EDITORIAL: What is it about our age that produces killers?
The Hyvinkää shooting is difficult to process because it leaves a person speechless. The reason for the speechlessness is that the act of killing is without reason and the casualties are so serious.
A shocked society has already learned to react in a way that has become a gloomy routine: the sequence of news items in the media is hastily rearranged, an altar of candles grows at the scene of the killings, a church opens its doors, and leading politicians express their condolences.
Everybody agrees that this must not happen again. No more Myyrmannis, no more Jokelas, no more Kauhajokis, no more Sellos. No more Hyvinkääs.
No more - and yet it happens again.
Each mass killing is a separate tragedy. Each one has its own peculiar background, but there is something more general in these events that we should try to seek out and understand as a community.
Brazen arbitrary violence is a phenomenon of our time. International news reports constantly offer examples of senseless random violence that seems to work to the interests of groups that practice it. Killing as many people as possible is how terrorist groups make it known that they are alive.
In the safe haven of Finland, such news items fall in the background, but they also tend to influence our perception of other cultures and the power of violence.
But of course these do not constitute an unequivocal stimulus to violence, and they do not explain why people here decide to resort to more or less arbitrary violent acts
Is there something in our own society and in our age that triggers such courses of action?
One difficult question is the image of self of our age.
Modern society, including that of Finland, is splintered. The emphasis on the individual and on the rights of the individual is part of the spirit of the times.
New technology enables people to be a part of a group in a new way - to be simultaneously present and hidden away.
Typical of the modern age is that there are no longer any great all-encompassing narratives, and that people attach themselves to communities on the basis of their own preferences and interests.
Public debate is increasingly homogenous, and in spite of this, aggressions rise to the surface more than they did before.
Political debate is a good example of this.
Our age feeds a kind of narcissism - a focus on the self.
At certain stages of development, a lack of empathy and the primacy of one’s own desires are typical among children. Why do we get young adults who are like big children without the ability to empathise with their fellow humans?
Affecting this development are the home, school, and the surrounding community.
What kinds of models are we offered by the powerful entertainment industry?
Team sports are an excellent way to raise young people to be part of a group and to bear common responsibility.
But even at the junior level there is often too much emphasis in these sports on the personal development story and the personal prospects of a promising individual.
How many are left to fall by the wayside from the group?
At the same time resources provided by society to promote the sense of community have been cut.
Maternity clinics, child welfare, social services, and schools have fewer resources to intervene in problems.
Young people and their families are too often left alone with their problems. Often the problems manifest themselves only in the form of faint signals, and there are often not enough resources or enough time to react to them.
Society lacks the resources to make a big turn in the direction of slowing down the splintering trend and strengthening socialisation.
A change such as this would require strong input into support systems that would search out young people and families showing symptoms, and would help them.
Acts of violence cannot be passed by without considering our relationship with weapons and the weapons culture.
In organised activities of the firearms hobby there is an emphasis on responsible gun use, but there needs to be more serious talk about how to prevent weapons from falling into irresponsible hands.
In this age, in which individual malaise and rootlessness are growing, communities need to have the possibility to protect themselves against the danger that anyone can end up framed in the sights of an armed person on a rampage.
The threat is so great and so grave that a new kind of balance needs to be found.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.5.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Speaker of Parliament Heinäluoma extends Parliament’s condolences to families of shooting victims (28.5.2012)
SATURDAY: Two dead and seven injured in overnight shooting incident in Hyvinkää (25.5.2012)
Hyvinkää gunman Eero Hiltunen admits killings in remand appearance (29.5.2012)
Hyvinkää shootings: Gunman shows remorse; policewoman still not out of danger (28.5.2012)
Six dead after Espoo shopping mall shooting; gunman killed himself (31.12.2009)
School shooting in Kauhajoki - Eleven dead, many injured (23.9.2008)
Recovery from Jokela school shootings could take years and cost millions (30.11.2007)
Shopping mall bomber described as a loner (14.10.2002)