May 14, 1999 (Ira Pilgrim)

Young and Angry

Typically, the true juvenile delinquent does not behave antisocially out of deliberate wickedness. He acts for the immediate satisfaction of an urge, an appetite, or a whim. He lives only in the present. For congenital and more often sociocultural reasons, he is incapable of relating himself to others, to the past, or to the future. The worst aspect of his fate is that he finds no significance in life and therefore has no reason to develop a sense of responsibility.

Rene Dubos, 1968

I spent many days thinking about the two high school students who killed 12 of their classmates, a teacher and themselves. I had no difficulty understanding their anger and alienation because I had experienced similar feelings myself. What I could not understand was why they would trade their own lives for a few moments of a rampage of vengeance. To me it was the epitome of insanity. It was a degree of madness that I had never even come close to.

Sure, I have experienced the alienation of being an adolescent as well as the confusion. I have known what it is like to feel trapped or cornered, with no apparent means of escape. I have even found my life so painful that I thought of ending it; but I have never been as insane as those two boys.

At the same time that I was thinking about this, I was also reading Rene Dubos' wonderful book So Human an Animal. It is a very slow read because I found myself reading a chapter and then thinking about it for a day or two. Yes, it is that profound. I turned a page and found the paragraph that is quoted above. Read it again. If what he says is true, it goes a long way toward explaining the seemingly inexplicable actions of those two boys as well as the self-destructive behavior of drug addicts and habitual criminals.

I can't test that statement against my own personal experience. Yet it does agree with what I have seen in some others, particularly in some young people.

Living in the here and now is the standard remedy for people who are always lamenting past tragedies and who are continually berating themselves for past mistakes, as well as people who are in constant fear of what might happen in the future. It had never occurred to me that the remedy could also be a disease.

How else can I understand why two apparently intelligent boys would waste their own lives and those of 13 others?

The boy who was apparently the leader tried to enlist in the Marines but was turned down when his parents revealed that he was taking anti-psychotic medication and was being seen by a psychiatrist or psychologist. There is a game that is played in psychology courses: Imagine that you are in a small prison cell.There are no windows and it is sound-proofed. Water and food is left for you, but you can communicate with no one. You know for certain that there is no possible way to escape. What do you do? There are many options, one of which is suicide. I thought of that boy being in that room, but his room had one door(the Marines). When that door was permanently closed, suicide seemed to him to be the only way out. They have me trapped, but I will escape by death and will take my enemies with me.

I have come to no conclusions about the matter, but these are some of my thoughts on the subject and I thought that I would share them with you.

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