Today is the ten year anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, hard as it may be to believe that so much time has passed. (Read here how schools have changed largely as a result of Columbine since 1999.)
Although Columbine was not the first school shooting, they have, tragically, happened more frequently in the United States in the past ten years than they had previously. In spite of other serious shootings since Columbine (the most deadly being the Virginia Tech massacre just a little over two years ago) the debate about what, or who, is to blame seems to have fallen by the wayside. (Though a resulting debate on gun control and how it would affect future shootings continues.)
In the wake of the Columbine shootings, Ray Lehmann, who was the director of public affairs at the Independent Institute at the time, wrote that the shooting was not a product of the many bogeymen that were invoked by politicians and public pressure groups, such as gun culture or violent video games. Rather, he argued that the shootings were a result of the nihilistic ideology of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and of a culture that never challenged that ideology.
Here's an excerpt:
To have any force, moral law -- whether secular or faith-based -- needs to be more than a set of oft-repeated axioms, or it will be rendered hollow, and will not withstand the intellectual scrutiny of even a couple of 17-year-old boys. What was missing is not a system that teaches values. Conservative rhetoric aside, we've always had that. What we don't have is a system that defends them: engaging those who wish to learn, fostering critical thinking skills and demanding individual accountability for one's actions.
[...] Adolescence is a time of self-discovery, a time to figure out who you are and what you believe in. But just as important, it is a time to learn accountability, and to accept responsibility for one's own life. There have always been rebels. The difference today is that when an Eric Harris or a Dylan Klebold questions authority, authority never answers them back.
The public debate over Littleton is unlikely to ever turn to a serious discussion of nihilism and moral relativism. It's much easier to quote pop psychology and blame faceless institutions like "the media" or "gun culture" than to point the finger at any flesh and blood person or the values they embrace. President Clinton has pronounced that "we are all responsible" for Littleton. That may very well be. But no one, it seems, is accountable.
If we are to take anything away from this awful chapter, it should be the concept that ideas matter. "Ideas," as the title of Richard Weaver's classic book suggests, do indeed "have consequences." Let the graves in Littleton -- like the graves from Krakow and Dachau to Cambodia and Uganda -- stand as permanent memorial to the lesson we keep refusing to learn.
Cross-posted to The Shotgun.