The Littleton Shootings:
The Evolutionary Perspective.©
William A. Spriggs
May 10, 1999
I felt compelled to make some comments about the shootings in Littleton Colorado because not only did they occur in my state, but also within my county less than 10 miles from my home. I also strongly feel that there are evolutionary connections to the behaviors shown that were reported in the news media. There does seem to be one common thread throughout the school shootings in Pearl, Miss., West Paducah, Ky., Springfield, Ore., and now Littleton Colorado. After reading all of the local news articles, only two local correspondents seem, at least to me, to have identified this thread. Denver Post Urban correspondents Patricia Callahan and Karen Augé on April 23, 1999 reflected that the young males who did the violence were bullied by people that they perceived to be either "jocks," or "the beautiful" crowd. They presented a few experts opinions about how these bullying tactics were carried out, and what the tactics mean to the submissives and outcasts. Predictably, they suggested a few remedies to correct these behaviors, but one could sense that nothing would be done to implement those remedies.
Lets fast forward for a moment. If my theories that I am about to present are correct, then from the descriptions of the bullying the "losers" by the dominate and "favored" core members of the Littleton High School, I already know what the outcome will be. Security experts, and with them, security procedures and equipment will increase ten-fold into our schools in order to insure the safety of the children. There will be an elevated crackdown on the geeks, the outsiders, and the loners who even whisper the slightest word of revenge or utter a sound of protest, and the favored jocks and beautiful people who have been blamed in part for the problem will be completely ignored, or even praised. The common thread that Ms. Callahan and Augé correctly identified will be forgotten as the shootings decrease because guns will no longer find an entry into the schools, and the sense that the problem has been solved will spread across the land.
Internally, the elite student population will see the mechanisms of stronger security procedures and a heightened crackdown on the losers, loners and outsiders. If it has not yet occurred in some schools, then it becomes common knowledge that a shift in favoritism toward elite social groupings has not only been acknowledged, but also further encouraged by the adult populations surrounding the high schools. It is this encouragement and acknowledgement that will produce in the "jocks" and the "beautiful" the sense of righteousness for their past actions. What also will occur will be a even more heightened acknowledgement that the "jocks" and the "beautiful" in every school should be considered the ideal social norm in the bell curve of statistical comparisons. The shootings in the schools may stop, but the resentment from the submissives will intensify, and possibly spread elsewhere.
What is going on? And what is the evolutionary perspective?
The similar patterns of abuse that the shooters in Pearl, West Paducah, Springfield, and now Littleton were subjected to indicates a cross-cultural universality, which in itself leads to the suggestion of innate behavior. The activity of expulsion, or culling, by "bullying" tactics by a dominate group to push away "inferior" groups strongly suggests that the formation of individuals into groups with high self-esteem also produces a corresponding, but opposing group of individuals that lack self-esteem. The numerical count of both sides is unimportant, but is directly proportional to the effectiveness of the behavior mechanisms. What appears, to me, to be the reason for the separation is the perceived prize of resource accumulation. The resource prize in this particular behavior mechanism by the "jocks" and "in crowd" would be the approval and encouragement of higher social authorities through which, like a doorway to riches, the students must pass. (School officials, admission officers of higher educational schools, local school boards, faculty, and parents in the local environments would be included as these "gatekeepers.")
What basically is going on is a social culling process that I believe originated with our primal ancestors and is easily seen in our public and private schools today. The activity is widely documented by the press and social commentaries and can be widely seen throughout all of our social societies. What is going on is that the groupings of high self-esteem members of our society are continuously culling or blocking entry into their ranks individuals that they consider to be inferior and weak in some perceived manner. The most important point being made here is that there must be a dominate group that has the acknowledgement of the vast majority of society to operate with general freedom for its actions. Hence, if everyone is doing it, perhaps, we do not see the normal or obvious behaviors because it might conflict with higher, moral objections we as a society have directed are guiding principles. Now, let's make an important point: these culling actions in Littleton and in our modern society are minor and would only be a number one compared to Hitler's Germany which would represented by the number 100 on a measurable scale. Our modern societies, are for the most part, moral, but in the comparison I've just made, the origin of the behavior mechanism is still the same -- only the degree of severity is different. If we have a measurable scale, then perhaps some day we can fill in the behaviors between one and one hundred and observe differences in local environments.
I have been musing over this group selection socialization process for sometime as evidenced by my two essays, Eugenics (June 94), and Capitalism (October, 97). In the Eugenics essay I reflected on resource comparison as the possible origin and not ethnic nor racial hatred. In the Capitalism essay, I theorized on the ratio difference in resources between those that have and those that have not, in which I named the theory, The Resource Differential Tolerance Ratio. Since I have written these two essays, Judith Rich Harris' book, The Nurture Assumption was published and lent strong support that children adapt their behaviors more to their peers than to their parents. The Littleton experience as documented will undoubtedly show the lack of parental influence. It would appear that students live in a world of their own and change behaviors when confronted by adult culture.
I have been preoccupied with the writing of my first book, and only after the Littleton shootings -- and after much reflection -- do I feel that the group socialization process and the retention of resources was more complicated then when I first wrote about it and that it needed expansion. At first, I really did not know how to begin, but I think what I want to say is that these alignments that I am about to present, are basic and innate, and are the basis of attainment behaviors and are the result of evolutionary influences. All of the theories are speculative, and must endure the test of time and debate amongst those of you who are most knowledgeable in the subject.
Resource Attainment Alignment
Since you read my web site on a regular basis and have read all the recommended books I suggested to you, you know that a resource in evolutionary terms is anything that will help you get your genes passed into the next generation. It's a broad sweep that includes wealth, health, associations, and even body build. I am going to assume you know the basics, but if not, then you must do some homework regarding this the information on this web site.
Basically, you need to find food to eat and then find a safe place to sleep at night, and you must do this daily. You may not think that you are going through this daily process, but take away that great job you have, the spouse that helps pay the bills, or a freak accident that takes away your job skills; remove the safety net that society has provided, and things will return to the basic, primal equivalent of square one in terms of survival. I hazard to guess that you are hard-wired to seek out these two and their modern day equivalent resources and that this "seeking," sets you on a path, or an "alignment," to attain resources which assures your survival. Ok, after a hard day's labor, and after you acquire these resources and understand what the advantages that these resources bring you, I hazard to guess that you now have a
Resource Comparison Bias
It is a strong assumption that our ancestors lived for thousands of years in groups that we call hunter-gatherers. These groups most likely ranged in size from 40 to perhaps as large as 150. (Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, Robin Dunbar, Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1996) So, now you are living in a group of hunter-gatherers and all of you compete on an equal basis in the local environment. But here is the rub. Someone gets lucky and finds a tree full of bananas and instantly becomes a top banana in the social group. The food source is a resource that could sustain an individual for many weeks without the anxiety produced of not being able to find the basics. Suddenly, you understand, in your simple world that the other person has more resources than you have and that having these resources has a distinct advantage in the survival game -- hence the Resource Comparison Bias. You want what that person has because you understand that there is an advantage in his or her position of owning the resources. You want what the other person wants. Now, we have a situation in which one individual has and the others do not. Which leads us to the...
Resource Retention Rule
Basically, the RRR is the mirror image of wanting the resources that the other person has -- it's the bias of hanging on to all of the bananas and the advantage in the survival game that holding the bananas represents -- hence, the Resource Retention. In the country club set, small individuals are most likely given an early lesson at the wading pool regarding society in general which is called, The Golden Rule. I'm not talking about the teachings of Jesus here -- I'm talking pure core greed in modern social survival. The Golden Rule to the élite members of our society is very simple: Those that own the Gold get to make the rules. If you get to make the rules, your advantage in gene passage is greatly enhanced. But, since we are talking about evolution and bananas, the perception of what has value and what does not may have changed, but the mechanisms swirling around these behaviors are basically unchanged. Sound crazy that a banana might have the same value as a Rolex watch? Ask yourself this question: If a theft puts a gun to your head and makes the statement and says "your watch or your life!" how quickly does the importance of retaining or surrendering the watch become? In a world where only bananas exist and equate to survival, a banana could be very valuable.
Now it gets complicated because we lived in groups. Now, if you owed the golden bananas, what would you do? You of course have a bias to retain the bananas, but you also can see that you are physically outnumbered by many other members of your group that want the advantage that you have. What happens next is the...
Resource Retention Alliances
As the behavior implies, in order for you to maintain your position of resource retention you make alliances with others to help maintain the banana resource. Now, you could have attempted to be King of the Hill and with your muscularity and sheer physical size held off the other members of the group as they attempted to acquire the resources that seem to be bountiful. So instead of a bloody battle over bananas, you decide to "choose" members of the group in which to share the resources of the golden banana find. This is called an alliance in which the other members of your group exchange your bananas in return for protecting that same cache. (In this particular case, I'm referring to the males in the grouping because of their sheer size -- and this of course brings us to the threshold of sexual dimorphism; AMGs (all male groups); and how females might gain access to these resources. However, that is for another time). This "picking" and "culling" brings us back to the formation of cliques and groupings of the Littleton High School and all other schools we have mentioned. Now we have an "in" group that has resources, and an "out" group that is being culled away from the resources. Now, regarding the press reports originating from the Littleton tragedy and similar situations, everyone has heard this statement: "Everyone wants to belong," as people attempt to join these "inner-circle people," Which now leads us to...Origin Denial, Resource Realignment the denial of one's birth origin by deception or whatever means in an attempt to realign one's position to seek favoritism from the dominate and controlling culture in this person's local environment. The objective is a mechanism designed to take the person doing the denial and realignment in one socioeconomic level to be accepted into the social circles of a higher socioeconomic level, hence, improving one's genetic chances. Examples would include: A cockney worker in Britain attempting to change speech patterns to that of one who graduated from Eaton or Oxford; in America, a light-skinned black person passing for a white person or a Jewish person changing one's surname to a European based name; in India, an outcast Dalit, ("oppressed one," ) trying to pass into the higher - caste. Origin denial, resource realignment could also be plastic surgery. A nose job, breast implant, a wig, padded shoulders or butt -- all indicate a mechanism of denial or rejection of one's current circumstances and then the attempt at realignment into a different sphere they might consider more advantageous.
Now, how would you feel if you were pushed away from the bananas by a dominant group and you knew that all other food sources were gone? Do you think that anger could well up in your soul and lead you to violence?
I don't claim to have all the answers about the Littleton tragedy. I do concur that the over abundance in our culture of violent movies, television shows, video games, professional wrestling, professional boxing, and yes -- the altar of controlled violence -- the Super Bowl which glorifies a battle between large, aggressive males upon a contained grass battlefield could have an accumulative effect. Attach to this glorified controlled gore is the constant references as to how much money per second is being spent on commercial air time or how large the gross at the box office takes in and the message we send to our children is obvious.
Another point that I would like to make regarding the school shootings in supposedly safe middle America, is that they seem to have coincided with the emergence of the conservative Republican Revolution in 1994 and its control of Congress. I know that this is a stretch, but the statistics do verify my statement. (See the chart on violent school deaths) It is not so much the conservative principles of their philosophies that I object to, but the tone of the language and methods used by these elected officials in supporting these goals. It could be possible -- and I know that this is speculative -- that the parents of these shooters admired the concepts of conservatism and culturally passed on these teachings onto their children within the home. After all, the conservatives want to remind all of us of the importance of the family unit and constantly berate empathics from their conservative talking-head bully-pulpits. Too far-fetched to be believed? I do have support. In Richard Rhodes' new book, Why They Kill: The Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist, Knopf, 1999, Rhodes offers a theory that "violentization" in males is a four part step including Brutalization, Belligerency, Violent performances, and Virulency. Included in this four step process is the relationship between child and parent "...that is a metaphor for the relationship between a soldier and his army." Included under this umbrella is Rhodes' belief that conservative Christianity acts as a support for violence against children in the guise of discipline.
Let me end with the thought that God has given us much bounty and that there is enough to go around for all. That means that giving respect and dignity to those less fortunate. For those conservatives reading this who may be horrified by the tone of my comments, and fear that I suggest resources be taken away from you -- I want you to relax -- These resources have to be given freely to mean anything in the eyes of God.
As a follow-up to this piece, I also suggest that you read Chuck Green's column in the Sunday, May 23, 99 issue of The Denver Post, p. B1, entitled: "Jocks still hold sway at school." It is a short story of a Junior jock at Columbine High School named Landon Jones, "...a handsome and smooth-talking junior who his parents say is already being courted by college recruiters from Stanford, Harvard and Colorado, and also is an accused stalker and prowler." The column continues by telling us that the young Mr. Jones is accused of stalking and threatening an 18-year-old female who has signed a document to authorities saying that Mr. Jones is an "imminent danger" to her safety. It continues that the parents of Mr. Jones are ready to present letters of support from "an assistant principal and several teachers" at Columbine and that school administrators at Columbine High School suggested a solution to the problem -- that the girl could leave prior to graduation, with no penalty marks on her record. If you have read and understand the above theories, then you now can understand the behavior mentioned in this column.
I want to personally thank Mr. Chuck Green for giving strength to my theories. W.A. Spriggs, May 23, 99
copyright, William A. Spriggs, May 10, 1999
Updated: May 23, 1999
In another Denver Post story by Beth Defalco, (I am sorry, but I forgot to note the date on the article I clipped out of the paper -- but, it should be the same week), tells us of the 1998 FBI report titled "Lessons Learned: An FBI Perspective," report that profiles killers in five school shootings in Paducah, Ky.; Pearl, Miss.; Edinboro, Pa.; and Stamp and Jonesboro, Ark. The profile of the killers:
In a third news related story, The Washington Post National Weekly edition, June 21, 99 p. 29 ran a story by Lorranine Adams and Dale Russakoff titled: At Columbine High, a Darker Picture Emerges: Were athletes given preferential treatment and allowed to misbehave with impunity? The story begins with a powerful opening paragraph which writes that one State wrestler champion, Wayne Hoffschneider was allowed to park his $100,000 Hummer all day in a 15-minute space. A football player was allowed to tease a girl about her breasts in class without fear of retribution by his teacher who was also his instructor in the same class. The story continued, that in the yearbook, pictures of the sports teams were in color while a national debating team was presented in black and white.
Glorifying athletes in High Schools across America is nothing new, but in the light of the Littleton Shootings where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were angered and set upon by this dominate culture at the school, everything is now being reviewed and re-examined. As this Washington Post story continues, it tells us that some of the parents and students who were interviewed felt that a school wide indulgence of certain jocks, who impunity in criminal convictions, physical abuse, sexual and racial bullying increased the feelings in Harris and Klebold of powerlessness and low self-esteem.
Now that you have read my entire evolutionary perspective on the shootings; my predictions concerning the ten-fold increase in security; the resource alliance biases that effected behavior at Columbine -- plus these two new updated additions, what do you think will be the next step?
Do you think that the FBI profile that will "...recognize which students are moving from interest in killing to weapons acquisition..." will also profile jocks who park their $100,000 Hummers in 15-minute spaces which could create a feeling of resentment in many students? Or do you think that the profile will only contain profiles on "losers," "loners," or "misfits?" Will the Secret Service profile recognize the sexually abusive athlete toward a female and the teacher that does nothing, or will the profile direct its attention at the female for "being unable to adjust to societal norms?" Will recommendations by law enforcement officals include warnings to school officials to be sure and prosecute all under the law in an equal manner? Do you think that the 1-800 toll free number to the National Threat Assessment Center will be given to both students and school officials alike giving equal opportunity to provide information on "misfits", or just to school officials who may be part of the problem that do nothing about $100,000 Hummer's parked illegally or sexually abusive jocks?
What's next after the profiling? A secret psychological dangerousness test disguised as a innocent student survey to pinpoint disenfranchised and disgruntled students?
Listen, I want our schools and streets to be free of violence more than anyone. In this day and age of booming economic miracles, there is no reason why we should have to walk in fear. But this macho, testosterone driven approach to violence elimination is not the best way. If you want peace, have equal justice.
Update, March 14, 2001
Tragedy has struck again in our nation's high schools with another outbreak of shooting violence, and once again I have to update one of my essays. On March 5, 2001, one Andy Williams of Santana High School brought to school his father's hand gun and began shooting from the men's bathroom killing two and injuring 13; swift response from the police most likely prevented more deaths and injuries. Those who considered themselves friends of the shooter told police that the frail and very pale-skinned 15-year-old freshman was repeatedly bullied since moving to California in 2000. Please make a mental note of the shooter's size: He is 5'4" tall, and weighs only 115 lbs.
There has emerged one thing different in the popular press about the Santana High School shooting because the common thread of bullying and teasing that has been present in all of the recent shootings, and had been rejected, re-emerges from all the statistics and media coverage to stand alone. The only question that remains to taunt us is the same question that the FBI raised when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who killed 12 students, one teacher, and themselves at Columbine High School in the spring of 1999: "Why, if their motive was rage at the athletes who taunted them, didn't they take their guns and bombs to the locker room? Because retaliation against specific people was not the point. Because this may have been about celebrity as much as cruelty. 'They wanted to be famous,' concludes FBI agent Mark Holstlaw. And they are. They're infamous.'" Time magazine, Dec 20, 1999. We still don't know the details abut the Santana shooting, but it appears that the shooter was also shooting randomly at anyone within range of his firearm; it raises the same question: why did he not seek out and harm the people who had abused him?
The answer to me is very simple: the shooters were angry at the "total socialization process" that allowed the bullies to do their work of making their lives miserable while they operated in open knowledge of the whole school; that includes officials, teachers, and fellow students. It would make sense that any behavior "allowed" to exist, would therefore be encouraged, while any behavior "discouraged" would have mechanisms to stop those behaviors. It has been empirically established that the Columbine High School football team yearbook picture was in color while the international debating team's photo was in black and white; this sets up the establishment of "physical strength is better and intellectual smart not as goo" behavior amongst students, and as such, such behavior (as in knocking people around and making them submit to one's will) is rewarded. This is despite sworn testimony from the high school's principle, Frank Deangleis, a former high school coach, that no "bullying" took place at his high school. Emphasis was on the "glory" that the football team brought to the school, while intellectual achievement took a back seat. Was Columbine any different than most high schools in this "long live the Jock" mentality?
Our brains have evolved from evolutionary origins which formed in our early hominid bands of hunter-gatherer groups. Most activities then were settled in the open spaces where the group lived, and most disputes of food, mate selection, and status were determined by violent behavior of strong over weak. It is my theory that these shootings when the 'revenge' factor is cited, are really extensions of emotional outbursts, a crying out for help, seeking a "grievance" judgment from members of the group, and a possible cessation of the humiliating activity. To me the striking back were attempts to express the frustrations, anger, and grievance failure procedures that the shooters felt. The striking out and shooting at random are examples of transmitting messages to those in their group: We were abused, why did you not care? Why did you not come to our aid? Why have you ignored us? Why have you left us behind?
Ridiculous? Not really. What do you thing the police officer was trying to convey to the Haitian immigrant he was sodomizing with a boom stick handle in a famous case in New York City? It was a message to all black-Haitians that one group ( the police) was dominate and that all in your group (the Haitian-Americans) should obey and be submissive. I know that I am speculating here, but Group Messaging should be studied in more detail before we can confirm the empirical nature of the beast. I know that it is there.
The random shootings are also saying to the whole group: "WHY DIDN'T YOU DO SOMETHING TO STOP THEM FROM HUMILIATING US?" It is also possible that it was a message to the group that 'your admiration of the jock culture most likely gave encouragement to the jocks to humiliate us.' The shootings by students today to express there anger, most likely was a very rare occurrence of group messaging in our humanoid past -- yet a very effective method of letting the entire group know of the severity of the infractions. It is only the modern "evolved genius" of humankind's ability to invent handguns and assault weapons -- and the political climate that makes them easily available -- that separates us from our "low intelligent" animal ancestors -- plus the saturation of media coverage that gives an overwhelming ness to all of these terrible events. The behaviors have not basically changed, but the technology and the knowledge of their happenings have greatly changed.
A second part of answering the FBI question of why not target the tormentors is that perhaps Klebold and Harris were "fearful" that the jocks would dismantle their plans: Anger at someone 'other' may also be anger at 'oneself' for not being able to stop the humiliation because the submissive knows that they would lose in any confrontation. If fear is present in the human emotional perception, then "fear avoidance" could easily dominate one's actions. If Klebold and Harris went directly to the locker rooms for revenge, perhaps they could easily have been stopped in their tracks by their "jock" tormentors. If that were the case, then there could have been even greater humiliation; hence we can begin to understand their not targeting the jocks.
This brings us to an interesting question: Why is it that the FBI did not see the common thread of bullying in all of the shootings. Or, if they did notice, why did they emphasis the guilt of the shooters over the guilt of the bullies that created the shooting action? Why is it that our society gives freedoms of actions to some in our society, while ignoring others and their "bad" behaviors? (Jail sentencing for crack cocaine, a black favorite, vs. suspended sentences for users power cocaine, a white favorite, is a perfect example). It is an important question because it goes to the heart of my theories that we are an exclusionary society that does not want to admit that it excludes individuals based on their size, weight, sexual orientation, skin color, or gender. I am not for one minute saying that the shooters had the right to harm anyone; that is an established ethnic value handed down to us from God, but I refuse to give up the argument that not enough is being done to protect those that are publicly humiliated with impurity while law-enforcement officials shrug off the innate, internal pain of those being humiliated. The time of being told to sit down, shut up, and take your lumps for the benefit for others who do not deserve special exemptions is over.
If Klebold and Harris were trained in the rough-and-tumble environment of the FBI where physical and mental training has taught individuals to defend themselves and use force to subdue perpetrators, perhaps they would not be afraid of the "Jocks." But, then if they know how to defend themselves against bullies, then perhaps there would have been no Columbine tragedy. . Somehow the investigation of the Jock's bullying, if it was considered, was never given much credence. And why? because it is the culture (think of our society admiration of the Super Bowl -- the money spent on commercials per minute, and the individuals involved -- now recall that Andy Williams was only 5'4" and 115 lbs) that dominates and provides the recourses to those that share those beliefs. Our society does not want the "losers" to get an even break. No one wants to admit it, including the FBI, but that is what is happening. Think about it. What is wrong with the FBI assessment is that they see the actions of "losers" as anti-social beings -- and energy and resources are not spent on "losers" -- or so the culture seem to prevail.
Right now, the conservative-leaning house Representative, Tom Tancredo, whose district includes Columbine, has brought a proposal before congress to fund a national toll-free hot line for students to report anyone who voices that they are going to use violence in their schools. I agree to any method that stops violence, but if tax-payers dollars are going to be used for a "snitch" line, then there ought to be a toll-free line to report bullying and failure by school officials to stop such behaviors. The Denver Post, in an editorial, asked basically the same question: "While bullying is no justification for slaughter, we wonder if nobody in at Santana high noticed that the suspect was being tormented? Why didn't his friend report this to school officials? The Denver Post, March 8, 2001, p.10B.
Updated: October 30, 1999
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