This was a young man drowning in lonliness, despair, and powerlessness. He didn’t want to face another day of this misery, so he escaped in a morbid and violent hyper-masculine fantasy. This fantasy came to fruition on a dreadful day for 32 people at Virginia Tech. Many people are trying to make sense of this tragedy. Was he mentally ill? Do we need more gun control or campus safety? Should he have been expelled earlier? Did the community of Virginia Tech reach out enough to this estranged young man to bring him out of isolation and into community? There are many questions and few answers. But, for me, one answer remains constant in our culture of violent masculinity.
Some desperate males who feel powerless will put on the “tough guise” to gain power, recognition, and respect. Their acts of violence are exhilirating and empowering, allowing distance from their feelings of despair and pain, and power over the people they blame for their fate. The guns they brandish compensate for the personal power they lack. The bullets they put into others, reifies them as omnipotent. In that moment, they are riding the biggest and baddest hypermasculine ride they’ve ever been on. The point and shoot video games, fast cars, beer bongs, bar fights all pale in comparison to this ride.
When Cho’s ride was over, so was he. You see, this kind of ride did not cause him to loose his stomach, he lost his soul. And as a society, we loose our souls the more we become desensitized from the pain and consequences of violence. The more we evolve as a society, the less violence will be seen as a solution to complex problems.
We need to socialize our boys, in particular, to consider that strength and personal power can come from feeling our pain and powerlessness. This grounds us, centers us, enabling us to better take action in pursuit of justice. The inability to go into our pain, simply makes us at risk of spreading the pain. And at Virgina Tech, Cho’s externalization of his pain has created death, pain, and misery to many.