Saturday, April 21, 2007

Making Sense of the Senseless

On one hand, anyone trying to diagnose the psychological mindset Seung-Hui Cho from afar could be accused of being pretentious at best and insensitive at worst. On the other hand, how can you blame someone for trying to understand the aberrant? As much as we are shocked and repulsed, we can't turn away--and I don't think we should even if we could. Western philosophy is based on the "ontological drive," the desire to seek to know that which we don't. It is not a pacifying impulse. It would be a lot easier to accept that there are things which are unknowable, just as it would be easier to suppress the writings and recordings of this individual.

To my admittedly unqualified assessment of the situation, the existence of the "manifesto" is perhaps more important to understanding Cho than anything that he actually says. In reading his background, I was most intrigued by the description of his verbal shortcomings. From Wikipedia:

In middle school and high school, Cho was teased and picked on for his shyness and unusual speech patterns. In English class at Westfield High School, he looked down and refused to speak when called upon, said Chris Davids, a high school classmate. After one teacher threatened to give him a failing grade for not participating, Cho began reading in a strange, deep voice that sounded "like he had something in his mouth," Davids said. "The whole class started laughing and pointing and saying, ‘Go back to China.’"

According to Cho's relatives, it wasn't necessarily the difficulty of assimilation that caused him to have trouble. Even as a young boy in Korea, his family feared that he was mute.

There are undoubtedly millions of people with speech impediments and verbal difficulties that don't become killers. Yet there is something chilling about the idea of an intelligent, verbal person unable to communicate with the outside world. One could conjecture that the intelligence and creativity of such an individual would turn inward, and the leap is not great to assume that a dangerous disassociation from reality could result.

One of Cho's professors described meetings with him in which she would ask him a question and he would stare at her silently for uncomfortable periods of time. This is a description from another:

"The kid couldn't speak. I did everything I knew to draw him out. I tried to joke with him. I touched his shoulder while asking him a direct question. I put myself in quiet, one-on-one space with him -- and I still could not get articulate speech out of him.

Yet, in writing he could communicate. You've seen the plays. They're not good writing. But they are at least a form of communication. And in his responses to the other students' plays, he could be quite articulate. If writing is the only way you can communicate with the wider world, then I guess being an English major makes sense."

Could that last sentence be extrapolated even further? If writing (or pre-recorded video) are the only way you can communicate, does it make sense to seek a level of notoriety that would ensure that your communication will be heard?


Blogger Tee said...

The media went WAY overboard in showing all the pictures and videos of Cho. He is clearly a disturbed young man, schizophrenic... that could have been brought out from his past... just in my unprofessional opinion. But, why smear it all over the media?
I couldn't imagine having a loved one who's life was taken by Cho only to repetedly see his face pasted all over the media on every channel I turned to.
The answers could have been given to us without the gory details. He was a sick kid... mentally sick.
He was able to purchase guns... his mental status was noticed but ignored... we have to change these things...that's really all we need to know.
Now, because the media has made such a big deal out of Cho... putting the focus on Cho instead of the victims... people saying "he wanted attention and now we are giving it to him"...
What we REALLY got is copycats... all over... some of them publicly announced and some of them not.
At my daughter's school, someone wrote on the walls, "VT tragety will happen here tomorrow"... they had police all over the place. The next day, a bomb threat was called in and they were all on lock down... the next day they all had to carry their books and things in clear bags.
Cho killed 32 people... don't we ALREADY KNOW he's a sick man? Do we have to say more?... Spread gory details and give others ideas?
This is where I say... draw the line... we don't need to go there.
Learn from our mistakes and go on...NO... I take that back.. fix the mistakes.. and take it from there.

6:34 PM  
Blogger Tee said...

Uh.. Ms.Kelley... If you read that ... don't cringe.. IS should be WAS!

6:38 PM  
Blogger Enjoy_Every_Sandwich said...

Music festival week is upon us. I'm playing four piano pieces. Wish me luck. I'm aware that in the States music festival is some crazy competition where you get spoons and bowls and stuff for prizes, but here it's more normal.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Tee said...

You have been misinformed. Never heard of winning pots and pans...Money, maybe... a chance to open for a popular band. Also, depending where you are and if you are at the right place at the right time... you might even get "signed". :o)
Should be the same there...right?

1:12 AM  
Blogger Tee said...

OH... and Good Luck!

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


CBC(canadian broadcast corp.), was one of the lone stations that refused to air the killer's weblogs or videos or whatever they were.


3:16 PM  

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