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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

School Shootings: So Now it's Cleveland, 10/10/07

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 10th 2007

Let me first state that I am writing this log entry more in frustration and worry about us human beings than with any answers. In fact, I invite you, the readers of this entry to provide possible explanations for the violence that seems to plague our nation. Also, be prepared for some meanderings in my thinking about the issue of violence in our nation and throughout the world.

The fact is that today, October 10, 2007, another shooting occurred in one of our public schools. This time it was a middle school in Cleveland, Ohio, in which several youngsters were wounded and the young perpetrator committed suicide. Frankly, the fact that this youngster killed himself is an equal part of the tragedy.

Black, White, Latino, rich, poor, suburban, urban, a Sheriff, husband, wife, neighbor, or policeman, adult, child or adolescent: It all makes no difference because they have all been involved in fatal shooting usually ending in suicide and always in terrible tragedy.

In addition, everyone has an explanation or excuse. Some of these explanations or excuses range anywhere from mental illness to poverty, wealth, disappointment and a myriad other reasons. What if none of these explanations mean anything? What if we are dealing with mindless, random violence because there is something irrational in human nature?

Freud discussed this idea when he talked about something he called, "the death instinct." At the time he came up with the theory of the death instinct, he was severely attacked, perhaps more for this than for his views on sexuality. After all, what he called "Eros" is the life instinct, in his terms. But a death instinct? The idea that there is something in mankind that strives for death seems counter intuitive, crazy, and irrational. But is it?

I recently pointed out to Dr. Dombeck that I, who am about to celebrate my 65th birthday, was born during World War II, was a child during the Korean War, a young man during the Vietnamese War, an adult during the Gulf War and, now, an older man during the War in Iraq. Without casting blame on anyone, with the exception of the entire human race, where does it all stop? We have powerful nuclear weapons, with which it is possible to wipe out human life on this planet. These deadly weapons are spreading so smallest nations will have or already have the ability to set off a conflagration the likes of which have never been seen.

So, was Freud crazy to talk about a "death instinct?"

Dr. John Ratey, MD, the author of so many important books on Attention Deficit Disorder and other psychiatric disorders, wrote excellent book years ago that I want to recommend to everyone called Shadow Syndromes. In it he talks about the simple fact that any of us at any time, given the right set of circumstances, can and do experience some of the symptoms of all the mental illnesses. What that means is that anyone can experience hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, murderous impulses, etc. He states that what separates us from those who become extremely mentally ill is that these symptoms are transitory or passing while those who are very ill experience these things all of the time.

Some of us love to reminisce about "the good old days" during which everything was calm and civilized in our nation. Billy Joel shrewdly points out in one of his songs that the "good old days were not as good as we would like to believe." For example, even before I was born there was World War 1, the Great Depression, etc. Need I go on?

So, what is the answer to the problem? I am not asking you, the reader, to look for answers for problems throughout the world but only to think about our individual communities. Is there something each of us can do to build a better living environment or are we just hopelessly violent?

Your comments are welcome.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

- suzanne - Nov 13th 2007

This may sound too simplistic, but I sincerely believe if we would all commit to caring for at least 2 other people--perhaps those whom we know in our "circle of life," or even those we don't really know---rather than being so single-minded and focused on ourselves, we might just make a difference.

I personally believe we are all too hamsters on a wheel...we lose our perspective when we do this. More importantly, we lose our souls when we stop thinking and caring about others.

Perhaps there is a death instinct. As a woman of faith, I choose to believe there is a life instinct, which is far stronger than the death instinct.

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