Some thoughts on the Cho identity and mass murder


Some thoughts on the Cho identity and mass murder


April 18th, 2007 by <a href="">Ryan Lanham</a>

I know very little about profoundly deviant behavior of this sort. It has never much interested me. I tend to turn off the channels where it is dealt with.

I have extended familial ties to some protracted and difficult cases but rarely anything profoundly deviant like this. I have also had many friends and acquaintances who cope with various forms of mental illness in their relationships both near and extended. But this seems to be of a different sort...I think. I so far believe it isn&#39;t a "9" on a scale where many folks are showing up at the mental health center with a level 4 or 5 problem. But on that I may be sadly wrong. Things erode rapidly sometimes. Tear out hope from people and prospects go decay in a hurry. But people are usually self-destructive first...not outwardly destructive. Something is different when people need to spread a blight.

It seems to me that the Virginia Tech murderer reached several cross-over points. For example, he constructed an identity of persecution. I am sure he had opportunities to back out of this, but he chose not to. He wanted to be persecuted. I notice this desire in many larger groups...sometimes whole nations. It is a need to be selected as a target of unfairness. At some level we all feel it. It is very hard to look for a job, for example, in academia without some sense of constant rejection. Maybe it is luck to get help or a positive turn, and some folks just aren&#39;t lucky. Maybe Cho never got cut a break. But it seems like he did get at least a few breaks to hear it from his roommates. He CHOSE to not find happiness.

Perhaps that paranoia is an element of a broader delusional identity, but all that sounds annoyingly redundant. I must say that the psychological descriptions of these things feel inadequate. It is as if there are things unsaid or said as categorizations that seem deficient to offer any insight beyond a label. There is a Peanuts cartoon with Lucy psychoanalyzing Charlie Brown&#39;s fears. She says that if we can find out what he is afraid of..."we" can label it. It ends there to some ironic comic effect. The label is all Charlie Brown is going to get. DSM IV is my sister-in-law&#39;s bible on these things. I have seen her read it at length. But from what I have seen of it, it is often very uncertain and highly generalized in its descriptions. Can anyone be paranoid on a given day? I often wonder whether people who are less than nice all the time carry the burden of common labels. Identity is profound in all these cases.

Universities clearly gather many people who are loners, focused, obsessive, and often politically extreme. But violence is not the usual outlet, so far as I can tell. I think I have read that suicides are typically higher amongst graduate students than the norm, but that might be also readily expected from the stress. One sees faculty and students alike who demonstrate all sorts of unsual forms of expression or self-awareness. Sometimes it comes as a rarified sense of aesthetic or insight. Other forms come as a need to be "in" or considered "bright." Some thrive on power or influence over others as a teacher or mentor or special peer. Still other forms come as a need to be considered of a particular ethical purity. Usually it is exacting in my experience. There is a need for precision far beyond what could be taken as usual or appropriate.

This sort of intensity is a form of boundary spanning that can be innovative if benign. Or it can be destructive, and often minimally policed. Given the general collapse of collective standards in the academy, I think these sorts of explosions are my likely than we&#39;d like to think. I also think they are playing out in mini versions all too often. But people find means of coping and controlling themselves. Here that control was not present. An artist or innovator must also loosen the bounds of control, but there is a commitment to not hurt. It is almost like the difference between the responsible community business person and the naked aggression of a self-serving capitalist. There is a different...ethic. But is there a different psychology? And what would that mean? The identity is formed as it encounters situations. Context is everything...but also not everything. We must know actors, actor prior states, and contexts. But perhaps we must also know context prior states. It is difficult to say the least.

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Ryan Lanham




Chad Newswander




Ryan Lanham , “Some thoughts on the Cho identity and mass murder,” The April 16 Archive, accessed August 1, 2015,