Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Straw-bogeymen

I gave Arctic Rising the scathing review it deserved, and it caught the author’s attention.

As of today, 2 of 31 people found the review helpful. The others I need to work harder to reach.

Tobias Buckell got to where he is by serving political correctness in his writing. The inclusion of a lesbian protagonist in Arctic Rising wasn’t necessary to the plot. The role should have gone to a man, as Anika’s character traits befit a man’s physicality and emotions. But Buckell went the “empowering female lead” route, and then some. The choice illustrated a lack of taste and, particularly, shallowness; so his hysterics over this phony, hockey stick-like representation of school shooting incidents over the past 25 years is no surprise.

The information for the graph was compiled on Wikipedia, which under-reports school shootings before the proliferation of archived and searchable digital media, and over-reports shootings in which no one died. For example, under the heading “List of U.S. school attacks,” Wikipedia shows no school attacks occurred between 1927 and 1966. It shows 5 school attacks in November 2013, a 233,900 percent increase in the rate of school attacks.

In half of the 14 school shooting incidents Wikipedia recorded in 2012, no one died. Of the 7 incidents that involved student deaths, the death tolls were as follows: 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 7, 28. If not for the neglected and mentally ill Adam Lanza, 2012 would have been a relatively quiet year in school shootings.

In the majority of incidents recorded so far in 2014, zero people died. Of the 3 incidents that involved more than 1 student death, the death tolls were as follows: 2, 2, 7. In all 3 incidents, the murderer committed suicide. And the worst incident by far (sociopath Elliot Rodger’s murder spree) occurred off-campus, and half the murders were committed with a knife.

1999, a down year with only 5 school shooting incidents recorded, was marred by the infamous Little, Colorado, attack. Thirteen students were murdered and 21 were wounded in that incident alone. 2007 was another down year, but had one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history: Virginia Tech. Seung-Hui Cho was mentally ill, too.

Wikipedia’s crack team of criminologists doesn’t parse the school shooting data among students who snap, gang-related shootings, shootings that happen off-campus, and shootings that coincidentally happen outside the building. They don’t even parse out the terrorist Tsarnaev brothers’ getaway from police that resulted in the deaths of an MIT campus police officer and the elder brother.

Not often noted is that 100 percent of shooting sprees end with the murderer taking his life or others subduing him with superior firepower.

Violent crime has been ebbing since the ’90s. There is no spike in mass shootings. In fact, given the 30 percent increase in population since the ’70s, mass shootings aren’t even keeping pace.

“Why, then, is there such a powerful feeling that things are getting worse? Media coverage plays a big role. It’s almost hard to believe today, but there was a time in the not too distant past when people in New York might not even hear about a school shooting that happened across the country. Today, every incident immediately explodes onto the national stage and is then amplified a millionfold by social media. It’s a visceral example of the availability heuristic—the easier it is for us to think of a certain type of event (whether a school shooting or a plane crash), the higher we rate its probability. But this is an illusion; just because it’s easier than it ever has been to think of an example of a shooting doesn't mean these events are more likely than they were in the past.” –Jesse Singal

We giggle at pictures of schoolchildren ducking underneath their desks in the ’50s. If we didn’t live in the paranoia-drenched environment of today, our reaction to pictures of schoolchildren huddled underneath bullet-proof blankets would be similar.

Buckell’s simple-minded liberalism is characterized by fear of straw-bogeymen like global warming, heterofascism, and gun-crazy narcissists, protection from whom he expects government to provide. Integrating these themes into one’s writing is unwise, as they place further limits on limited talent.

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