Predictably massacring school children

I am not sure if the scientific method has made any serious study of massacre, and I cannot even cite any well operationalized definition of the phenomenon. The level of emotion that is engendered when discussing or examining any case of human massacre makes rational thought difficult. This in the wake of the London bombings last week is true as ever.

A story from East Africa is lost in the news from London, Leeds, NASA, and Karl Rove. But here is the gist: a group of Borana-clan attackers massacred 56 Gabra-clan villagers, most of them young children and their mothers on their way to school yesterday in Turbi Village in Northern Kenya.

This story, either on Aljazeera or the BBC is difficult to read. It reminds me strongly of the massacre of Russian school children in Beslan last year. When we hear of grown men and women willfully, coldly murdering innocent children, our rational mind goes out the window. This is evil. These are killers. We want revenge. We do not want to understand. Frankly, it is very difficult to want to understand the minds or the social forces that can cause such carnage.

But, the thing about science is that is supposed to look past human subjective perception for the real truth. Lots of subjects have been hard to study, but we have pushed past our queasiness and learned great things. I think about the early Edinburgh anatomists who had to violate the sanctity of the corpse to discover circulation and the rest of human anatomy and physiology ( Social scientists are called on to bravely turn a dispassionate eye toward the phenomenon of massacre and all human on human violence.

Could something like the Turbi Village massacre have been predicted by modeling and simulation techniques? This massacre may present a real research opportunity due to some special features of this conflict on the Ethiopian/Kenyan border. First, it is discrete. The dispute is in an arid region and centers on an oasis. The clan distinctions are apparently discrete also. The conflict is exploding currently, and the escalation of retribution has been somewhat well documented in recent years. So, some time series data may exist. Current space based environmental monitoring may provide key data on trends in moisture and vegetation.

Just thinking out loud, what factors might predict a hyperviolent outburst such as these child murders? Just like prosecutors (but without the agenda) I think we can look for motive and opportunity. But as social scientists, let’s look at those more obvious points (they were angry, or else righteous, and armed) in the context of a biopsychosocial perspective. I refer you back to the July 6th blog entry regarding Tim Kohler’s article in Scientific American about modeling Anasazi in the Four Corners (

In my first posting to this blog I suggest a very simple linear equation (just for illustration – we all know that non-linear dynamics will better explain complex group behaviors). How does this equation apply to this massacre?

Our dependent variable is Borana massacring behavior. If you want to think in logistic regression terms, DID they or did they NOT (DID=0, NOT=1) kill lots of moms and kids? Or from the illustrative equation: the attackers represent a subset of their cultural group which is defined by their being secular with guns.

Our predictor variables are A (war) x B (reproduction) x C (index of relativity to group) x D (environmental)

(A) WAR – Do the Borana attackers think that they are fighting a new war or the last war (i.e. are they starting or continuing a war)? Do they feel they won or lost the last war?
(B) REPRODUCTION – What do the Borana’s perceive as relative population pressures and reproductive rates of the Borana and the Gabra?
(C) RELATIVITY – Do the Borana feel they are the underdog or the relatively more powerful?
(D) ENVIRONMENTAL – What are the demands for that water in that oasis? Can you calculate a drought to oasis index for the two groups?

It is my supposition, as laid out in this blog, that if we can reasonably measure these factors and reasonably assign meaningful categories, we can begin to explore the dynamics of how massacres like this happen. They are not random, they are not incomprehensible, and evil thought they may be, they exist within a describable world of measurable factors.

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1 thought on “Predictably massacring school children”

  1. I don’t know what about you are talking about the massacre as you said done by Borana.are you sure that any humanbeing can done? inprespective of humanity.
    please let be realistic and optimistc.

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