SCHOOLING FISH, SHOOTERS, VIRUS WRITERS, AND MEDIA REPORTING: SOME COMMUNALITIES Painting by R.Margritte, surrealist c1942
Why do very clever computer students write virus robots that wreak such havoc on innocent receivers? Why do teen age boys engage in random shooting of their peers? Why do media reporters offer such stereotypical descriptions of these events. My search for answers to these questions is described here and is facilitated by a comparison to the schooling behavior of fish.
The latter is a bit easier to describe. Various species of fish have been observed to swim in groups, called schools. This applies to the very large and small fish. The latter mainly school for protection. They seek the same food, move in unison, with no apparent leader. It is very difficult for an outside swimmer such as myself to get their attention. At best, they move over and let me swim with them, or simply avoid me in general.
Schooling also applies to the larger aquatics including whales, dolphins and sharks. Aside from humans, these species have no enemies, so their schooling is regarded as social; serving other needs such as teaching, communication, and probably sharing emotions.
Gregory Bateson often compared grossly disparate phenomena in order to abstract some common features. In the group phenomena mentioned in my opening paragraph, there is the thread of mental illness, or perhaps more specifically, irrational motivations. The random shooting of peers reported in the nine incidents occurring since 1997 is clearly enigmatic, with much attention paid to possible influences which could explain such violence. There is minimal reference to insufficiently treated mental illness in the perpetrators even though superficial accounts of behavior disorders are mentioned in passing. The media seems to emphasize failures of society rather than mental illness in the individuals.
A similar observation can be made about the recurring and now frequent process of virus epidemics where a young person with programming knowledge can create fairly simple robots that will wreak havoc in the hard drive of victimized computer owners. Why intelligent, well trained, young, males would create and loosen these upon a randomly selected public has not been credibly explained. There are more and more anti virus making companies devoting themselves to preventing the consequences of this phenomena and selling their ongoing services. Some have offered this as a motivation for why a programmer would write a virus program in the first place. This explanation is entirely too rational for the amount of effort it takes to devise even a simple virus program. I would argue for an irrational motive such as a paranoid hostility directed at those "too dumb" to protect themselves. The hidden premise here is that the writer is a specially gifted individual with a Hitler like morality of superiority which justifies abuse of others, and incidentally proves their superiority.
The reporting of the media is equally group like, even though individual reporters are capable of far more. Their work is reviewed, if not supervised by the desk editor, who has his or her own marching orders. Whatever these may be their emphasis seems to minimize mental illness, and focus instead on society's failures such as educational deficiencies; a safe target. The reader should be reminded that treatment resources for the mentally ill has been reduced significantly in the last 30 years, and the mentally ill have been left to their own self medication with street substances. The violent among these have been incarcerated in the prisons and local jails, but the less noticeable or younger victims of mental disorders are not really provided serious and adequate care. A systematic effort here would be very costly, and borne by the taxpayers most able to pay, who may well be the funders of reporting media.
I have tried to make this comparison more tangible by arraying the four groups and comparing them for seven dimensions I found relevant.
There is a paradoxical avoidance of mental illness as a plausible motive by the information media, in reporting and trying to explain the irrational public behavior implied by perpetrators. The violence in public school shootings is more plausible as "running amok" until stopped by suicide or others. The random victimization of computer users by recurring virus attacks has no rational motive. Both of these phenomenon are given excessive attention by the media, which of course creates a contagion effect such that the copy cat phenomenon occurs.
The paradox of irrational perpetrators "explained" in the media by anything except mental illness is tantamount to "resounding silence". This at a time when so much money is being spent on the war on drugs, with only a five percent reduction, and so little on rehabilitation, less than 3%. The mentally ill are simply treating themselves by street drugs, in the absence of adequate funding for professional care. The bottom line, more of these impaired individuals are being incarcerated in prisons and jails.