I was wrong to stand up to my aggressors, even in the mild ways that I did, surely you can not say in these instances that the authorities acted appropriately.
There were other events of varied significance, but this isn't really about either the quality or the quanity of abuse. Nor does it even matter where the abuse comes from... home (fortunately I always had a good, safe home), peers or administrators, elsewhere. The point is that everyone has a breaking point. That point may vary from person to person, but if a person is pushed enough, sooner or later they will fall down. And you can't blame that person for toppling. We are not islands, but products of our society. Teach us hate and intolerance and we will learn those lessons. Some of us might simply kill ourselves, and some of us might seek to do the world a favour by taking some bastards out with us.
Even as some of my friends seem determined to spread the propoganda that "we" (which I refuse to define in any way, shape, or form) are hippies in black clothing, common sense and empirical knowledge dictates that this is not universal and the illusion is often hypocritical. I won't fault them for attempting this deceit; if ever a lie could be called noble, so would I call this -- for there is a need to end the witchhunts.
But I think if any good is to come from this tragedy (and I think good can come from anything, even this -- and if it is there, we have a responsibility to the victims that we do not allow their deaths to be meaningless), we need to really look at what happens there and elsewhere with open eyes and not try to sweep anything under the rug. We can't just try to pass off Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as lunatic fringe because there are too many people who are too much like them and the more we try to disassociate from them, the more we are likely to push them over the edge. Most of my friends, will confess to me, at least privately, that ten years ago they might easily have found themselves doing the same thing. I confess openly to the feeling. I admit that the three movies which speak loudest to me are Heathers, Falling Down, and Natural Born Killers -- which doesn't mean we should ban these movies; on the contrary, we must examine these movies and ask why they speak with such a strong voice.
We can't blame music, or movies, or guns, or video games, or the internet. To blame any of these things is to put the cart before the horse, to try to treat symptoms without treating the disease. People are called to the messages that speak to them and will find the means to express themselves. Take away one implement and they will just replace it with the next. Never think the next will be less dangerous since repression is always fuel for the fire and humans are very inventive. And realize, if someone isn't concerned about breaking the law for murder, they won't be concerned about breaking the law for illegal possession of a fire arm either.
The real problem in this society is society itself. We must stop looking for scapegoats -- races, classes, cliques, nor individuals. Whatever forms these take, we must realize they are adversive responses to the pressures of the greater outside society.
The problem is the entire American society. Our society is inherently antisocial. We are trained to condemn even any acts that promote the health, education, or standards of living of those who can not afford their own creature comforts as valuable members of the work force. We value humans as labor units. A man or woman is only worth as much as they can be exploited for. Those who can bring glory to the community for athletic feats, those who can throw parties within their homes, those who can chauffeur people around in their cars, those who can offer drugs or alcohol or the company of slutty women -- these are the things that define friendship not only in the high schools, but throughout this entire country. We do not value people as human beings!
This country is too rich. There is too much that glitters. We have lost sight of that which is valuable. If we would prevent another Columbine, we need to start seeing people, start showing people: People are not commodities to be accepted or rejected for their usefulness. We are human beings with hearts and souls, worthy of a good life even if we have nothing more to offer society than an occasional smile.
-Brian Matthew Kessler
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