Columbine by Dave Cullen

April 26, 2018

My rating on this book: 2/5

Before you lash out at me for criticizing a popular book, I will admit that this work has some merit. Although I first read it to learn about the perpetrators, the facts about Jeffco hiding information and the survivors mildly surprised me. As far as I can tell, Cullen is definitely smart enough to appeal to both the imagination and sympathy. For doing so, he deserves much congratulations from me.

Now here comes the terrible part. First of all, I am very well aware that his intended effect of colloquialism is to express everyday vioces of the Littleton community. However, by doing so, it takes away some of his professional credibility in my opinion.

In addition, Langman and Fuselier gave Eric Harris a diagnosis of of psychopathy based on the shooter's journal entries. While a journal provides some insight on a person, it does not show all of a person's thoughts if he or she intends to hide some of them. The psychologists' say is considered to be "fact" by the majority, but at most, it is just speculation. In fact, the psychologists and psychiatrist Cullen cites never met these killers. According to the APA's Goldwater rule, individual members are allowed to comment on behaviors without giving anyone a diagnosis when they view public figures at a distance, yet they managed to get away with giving Klebold and Harris diagnoses without talking to them in person. (There are dissenters against the Goldwater rule, but as far as I'm concerned, this stipulation imposes a useful limit on the mental health profession as of the present.) They may be professionals, but there are other experts who disagree with their categorizations. As for Cullen's use of Robert Hare's definition of psychopathy, there is much ongoing debate of the theory's validity due to the lack of consistent data along with difficulty of diagnosing and treating psychopathy.

The book depicted people as a little more than two-dimensional characters such as Dylan Klebold being a rosy little angel and Eric Harris being the Devil disguised as a normal boy. They are ambiguous and complex people far from personifying extremities of human nature. Dylan did suffer from depression, and Eric wanted to kill people. However, in the massacre, Klebold suggested that stabbing people might be better than shooting them, and Eric didn't want to torture animals unlike Jeffrey Dahmer. From what I could glean, both Dylan and Eric didn't show signs of conduct disorder when they were children, so that's a no for the psychopath argument.

Furthermore, while Cullen acknowledged the existence of social factors that drove Klebold and Harris, he downplays their significance. That's the equivalent of saying suicide is barely affected by people's environments, which is nonsense because social isolation, substance abuse, etc. greatly exacerbate an action like that. For example, both Dylan and Eric relied on antidepressants in their high school years. Antidepressants can cause an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, which likely aggravated their mental health issues instead of helping them, given that school was distressing enough because of social pressures. Plus, violent media may have helped more people than it harmed if portrayed prosocially, but it did not alleviate the murderers' problems and only served to motivate them that glorifying violence is "cool". Also, Brooks Brown, a friend of the killers, and Dr. Ralph Larkin discussed how Columbine jocks made life miserable for the people at the bottom stratum of the high school hierarchy in their respective books No Easy Answers and Comprehending Columbine. (By the way, the two killers were close to the bottom, not the top.)

If the massacre is the result of two maniacs who can't be stopped, then are later incidents caused by more crazy people? Cullen's version of the event does not explicate the social factors that contribute to the increasing trend of mass shooters. It's not very likely that the American government is going to change gun laws or mental healthcare in the shape it is in, so why do people not consider changing the system preventing progress? Are Klebold and Harris mentally unstable? Yes. Is their retribution against their community morally wrong? Yes, but the environmental factors should not be neglected in favor of a simpler explanation.

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This article has 1 comment.

on Jul. 27 at 12:11 pm
Overlord-of-Oblivion SILVER, Dalton, Georgia
5 articles 1 photo 2 comments
I'm sorry if I offended you in this review. I just got carried away by indignation.

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