Comparing Cho Seung-Hui to the Columbine Killers

Journalist Dave Cullen has an article on Slate today about the similarities and differences between Va. Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers.

Dave, who is writing the definitive book on Columbine to be published in 2008 (and who wrote this TalkLeft diary on the myth of the school shooter profile a few days ago) spent the better part of this week conferring with top experts on psychiatry and violence, to sort out the leading theories on what drove Cho. He also examines how Cho compares to the Columbine killers, and in particular, how he does not.)

This being the anniversary of Columbine, also take a look at Dave's 2004 Slate article on Columbine and the myths behind it.

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    WSWS on Cho Seung-Hui (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by Andreas on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 12:05:28 AM EST
    This is an extremely disturbed person, but it is clear, if one listens to his words, that conditions in society were playing on his mind. He felt many resentments. This doesn't justify any of his insane acts, but the resentments have a real basis. He was mentally unbalanced, but that doesn't mean there was no connection between social life and what he did. And now television analysts begin heaping abuse on his head, as a substitute for taking the problems seriously. "He was a coward," and so on. This is almost a provocation, an incitement of others.

    The resentments are real. Huge social divisions exist on a college campus. Snobbery and elitism exist. With Cho, the resentments were psychotically internalized and developed in a pathological manner. The society denies that social classes exists, it papers over social inequality. The contradictions emerge in a malignant fashion, they explode in this anti-social form.

    This is the ongoing price American society pays for the absence of a progressive and revolutionary social movement that offers a way out of the present impasse, for the lack of class consciousness and social solidarity. The emergence of such a movement would have a wonderfully regenerative and healthy effect on the national psyche, and pose a mortal threat to the social and financial status quo. That is why the ruling elite fears the emergence of such a movement a thousand times more than it does a deranged individual with a gun.

    The malignant resentments that erupted into mass murder in Virginia
    By David Walsh, 20 April 2007

    mental health system a shambles (5.00 / 3) (#5)
    by Mindsteps on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 10:22:11 AM EST
    I do not have enough information to comment on the efforts made by Cho's parents to get their son help.  According to one article he was identified as 'autistic' when this individual was eight years old.  This suggests someone did something thirteen or fourteen years ago.  Even if Cho was not on the autistic spectrum, if he did receive this diagnosis, it suggested that he was exhibiting serious (autism is not a diagnosis given to individuals with mild impairments) developmental, communication, behavioral, and/or psychological difficulties.

    I wish it were different, but even with superhuman efforts on the part of Cho's parents, I do not have enough confidence in the mental health 'system' (to use the term 'system' is actually dignifying the disorganized, fragmented state of mental healthcare in this country) to effectively deal with an individual like Cho (Prisons hold more documented mentally ill individuals than psychiatric hospitals in this country).  Add to the fact that we are talking about an individual from another culture and you compound the weaknesses in the system.

    Bottom line, the ephemeral nature of mental illness, the stigma associated with it, and the lack of power and influence of the mental health community, leave care for the mentally ill open to tremendous abuses by special interests and neglect by our government and society.

    So well said I'm speechless (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 10:45:35 AM EST
    Wow! Instant experts. Voila. (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by walt on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 03:51:10 PM EST
    Thanks to Jeralyn for not allowing invective or expletives, because it will keep my comment from being a string of every "bleep" imaginable.

    These words are not aimed at or intended for any particular commenter on this website or in other media.

    First, I am a registered counselor in my state, with a card in my wallet & a framed certificate on the wall.  Second, I am not a lawyer, but must know some very specific aspects of the law as it applies to my work.  For example, I am required to "violate" confidentiality if any evidence of child abuse comes up through client contact.  And there's more stuff like that; re: domestic violence, parts of the drug enforcement laws, certain types of threats, etc.  Third, both my first & second statements are extremely, very rigidly, focused at the state & local level with a small bit of federal influence.

    OK: I've read a lot & heard a little analysis of Cho Seung-Hui by many people who have no knowledge, education, experience, or capability at psychological analysis, counseling, therapy, or treatment.

    Please, I wish all of you know-nothings would shut up.  Your faux analysis of a mass murderer are stupid, boring, false & misleading.  Most of you are simply, & simple-mindedly, attempting to make inane arguments about meaningless "pet" social theories or political preferences that have no bearing on public policies about mental health.  Really--SHUT UP!  Unless a person is a functioning mental health counselor in the Commonwealth of Virgina, such opinions are very likely worse than useless misinformation.
    - - - - - - - - - -
    Further: this site is mostly intended for working lawyers.  To that extent, I notice a wondrous lack of expert legal commentary on Che Seung-Hui.  Thank you!  My experience & observation over the decades has been that most skilled attorneys recognize that the field of mental health law is so complex that very few "non-experts" will venture there with statements & opinions.  This is a good thing.  The laws in each state differ from others & the standards are often interpreted differently by the courts--some states even have special courts.

    I'd like to commend all of the competent attorneys-at-law here who have professionally restrained themselves from adding to the nonsense about mental health legal opinions.  This massive silence re-inforces my opinion that TalkLeft attracts reasonable legal professionals who try to stay within their areas of expertise.

    Not so much here, but at the national level (& on some websites populated by mostly wingnutz) the free, stupid & worthless legal opinions about insanity law in Virginia, or nationwide, is just moronic.  'Nuff said.

    In my opinion, speculation about Cho Seung-Hui may be useful & instructive.  Comments about his access to mental health services can inform the readers.  Attempts to analyze & diagnose are totally idiotic.  Interpretations of Virginia law should be left to members of that bar & very clearly those with appropriate specialization.  And the second-guessings (of various counselors who may have had contact with Cho Seung-Hui, law enforcement officials & university employees) do not inform any of us unless the commenter knows the specifics (which is unlikely because of the confidentiality requirements).

    In some respects, it seems as if almost nothing useful or informative has come forth, as yet.

    I'll tell you what's idiotic... (1.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Deconstructionist on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 08:47:30 PM EST
      It's making blanket generalizations of such absurd proportions.

      Only "licensed mental mental health counselors (and only those licensed in Virginia!) can possibly havve opinions of merit relating to menatal health issue3s?

      One has to be a "expert attorney (and of course a member of the Va. State bar) to have an opin ion on the law?

      This is the kind of abject stupidity that results when people with "credentials" seek to evade having their competence tested. No, no, no they wail infantiley, you can't judge me because you don't have the credentials to do so and don't understand. Only those witht he sane credentials -- and same indoctrination and nartrownwess of thinking-- can judge my field's performance.




    Sorry dude, you're out of it. (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by walt on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 11:33:25 PM EST
    I am somewhat of an expert.  However, I don't know what the various professionals in Virginia chose to do or were constrained to do by the rules & standards of their situation--some of which are laws.  I have read judgemental comments by people who have not got even a hint of the underlying protocols for allowing Cho Seung-Hui to not be institutionalized.  As time passes, & more comments from the actually involved & the knowledgeable become available, it appears that most such comments have been senseless or sensational, useless & wrong.  It seems to me that most of the initial opinions were almost absolutely inaccurate.

    If you enjoy megapixels of misinformation, I guess that's a service some notorious websites offer.  I only hope that my comments help stop some people from posting foolish guesses here.  

    I made my comments specifically about the mass murder in Virginia.  My statements are not generalizations.  Opinions about why he was not locked up, who made which error, why the cops did not arrest him, blah, blah, blah . . . don't serve any purpose.

    General comments about mental health issues in the United States & the legal "stuff" around that would probably be very useful.  And seem to be exceedingly rare.  It's very likely a needed discussion.

    It's really not helpful for you to call me an idiot.  And stupidity (of the abject, cliche type) is not what results when experts suggest that people with no knowlege of the subject matter try to avoid commenting on specialized subjects.

    As far as I'm concerned, you can post any opinions that amuse you about THE LAW.  But your view on Virginia mental health statutes & why Cho Seung-Hui was on campus serve no purpose.  It's unlikely that you could even guess what may have been his legal status.

    And your somewhat blanket condemnation of people with credentials sounds like the sort of knee-jerk foolishness that blathers around the coffee pot at a troll convention.  I highly recommend that you appear pro se at your next court date.  And I cannot overly recommend that you look into a mirror & help talk yourself through your "abject" lack of respect for folks who have credentials, expertise & knowledge that is considered professional.  I suggest a tape recorder: speak slowly, and say things such as "wail like an infant and don't judge me because you don't have the credentials to do so and don't understand."  Then, play it back to yourself & listen carefully & attempt to imagine where you may have heard that line before.  The Rush Limbaugh radio show.  O'Reilly's cable TV fantasy program.  The rethuglican national convocation.

    I also suggest that you contact the governor in your state & ask for an appointment to the bar examination committee, or the mental health professionals review board, or the department of health credentials committee.  Your state may have a program in which lay people are added to some evaluation programs.  Mine does.

    Yeah, professional competence is constantly tested, reviewed, evaluated & scored.  It's just that most of professionals prefer that people who can spell, pronounce & understand the vocabulary of the group get to do the assessments.

    Your comments read like those of a reverse snob.  So, my brother-in-law, the machinist, is not interested in your evaluations or opinions of tolerance specifications for the fasteners in large airliners.  My brother, the welder (with his N-stamp), insists that his work only be evaluated by other welders--fancy that, what a totally indoctrinated, narrow-minded fool.  Next thing you know, those darned SAE mechanics will insist on . . . .  Oh, and the next time you're out on a freeway & a big truck pulling doubles, triples, or a Rocky Mountain set roars past your vehicle, you'd better hope that driver was evaluated for the CDL by someone who knows how to operate those things.

    By the way, in my state, I have to inform all clients, very specifically, how to file a complaint against me--the state even prints a handout that I photocopy for them.  How's that for getting my performance judged?


    Walt (1.00 / 1) (#21)
    by Deconstructionist on Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 09:08:05 AM EST
      I call your rant idiotic not to be helpful to you,  but to be descriptive. As someone who had  just finished tossing  around similar desriptive terms in a broadly targeted shotgun fashion, you  should know better than to whine when someone directly targets your specific writing with an unflattering description.

       What you wrote was nonsense, and the worst kind of nonsense-- the kind with pretensions of superiority. Had you limited yourself to objecting to people offering pseudo-diagnoses of Cho (or othet people) when they lack sufficient data to make informed diagnoses, I would agree with you. but, that's noyt what you did, you went off some wild, emotional diatribe that offered nothing and made claims that are simply stupid.

      You may have credentials and consider yourself an expert, but nothing you have written suggests you have any particular insight, good judgment, common sense, or anythinbg else than fierce desire to promote yourself and protect your field from just scrutiny.



    Deconstruct this . . . (5.00 / 1) (#22)
    by walt on Mon Apr 23, 2007 at 01:39:50 PM EST
    I'm always puzzled by comments by people who cannot read, comprehend written materials & who don't know what common words commonly mean.

    Thanks to Jeralyn, First, I am a registered counselor, Second, I am not a lawyer,  I am required to "violate" confidentiality, Third, both my first & second statements are,  I wish all of you know-nothings, Your faux analysis, Unless a person is a functioning mental health counselor, this site is,  I notice a wondrous lack, The laws in each state differ, I'd like to commend,  speculation about Cho Seung-Hui may be useful,  Attempts to analyze & diagnose are totally idiotic,  Interpretations of Virginia law, the second-guessings (of various counselors who may have had contact with Cho Seung-Hui, law enforcement officials & university employees) do not inform

    Each of the preceding statements may be argued because they are specific.  Another person could dispute my statement & claim that I am not a counselor, or that persons who are not counselors can make useful diagnosis or that folks who are not Virginia attorneys can offer valid comments about mental health law there.  Or someone could argue that I am not required to violate confidentially--but then the other person would also have to debate the 4 specific examples listed after the factual statement.   Such contrary statements would be almost painfully wrong & obvious to most readers.  And you didn't argue with my specifics; you called them idiotic generalizations.

    In writing, it is considered useful to make specific statements & then draw generalizations from them, an inductive process; or make a generalization & support it with facts, a deduction.

    both my first & second statements are,  I've read a lot & heard a little analysis, Your faux analysis, Most of you are,  free, stupid & worthless legal opinions about insanity law in Virginia, or nationwide, is just moronic, second-guessings . . . do not inform, it seems as if almost nothing useful or informative

    In my opinion, each of the generalizations is preceded by statements that support or lead to the larger comment.  Obviously, you don't get it.  You think it's all generalizations because I am a whiney expert attempting to tell non-experts to keep their opinions to themselves--which very likely includes you.

    An excellent example came up over the weekend.  I state that faux experts in various media have made many unknowledgeable legal comments.  [That is a generalization because I don't want to list all the TV, radio, print & internet examples of this dumbness.  You could claim that I'm wrong, but would appear to be foolish.]  There have been guesses about in loco parentis (not permitted by national privacy & confidentiality rules); speculation about the "somehow now known" finding that Cho Seung-Hui was an imminent danger (usually mis-spelled & also knowledge prohibited to the university by privacy laws); & the BIG GIANT WHOPPER about why the cops & execs at Virginia Tech failed to monitor or follow or cast out this walking time bomb.  Turns out there's a Virginia law, passed by the House of Delegates a few months ago that specifically forbids such action by a college or university (a code drafted to legalize a long-used privacy, confidentiality, & discrimination practice).

    So, at least one of my generalizations, drawn from a few of my specifics, about the nature of mental health law (an area of some knowledge on my part) is demonstrated by subsequent events.

    But in a different sense, your know-nothing form of mugwumpery is accurate.  I could have saved a lot of deductive writing effort with this:

    Dear Media Talking Head or Scrivener or blogger:
    Unless you know something about mental health care or Virginia law, shut up about Cho Seung-Hui.

    But many folks, especially lawyers, would have considered that an unsupported generalization.


    Walt (none / 0) (#17)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 07:54:09 PM EST
    Well, you have told us how qualified you are, but you haven't given us an opinion beyond it is bad for "non-experts" to have an opinion.

    Of course if that actually became the majority action on the Internet it would "dry up and blow away."

    BTW - I haven't ventured an opinion on what drove the killer. Having said that, I see him as absolute evil. How a human being can become that, I don't know, and neither do you. I just know it happens.

    And before it starts, it isn't American culture, etc., etc., ad nauseam.

    But cpinva says it best. We don't have to understand why he did it. We didn't a "database."
    All we needed was for some people in the VT admin structure to say: "This guy needs help. We gotta get him out of here."

    Does that mean that I think VT is culpable? Yes.
    Does that mean anything? No. That's an opinion.


    There's too much misinformation. (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by walt on Sun Apr 22, 2007 at 12:01:49 AM EST
    There are many lines of discussion about mental health care in the USA, treatment standards for the clients, how to form decision "trees" (a sort of . . . if, then process, or what if, or if only) about the degrees of "freedom" for such a client, medications, some types of monitoring, etc., that could be interesting & informative.  There may have been legal issues involved that stymied efforts to act, decisively, even if there were solid reasons to do so.

    But there doesn't seem to be enough (any) factual information about the murderer, his diagnosis, his legal status in Virginia & his status at the university, for any useful comments.

    Even though I know the terminology & some of the  procedures, there's too much false & questionable stuff in the way to find a sensible comment.  In fact, the little bit of "review" type stuff that occurs to me has already been posted by others.

    My post was intended to help a few folk re-think whether to make a particular comment, or not--with an emphasis on not.  You've not.  As more bits & pieces of what passes for information becomes public knowledge, there will be more inclinations by folks to make a comment--that may be hopelessly ridiculous a few hours later.  It serves no purpose & derails useful discussion, as people waste energy on pointing out errors.

    My main point is that if you have to go look up "sadistic meglomaniac with paranoid dementia" you probably ought not make a diagnosis.  And if you have to ask how a person with Cho Seung-Hui's background was able to buy firearms, then any comments about Virginia police record checks are unlikely to be useful.


    Corrected link?? (none / 0) (#1)
    by ding7777 on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 07:40:57 PM EST
    Journalist Dave Cullen has an article on Slate today about the similarities and differences between Va. Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers.


    Thanks, I fixed it (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 07:46:08 PM EST
    in the post. Much appreciated.

    the similarities? (none / 0) (#4)
    by cpinva on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 02:39:21 AM EST
    all of them are killers, of innocents. with regards to social/fiscal inequity, that always has, and always will exist, in any society. normal people learn to deal with it. it gives them an incentive to improve their lot in life.

    i feel sorry for mr. cho's family, but they had the opportunity, early on, to get him help. this they failed to do. va tech had the opportunity to remove him from the campus setting, and get him the help he so obviously and desperately needed. they too failed.

    with regards to mr. cho's privacy rights: the right of his fellow students, and school employees, to be safe on campus, trumps any rights to privacy mr. cho, or anyone else similarly situated has.

    you have no protected right to cry "fire", in a crowded theater, where there is no fire.

    It's a fine line though..... (none / 0) (#8)
    by kdog on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 11:10:51 AM EST
    Be careful what you wish for....do you really want the state to keep a mental health dossier on every citizen, readily available for any state agent, gun shop owner, or potential employer?  That scares me more than the slim chance of running into a violent nutjob.

    excellent point (none / 0) (#9)
    by Deconstructionist on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 11:22:53 AM EST
     and it applies to a vast array of issues.

      We very often simultaneously demand that government solve individual and social problems and that government not intrude upon our lives and limit our liberties. Often these wants are inherently contradictory.

      Finding the "proper" balance is a complex undertaking and any policy will necessarily compromise one or both objectives. It can be very difficult to reach sensible policy outcomes in an environment where simple-minded extemists on both sides have such loud voices.



    A difficulty (none / 0) (#6)
    by Deconstructionist on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 10:37:52 AM EST
     is that it is very difficult to analyze and discuss internal and external factors which contribute to such acts without being accused of justifying the acts. We have a hard time articulating explanations which do not come across as rationalizations, even when that is not the intent. Seeking to identify and understand causes for bad acts should not be mistaken as necessarily being motivated by a desire to justify.

      Sometimes, though, with people of certain agenda,  that is the case. More often, while not an attempt to justify the bad act,  these expositions are an attempt to cast blame on the people within the environment. ("Sure the snobs, bullies and elitists shouldn't be killed, but they did do bad things deserving sanction and their existence unleashed the rage which simply resulted in too extreme a sanction...)

      On the other hand, many are not doing that but simply seeking to explore fully the environment. This can be valuable but it does often lead us astray. This world is Hobbesian. Human beings are very imperfect and our interactions at all levels are self-centered and competitive far more often than they are cooperative and altruistic. We tend to  view this through the lens of value judgment and choice, but the entirety of human history tends to suggest it is as defining a characteristic of human beings as opposable thumbs and language.

      In other words, we do and will continue to live where the environment will always be characterized by the external factors which compel some few to act out their rage. We're not going to be entirely successful at addressing this problem from any angle, but earlier identification of and treatment, monitoring or even sequestration these few individuals is  more attainable  than a sea change in human behavior.

      It's also beyond dispute that our understanding of human psychology is extremely limited. Given the almost infinite permuations of thoughts, emotions and behaviors operating in  environments which are to some degree always unique to each individual, we can't really expect much more than a descriptive analysis. To the extent possible, accurate and complete descriptions are preferable to inaccurate and incomplete ones but, none of the "experts" can truly do more than identify flaws in the  descriptions of other "experts" and the unreliability of the conclusions reached. However, all the "conclusions" are essentially speculation.

      Speculation is not without value. ALL advances in knowledge and understanding begin with speculation, but speculation should be understood as the start of the process and not misrepresented as conclusions from which to devise solutions.

      But, we need to look at all the factors not so much because it is important  

    Hello! (none / 0) (#10)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 11:39:29 AM EST
     But, we need to look at all the factors not so much because it is important  

    Man, you were on such a roll...I hope you finish that thought.

    oops (none / 0) (#14)
    by Deconstructionist on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 01:05:00 PM EST
     I meant to finish with something like : "we truly understand or  even  come to terms with past events as develop even partial insights that may help lessen the number of such tragedies in the future."

    in mr. cho's case (none / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 11:51:27 AM EST
    speculation was not an issue, he'd already been involuntarily committed for evaluation. this is on the record. as well, his teachers reported his extremely disturbing behaviour and writings to the administration. he'd been accused, twice, of stalking women on campus, they refused to press charges.

    all of these are factual, not speculative, with respect to mr. cho. it didn't require a massive gov't database, tracking everyone, for the va tech administration to know all this, they were told, by disparate parties, all of which, in the aggregate, pointed to someone who clearly had dangerous mental health issues.

    had the administration acted on this data, and suspended mr. cho, until such time as he received the help he so clearly needed, his acts would have been that much more difficult to accomplish.

    those are facts, not speculation. again, no massive gov't database was necessary, merely paying attention to the information provided. this they failed to do, putting the rest of the va tech community in mortal danger.

    cpin (none / 0) (#12)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 12:07:40 PM EST
    Did VT have the legal right to suspend Cho?

    Interesting (none / 0) (#13)
    by jondee on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 12:25:00 PM EST
    that the many of the same indivuals that evoke the need for more personal responsibility in a case like this are the same ones who evoke "market forces", or to use P.J O'Rourkes phrase for what he thinks is needed in Iraq "Hayekian social forces", to rationalize/explain the often amoral, borderline nihilistic behavior of "self-interested" corporations, governments and indivuals self-identified with them.

    History has shown up the old Hobbesian/Social Darwinian concepts of "self" and "self-interest" and yet they're still hysterically clung to like a different fundamentalism.

    jondee (none / 0) (#15)
    by Deconstructionist on Sat Apr 21, 2007 at 01:09:23 PM EST
      You mistake the reality that history has shown the often bad results of people being what they are with some fantasy that it isn't what we are.

      It's not a matter of clinging to oudated values; it's a matter of being stuck with inherent flaws.

      A vision based on "if we just stopped being mean then there would be no meanness" is just more banality.