The Lessons of Cho Seung-Hui Killings.

In the 48th comment on Joe Holman's satirical post about the Cho Seung-Hui killings, our own exapologist makes a very good point, one that I expressed to my wife last night, and one which is reminiscent of the Columbine shooters.

While many of us want to argue back and forth about the lessons learned from this killer for and against Christianity, exapologist wrote:
I'm worried about the extent to which this massacre is being used to make our pet points, without taking to heart what happened here.

There is a pattern. A kid, or group of kids, are picked on and alienated from their peers. I'm not talking about an occasional jab, but a systematic, coordinated rejection of a child as a non-person. The kid internalizes the message. It builds up until they can't take it any more, and so they explode -- with lethal consequences.

Why is it so hard to learn this lesson? This sort of systematic alienation is just too much for the human psyche. We're essentially social creatures, and can't survive this sort of global rejection. Can't schools, or at least parents, raise their kids well enough so that it would never occur to them to engage in this sort of bullshit?
Here are two links talking about the treatment Cho Seung-Hui suffered from people in general. See here, and here.

What is wrong with us that we cannot treat people who are different from us humanely and with some measure of respect?


Anonymous said...

Oh, and before someone flippantly says it's because we are all sinners, we can still do something to change this, if we work together on it with our kids, by being good examples to them, and by being kinder to others. If not, there will be more killings. It's that simple. So it's just rational to decide to do something about this before someone else goes off the deep end.

Didn't we learn this lesson from the Columbine shootings?

Anonymous said...

many kids are picked on, isn't the true sign of character really how one deals with and responds to adversity?

I read a very insightful column, I'm not sure if you will agree but here is the link if you are interested.


Anonymous said...

Not quite sure if this is on-topic, but I wish to bring attention to heroes like this professor who sacrificed his own life to save his students:

exapologist said...

Calvin said: "It was the parents fault. Oh Ok. It's
all becoming clear to me now. Maybe we should lock
them up and put them in prison."

Reply: I don't recall making an argument about locking up parents. My point
was that children should be raised properly, which
includes getting them to see that it's not ok to
systemically break another child down psychologically,
whether individually or collectively. I think this is
a pretty low bar of child-rearing. I thought it was a
fairly simple and uncontroversial point, but alas...

Mia said: "many kids are picked on, isn't the true
sign of character really how one deals with and
responds to adversity? "

Reply: Again, I'm not talking about isolated incidents
where a kid picks on another kid. Rather, as I put it
in my original comment:

"I'm not talking about an occasional jab, but a
systematic, coordinated rejection of a child as a


"This sort of *systematic* alienation is just too much
for the human psyche. We're essentially social
creatures, and can't survive this sort of *global*

Also, do you really want to own the position that the
solution to sytematic and collective denigration of a
child is just for the victim to "suck it up"? From a
tactical point of view, that seems implausible in
principle and in practice (with a view to our
country's track record of cases like this). From a
moral point of view, it strikes me as pretty vile and

Anonymous said...

I was the same way growing up. When I was in the first grade they sent me to a special school at lunch time because I wouldn't talk or play with the other kids. Growing up through high school I had very little friends and couldn't strike up a conversation with people. Especially girls. I was ridiculed rejected and was considered as "different." When I was younger my dad use to beat up my mom and they divorced at an early age. I soon turned to drugs and alcohol and the fears of people increased throughout college. I soon landed in AA and learned that it wasn't other people who were the problem it was me that was the problem. One thing good about AA is they teach you to stop blaming everybody else for your problems. Then I tried every self-help book in the world to try and build my self-esteem. Which is complete nonsense. It wasn't until I got John Piper's books Desiring God, Future Grace, and the Pleasures of God that I started understanding God and things and come to my senses. All this talk about other people causing you to be a certain way and causing you to murder people is pure BULSHIT!

Anonymous said...

Calvin, given the scenerio you painted YOU could've been like this killer, except that you found help. There are others like you and Cho Seung-Hui out there who won't find the needed help. There are potential killers out there, and some slip through the cracks. But surely the fact that you found help was a bit of luck. Surely you cannot mean to justify the ill treatment of others just because you overcame it.

Anonymous said...


Was Cho Seung-Hui responsible for what he did or wasn't he? Certainly I don't mean to support mistreatment of children, but many people undergo mistreatment without becoming mass murderers. In fact, individual mass murder is a pretty rare event.

exapologist said...

You seem to assume that responsibility can't be shared. From that fact that Cho is blameworthy, it doesn't follow that his collective denigrators are blameless.

Anonymous said...

No I don't justify the ill treatment of others. But I'm not going to blame someone else for my ill treatment of others either. I will not buy the lie anymore from these fuckhead shrinks that tell me I am not responsible for my illtreatment of someone else.

Anonymous said...

Calvin, as a believer, the gospel message is that you are fully known and fully loved. Being fully known by other people does not always elicit the "fully loved" response - I feel protective of you. God bless you for sharing your story here - that is very valuable insight and understanding that you have to offer.
Anon 1035

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

First, I want to say to Calvin that your confession makes me understand and be a bit more sympathetic to you -- if not to your opinions. (Though having read Paul Manata makes me think better of those, if only in comparison. And I entirely agree about the need for personal responsibility. There may be causes for why we act the way we do, but we are responsible for what we do, and we have an obligation both to act responsibly and to take responsibility, whatever other forces also have to share that responsibility.)

I do appreciate much of what exapologist has to say, but I have to question some of it. There are a great number of people who get put down as 'outsiders' by their peers in high school and college. Frequently gays, eccentrics, atheists, etc. But I find a different type in the Columbine and VT stories.

There are types who seem to deliberately make themselves outsiders, who seem to seek out the abuse they receive. Masochism, as a personality type does exist -- I have known too many examples. I mean people who are convinced -- for various reasons but, in my experience most frequently from parental or religious causes -- they they deserve and need abuse, failure, etc, and seem to deliberately create this. They make it almost impossible to like them and tend towards the sort of 'dark violence' as a persona. They might have one or two people of similar mindset as companions in self-created misery, as did the Columbine shooters, but someone who approaches them as a friend, who tries to praise, to lift them out of their isolation, gets shoved away.
Teenagers can be cruel anyway, but the type I am speaking of sometimes leave their classmates with no choice to be cruel or to ignore them. (If an attempt is made to get close, the outsider increases his fences and makes himself more and more 'unlovable' or 'unapproachable.'

Yes, these people are seriously disturbed, and this lessens their responsibility. But it is not easy to deal with their disturbance. They so greatly fear success, fear being treated as an equal, as a friend -- and having to live up to these. They are convinced they don't deserve anything good, and they have an immense guilt that is only increased by 'good treatment.'

This is the type of 'outsider' that turns into the shooter, not the gay, the nerd, the eccentric, the atheist, the 'typical comic book fan' etc. They can accept friendship, and can also deal with their outsider status while treasuring those who accept and appreciate their 'specialness.' The 'masochist-loner' turns his hatred of himself outward.

I want to see what the comments say before I explore more what seems to cause this destructive syndrome.

Susan (Ayame) said...

When I first heard about the shooting, one of my first reactions was that whoever this person was who did this must not have been loved very much. Please don't anyone flame me for writing this... I also felt terrible for the parents who were going to get these awful phone calls telling them their children were dead. I couldn't handle getting a phone call like that. I felt the whole situation was incredibly strange, purposeless and surreal.

I certainly think that Cho is responsible for his actions. We're all responsible for what we do. I do think, though, that people are molded by their experiences and that these experiences can, and often do narrow the kind of person that someone can become. Some experiences make us better, stronger, others are like poison.

The question that you bring up about treating people with respect as human beings is very close to me. My daughter is autistic. One characteristic of the "autism awareness movement" is to depersonalize autistic individuals. Groups get more money when they play on people's sympathy. The autism puzzle symbol that many of you are familiar with is very depersonalizing. The idea that autistic individuals are "puzzles" to figure out instead of children, brothers, sisters to be loved is very damaging. It doesn't seem obvious, but it is. Read any webpage actually written by an autistic kid or adult and you'll see what I mean.

I'm not trying to get off topic. Rather, I'm trying to say that depersonalization happens a lot. I think fat people are depersonalized--yesterday on the news they were talking about overweight children. They showed all of this footage of heavy little girls in bikinis--no faces, just their backs and bellies. How depersonalizing is that? I think that Muslims are depersonalized in this country. Even Asians are depersonalized with the stereotypes of them as smart, for example. Imagine not being a smart Asian kid. Other (non Asian) kids don't readily accept them because they don't fit into the pre-packaged stereotype.

I'm trying not to ramble, but I'm glad you made this post and glad I got a chance to add my opinions.

Anonymous said...

It seems likely that Cho was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, a genetic disease that can be exacerbated by environmental effects -- but a genetic mental illness nonetheless. If so, this has nothing with "sin", religiosity, etc. and everything to with paranoid delusions.

Joe E. Holman said...

For the record, I was "picked on" in school worse than many were. Sure, like everyone else, I feel sorry for anyone whose life is driven to the breaking point, but what can I do? Life demands that we rise above our circumstances. Those who can't are fuck-ups who will be eliminated. I not about to waste time mamby-pamby-ing over a psychotic piece of shit like this. I've got enough of my own problems.


nsfl said...

For the record, I'm really tired of everyone, and I mean everyone using this tragedy as a means to advance their arguments. CHristians, NRA members, gun control advocates, atheists, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Single events like this are completely unnecessary to make a point -- tragedy is everywhere, all the time, but people are moved mindlessly to use single examples by the media spotlighting them. 25,000 people starve to death every day. 200 people were killed in Baghdad in a single day right when this happened at VT. Pick any random terrible thing to hone in on, people. Why this?

VT alum '04

exapologist said...

I agree that it's inappropriate to sit around and fret over "poor old Cho" in the face of his slaughtering his victims. But this is of course logically independent of whether or not it's ok for kids to join in and publicly and repeatedly call a kid a piece of shit or a fag or a nigger or a kike, or any "lesser" sort of dehumanizing denigration. It's pretty much self-evident that this is wrong and that parents should raise their kids so that they wouldn't participate in this sort of thing ("train up a child in the way that he should go, and even when he's old he won't depart from it"). I'm fascinated that hardly anyone -- including Christians, who have Jesus saying that those who even call someone a fool are facing hellfire, and who condemns those who "*cause* one of these little ones to stumble" -- has spoken up and said that "yeah, that's pretty despicable and immoral. People should be ashamed if their kids participate in that sort of crap". Instead, the topic is changed to separate issues such as (e.g.) whether kids treated this way bear no responsibiliity at all, or couldn't have done other than what they did, etc. Strange.

Anonymous said...

For the record, and I think everyone will agree, what people did to Cho pales by all comparison to what he did. There are sicko's in our society. Cho was one of them. I feel for the victims. It's too bad that life is just too difficult for some people to handle. Yes, life is difficult. We should all know that by now and do what we can to lift other people's burdens, even if what we do may not be enough to help some people like Cho.

Anonymous said...

I don't no man. I've been thinking. I know exactly what this guy was going through. But I stuck it through. I didn't quit. I don't want anybody to go through that forever. Nobody deseves it. Not even Cho.

Anonymous said...

Rest in Peace my brother

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I understand both Daniel's complaint about people 'using' the tragedy for their own agendas and those who have done this. We all seek reasons for a horror like this. (I put the gun control people in a different category -- perhaps because I am one. But without Cho being able to get those guns, the tragedy would not have occured.)
The attempts to understand Cho, whether my own or Susan's or Calvin's or anonymous' are important, but, as far as I know, he did not turn on his tormenters but on 'people in general.' (I have not read the details, quite deliberately. What would it serve except ghoulish curiosity?)

But for me, the most important statement was the heading of one of the many editorial cartoons on the tragedy:


Anonymous said...

Maybe it is just easier to say that Cho or others are "beyond help" because we don't have to do anything about it...maybe it is easier to say "this was unavoidable" because then we dont have to realize that our own kids can be jerks and that we could actually do something.

I think it is interesting that we look for the excuses about these cases to passively justify our laziness, inaction, and yes--apathy. Even if the "something" might work, we choose "nothing." In a couple weeks, this story will die down to dust and another cho will come along in a few years. But hey--if we can stomach letting genocides go by, thousands of people starve to death, wars continue, etc. then this will be cake.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, I don't think it is wrong for people to gain insight and understanding from such tragedies so that we can be better equipped to respond with intervention and courage for the future. But, in a thread common to what you said, I do believe it is wrong to exploit such incidents to promote self-aggrandizing agendas. I feel strongly that we should not suppress or bypass the chance to grow in compassion and courage and if these discussions can effect a change in our personal lives, then I feel it is more than constructive.


Anon 1035

Einzige said...

Calvin said:

I don't no man. I've been thinking. I know exactly what this guy was going through. But I stuck it through. I didn't quit. I don't want anybody to go through that forever. Nobody deseves it. Not even Cho.

But, of course, now that he's dead he deserves an eternity of damnation to the lake of fire and estrangement and ridicule from God forever because he didn't accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior?

Do you not see a serious contradiction, here?

Anonymous said...

While I do think we should seek ways to help people like Cho, for the record I see nothing wrong with taking this event an using it as an illustration of something we may want to make a point about.

Let's say we want to make the point that we ought to treat one another better, which is what exapologist and I have done here. What exactly is wrong with that? If we wanted to make that same point without referring to any tragic event whatsoever, then how would we make that point? There are consequences if we don't treat people better, is our point, but without being able to speak about a particular tragic event, then we cannot make that point forcefully. And what better time than when some event like this is fresh on our minds? Let's say instead we talk about the Columbine shootings, and use them to illustrate the same point. People may have forgotten exactly what happened, and there will still be people who will say we shouldn't use it to illustrate our point. I don't get it. Without vivid illustrations of what we're talking about, we cannot talk about the consequences of the failure to do what we ask. To those of you who object, what would you wish any of us to do differently?

Steve said...

Yeah, I agree with Jim Benton on the possibility of Cho wanting himself to be an outsider. I have experienced wanting to be depressed, and alone, and finding reasons to do so. Some people get over it, and some don't. Sometimes it makes people feel special to be an outsider, misunderstood by everyone. Speculation over whether this was avoidable at all is just that - purely speculative. We can't know if Cho was treated better that he wouldn't have done it, and we also can't know if the opposite is true.

As to the using of this incident to advance points that people want to make, I don't see it as wrong, because the issues being discussed are on people's minds beforehand - things like this just bring them out. Even so, it is disgusting when politicians do this, because most of them are just looking to gain favor with whatever crowd they are playing to.

That said - Gun Control wouldn't necessarily have stopped this from happening. Cho obviously was fairly intelligent, and could have found a way to get guns illegally or another method of murder. In places where they do have gun control, the crime rate for gun crimes goes up - not down.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Can you give any statistics to back up the last statement? (I am referring to country statistics. Even though I am reasonably sure it is not accurate even for state statistics in the US, it is obvious that if a state institutes gun controls and a citizen merely has to go to a neighboring state and buy a gun there, this will make the original state's laws less effective.)

LivingDust said...

What a shame that Cho didn't kill himself with his new 9mm handgun and forego MURDERING 32 INNOCENT PEOPLE. Hopefully, colleges and universites will now be become more proactive in removing mentally ill students from their ranks.

Martin said...

What a shame God didn't turn up to protect those 32 innocent people, either. Of course, God has an excuse in that he doesn't exist. I hope along with you that colleges and universities, whose faculty do exist, will indeed know how to recognize the danger signs, and get a sick person the help he needs before we have another massacre on our hands.

Anonymous said...

We all live for pleasure and through my experience and many others, God gives the greatest pleasure. I believe that Cho did this because he thought he would finally get pleasure in killing others and getting revenge on them, and in killing himself. This is a really great quote and you'll find I will be using it a lot:

"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." - C.S. Lewis

We are too easily pleased but that pleasure in earthly things never lasts long.