Wired reports on the case of Amy Bishop, the university professor who shot her coworkers during a meeting, apparently because she had been denied tenure even though that happened a year earlier.
The first question that one should ask is, why is this in Wired? It doesn’t deal with tech or boosterism. Wired often runs “cool” stories, like a heist story or going off the grid, but this story isn’t so cool.
But it does appeal to geeks, if the premise of the story is that she was a geek– or autistic or Asperger’s or crazy genius– making the story: “Do Geeks Kill? Discuss.”
The article can’t answer why she killed, but in my mind it dances very, very close to it:
Bishop was starting to wonder whether it might be a good idea to take her Harvard credentials where she’d be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. Maybe then, she confided to friends, she’d get the recognition she deserved.
Bishop wrote 3 (unpublished) novels, all apparent attempts at reworking her own history. They all shared similar elements (death of a young brother, genius woman, etc), and (an excerpt from her novel):
Beth’s temper flared and she couldn’t stop herself even though she knew it could be the death of her career… The thought of being some unemployed loser, a non-Harvard, a non-scientist made her shiver at her loss of identity.
— from Easter in Boston
Amy’s own brother died, mysteriously, by a shotgun blast from Amy’s gun that she shot at him, after having shot it off in her bedroom earlier.
Bishop cared intensely about appearances, particularly those that connoted status. She wanted an address in Ipswich, she told friends, because the area north of Boston seemed classier than the city.
Meanwhile, the inside of her home “was a disaster”– bringing to my mind a Daniel Tosh joke about inside and outside appearances: “plastic surgery affords you the unique opportunity to make your outer appearance reflect your inner self: fake.”
The article is worth reading, and, as you do, pay attention to her motivations for… everything.
But the ultimate question of why she killed can’t be answered. I can, however, tell you confidently why she brought a gun to work.
Every time Bishop had gotten into scrapes with the law, she emerged unscathed, her record never seriously marred.
Throughout her history, others shielded her from the consequences of her actions. Sometimes it was out of love, like her parents did when she shot her brother. Other times it was out of fear, like the woman in the restaurant who had the last booster seat; and other times people just didn’t think a confrontation was worth it, like all her neighbors who tried to avoid her, and then finally held a pizza party the day she moved out.
She surrounded herself with weaker people. Not just her husband, whom she dominated easily and would have no worry that he might call her on her behavior, but even as a life plan. She married him because she could dominate him. She chose to move to a small college specifically because she’d be a big fish in a small pond– and could probably dominate there as well.
Faced with a candidate who had a doctorate from Harvard, he says, “the natural reaction of a small university trying to grow is to think, wow.”
I don’t blame them for getting out of her way– no one wants to deal with a nut– but I can’t help but wonder if instead of experiencing a life of passive permission in deference to her credentials and her bullying, she had experienced a life of active frustration– “hey, you can’t do that, no, I don’t give a damn who you think you are!” Things may have evolved differently.
In one court appearance, Amy Bishop appeared before the judge wearing her white lab coat. It worked. Amy figured that wearing the coat would help her case, which it did; but for that specific reason it should not have been allowed to work.
We let people get away with murder, and then are surprised when they murder.
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