Sadism in High Schools and School Shooters: 5 Reasons why Isabelle Robinson’s Op-Ed is flat wrong

gun-protests-04.w710.h473I care about gun control. It cuts very close to home for me. My mother killed herself using my father’s revolver. I was seventeen years old and about to write my final exams at school.

I’m very aware of both sides of the coin – the disaster of having deadly weapons at arm’s reach, and the deteriorating mental health of a person. But there’s also a third dimension to all this. Beyond both sides of the coin, there is also society, in my case, family, that can serve as a soothing or healing agent, or can aggravate the anxiety of those slipping towards their rock bottom.

We tend to fixate on the guns, and we should, but not at the expense of the who and the why. If getting rid of guns won’t get rid of the misery that’s there, or the murderous intent, what will?

After researching and publishing my latest book Slaughter, which profiles 8 high-profile mass murderers and school shooters [including Nikolas Cruz], I’ve been appalled and alarmed at the ignorance and hypocrisy surrounding this latest shooting. Now, to make matters worse, conspiracy theories are popping up like poisonous mushrooms.

Among them, Emma Gonzalez bullied Cruz, and Cruz is being framed for the shooting. The braindead subscribe to these theories, and the motive behind them is clear: there are enemies out there that want you to not trust your government and institutions. The more Americans are divided against themselves, the better these catastrophes in American schools will remain misunderstood, and society will be remain unable to fix itself, let alone be able to diagnose what’s wrong.

Doesn’t Why Matter?

Conspiracies aside, nobody seems to know or care why Cruz perpetrated one of the deadliest mass shootings in America. In fact, instead of caring about what happened, droves of teenage girls and mothers have sent Cruz fanmail.

Somewhere between these extremes of a society gone mad, the same theme echoes through the ether, just as it did after Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and the Las Vegas shootings.

It’s all about guns. That’s how the narrative starts. Then it’s about the victims. Then the shooter’s identity is drowned in a deluge of rumor and conspiracy in the run up to some official report which can’t pin down a motive, or any easy answers.

No one seems to want answers in terms of where the murderous intent comes from.  There seems to be a terror involved in opening the door to the most obvious issue of all: firstly why these shooters develop an abiding hatred for society, so much so they spend months, sometimes years planning and fantasizing on getting payback. Secondly, how and why these shooters are invariably society’s discarded and unpopular losers. They are loathed or passed over to such an extent they soon develop a destructive, often suicidal self-loathing. Does that happen by accident? Does it happen spontaneously or through a long process?24march-maine-portland-lives-master1050

The fact that no one cares about discussing how these shooters emerge out of a patently sick society says something about how careless and distracted we as a society have become. Do we value one another or do we only care about our own value?

Anality & Sadism

In Slaughter I touch upon the relationship between anality and sadism.

Being anal, in the psychological sense, is about an oppressive level of meticulousness or fixation. The more anal one is, the more one is deprived of the spontaneous, surprising, natural goodness of life and people. One’s sadism is directly proportional to one’s anality – the more one is stuck in repetitive man-made fixations [computer games, porn, social media], the more sadistic we become in terms of taking pleasure at the expense of others. To be clear, all of us are at risk if we allow our anality to take over.

ppBybIuIn Slaughter I wrote:

“A fixation on gun laws, let’s face it, is both essential and anal.  The insistence not to pay any heed to Lanza, or his family, in the Newtown documentary, is both understandable and anal.  If we fixate on lobbying for gun control, but refuse to figure out the psychology of these school shooters and mass killers, we’re doomed to see these catastrophes repeat themselves until we do understand.”

On twitter, this anality is reflected in wildly divergent and conflicting narratives at these hashtags: #Marchforourlives versus #Walkupnotout versus #Nikolasneedsourhelp

Sadism is taking pleasure, or benefiting in some way, in the misfortune of others. High school, as we all know, is a popularity contest. The flip side of popularity is humiliation and isolation.  For the winners, it’s great. High school is a popularity contest with a captive audience.

Authentic Change or Reactionary Populism?

In all the popular rhetoric flooding out of Parkland, a bunch of seniors are emerging as a tribe of heroes. Emma González arguably the face of a new movement for change, joined twitter in February 2018. Today Gonzalez has almost 1.5 million followers on twitter. She’s not done with high school yet, so the popularity contest continues.

Emma GonzalezMy  impression of Gonzalez is that her every appearance is like a carefully crafted circus act. It’s almost Trumpian in its conception. It’s very compelling, very emotional, very popular, it plays wonderfully on twitter but somehow [like a circus act] it’s invariably very forgettable.

Other seniors are also actively appearing on national television and various media stages across the nation, confidently identifying themselves as shining beacons of hope and yes, popular sentiment. Are these the heroes of the future, or flashes in the pan of a high school popularity contest WRIT LARGE?


For the losers, whether in or out of high school, whether on or off social media, life is very different.Losers are insignificant. Invisible. They have no voice, no power. Life sucks. What makes being a loser in high school harder than anywhere else, is if you can’t stand the heat, tough, you’re stuck in the kitchen.  There’s no getting out for the foreseeable future. The cool kids and the losers are stuck with each other, which is another way of saying, the losers are stuck – for years – with their oppressors.

In high school, inevitably, popularity contests often go too far. Sometimes the cool kids get too caught up in their own popularity, other times the losers get too bogged down in a downward spiral of humiliation.

When a school shooting occurs, these forces come to a violent nexus. The tribal forces that were in place to begin with, remain in place after the shooting, except that the tables are temporarily turned in terms of the victimology. For the brief minutes of the shooting, the shooter – for once – gains the upper hand. The shooter is the dominant social force, the shooter determines fates – who lives, who dies. For a fleeting, terrible passage of time, they hold the keys to social power and social death.

merlin_135961674_ad687b5d-b2f1-42a0-9a9e-74f4cc00af0d-master1050Afterwards, when the school is asked to account for the shooting, no one can remember bullying, isolating, or ostracizing the shooter, but everyone is crystal clear that something was seriously wrong with the shooter.

This selective amnesia applies to the students and teachers. Any student who remembers picking on the shooter, anyone putting up his or her hand,  courts the whirlwind of social blame. Oh so this is your fault? It’s because of you that X snapped? Further inquiry may lead to that person implicating others, and that can’t be tolerated either. And so the tribes that were in place before the shooting remain locked in their loyalties after as well.

This amnesia goes back to Columbine in 1999. Almost 20 years later, no one is sure whether the shooters were bullied. On twitter recently, someone told me bullying at Columbine was a myth. She couldn’t say what the motive was, but she was clear that it had nothing to do with bullying.  I’d show you the tweet but it’s been deleted.

Reality Check

Curiously, few people go to the source to find out why they committed mass murder. Invariably, these loners do a lot of writing, so there’s plenty of firsthand material available if one takes the time to go through it. Like this from Colorado Springs shooter Matthew Murray:

So many people don’t have any clue about The Nightmare we’ve grown up in. I mean, it’s not my fault I was raised in homeschool for 12 f***ing years and that I’m not able to “socialize normally.” How am I supposed to socialize and make new friends when I’m always left out of everything, and always made to be the outcast? I’m nice, I’m considerate, a lot of people tell me I’m intelligent and kind….so why the f*** must everyone think they have some right to abuse and reject me?

I hate you people for leaving me out of so many fun things. Never inviting me to all your fun parties, never inviting me to hang out. And no, don’t say, ‘Well, that’s your fault’ because it isn’t. You people had my phone number, and I asked and all, but no no no no no don’t let the weird kid come along, oooh f***ing nooo

Far from the jock/bullying culture being a myth at Columbine, in fact, the jock culture was so well known at Columbine,  it was an institution honored by the entire school,. it was even color coded. Jocks, for example, wore white caps as part of a “uniform” to identify themselves. In the Columbine yearbook, images of athletes were in color, the rest relegated to black and white.

Despite the Columbine killers shooting video of themselves at school being bullied, despite writing manifestos for why they did what they did, the public still can’t seem to remember.

Here’s a reminder.


In Eric Harris’s journal, he also wrote that “Whatever I do people make fun of me, and sometimes directly to my face. I’ll get revenge soon enough”

Here’s a counter narrative.

Book: Columbine shooters mentally ill, not bullied

Wikipedia’s not too clear either. Eric Harris’ motive according to Wikipedia is due to “multiple factors”: bullyingpsychopathysadism. That’s not a motive, it’s a laundry list.

I’ll wager if you asked any shooter what their motive was, they’d give a straight, simple answer. It would be a single word, like payback, or revenge.

Payback for what?

Ryan Klebold’s motive for committing mass murder? The same as Harris’ more or less. Due to “multiple factors”:  bullyingdepression, revenge.

Was Nikolas Cruz bullied?

In the Wikipedia post for Nikolas Cruz, no motive is listed.  It’s simply not an issue.

Strangely enough, there is one person who can remember bullying Cruz. His younger brother Zachary, and Zachary’s friends.

When Emma Gonzalez made her first impassioned speech, she let slip that they’d ostracized Cruz. She volunteered the word, and defended it, screaming: “YOU DIDN’T KNOW THIS KID!” That’s fair, but we also still don’t know what the ostracizing involved. How long did it go on for? Who was involved? What did it involve?

We know there’s a video of Cruz fighting with other kids.

This seems to suggest other kids saw Cruz’s situation as entertainment. I doubt whether he did. That’s not unusual, and the whole high school spiel is the same the world over. It’s not fun for the majority of kids though, is my point. And so with that element – the isolating, the humiliation – missing, no one is sure what the motive was. Was it computer games, or antidepressants? Did the shooter get out of the wrong side of bed that morning?

stressed-studentMeanwhile, who cares about motive, while the popularity contest goes on unabated. Seniors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are in a race to gain as much popularity as they can, and to discredit their peers on their way to popular glory.

We see evidence of this in two students from the same school, where one sabotages the other in the name of “decency”, but what it really is is a sadistic effort to opportunistically put oneself ahead at the other’s expense.

A Parkland high school student who agreed to a live debate over his conflicting views over gun reform with fellow Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Kyle Kashuv has pulled out of the deal. Cameron Kasky, an organizer of the pro-gun control March for Our Lives movement, tweeted Monday night that he won’t debate Kashuv, a pro-Second Amendment voice, following a tweet Kashuv seemingly disapproved of. 

“Kyle, I’ve enjoyed my discussion about gun laws with you so far, but after seeing this, I think I’m out. For personal reasons,” Kasky said, adding that while he “disagree[s] on certain policies with some family members of some victims,” he would “never go after them, especially not like this. This is low.”

The Unacknowledged Narrative

In the same way that school shooters take sadistic pleasure in murdering their peers, the big chunk of unacknowledged narrative is the sadistic pleasure popular high school kids get out of maligning their peers.  This might be because someone lacks social etiquette, isn’t good looking, walks funny or wears braces. There’s evidence of this denial, and the degree to which it is unacknowledged, in the #Walkupnotout hashtag. The idea of reaching out to these losers is absolute anathema not only to those high schoolers involved, but seemingly to society as well.  So much so, Isabelle Robinson, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, penned an open ed for the New York Times along these very lines, saying:

…students should not be expected to cure the ills of our genuinely troubled classmates, or even our friends, because we first and foremost go to school to learn. The implication that Mr. Cruz’s mental health problems could have been solved if only he had been loved more by his fellow students is both a gross misunderstanding of how these diseases work and a dangerous suggestion that puts children on the front line.

Robinson’s right. Students shouldn’t be expected to “cure the ills” of troubled classmates. What Robinson neatly sidesteps here is that students tend to expose the ills of troubled classmates, almost as a default setting. Once exposed, classmates are hounded so that their inferiority is made abundantly clear. So while no one should “expect” students to cure their classmates, they should also not be expected to worsen the troubles of their peers, either.


Robinson adds that kids go to high school to learn. Really? Is that the only reason kids are in high school? They’re not there to make friends, to join clubs, to perform in plays and sports, to become class presidents?

School isn’t an individual game, like Survivor, it’s a social game, and it’s all about alliances and achieving social superiority.  High school is also about the ability to attract a popular and attractive mate. The community has a lot of say, and to say, in this process. The idea Robinson suggests here, that you go to school in a vacuum, is the same heresy as saying Survivor is an individual game. It’s not, even if you do your damnedest to play it that way, one way or the other, you are part of a tribe, even if your tribe puts you on the bottom as part of an explicit group of discardable rejects.

As for putting children on the “front lines”, it’s an odd thing to say. Kids at school are not so much on the front lines, as they are the front lines. So the idea that one can be in class and not be responsible in some way for the harmony or misery of that class, is asinine.

It is not the obligation of children to befriend classmates who have demonstrated aggressive, unpredictable or violent tendencies. It is the responsibility of the school administration and guidance department to seek out those students and get them the help that they need, even if it is extremely specialized attention that cannot be provided at the same institution.

Robinson’s right again, it’s not the obligation of children to befriend anyone, let alone classmates who are less than friendly. On the other hand, isolating an unpopular child isn’t a solution either. So if it’s not the prerogative of classmates who are stuck with each other to be nice to each other, then the school should deal with them? Wrong.

merlin_135982677_ff6d0c79-c598-4726-ad14-cccb55896e3a-master1050The school did deal with Nikolas Cruz. He was expelled. It didn’t change the original situation, it aggravated it. Yes, it’s not the obligation for anyone to befriend or be nice to anyone, but as America stands today, a loser who develops an abiding hatred for his peers, has the capacity to access military grade weapons and execute on that murderous intent. It seems to me, that given the choice between maligning someone to such an extent that they fall out of a school system entirely, who may then come back and shoot you, and being less unkind and unfriendly than you and your peer group feel you need to be, the second is the lesser of two evils.

No amount of kindness or compassion alone would have changed the person that Nikolas Cruz is and was, or the horrendous actions he perpetrated. That is a weak excuse for the failures of our school system, our government and our gun laws.

I’m not sure that’s true. High school is a temporary prison for losers, which means any gesture that might make it less humiliating, or might make it easier, for the more unhinged and unstable student, may allow them to better endure the heat in the kitchen.

Put conversely, would it be fair to say that no amount of cruelty or humiliation would have changed the person X was in school…Alienation at a young age has a massive impact on young, vulnerable psyches that are ill-equipped to deal with the unknown hinterlands of adolescence and the emotional shitstorm that accompanies growing up.

I think those influences during the formative years [and Robinson writes about being a young teenager, the most formative of the formative years] are extremely formative.

5 Reasons why Isabelle Robinson’s Op-Ed is flat wrong

  1. First off, Robinson claims she tried to “befriend” Nikolas Cruz when she was thirteen years old, and assigned to ‘tutor’ him. She describes feeling creeped out by the hour-long discomfort of counselling him , something she took seriously and regarded as her first adult responsibility. Performing her duty was by no means reaching out, and even less befriending of any sort, which makes the headline to her open ed disingenuous.
  2. Robinson refers to Cruz’s sadism directly as a “sick twisted joy” as he watched her cry. She can’t remember whether Cruz was confronted over his actions, and yet she can remember him leering at her chest, and feeling proud about sorting out his binder. This is also disingenuous. What this is isn’t confronting, but ostracizing. It’s easier to freeze someone out than deal with them, and so that’s what she did. That too is a cowardly form of confrontation. It’s confrontation via exclusion, done behind the person’s back.
  3. “I am not writing this piece to malign Nikolas Cruz any more than he already has been. I have faith that history will condemn him for his crimes.” But isn’t that precisely the same non-confrontational attitude that allowed the shooting in the first place? If you were there, and you can’t account or condemn someone for his crimes, who will?
  4. Robinson’s main gripe is against anyone who has the temerity to suggest students should have been kinder to Cruz as a potential preventative measure. One wonders, if one could put an algorithm together in an Artificial Intelligence machine, and the machine said, if five people smiled at Cruz on these five days, it would have been enough to dissuade him from doing what he did, how would they respond? One suspects the mere idea of being nice to a loser is too repugnant to even countenance.
  5. “The idea that we are to blame, even implicitly, for the murders of our friends and teachers is a slap in the face to all Stoneman Douglas victims and survivors.” It’s an interesting expression. If we are to blame, even implicitly, then the entire tribe have been slapped in the face. In other words, even the slightest chance that bullying might have aggravated the situation, even the mere mention of that, is a slap in the face of everyone else. It’s a visceral sense of humiliation, is it? This is a great recipe for exceptionalism, where we say: the problem was Cruz and guns, and had nothing to do with us. That may be true, but if it is, why are there school shootings twice a month in America? Because if only American kids are mentally unstable, do they become that way in a vacuum?

Eric Harris blamed society for creating violent outcasts, but that’s no right either. It’s not right for the shooter to blame society, but this is the pertinent point, or for society [and especially the school community] to blame the shooter. Or guns. It’s not just one or the other; it’s not that simple or clear cut.

121218083637-newtown-back-to-school-horizontal-large-gallery5 Reasons why Isabelle Robinson’s Op-Ed is on the right track

  1. It is a “deeply dangerous sentiment” to imply that “it takes a village to raise a child”.  In other words, if a child rampages against the village, something is wrong with the village [and the child].
  2. When Robinson writes of being forced to endure Cruz, that’s what bullying and humiliation feels like. I suspect any school that is able to curb [not eradicate, just mitigate] bullying and humiliation, will curb [not eradicate, just mitigate] the overall anxiety of its school society. Less anxiety = less anality. Less anality = less sadism.
  3.  “I would have done almost anything to win the approval of my teachers.” Losers feel the same way, except they may feel their case is hopeless, especially if they’re not smart, talented or good looking.
  4. “This is not to say that children should reject their more socially awkward or isolated peers — not at all…I strongly believe in and have seen the benefits of reaching out to those who need kindness most.” Yes, reaching out to isolated kids can be beneficial.
  5. “But students should not be expected to cure the ills of our genuinely troubled classmates…” This is both true and untrue. Students should not be expected to cure anyone, just as most kids aren’t expected to win Olympic gold medals one day. If they can, or if they try, super. The question isn’t who shouldn’t, but who should be expected to cure the ills of troubled members of society? The FBI? The school boards? Neither worked in this case. The best answer to this is the family and close friends of the loser. Well, what if the loser has no family or friends, as was the case with Cruz? Then the question that someone in class should be expected to deal with an isolated kid becomes more critical, doesn’t it?

 Whenever a school shooting occurs in America [on average once every two weeks], the response tends to be the same:

  1. The shooter is regarded with unbridled contempt
  2. No one is surprised.

And then two more weeks go by and there’s another shooting.

In the context of school shootings, it’s easy to forgot what high school is fundamentally: a popularity contest.  It’s also one you can’t escape. There’s that saying, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.  Well when the heat is on in high school, there’s no getting out, not for several years anyway. That’s good for the winners, and shit for the losers. When guns are at arms reach as they currently are in America, it makes sense to not make life more miserable for the losers than it has to be. In other words, cool kids, curb your sadism.