Lisa Miller has written a provocative column for New York Magazine dilating on the fact that whatever their motives and whatever their mental conditions, the perpetrators of mass bloodbaths tend to be angry, young and male.
Angry. Young. Men. The description doesn’t explain the motivations behind every notorious bloodbath, but it’s a place to start—perhaps the only place to start. Men have testosterone, an aggression drug, coursing through their veins; levels rise under stress, and young men have more of it than older ones. (Give testosterone to female rats, and they will become uncharacteristically violent.) Moral development isn’t complete in humans until about age 21—“This is why we don’t put the 14-year-olds in charge,” says Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and moral philosopher. And men are likelier than women to act out vengeance, partly because their brains do not propel them to seek help, to pick up the phone or see a shrink, when enraged. And that male proclivity to assert power through violence has been true for males, and not for females, for millions of years, which is why when you give your 4-year-old daughter a toy sword to play with, she may just turn it into a fairy wand and go on with her day.
Miller may be on to something when she writes: “the more of them we meet, the less they seem to be fringe ideological actors and more like various avatars of a single type.” The question is, whether these killers’ anger, youth and maleness were the active ingredients in a violent cocktail.
Scott Shane of The New York Times notes that the Tsarnev brothers had a foot in two worlds, but were comfortable in neither. He writes:
As investigators try to understand the brothers’ thinking, search for ties to militant groups and draw lessons for preventing attacks, they will be thinking of some notable cases in which longtime American residents with no history of violence turned to terrorism: the plot to blow up the New York subway in 2009, the Fort Hood shootings the same year and the failed Times Square bombing of 2010, among others.
“I think there’s often a sense of divided loyalties in these cases where Americans turn to violent jihad — are you American first or are you Muslim first? And also of proving yourself as a man of action,” said Brian Fishman, who studies terrorism at the New America Foundation in Washington.
Mr. Fishman cautioned that it was too early to draw any firm conclusions about the Tsarnaev brothers, but said there were intriguing echoes of other cases in which young men caught between life in America and loyalty to fellow Muslims in a distant homeland turned to violence, partly as a way of settling the puzzle of their identity.
Are these articles persuasive to you? Do you have another theory to propose?