In The New Criterion’s Armavirumque blog, Roger Kimball has some thoughts on cable television’s predictably wall-to-wall coverage of Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer. “Particularly grating”, Kimball writes, is “the endless speculation about Cho’s motives. He had no motives…what Cho had was a mirror, not a motive”.
Kimball links to an exceptional essay in Time magazine by David von Drehle:
A generation ago, the social critic Christopher Lasch diagnosed narcissism as the signal disorder of contemporary American culture. The cult of celebrity, the marketing of instant gratification, skepticism toward moral codes and the politics of victimhood were signs of a society regressing toward the infant stage. You don’t have to buy Freud’s explanation or Lasch’s indictment, however, to see an immediate danger in the way we examine the lives of mass killers. Earnestly and honestly, detectives and journalists dig up apparent clues and weave them into a sort of explanation. In the days after Columbine, for example, Harris and Klebold emerged as alienated misfits in the jock culture of their suburban high school. We learned about their morbid taste in music and their violent video games. Largely missing, though, was the proper frame around the picture: the extreme narcissism that licensed these boys, in their minds, to murder their teachers and classmates.
Something similar is now going on with Cho, whose florid writings and videos were an almanac of gripes. “I’m so lonely,” he moped to a teacher, failing to mention that he often refused to answer even when people said hello. Of course he was lonely.
One minor quibble, and it’s not aimed at von Drehle, nor meant to imply any sort of causality. But given the publisher of this essay, it does seem slightly disengenous to discuss extreme narcissism in a magazine whose recent publicity stunt was this.