Monday, May 26, 2014

CNN's coverage of the Santa Barbara killings: What went wrong?

I happened to catch the Saturday night CNN coverage of the killings on The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) while I was in Orlando. After about 15 minutes of it, I just wanted to go have a stiff drink.

No. make that five minutes. And two drinks.

The whole thing makes me realize once again that the more we lose our capability of speaking in moral terms the more we cut ourselves off from understanding why people do what they do. That and the sillier we sound when talking about evil.

The Santa Barbara killings were particularly interesting to me because I went to UCSB and lived for two years on the corner of the road (Embarcadero del Norte) on which the chase took place that ended in the death of the shooter (and knifer, and dangerous car driver). That was the location of my college fraternity house. From the reports, it sounds like Elliot Roger passed by my old frat house several times on his grisly spree.

Now every time something like this happens, we are subjected to cable news anchors who look at us solemnly and ask, "What went wrong?" and "How we can prevent these things from happening again?" Then, about six months later, something else goes wrong (as evidenced by another, similar crime) and the thing happens again. World without end, Amen.

Of course there is the obvious nonsense that gets trotted out every time a gun crime is committed. If you thought the Stupid Gun Arguments went away when Piers Morgan left, ... well, now you know what a silly thought that was.

Three people were shot with guns. Therefore, ban guns. But three people were killed with (what I last heard were) "sharp objects." Can we use the same argument? Three people were killed with sharp objects. Therefore, ban sharp objects?

In fact, he tried to kill people with his black BMW. Do we ban beamers now too? Or maybe just black ones?

This is the state of our moral discourse; we seriously entertain the idea that objects make us perform bad actions. Get rid of the objects, and we prevent the bad actions. Of course, people were killing each other at equivalent rates and with equal regularity 1,000 years ago when there were no guns.

And it only gets worse from there.

The first assumption behind these discussions seems to be that such events are extraordinary. That's why we cancel all the other programming and are treated to several days of discussion and analysis. It's big news precisely because it is not common. This is sometimes stated outright.

The second assumption is precisely the opposite: that such events are increasingly common. In fact, we are given to understand, the killing is extraordinary precisely because it isn't. So on Saturday night the host (I don't watch CNN enough to know her name) gave several mini-lectures about how these kind of killings are so common now.

Actually the only extraordinary thing about the whole thing is how badly CNN can confuse its audience and the only common thing is CNN's increasingly common practice of obsessing over it.

Many of these assumptions are surely the result (at least in part) of the needs of a news organization to attract viewers. But the third assumption goes beyond that. The third assumption is that we are modern people now and that we should be past all this. These kinds of things are something that barbarians of other times do. But not us.

That's why killings like this are supposed to surprise and shock us. That's why news network anchors get panels of experts on to to explain it all.

This is related to the idea of people like Stephen Pinker who recently wrote a book about how much more moral we all are now that we are not moral anymore. I've addressed that nonsense elsewhere.

In the CNN discussion, the psychologist in the group complained that there weren't enough psychologists involved with the killer. In fact, psychology plays a heavy role in any such discussion. Everything is now explainable by science and psychology at least looks like science (it is a lean and hungry look, for sure, since its practitioners, who are not really scientists, really want to be).

Never mind that there were plenty of psychologists who had had contact with him. In fact, as the discussion went on (and on, and on) you could have kept yourself pretty busy just keeping a tally of all the psychological professionals who had contact with him.

But the real problem here is that there are people (psychologists among them, but news anchors too) who think that if psychology had been practiced well enough and in the proper volume, this would never have happened.

And the underlying, universal assumption is that these killings were preventable--and preventable through science. Somehow (we're never told precisely how) if we just took everyone's guns away and and had enough psychologists these things wouldn't happen anymore.

It sounds fine as an assumption tucked away in the dark recesses of the questions we ask panels of experts, but it sounds pretty stupid when you state it in plain words, doesn't it?

Here is the solution to the problem of violence. Here is the answer to the question "How can we prevent this problem in the future?". Form a police state. Give up all of our privacy rights and let the government monitor us 24/7. Then we will know about these things before they happen and we can prevent them.

Or can we?

In Elliot Roger we have a test case: He saw multiple psychologists; he had multiple contacts with police; HE POSTED A VIDEO ON YOU TUBE WHICH STRONGLY HINTED AT WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO.

He did everything but issue a press release that he was going to stab three people in his apartment, shoot multiple other people, killing four, and run down a few people with his black BMW on Embarcadero del Norte in Isla Vista, California on the evening of May 23 spectators are welcome and for further information please contact Elliot Roger.

The real questions concern CNN's coverage of the killings in Santa Barbara: What went wrong and how can we prevent it from happening again?

34 comments:

u2isgr8 said...

Great post, as it brought more questions to mind. You rightly wonder about objects doing evil, but may this extend from the growing belief by many that man himself is but an object. So then you have one object or thing being killed by another thing. Materialism leaves no room for moral discourse by its reduction of man to a thing. And that leads to my own wondering if the role of "news" these days is less about finding meaning and more about just keeping "things" active, keeping us occupied, somewhat like entertainment, but without the cgi? No solutions to all that; just more questions...

Old Rebel said...

Very insightful - and problematic.

Rodger was a product of his age, as his "manifesto" makes clear. With the powers that be waging war to the finish with traditional society through multiculturalism, the individual is left naked and alone, with few avenues for community and friendship. Unable to connect to others, Rodger mutated into a narcissist's narcissist.

Notice also that he saw himself as that most sacred and pitied of creatures today, the Victim. Nothing was his fault; all his hate and rage was someone else's doing.

As you say, tragedies are inevitable. But this one does have clear causes.

Anonymous said...

vicarHookers may have helped. Didn't that kid ever watch Pretty Woman?

Singring said...

'In Elliot Roger we have a test case: He saw multiple psychologists; he had multiple contacts with police; HE POSTED A VIDEO ON YOU TUBE WHICH STRONGLY HINTED AT WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO.'

AND STILL HE WAS ABLE TO LEGALLY BUY GUNS. AND YOU SEE NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!?

Once again, Martin, you deftly and expertly have succeeded in eloquently making the case for your opposition. If I ever have to go to court, I know who would want to be arguing from the opposing bench. I wouldn't have to do any work at all, just sit back and watch as you defeat yourself.

'This is the state of our moral discourse; we seriously entertain the idea that objects make us perform bad actions. Get rid of the objects, and we prevent the bad actions.'

Dear God, it's the same drivel over and over and over...

So here we are, where you say that gun-control advocates are claiming that, if we ban guns 'we prevent bad actions'.

I defy you to name a single person in the history of the world who has ever made that asinine claim.

Nobody, not even the most adamant pacifistic, hippyfied gun-ontrol activist would ever say such nonsense - only you say such nonsense when you think it will sway your gullible readership. You must think very little of them.

What gun control advocates say is that, if we ban or otherwise limit the availability of guns, then less people will get shot when someone decides to do bad things, because they won't be able to do it with guns.

This individual - as you say yourself (in all caps), for crying out loud! - was mentally ill and had history of being a concern, yet he was able to buy guns perfectly legally!

If you can't tell that something is wrong with that, then I do wonder what you would consider 'wrong' at all?!

Anonymous said...

This rampage started with three roommates being stabbed and bludgeoned to death with a hammer. It ended when men in uniforms with guns finally confronted this monster and he killed himself. Millions of Americans don't want to have to wait on other men with guns to defend themselves, and they don't have to thanks to the Second Amendment. Europeans like Singring have a problem with that. Who cares? Allowing only the state to bear arms is a European problem, not ours. By the way, Mexico and Brazil have gun control laws Singring would love...check out their murder rates.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Well, he bought the guns before the You Tube video. Also, would you propose we have laws that prevented mentally ill people from having guns?

Singring said...

'Millions of Americans don't want to have to wait on other men with guns to defend themselves...'

They wouldn't have to if mentally unstable people weren't shooting at them with legally purchased guns in public places, would they?

'Allowing only the state to bear arms is a European problem, not ours.'

How exactly is it a 'problem' for us if we have lower crime rates, lower gun violence rates etc.?

That's the kind of 'problem' I love to have - being able to walk to my local restaurant or cinema without worrying if some nut is going to pull a gun and start shooting people.

'By the way, Mexico and Brazil have gun control laws Singring would love...'

Guess where they get their guns illegally? I'll give you a hint: it isn't Sweden, Germany or Spain...

Singring said...

'Well, he bought the guns before the You Tube video.'

FOL. That's 'Facepalming out loud' in case you were wondering.

'Also, would you propose we have laws that prevented mentally ill people from having guns?'

I would go much farther than that - but it would certainly be a good start.

The fact that you even question this is quite staggering, really.

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

Are you aware that there are already federal laws on the mentally ill buying guns and that California's state law is not only more stringent than the federal law but more stringent than most state laws?

Anonymous said...

Singring is a classic Eurowiener. How many lives were lost in the 20th century because Germans can never keep their great ideas on social order within their own borders? Looking at those European elections it looks as if the peasants are tired of French and German ideas on the EU on the cheap. Czar Putin is laughing at Eurowieners. He's a lttle late on that joke, Americans have been laughing at Eurowieners for years.

Singring said...

'Are you aware that there are already federal laws on the mentally ill buying guns and that California's state law is not only more stringent than the federal law but more stringent than most state laws?'

Good. But clearly they are not stringent enough if they allowed Elliot Rodger to purchase three semi-automatic weapons.

Woudn't you agree?

Singring said...

'Singring is a classic Eurowiener. How many lives were lost in the 20th century because Germans can never keep their great ideas on social order within their own borders?'

Stunning logic, clear coherent reasoning, supported by strong evidence.

A+

Anonymous said...

Thanks to American liberals it's much harder to commit unstable adult Americans to observation in mental health facilities, and that all started in California. I'm surprised that those Santa Barbara cops didn't ask that punk if he wanted them to get him a pizza. So, Singring, now it's America's fault that Mexicans and Brazilians and Hondurans have outrageous murder rates which make America look like Switzerland in comparison? Oh, wait, the Swiss all have guns in their closets, maybe as a result of neighboring Germany.

Anonymous said...

World War 2=pretty strong evidence. Hitler also "convinced" Germans that only state agents should have guns.

Martin Cothran said...

Anonymous,

Please keep it to the point. We try to hurl arguments rather than epithets around here.

Singring said...

'Thanks to American liberals it's much harder to commit unstable adult Americans to observation in mental health facilities, and that all started in California. '

I see - our two options seem to be:

a) Let people with mental health issues buy all the guns they want

or

b) Commit people with mental health issues to an institution

Lefty fascist/commie that I am, I would suspect the best solution lies somewhere between those two options. But I guess that's to 'extreme' for you...

Martin Cothran said...

Singring,

What would you add to existing law that would prevent these kinds of crimes from being committed in the future.

Would you also prevent mentally ill people from obtaining knives?

Anonymous said...

Leave knives alone and ban BMWs.

Anonymous said...

Ban parents who buy kids new BMWs.

Anonymous said...

Right now, somewhere in this huge country, another alienated, sick kid who plays violent video games 12 hours a day and displays anti-social behavior 24/7 and hates the world for whatever "reason" will picture himself as the object of media attention and plan and execute a copy cat massacre. If it saves just one life, shouldn't we re-write the First Amendment and limit and "well regulate" media coverage of future killers? Bueller?

Singring said...

'Right now, somewhere in this huge country, another alienated, sick kid who plays violent video games 12 hours a day and displays anti-social behavior 24/7 and hates the world for whatever "reason" will picture himself as the object of media attention and plan and execute a copy cat massacre.'

And to execute his plan, all he has to do is walk into a local gun show and buy a few semi-automatic rifles and a few boxes of ammo.

Martin Cothran said...

Actually to execute about half his plan he just needs to go to the cutlery section of the nearest Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Anonymous said...

Singring said.. "And to execute his plan all he has to do is walk into a local gun show and buy a few semi-automatic rifles and a few boxes of ammo." Actually, Singring, this specific punk would have had to leave California to do that because all gun sales in California must go through licensed fire arm dealers... even private sales. By our national standards Ca has gun laws right up your ideological alley.

Singring said...

'Actually to execute about half his plan he just needs to go to the cutlery section of the nearest Bed, Bath, and Beyond.'

By that logic, mass stabbings should be commonplace.

I mean, knives are much cheaper, easier to come by...that means they should be the weapon of choice of any would be mass murderer, right?

In fact they should be happening all over Europe all the time, seeing as all those mass murderers we have will go for the knives because they can't have guns. We watch the same movies and play the same video games, after all?

But wait - I forgot I was talking to a conservative. So the actual data is something that never really concerns you.

That explains it.

Singring said...

'By our national standards Ca has gun laws right up your ideological alley.'

But not all potential mass murderers live in California, I'm afraid.

I assume from your sneering tone that you disagree with these laws in California?

So are you saying you are in full support of laws that will allow another 'sick kid who plays violent video games 12 hours a day and displays anti-social behavior 24/7 and hates the world for whatever "reason" [who] picture[s] himself as the object of media attention and plan[s] [...] a copy cat massacre' to go out and buy as many rifles, shotguns, hand guns and ammo as he can carry?

You support laws that allow that?

Anonymous said...

Singring, go back to your coffee and croissants and free English health care. What I support is the liberalized gun laws we have in Kentucky which presume the right of self defense. Gun laws vary state by state and even city by city in America..we call it federalism. American states are not puppets of the federal government. Except in clear cases of federal preemption states are sovereign. Sorry you don't like it, but, then, there's a lot you don't like about America, and nobody cares.

Singring said...

So you're not actually going to answer the question?

Get it.

Anonymous said...

OK, Singring, I oppose any law which "allows" sick kids or anyone else to use guns to murder other Americans. I am in full support of laws against murder. Got it?

Singring said...

'OK, Singring, I oppose any law which "allows" sick kids or anyone else to use guns to murder other Americans. I am in full support of laws against murder. Got it?'

Sure, got it.

You're in full support of laws that allow sick kids (including those planning massacres) or anyone else to buy all the guns they want and laws that forbid them to murder anyone (because of course that's what will keep a sick kid from carrying out a massacre to seek attention like it has done so effectively in the past).

That makes so much sense...

Anonymous said...

We must "allow" that for PC Germans like Singring irony is truly dead.

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