Right now, everyone’s talking about the spate of mass killings in America. Why do these mass shootings keep happening? What’s triggering them? And what everyone can agree on, no one can figure out is WHY? What’s the motive?
Weeks since Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton: What if motives behind mass shootings never emerge? – USA Today [August 16, 2019]
Everyone from the families involved to the FBI are stumped. Experts and researchers have joined some dots, but haven’t been able to pin anything down. No one can provide a foolproof profile.
When Trevor Noah went onto the Daily Show recently in a clip titled What Causes Mass Shootings?, he invoked all the usual suspects. The internet, gaming, mental illness, and gun laws. Give it a watch.
It’s an interesting point that gaming and internet are also big in Japan and yet Japan has one of the world’s lowest crime rates and no mass shootings to speak of.
Unfortunately Trevor Noah ends his spiel with a cop-out.
“Mass shootings are caused by any one of those factors if not more. But there’s one thing that every mass shooting has in common. Whatever motivated it has to be combined with a gun.”
Whatever motivated it?
In a clip that’s headlined WHAT CAUSES MASS SHOOTINGS, why not just say “We don’t know the cause”. Or “America, we don’t have an answer to why mass shootings are happening in America right now”. Because saying Motive [Question Mark] + Gun = Mass Shooting QED isn’t solving the math. Not even close.
In the same clip Trevor Noah refers to a New York Times article showing that according to research, mental illness isn’t statistically relevant to mass shootings.
Well it is and isn’t, but it makes sense to read the research to get the nuance beyond the headlines, and I have.
The TCRS take on mental illness is that it isn’t the whole answer, but it’s an important path to the answer. Without going into too much detail, the metal illness moniker is a too difficult standard to be met by all mass shooters. We can say with confidence that virtually all mass shooters are lonely, disaffected, alienated and invariably single. That doesn’t quite reach the bar of mental illness, do you see what I mean? You can be unhappy but not mentally ill. You can be desperate and miserable, but still be sane, not so? Often we do see symptoms that many of these young men having gone off the rails or lost the plot – including on social media, especially on social media – long before these incidents happen.
Invariably and increasingly we hear reports that this or that shooting was predictable, that everyone knew “he” was the shooter. Why? Because he repeatedly bragged online what his intentions were!
By far the best article I’ve come across on the motives behind mass shooters was this one, also published in the New York Times, on August 10th.
This piece does an excellent job of covering areas glossed over or dismissed by other pundits. It’s moving our understanding significantly in the right direction, but as you can see, it’s not Rocket Science. There’s not some fancy smancy psychobabble, there’s no new syndrome or disorder, there’s no snazzy new narcissism subset to explain these killers.
It’s so simple it’s almost stupid: all of them hate women. Hating women means they hate seeing women with other guys, even their friends. Their’s is a bitter hatred born of jealousy, envy and insignificance. And insignificance most of all. What sort of people are jealous, envious and bitter about everything and everyone? People with no lives. People with no social currency and no influence.
Let’s go through a few highlights from the article before I give you the TCRS position, which is even simpler than the hatred of women as a common cause.
I’m glad the authors added “sharing of misogynistic views online”. It’s implied that one or all of the shooters demonstrated some form of abuse or disaffection towards women. This may have been extreme, such as assault, less threatening but no less serious in the form of verbal abuse. Sons may have gotten stroppy with their mothers, or threatened their sisters. Spurned boyfriends may have turned into stalkers, online and offline. Do you see what’s happening? Now we’re conflating traits of mass killers with traits we might see in ordinary,m everyday men in families and relationships. It looks that way, but it isn’t. Now stay with me, because it’s easy to get lost.
It’s true, the fact that shootings are virtually 100% attributed to the male sex is missing from the national discourse. What we also ought to look at is the victimology of these shootings. Is it always young men shooting young women, or is always young men shooting other young men? Is it young men shooting men and women, or only men, or only women? Are the victims old, young, or random? Is it white guys shooting people of other races?
This is a complicated area, so to keep it simple, it’s safe to say that mass shooters while indiscriminate, it’s not random. What does that mean? Well, what do all the worst shootings have in common – Las Vegas, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Stoneman Douglas, Orlando, Aurora? They’re all in public spaces, and they all involve a cross-section of society – men, women and children. So it’s not random in the sense that the location doesn’t matter, it does. It’s also not random in the sense that the victims don’t matter, they do. The shooter is targeting indiscriminately, that that doesn’t mean without intent. Try to hold onto that idea even if it’s not resolving just yet. It will.
This Shannon Watts is obviously no relation to Shan’ann Watts of Frederick Colorado. While we’re on the subject, the Watts Family Murders fell one person short of qualifying as a mass killing. A mass killing occurs during a single “rampage” where four or more people are killed with no cooling off period. Because the fetus in the Watts case wasn’t regarded as a person, the Watts murders are officially a triple homicide. But that’s the FBI definition for you. This “no cooling off period” tells us a lot about the crime, the criminal and the motive. Again, hold that thought, we’ll be reconciling it in a moment.
What does it tell us when we see mass shooters often kill a member of their family as part of their rampage? Adam Lanza did [killed his mother first]. Elliot Rodger didn’t kill family, but expressed the into to, and knifed to death both his flatmates as well as his flatmate’s friend. He did this first, then went out to rampage. Connor Betts – the Dayton Shooter – killed his sister.
People were quick to assume that Connor Betts sister Megan was simply a random accident. This is what we mean by indiscriminate. Betts didn’t aim at each and every one of his victims, but you can bet he aimed at his sister. Nikolas Cruz had an argument with his brother.
If we scroll a little further down the “Red Flag” section of the New York Times piece, we come across this.
I don’t like the term “domestic violence”, just as much as I don’t think “mental illness” is helpful. There doesn’t have to be actual violence, or a felony, but there probably is serious unhappiness and brokenness at home. The statistics bear this out as one of the most significant factors [follow the black arrow].
In the above table by far the highest correlation here has to do with family dynamics. How do these kids get along with everyone else? Clearly they’re pissed off because they’re outsiders, often in their families, and frequently among their peers. The error made by the cops, the FBI, families, pundits and psychologists, is that one and all of these project their own adult psychology on these young adult killers. It’s apples and oranges. Adults often have jobs, wives and networks. These mass killers have none of that, and little or no social currency. So for a person with influence [social currency] to be pontificating on why, when they have no clue about the dynamics of identifying experience and the activating impulses, it’s no wonder motive eludes the mainstream.
In certain crimes we must intuit the criminal psychology by studying the criminals using their psychology not our own. Amanda Knox, the West Memphis Three, even the JonBenet Ramsey case, all require us to become experts at the psychology of young adults and children. Otherwise it’s just vanilla projection and biased transference. That gets us nowhere.
The identifying experience in these incidents is invariably the young male trying [and failing] to assert his dominance. And no one in society really has an interest in acknowledging that. The rampage is his final, desperate act to assert himself in the world, and the shooter is fully prepared to give his life for this “final demonstration”. It’s done on the largest possible stage, the most visible arena he can imagine for his swan song. In effect, the crime itself speaks so loudly about the motive – and emotions – it’s deafening.
I was particularly interested in this aspect, since I’m just wrapping up a book, a follow-up to SLAUGHTER called INCELS CAUSE & EFFECT. It turns out the profile of a mass shooter and the profile of an incel are precisely the same, the only difference is the incel’s identifier is more explicitly about women, about sex, and about hating the world. I want to be clear on that. Incels hate themselves and hate the world, and they’re completely clear on that, on both scores. Mass shooters aren’t always as good at expressing themselves. Seung Hui-Cho and Nikolas Cruz were so inarticulate as to be virtually unwatchable. But that didn’t make their rage, or their malicious intent any less real.
It’s through the incel that we get another profound, and profoundly accessible insight. Just as mental illness is less about insanity than just feeling miserable, and domestic violence is less about actual violence than raging against those close to them, the incel’s plight is all too familiar. Sexual frustration.
Elliot Rodger was a whackjob, but he wasn’t mentally ill. You try writing an error-free 137-page Manifesto that people will actually read. Domestic abuse? None in Rodger’s case, unless a messy divorce qualifies. Elliot Rodger was intelligent and eloquent, the son of a Hollywood producer involved in the making of the Hunger Games. He was more privileged than most. He was also able to articulate at length what his motives were.
Was it political? Racist? Was it a cloud of vague things all added together? No. It’s the most obvious thing in the world. Rodger felt humiliated. He felt like a nothing and a nobody. And no matter what he did, he felt he could’t escape this perception. He was angry at being rejected by society over a period of years. Surprise surprise, many men – young and old – have since identified with Rodger. His crime has been copied so often since the Isla Vista massacre in 2014, other incels now refer to copycat killings as going ER or doing ER [as in doing an Elliot Rodger].
In March 2018 I published a 522 page book on School Shooters and Mass Killers that no one read. The story behind why I wrote SLAUGHTER was quite simple. No one could understand why Stephen Paddock had committed America’s worst mass murder. Months passed and the FBI admitted they still couldn’t say why. It was like True Crime 101. If the mass killer didn’t leave a suicide note saying why then it was a complete mystery.
Perhaps it takes a True Crime Rocket Scientist to see the wood for the trees, because there is no case more obvious in terms of the crime scene, than the mass shooter’s. The more bullets that are fired, the more dead bodies, the more rage the killer felt and wanted to convey. The biggest clue of all is that the killer’s kill themselves. This is treated as an afterthought. When people in society commit suicide we don’t think of their motives either. We don’t think about someone killing themselves as committing self-murder. We don’t care about their motives because the person who killed them is dead.
I think the failure to see these killers for who they really are speaks about some fundamental flaws creeping steadily through society. We have become terrible at recognizing or discerning truth just as general rule. Everyone. The media. The public. Paid experts. We’re useless at understanding others because we don’t understand – and often don’t care – about ourselves, much less our world. We’ve just become shallow, selfish and superficial – all of us. And we can’t understand why our world and our society is turning to shit.
SLAUGHTER was one of the most difficult books to write, a big statement when you’ve written 92 books. In the end the psychological ingredients essential to the motive of mass shooters were as rudimentary to the meal of life as bread and butter.
Why do mass killers kill so many? Why do they kill family and themselves? Oh boy, we love to turn to the terms and labels for revelation, we love the minimum safe distance of names and syndromes. The answer to why – are you ready – is it’s about humiliation.
Many reading this, I know, will scoff at the idea. Everyone is humiliated. High school was tough for everyone, they’ll say. Sure it was. But it was a lot tougher for some than for others. Life is the same way. Some people ride a much bumper road than others. We don’t tend to notice those riding the bumpier road, we’re too busy getting what’s coming to us and reading the mile markers on our own yellow brick roads.
Ultimately the defining characteristic goes much deeper than humiliation, although humiliation is the motive. You won’t see a shooter who didn’t perceive himself to be humiliated, and who didn’t have low social currency. In terms of profiling, it doesn’t matter whether his peers felt he was bullied or not, or whether or not he bullied and threatened them. What matters is he felt himself to be extremely and acutely impinged, sufficient to take up arms, and sufficient to end his life and the lives of others at the end of it.
People at the end of their tether feel humiliation far more keenly than most other people. A fucked up family background is more likely to manifest the same misery elsewhere. Folks who are failing at the game of life, across the board, whether with the opposite sex, or their grades, or with their peers, these are dysfunctional dropouts far more compromised and anxious than everyone else.
Take any person and push the anxiety button to an extreme level. Take away all their social currency, take away their family, friends and the possibility of a girlfriend. Then push that into their face in a group setting. Repeatedly reject and humiliate them. And then put a gun into their hands and see what happens.
The final psychological dot to connect is the sadism involved. Why are these shooters so sadistic? Why do they take so much pleasure in killing other people? It’s important to absorb that idea for a second. Why is the raw sadism so intense?
It’s because of the sadism they feel they experienced. Whether ex-girlfriends say they treated them well or not, whether their family or school believe they were fair or not, they experience the world as a particularly, cruel sadistic place. And there is always a connection between the anal personality, or anality, and sadism. The anal personality is so common in our society it would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic. To be anal is to be fixated, obsessive, compulsive, inflexible, brittle, broken, stuck. The mass shooter scenario flows out of precisely these obsessions – the massacre itself is a fantasy, an obsession, a daydream for a loser to challenge his low status in the world and emerge with heroic potency once more.
We shouldn’t be too quick to put the anal-sadistic type into a box, and say that’s someone else. That’s them, not me. In the early stage of childhood development the anal phase is represented by a fixation with feces. This is quite common in human infants. An infant feeling its not getting enough attention from its primary caregiver, an infant in need of soothing, might try to extort control or exert control over its parents by holding its own feces hostage [during toilet training or changing a nappy]. Make no mistake, this is is unfiltered sadism, and it’s so common it’s innate.
In the mass shooter we see the same thing. An extremely anxious, neurotic, humiliated loner, using his feces to even the score with those more powerful than he is. It’s a power struggle, but instead of feces the shooter fires bullets. The crime is invariably symbolic, it’s the resetting of the social currency score, and at worst, the shooter comes away with the world knowing their name. When they see themselves scraping the bottom of the social barrel, that’s a fate worth dying for.
If this is the problem, the cure is pretty straightforward, isn’t it? It has less to do with mental illness, guns, video games and the internet than being less of a dick to your fellow man. If your fellow man is an asshole, maybe be less of an asshole back, how about that? Maybe notice the disturbed loners limping along the fringes of society, and help lead them back into friendships, back into relationships, back into their families and the warm bosom of institutions. Instead of humiliating them more, build them up more. Yes, this is the most devastating indictment of all, isn’t it? When confronted with the solution, it’s unlikely our society – such as it is – will care much about doing anything about it. Because who is going to do it? And this is the real problem. We just don’t care enough about each other.