First, there were no warning signs that the individual was a danger to others. Unlike the Columbine killers, Klebold and Harris, who gave ample warning of impending danger, or the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, who was demonstrably a danger to himself and others, or the neo-Nazi James Van Brunn (the Holocaust museum shooter), George Soldini was a quiet, middle aged, middle class professional who never by all accounts, came to the attention of law enforcement or mental health authorities. Short of an unconstitutional psych screening dragnet for every male 15-65, there was no way to know of the danger posed by Soldini.
Second, while violence by various lone men or small groups of men is not uncommon in America, the recent trend towards targeting large groups of innocent people is very new, and disturbing.
Third, the actions of men during many of these shootings in the United States and in Canada, are troubling, and a big reversal of what was previously the case. Which in and of itself points to a troubling new reality.
Fourth, and finally, the danger posed by lone men or small groups of loner-type men like Soldini is far overshadowed by the larger danger: men simply abandoning any investment in society and failing to preserve and protect society.
Soldini left a detailed online diary which can be seen at Half Sigma in its entirety. His principal aim in the shootings seems to have been to kill an ex-girlfriend of many years (a goal oddly not mentioned in his diary) and humiliate and destroy his mother and brother, whom he hated. His brother, by all accounts, was a successful businessman and is married.
At no time was Soldini ever identified as a man who was likely to enter an LA Fitness aerobics class and shoot up the place, targeting mostly women in their thirties and forties. He was by all accounts a fit and trim man in his late forties. He survived rounds of layoffs at the law firm where he worked as an IT professional. His net worth was over $250,000. Neighbors did not know any odd behavior, and his lack of intimate friends allowed his growing mental illness (of which he was well aware of) to proceed to its deadly conclusion. By all accounts he was able to get dates (though they went nowhere) and was invited to at least one Christmas party. He was able to function socially and conceal his intentions enough that no one had any idea he was intending to kill people.
This is different than most of the other killers of his nature in modern America. When McVeigh was arrested for the Oklahoma City bombings, none who knew him were surprised, and Klebold, Harris, and Cho all left a trail of warnings and signs that clearly indicated they were dangerous. If there are other men like Soldini, planning the same type of thing, they will be impossible to stop, since no one will know their intentions until too late. It seems that Soldini's web diary, simply sat online, unread, until the shootings. His postings on YouTube of his video tour of his apartment was unremarkable.
Mental illness is not something new. Nor is the combination of mental illness and firearms. The Walker Colt dates back to the 1840's. The Henry Rifle from the late 1850's had a 16 round magazine. The Smith and Wesson Schofield revolver introduced in the 1870's had a top break action with metallic cartridge feed. Firearms had been put to use for killing, or trying to kill, political leaders in America, particularly the President, since 1835 when a deranged ex house painter named Richard Lawrence tried to shoot Andrew Jackson with two pistols (both single-shot pistols, which misfired). Legend has it that Jackson tried to kill his assailant with his cane, and aides had to restrain him, while Davy Crockett and others restrained Lawrence (who was later institutionalized). John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, Giuseppe Zangara, would all appear to be at least partly motivated in their killings by mental illness. Nor indeed is mass violence using bombs new either, considering the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.
Yet all of these are understandable in a way. The Gunpowder plot was a far-fetched but not totally implausible desire to install King James daughter, Princess Elizabeth as a Spanish pawn to restore Catholic England. Booth hoped killing Lincoln would inspire continued Southern guerrilla warfare. The others were mentally ill men who hoped by killing a prominent man, their mental troubles would cease, not unlike Mark David Chapman or John Hinckley Jr. Even before reliable, repeating firearms, men like Henry IV fell to assassin's blades. Henry's assassin, Ravaillac, being quite similar to Czolgosz or Zangara or Lawrence. Mental illness and violence have been part of the human condition since the beginning, though the combination is usually rare, in a big enough population it will make itself known.
What is disturbing, and new, is mentally ill people targeting large groups of innocent victims whose death can in no way achieve much of anything for the killer, not even the satisfaction of killing an important man. Disturbing though it is, the actions of a Chapman or a Hinckley or a Ravaillac or a Lawrence make a kind of sense the lunatics wanted to be famous. What is new is the desire not for fame, but for killing people the killer does not even know. Tim McVeigh targeting the Murrah building including the ground floor day-care center, or the Columbine shootings, or the Virginia Tech shootings, or the Pittsburgh LA Fitness shootings, makes no sense in terms of killing an important man and thus achieving fame (at least part of the famous man's fame would now belong to the killer). Even crazy people can have a sense of belonging.
The conspiracists of the Gunpowder plot, did not plan to blow up average Londoners. Booth and company did not plan to massacre the theater goers at Ford's Theater. None of the lone gunmen above targeted innocent people they did not know. What's changed is the lack of belonging. Of investment so wide and deep in a society, even the Ravaillacs, the Zangaras, or the Czolgoszs, unknowingly, take part in it.
The inflection point, at which society stopped having such a deep, and wide investment that even lunatics intent on killing someone would confine their attentions to individual famous people, seems to have been the 1966 University of Texas Bell Tower shootings by Charles Whitman. Whitman, who may have been insane as a result of a brain tumor, shot and killed 14 people, most of them random targets, in addition to killing his wife and mother, at the University of Texas at Austin Bell Tower (and around it). What was reassuring in that case was that professors and students spontaneously grabbed their hunting rifles and shot back at Whitman in the Bell Tower.
These were not, as Mark Steyn put it, "men who ran away." Steyn, in his article in MacLean's Magazine, excoriates the new film "Polytechnique" (about the 1989 Montreal Polytechnique Massacre by Algerian immigrant Gamil Gharbi, aka Mark Lepine who shot and killed 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal) with these words:
“The defining image of contemporary Canadian maleness is not M Lépine/Gharbi but the professors and the men in that classroom, who, ordered to leave by the lone gunman, meekly did so, and abandoned their female classmates to their fate—an act of abdication that would have been unthinkable in almost any other culture throughout human history. The ‘men’ stood outside in the corridor and, even as they heard the first shots, they did nothing. And, when it was over and Gharbi walked out of the room and past them, they still did nothing. Whatever its other defects, Canadian manhood does not suffer from an excess of testosterone.”
Steyn notes that nearly all the male passengers on the Titanic died, nearly all the female passengers were saved. To put it in more graphic terms, while only 31% of the people on board the Titanic survived, a full 72% of women survived, and only 19% of men survived. Women did go first. The men did not run away.
What disturbed me the most, about the accounts of the Virginia Tech shootings, was the total passivity of the young men, in protecting their female classmates. The only men who did anything at all, active, were Professor Liviu Librescu, an elderly Holocaust survivor, and and Professor Kevin Granata, a mid forties Army Reservist. None of the young men attempted to fight Cho, the shooter, particularly as he was reloading, wrestle the gun away from him, or do anything active in confronting and stopping the shooter. It was a passive response of men profoundly disinterested and uninvested in their society. One deeply at odds with the response at the sinking of the Titanic or the UT Bell Tower shootings.
Which leads to the most disturbing thing about our society today. Even with the rash of shootings, America is so big (303 million people and counting) that the shootings have only a minor affect on society, outside the tragedy for the victims and survivors. But the shootings point to a larger issue: the loss of investment of men in society. An investment that keeps even crazy people from targeting society itself, particularly innocent people, and makes men respond to a threat by risking or giving up their lives to save it's foundation: women and children.
The real risk is not mentally ill men like Soldini (it's usually, but not always, men who do the shooting). It is the massive under-investment in society, particularly civil society, that is the real risk. I am on the board of a local, Southern California charity. I am the youngest man there, all others being considerably older, in their late sixties or older. The only female member is also of that age. The North Santa Ana Kiwanis, in Orange County, dating back to the 1950's, has disbanded due to lack of members (most existing members were in their late sixties or seventies). In the Black community, it's even worse Little Leagues and general volunteer coaching, still alive in suburban White America, (with Latino America somewhere in-between) are almost non-existent in Black America. The plague of single motherhood, and lack of investment and involvement of older, family men who form generally the backbone of volunteer coaching for Little League, Pop Warner Football, and other organized team sports activities that teach boys how to cooperate with each other and be aggressive within the rules, has destroyed Black baseball. Look at any Major League Baseball and notice what you don't see: the large presence of US Black players, who were a force in Major League Baseball since Jackie Robinson. In their place, Caribbean players from places where volunteer coaching still exists.
A general rule of thumb is that the health of a society is indicated by the existence of middle-class volunteer organizations that offer both fellowship and a sense of belonging to society, in the process of maintaining society. This can be volunteer run sports-leagues, that teach boys the importance of teamwork and aggression within strict rules (or in other words, sportsmanship) or charitable organizations like Kiwanis or Shriners or Lions Club that provide civic involvement in cooperation with local governments, and also an important alternative and check to overweening power by abusive local officials.
The generally poor state of traditional volunteer organizations, with many long-time Kiwanis, Lions, and Shriners chapters closing as their members age and no replacements are found, indicate that many younger men, particularly the generation that should be succeeding these older men, which is men in their fifties, forties, and thirties, have no interest or investment in society and traditional volunteering. Most other volunteer organizations, such as the Sierra Club, or Humane Society, or Habitat for Humanity, have long since changed into big, professional fundraising and political activist groups. Leaving little for the would-be volunteer to both socialize and contribute to society.
While gang-related murders are down, in Los Angeles, compared to times past, not very many involve an arrest, much less conviction (about 42% in 2007, according to the LA Times). From the LA Times blog:
Community attitudes and behaviors and prosecutors’ thresholds for filing homicide charges may have more to do with whether murderers end up behind bars than any particular law-enforcement model.
It's vital to have a wide and deep investment in society by men. Men being invested in society are husbands and fathers, who maintain ownership in society, provide critical community attitudes, particularly guidance and control of young boys, and create social attitudes that control and channel violence.
The Black community is America's canary in the coalmine. Being more fragile, with far greater propensity for single motherhood, Black America's fall into (at least as far as the urban core is concerned) chaotic gang violence characterized by a total absence of any adult male investment in society, is both rapid and chilling. As Barack Obama relates in "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," older residents in a Chicago housing project fondly recalled the days of Segregation, for the relative security that was found: children could play in the streets and doors were generally unlocked. This was not a society without it's problems, illegitimacy may have run as high as 24%. But it worked, to produce even under Segregation, a generation of mostly law-abiding, useful and productive citizens who maintained a sense of ownership in their society. Even a discriminated against Black man could and did marry, have his own family, and thus be invested in at least his own community. Segregated New Orleans, the center then of Black America, was famous for its many, many benevolent societies that offered everything from life insurance to health plans for dental and medical care. Theodore Dalrymple, in his "Life at the Bottom" noted much the same, how deprived, ration-impoverished East London in the 1950's was a place where children played unsupervised and doors were often left unlocked. Neither thinkable now.
Tellingly, both Britain and Black America suffered the decline of the nuclear family and traditional marriage worst and first, with single motherhood and consequent non-investment by men producing a Dante-esque hell.
The problem of violence is not men like George Soldini, who though they may occur more and more frequently, targeting innocents in a sexual rage, unable to find intimacy and a sense of belonging to society (and thus the need to protect it), are still not fundamental threats to society's well being. America being a very big nation.
No, the problem of violence is more akin to that of gang-ridden inner cities, and their stormy petrels of what is to come to other communities, including the White community. Gang violence is never "senseless." It makes perfect sense gang members wish to be known as killers because it gives them prestige and power, and thus, women, who in the changed environment of single motherhood norms, prefer such men and boys. Average Bro has his own take on things, and like many other Black bloggers believes that women like actress Lauren London, who opined that she liked thugs, is not unrepresentative of at least some Black women. Any time a gang member engages in a "senseless" killing, it is wise to remember that the killing, from the gang member's perspective, makes perfect sense, it's designed to gain him sex.
This then, is the real danger of male uninvestment in society. Not only do men do the bare minimum to get by, but lacking families and a reproductive interest in society, they don't volunteer and engage in community "ownership" which prevents a thug-gangsta mentality from taking over. The experience of "chav" Britain suggests that this model can be rapidly reproduced. Few in Britain in 1948 would have predicted a 50% illegitimacy rate, and rampant crime. Yet in sixty years, that was precisely what happened to Britain. Instead, men compete to be the biggest gangsta and chav they can be, with varying degrees of violence. Or remain, passive and uninvolved in the face of danger to the community.
Either is a disaster, and that is the true horror of George Soldini.