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Angry. Young. Men.

Angry. Young. Men.

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?


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Harriet Baber

I absolutely agree. Eliminating those inequalities, and creating more opportunities for social mobility are what’s needed. However, in order to motivate that we have to be honest about the sources of violence and anti-social behavior, and recognize that it’s a class and culture issue.


Class-based “savage inequalities” contribute to violence (thank you, Capitalism): I don’t think there’s anything particularly controversial in that assertion, Harriet (Or there shouldn’t be!).

JC Fisher

Harriet Baber

Angry, young LOWER CLASS men. Right, amongst the mass murders, you see privileged kids shooting up their schools, but if you look at the totality of violent behavior, including gang violence and common street crime lower class males. Upper middle class boys manage by and large to keep their testosterone under control. So even if elevated levels of testosterone are close to necessary they aren’t sufficient to explain the pattern of violent, anti-social behavior.

You have to add in the source of anger–the sense of entitlement that comes with being male in a traditional lower class or third world society, and the recognition that that they are not going to get what they feel they’re entitled to. And if an ideology is available to provide a rationale for their resentment, they happily adopt it.

It’s taboo to talk about class and culture but these are the drivers of violence. Religion and other ideologies are epiphenomenal. And if you want to challenge that, show me a comparison of figures on violent anti-social behavior between young upper middle class native-born Anglo males (affluent, college-educated parents, living in expensive neighborhoods) and lower class males, including immigrants from third world cultures. Sorry to have to say this but that’s the way it is.


Though perhaps Ann puts it a little more bluntly than I would, as a person on the FTM (female-to-male) spectrum, I would also caution against equating (or predicting) violent behavior due to testosterone. “T” *can* intensify aggression, true, but it can’t make one a murderer unless the foundation of that psycho-pathology is already there.

JC Fisher


Anyone who has covered a courthouse knows that virtually all violent crime is perpetrated by young men, usually angry. Perpetrators of mass violence are no more than a subset of all perpetrators of violent acts, IMHO.

Mark Silk

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