On 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