Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sometimes there just aren't any reasons

As a Connecticutian (or whatever we're supposed to be called) I can't help but feel affected by the Sandy Hook disaster. And that's the word I purposefully chose for it. The State's Attorney yesterday released his report on the shooting, with this report in the Hartford Courant conveying the gist of it.

Sadly, and I know this is probably adding to the pain of parents and others who knew and loved the victims, there doesn't seem to be much we can take away from this as far as practical lessons or philosophical consolation. Yes, Adam Lanza's mother didn't have her head screwed on right, in failing to aggressively get him the help be obviously needed and probably more strangely, by making it her personal mission to make sure he had access to guns and target practice. But it's hard to think of any public policy or change in the law that would usefully address such a situation -- which is extremely rare in any case.

The report makes it clear that Lanza was deeply disturbed even as a young child, his head full of violent fantasies. Over the years he drew more and more inward, in his solitary world constantly gnawing on anger and imagining ultimate revenge on -- what? We'll never know. There is no known history of abuse or trauma. His brain just failed to wire correctly.

I've said before that the wetware is extremely powerful, unimaginably complex, and when it goes wrong, it can go spectacularly wrong. I think we make a category error by trying to classify this event in moral terms. It was the equivalent of a meteorite hitting the school. Perhaps some will feel a bit of satisfaction by casting blame on the deceased Ms. Lanza, but even there I am inclined just to say that she didn't grasp what was happening. The gun thing was a desperate attempt to connect with her son around the one thing they seemed to have in common.

And she could not imagine, let alone know, what was happening inside his cranium. It made no sense, it had no explicable cause, it didn't mean anything. It was just neurons that somehow got hooked up in a way that produced the awful result. Sadly, that's about all I can say.

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