Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Law of Conservation of (fill in the blank)

About a week before the shootings at Virginia Tech, I noticed the man who sat across from me at work (a temp job) had stopped showing up. I asked the woman who sat next to him about it, since they ate lunch together and talked a lot and I figured she’d know what happened to him. She didn’t.

The next day, somebody else said they’d seen him on the news. He didn’t come to work because he had a court date and then he went to jail. He – I’ll call him Randy X -had been convicted of soliciting sex from a 14-year-old girl. Randy X got busted in one of those news stings where they get somebody to trawl for potential sex offenders on the Internet by posing as a girl in her early teens looking for middle-aged action. I’m assuming Randy X must have been on the local news last year after he was filmed showing up for his date and got arrested.

He must have lost his prestigious job after that. I was wondering why somebody with a PhD in his field was temping. He stands to spend a long time in jail, and even if he gets a light sentence, his future job possibilities are going to be limited. I hate it for his family. Randy X’s son is about the same age as the girl his dad wanted to go out with. What kind of hell must he be going through at school over this?

What creeped me out was, I liked Randy X. He was a quiet, sweet man. Sometimes we’d exchange looks whenever his hypersensitive neighbor made yet another comment about how annoying the squeaky chair across the room was, kind of like we were sharing an inside joke. It’s not like I didn’t believe there might be potential perverts in the room, either – it’s just that he’s wasn’t even close to making it on my Most Likely to Sexually Offend list. I felt stupid.

Then all that drama in Blacksburg unfolded. One of the first things I thought of when I saw it on the news was, hey, if I can sit across from a sex offender and not have a clue, I could almost as easily sit across from somebody who could walk in here and shower the room with bullets. After that, when I heard all the opinionating going on about how universities should screen out crazies like Cho, I was disgusted. The people who say that must never have had the experience of living on campus in college. That’s when you learn that a shockingly high percentage of the population is mentally ill. And if you aren’t mentally ill before you move into the dorm, you could become that way after three months of living with somebody who tries to steal your boyfriend, always manages to find and drink your tequila no matter where you hide it, and makes your phone bill more costly than your tuition.

Mental health is a changeable state, and telling people “Hey, you have a history of instability, so you can’t come to school here” is not a good long-term solution because higher education allows a lot of unstable people to get out of the home lives that made them unstable, and it gives them skills to get a job and become more stable in the future.

Everybody’s looking for somebody to blame in the Cho situation. Our culture has forgotten that there’s no way to manage the chaos that’s inherent in the universe. We’re lucky to be here at all. Mentally healthy, law-abiding citizens tend to think their own personal virtue is what has kept them out of the loony bin and on the right side of the law. But to a certain extent, they have won a crapshoot of inherited and developmental factors. (For example, it’s a lot easier to develop satisfying social relationships when you’re not autistic. It’s easier to stay out of jail when you don’t have a compulsion to have sex with children). They’re simply lucky they aren’t walking in Cho’s or Randy X’s shoes.

There is a fundamental law of the universe – The Law of Conservation of Chaos and/or Assholes, which dictates that the elements of tragedy and antisocial behavior cannot be created or destroyed, and are a constant in our universe. In other words, a certain number of things have to go wrong and a certain percentage of people must fuck things up. So to all the Chos and Randy Xs out there: Thank You. Thank you for wearing the crazy/asshole hat, because your doing so decreases the chances that I will have to.

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