In previous posts, I offered some thoughts on the Virginia Tech killer (here and here). This NY Times story raises the strong possibility that a Pervasive Developmental Disorder formed the backdrop to Cho's paranoia. The emerging information on Cho's history serves as a reminder that it is easy to offer explanatory hypotheses about the actions other human beings, but our hypotheses are never any better than the quality of our data. Even when we bring theoretical depth to our explanations for world events or the behaviors of other human beings, we can easily misunderstand what we are seeing due to the inaccuracy or incompleteness of our data -- an incompleteness that is often abetted by our resistance to incorporating data that challenges our own cherished theories and beliefs.
As I read about Cho, I'm aware that our culture almost demands that we engage in defensive splitting (beatifying the victims and totally banishing any compassionate stirrings for Cho Seung-Hui), but I am not able to look at Cho without some empathy for the life of deep pain that he apparently lived during his short time on this earth. We human beings can be a hard and merciless lot, both in attitude and behavior, toward the most troubled and vulnerable among us.
It is not for me to forgive Cho (he didn't harm me or anyone I know), nor would I expect anyone who was harmed directly or indirectly by his actions to similarly experience the compassion I feel for Cho and his family, but my sympathy and compassion for the innocent victims, their families and their friends is not diminished by my sadness for Cho.
I notice that tribute is being paid appropriately to the heroism of holocaust survivor, Liviu Librescu, who died saving the lives of his students. It is the mark of genuine goodness when one acts on behalf of others who are not necessarily of one's own clan or tribe.
Tribal preference has its roots in evolutional dynamics that place a premium on those who share genetic kinship. This biologically programmed preference has an amoral underpinning that can incline us to behaving more like animals operating out of genetically instinctual subroutines than out of compassion-driven altruism that relies on a capacity for genuine empathy. The same genetic programs that makes us more protective of our clan and our tribe, also leave us more prone to indifference and even hostility toward the odd, the weak and those outside what we perceive as our own tribe. I firmly believe that to be better human beings we must do our best to shed our tribalism.
It is in this spirit that I offer a link to the less publicized story of another Virginia Tech hero:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. -- Paul of Tarsus
Thanks to Disembedded for contacting me about this post. He is thinking along the same lines about Cho and asks some excellent questions. Diembedded is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who is tops in the area of developmental disorders. He's at one best institutions out there.