The Logic of Hysteria: A Hometown Look from A Thousand Miles Away

Sunday, February 25, 2018

There was a shooting recently in my hometown, in the parking lot of the mall. It made the national news and I was reading the user comments on the story. Someone was giving their experience about how they heard some rounds fired near the Sears. The next comment was, “They still have a Sears?”


So what the heck happened? The police say there was never an active shooter, that there were no shots ever fired.

That’s insane, then how was the entire mall put into lockdown, how did they get to that point? Why did so many people who were there claim they heard gunshots? I don’t think those people are making it up. I think there are a number of possible reasons they make those claims.


I think it’s possible they heard something that sounded like gunshots, maybe sounded similar to gunshots but weren’t. Maybe the adrenaline was so high and the fight or flight instinct so intense that they genuinely believe they heard gunshots when there actually weren’t any. It’s possible one person said they heard shots and everyone else decided - subconsciously - they must have heard them, too. Or maybe it’s a police conspiracy, but my money’s not on that.


What I really want to know is how everyone became so hysterical. From what I can piece together from the news, folks who were at the mall, and from second-hand reports of folks who knew folks at the mall: a fight broke out between three dudes in the Sears parking lot (yes, we still have a Sears) one of them pulled out a gun, someone else in the parking lot saw them pull the gun, shouted “GUN,” and ran back inside. Then from there the word spread, possibly like a game of “Telephone,” that there is a person firing a gun in the mall and everybody needs to hide. 


I’m sure many of us are thinking the same thing: would this situation have escalated to the point it did if it were not for the recent shooting in Florida? I don’t think we can really say, but it’s hard to ignore the association the two might have. While I would love to say that, no, the reaction would not have been so extreme if not for a the recent tragedy, I don’t think that would be completely fair to the reputation of human nature and groupthink.


While I mean no disrespect to those involved, the entire story piques my curiosity. Is it better to be safe than sorry, vis a vis, is it a smarter idea to take the word of the herd and cover your head in the Sephora stock room, or is it smarter to break formation and judge the situation for yourself?


Greg Rambin Jr.

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