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Some months back, Steven Pinker made the insightful (if somewhat obvious) observation that the simplest way of gaining attention, fame, and glory is to murder others in a sensational fashion. As this is not terribly difficult to do, it should be of little surprise that a handful of people will turn schools and other public places into temples where the innocent are sacrificed to a god of narcissism. The wonder of it is that it does not happen more often.
Via the Wall Street Journal, the latest spree murder has spurred a renewed effort to extirpate the murder’s name, identity, and motivations from from discussion in the press:
[Douglas County, Oregon] Sheriff Hanlin is one of a growing number of U.S. law-enforcement officials who are actively avoiding naming the suspects in mass shootings, noting that many cite prior killers as inspiration and seem to be motivated by a desire for infamy.
“I will not give him the credit he probably sought prior to this horrific and cowardly act,” Sheriff Hanlin said on Thursday. When Oregon authorities officially disclosed the identity of the 26-year-old gunman Friday evening, it was done briefly, and in writing.
There is some merit to the idea: Spree killers often take a keen (often, obsessive) interest in their predecessors’ actions; Their crimes often take place in clusters that suggest a copycat effect; And many of them leave behind manifestos that attempt to explain and justify their perceived grievances. Denying them the fame they seeks seems, on its face, like a laudable, decent, and practical thing to do.
Unfortunately, such a strategy is unlikely to work. First, most of the victims are likely to be normal, unexceptional people whose normal, unexceptional lives are severely handicapped in the contest for our attention; it’s simply not going to work to declare them as interesting as their killer. Relatedly, even if a MSM blackout somehow did work, the information would still exist and likely attract the paranoid attention of those who seek to follow in the killer’s footsteps. Third, sometimes the killer’s identity and motivations are germane to public discussion.
There is, however, one partial solution that is both emotionally satisfying and whose effects would be overwhelmingly positive: play-up the heroes whenever possible, and as much as truth will permit. Chris Mintz — a single dad and Army veteran who blocked Christopher Harper-Mercer’s advance last week and took several bullets for his troubles — should be feted and toasted from the White House to every city hall, selectmen board, sporting event, and church in the nation. He should never have to buy a beer or a meal again in his life and “What would Chris Mintz have done?” should nag at anyone in crisis with pretensions to honor.
That evil people will leverage their wickedness toward posthumous fame and attention is largely beyond our control. How we treat our heroes, however, is not. We should celebrate them, in no small part to encourage others to act as they did.Published in