Quaecumque Vera

white roseOn December 6, 1989, Marc Lépin walked into the École Polytechnique in Montréal with a rifle.  He shot one woman in the hallway, walked into a classroom full of engineering students, ordered the men to leave, and killed 6 of the 10 women remaining. He then continued through the school, shooting women, and men if they got in his way.

In all, he killed 14 women and injured 13 other students, before killing himself. His suicide note indicated that he thought feminists had ruined his life, and that the reason he hadn’t been accepted into the École Polytechnique was because of affirmative action policies. Being a female engineer, I’m probably more aware of this tradgedy than many people my age. I walked past both university sponsored and engineering department sponsored plaques on my way to class for four years.

The most important message that I think we should take from this is that beliefs affect our actions, whether we like it or not.

In this case, Marc Lépin’s belief that women were the reason for his misfortunes gave him a target for his murderous feelings. The belief held by some of the public that the tragedy could have been prevented by stricter gun control has had a lasting influence on Canada’s laws. And the belief, expressed repeatedly in the days that followed, that this shooting was a reflection of society’s attitudes towards women in non-traditional roles, resulted in a national discussion of violence against women.

The writers on this blog share at least one opinion: that beliefs should be challenged. We challenge our own beliefs and the beliefs of others, and we argue amongst ourselves. Often, we end up reconsidering things.

I believe that it matters whether my beliefs are true. In a knock-out fight between me and reality, I doubt that I’ll come out ahead. This is where skepticism comes in, as a suite of tools and methodologies to determine where reality and my beliefs conflict.

So, whether or not you plan to spend a moment in silence today, I leave you with this to contemplate:

Constantius sequamur quaecumque vera.

Let us pursue more steadfastly whatsoever things are true.

William Hardy Alexander, the first professor hired at the University of Alberta

2 Responses to “Quaecumque Vera”

  1. Ethan Clow says:

    Well put, Marion

  2. Sophie Lagacé says:

    I graduated from Poly in 1987; I still had plenty of friends there when the shooting happened. One of the women who died was a friend’s wife. Then there were all the other victims — all the young men I knew who couldn’t forgive themselves for not having been a movie hero, stopping the killer. For years when I had business at the school I could not bring myself to walk past the memorial.

    Since we are talking about challenging beliefs, which I wholeheartedly agree with, I want to underline that Lépine’s early years were marked, shaped and deformed by the beliefs of his father, who came from a society where women were far more poorly placed than in ours. Yes, the shooting “was a reflection of society’s attitudes towards women in non-traditional roles”, but it came also from the clash of two societies’ attitudes, the Algerian view of the late 60s and the late 20th century views of a post-”Révolution tranquille” Quebec.

    This phenomenon continues to exist in all Western countries, which are wrestling with their own history of both misogyny and racism: the choice can seem to be between accepting immigrants’ cultural values and protecting women’s rights (and children’s, for that matter). Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali presents a very good case for the necessity of establishing norms of what will not be considered acceptable cultural baggage in the practices brought in by immigrants. (Though I’m not saying it would have made a difference for Lépine’s case, I don’t know enough for that.)

    This of course in no way decreases our responsibility to also challenge the beliefs of home-grown misogynists, racists, and other -ists that are more insidiously familiar.

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  • Marion Kilgour

    Marion is a mechanical engineer, and also works to promote critical thinking and scientific literacy through local skeptical and atheist activism in Edmonton, Alberta. Marion especially wishes to encourage girls to consider science or technology-based careers, and is involved in the University of Alberta's Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) project.