Is it biological? Is there something wrong with their brains so that they wind up shooting a bunch of people or chopping them up or blowing them up?
Part of this has to do, as always, with radio. In the past couple of months, we as Americans have had to deal with the tragedy in Las Vegas. You know the story, the three or four of you, about Stephen Paddock. He’s the 45-year-old guy with a seemingly decent life of money and friends and a swimming pool. For some reason, he “went off” and shot more than 500 people from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. I think about this a lot these days.
It’s mostly because I have to talk about it on my morning radio show. I wonder what it smelled like in the hallway outside of Paddock’s hotel room halfway through all of the shootings. I wonder what I would have done if it was me and my wife in front of the stage watching the concert when the shooting began.
Would I have covered her in the hope that my fatass was wide enough and thick enough to absorb the bullets? What would that moment have been like, the two of us cowering together?
“Just sit still,” I picture myself saying. “And if I get shot, don’t move. Just use me as a shield.”
These are horrible things to think about in the middle of the night, a couple of days before my first midterm in more than 30 years. Yes, I have an accounting midterm on Monday. I’m pretty sure that even if I studied every waking moment between now and then, I’m still not gonna do any better than a C. Accounting is hard. It’s logical and measured and has to do with thinking things through as if you were reading an engineering text while rubbing ice on your balls. Accounting scares me.
But not as much as thinking about Stephen Paddock and Eric Krieg, the local iteration of someone who may just have “gone off.”
Mr. Krieg is a local father and husband whom feds say sent a pipe bomb through the mail with the intention of killing a Hammond attorney and possibly his family. But the pipe bomb blew up at the post office and instead injured a postal worker who was in her last trimester of a pregnancy. The three or four of you know all about this.
Yesterday – which would have been Friday because now it’s Saturday morning – I had on the show Tom Kirsch. He’s the new U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Indiana. He got the job on a Monday and by Wednesday he was holding a press conference for all sorts of media about catching the “pipe bomber.”
Kirsch, on my show, played U.S. attorney and didn’t answer with too much detail questions that I posed or that people called in with, but he did point out that since the press conference, some of the details of the case have been unsealed.
And from these details, we can picture Mr. Krieg, if that’s who ultimately did the bombing, driving up to the post office in East Chicago and walking in and buying postage for his pipe bomb. He – the pipe bomber - reportedly wore a dark hoodie and a surgical mask and walked with a limp.
Apparently, a witness thought that this man in a surgical mask looked strange and followed him down the street. At some point, he stopped walking with a limp.
This was done at about 11:30 am on a weekday. The feds say Mr. Krieg already admitted to it.
I’m not up in the middle of the night worrying about if the feds are gonna do their job. As Kirsch said yesterday on the radio –
“If you are going to use explosives to harm people, we will spare no resource to find you and bring you to justice.”
Those aren’t his exact words, but close enough. There’s something else that I’ve been thinking about, partly because I have to talk about this stuff on the radio and take calls about it –
How do we produce people who “go off” and want to kill? Does social media have anything to do with it? Is it the proliferation of guns?
Or is it something that we don’t know about. There’s a caller to my morning radio show – Ramon – who theorizes that the reason that there’s so much gun violence in Gary is that the chicken is bad. I’m not kidding. Ramon says that when he walks into the meat section at his favorite grocery store in Gary, “it smells funny.
“I’m telling you, JED, it’s the chicken. People are eating bad chicken in Gary and they wind up killing each other.”
By now in this narrative, I have searched for several reasons that people – mostly men… mostly white men – “go off” and try to kill people.
- they’re crazy
- they’re effected by the hate on social media
- there’s too many guns around
- it’s the chicken
I have no idea if any of these theories or contributing factors holds more credibility than any of the others. But I am effected by my recent journey into the land of accounting.
There’s this thing called double declining depreciation. It’s when you accelerate the depreciation of an asset like a lathe or a printing press faster than normal.
Here’s an example. Say you buy a lathe for your machine shop for $20,000 and you say that it has a normal life of five years (ignore salvage value). You’ll depreciate the lathe for $4,000 every year for five years until it will have, theoretically, zero value left. It will be fully depreciated by the end of five years. That’s called straight line depreciation.
But let’s say that you use the double declining method of depreciation. In this method, you double up the rate of depreciation. Instead of depreciating the lathe $4,000 in the first year, you depreciate it $8,000. And through the second year, you depreciate it $4,800… and so on.
In other words, you depreciate your asset faster in the first few years. You get to zero after five years just like you would if you used the straight line method ($4,000 every year), but you get the benefit of having less income to pay taxes on in the first couple of years. That’s why governments sometimes allow double declining depreciation in the first place – to promote investment.
Anyways, don’t worry if you’re lost on this. The part of this discussion that interests me is the acceleration of depreciation. In other words, what happens when you do things faster than they otherwise would have been done?
And I apply that question to how we live our lives. And what I am interested in the rate at which messages come to us. We are surrounded, all day, by messages that come to us.
You wake up in the morning to me talking on your nightstand – I give you messages about whatever it is that I’m thinking about as I stroll up and down Indianapolis Boulevard.
You walk downstairs and instead of listening to me, you turn on Megan Glaros doing the weather on CBS channel 2 – Megan Glaros gives you messages about the weather.
You start chomping on a bowl of Cheerios and you pull out your phone and start checking sports scores. Or, god forbid, you walk to your front door and pick up the paper and bring that back to the kitchen table – where you read the paper, eat Cheerios and watch Megan Glaros at the same time.
After you eat, you sit on the couch and pick up your Ipad and start going through Facebook. You find out through Facebook that your niece is pregnant and that some nut shot four kids in a grade school in Alabama. Then you go up and take a shower. Maybe there’s no one sleeping in your bed, so you listen to me on the nightstand as you get naked and hop in the shower – more messages.
All of these messages have come to you before you even put your clothes on to go to work. Then think about all of the messages that come to you throughout the day. Many of them are electronic messages. They come to you through a radio or a television or a computer or your smartphone or a billboard.
Just as Ramon wonders if it’s the chicken, I wonder if the rate of messages that come to us can somehow contribute to developing whack jobs among us. Now I know that this is a crazy theory, but what is crazy these days? That’s the real question.
More than at any time in the history of the development of the human species, we are bombarded by messages. Each new day, it is possible that we set a new record for the amount of messages that each of us are exposed to. It’s like the stock market these days. Every day it sets a new record because we have never been up to 23,000 on the Dow. Every day, a commentator on TV or on radio or on your phone tells you:
“The Dow set a new all-time record today.”
The same very well might be said about messages.
“The number of messages ingested by the average human being on earth hit a new all-time record today.”
And what if this happens day after day, week after week? What happens then? We are on a beanstalk to the sky that grows just a little faster than the day before and the day before that. Pretty soon, the beanstalk is growing so fast that you can actually see it growing. What then? What do we do with the beanstalk?
Now I know this curiousity about the pace of messages in our lives is even more of an outlier than Ramon’s theory about the chicken. Still, there’s a second part that I would like to add to it.
What if it’s not just the pace of messages but also the content?
In other words, what if we as human beings just aren’t all wired to process the amount of messaging that is being thrust upon us every day, every minute, every second? We were apes a hundred thousand years ago, 4,000 years ago we couldn’t really even read or write. 500 years ago we didn’t bathe.
Now, we read, listen to, watch thousands of messages a minute, sometimes even while we’re in the shower.
And what if some of those messages are filled with derision and hate?
That’s the crux of the question – what if there are too many messages of hate coming at us?
All that you have to do is go on Facebook right now and look at some of the posts and some of the comments. There are a lot of people who hate Donald Trump and there are a lot of people who hate the people who hate Donald Trump. And they’re all hating at the same time.
There are people who hate black people and there are people who hate the people who hate black people and both of these groups are posting stuff all of the time.
Guns, abortion, religion, sports teams. Whatever it is, you can find hate in it. Or, more accurately, the hate can find you.
So what I wonder about is – what if some of us just aren't wired to process so many messages of hate in a day? What if, as we accelerate our level of messaging of hate to each other, that we will just have to accept as a society that a certain number of us are just gonna “go off?"
- Every day we accept more messages
- Every day there are more messages of hate
I worry about these things in the middle of the night. I hope that there is no truth to my theory, if that’s what you want to call it, just as I hope that there is no truth to Ramon’s theory. It’s not the chicken, it’s not the hate. It’s just how it is. Good night.