HOW MANY INDIVIDUALS commit themselves to the business of random mass killing? It’s a small number, only a fraction of one percent of the human family. So why do we look for an explanation of the extraordinary in ordinary things, like video games or Hollywood or even Aspergers? There are millions of people who would be murderers if the cause were something as relatively commonplace as these. To reach in this way, into the bag of easy prejudices forever at one’s feet, is to go for the scoring of a cheap ideological point.
Even though murder is a rarity, and even though the exceptional disaster gets the attention, every day there are unnoted and depraved crimes that show us where the rot is. Down the road from where I live, a woman was abducted at the subway station earlier this week, held captive and raped. We don’t need the extraordinary as a pretext to talk about, as an example, the commonplace mistreatment of women in our world: ordinary, every day global life will do. Front page tragedies are not representative, by definition. Terrible things happen all the time, and in most cases they’re not even reported to the authorities.
Some will take whatever they please, as they please, paying no concern to the human suffering which results. Human behaviour comprises a range of unpleasantries that includes, in extreme and rare cases, the sociopath and the psychopath. These are human types, and while it may be necessary and useful to understand our species’ aberrations, it’s only within the social norms that the advances can be made.
I wish we’d stop trying to explain the psychology of random mass killing with our easy and ready and helpless labels. I have no idea why these things happen, and I doubt anyone else does either. Twenty years ago, we would have had recourse to a very limited vocabulary of sociological precepts. Today, anyone with an Internet connection can dabble in concepts and fields including PTSD, mental illness, pharmacology, crime statistics, gender theory and more. Maybe within these topics we’ll find the answers we need, but today we have only the rough outlines of futile speculation.
What if the school shooting type of murderer is a singular personality, with a singular makeup and history? Then our work would be very difficult indeed. In hindsight, it’s obvious that there was a problem and that signs were ignored or misunderstood. But indicators only become portents after the fact, when the foreshadowing has yielded the denouement and all the dots have been connected. What good is a background check when the background is in the making? Could even a totalitarian police state protect us from every deranged personality? Maybe there is no 100% foolproof way to prevent what is now a well-established template act, a certain and reproducible path to instant international fame, notoriety, a Wikipedia entry, and immortality in death.
This not an urging of resignation. It’s a recognition that some things really are beyond comprehension, and beyond control, at least for now. Some products of nature are inexplicable and require a special accounting for which we are still crafting the vocabulary. One day the authorities may be able to monitor and control the population of a large city. Will that day be a better day because of this?
Mysteries aside, it is the case that meaningless savagery is often committed by stock, recognizable types, such as the self-absorbed and self-pitying man-child, the fellow who shows up at the party or the dinner and turns everyone off with his evident and overbearing sense of entitlement. We all know him. Is he suffering from a mental illness? I don’t know. He may just as well be one of the world’s numerous under-developed, self-absorbed, hateful dicks – a man who finds it easier to make endless excuses for himself than to undertake self-examination, self-criticism and self-improvement. They do exist.
These questions are not theoretical. They effectively determine what is truly an aberration, as against what is an exaggerated and violent instance of a type of human being, and more specific a type of man, we all recognize and can do without.