School shooters. Mall massacres. Extremists who strap on a vest of explosives and detonate themselves in a crowded square. We try to face these things
and come up against a horror that seems entirely beyond our grasp: how can this happen? How does a human being become a monster?
In our search for answers, we look to many causes; from gun laws to psychopathy, from poverty to video games, from media hype to religious ideology.
We call them crazy, put their mental and emotional processes beyond our comprehension, label their actions ineffable. We do this because our
revulsion, grief and rage run so deep that we don't really want
to understand. But perhaps we need to broaden our vision: there are
common threads, they aren't what the media would have us believe, and they can't be legislated away.
Although it's an escalating phenomena, mass killing is nothing new; manifesting in many cultures over the centuries. For instance, Malaysia coined a
word later adopted into English, "mengamuk", or "amuk". Malaysians who "run amok
generally young, male, and have no history of mental illness. They strike suddenly, kill indiscriminately with a variety of weapons, and immediately
attempt suicide afterward. Those who fail in their attempt claim to have amnesia. This may sound familiar, as mass killers in the West manifest the
same post-atrocity behavior, and fit the same profile (contrary to popular belief, the majority of mass killers are not psychotic, and most are
of the young men revealed more parallels than differences between
them and their Western counterparts: between the ages of 19-24, low social capital, recent loss, and narcissism. This is the basic profile, but there
are other characteristics that mass killers in the West display. They are the product of middle to upper-middle class homes. They are described as
intelligent and well educated, but socially isolated. They perceive themselves to be the victim of injustice at the hands of parents and peers, or
larger institutions. They are unable to establish a sexual relationship, and may even harbor deeply misogynistic views.
Most importantly, at least for our purposes, they display a sense of wounded entitlement.
Switching tracks, when we look at Islamic extremism, we find some more surprising
. Once again, contrary to popular
perception, there is no tie between poverty and extremism. In fact, the bulk of
are from upper-middle to middle class families, and are well-educated. They are single, between the ages of 15-24. Most
have suffered a recent loss and feel a deep sense of injustice. Though some may argue otherwise, there is a strong strain of misogyny in the ideology
they adhere to. And, of course, there is an ingrained sense of wounded entitlement.
We have established the overlaps, and may with some assurance draw the following conclusion: mass killings occur when privileged young men perceive a
threat to their entitlement, whether that means fewer reproductive opportunities or lessened status. This can happen for many reasons: military
occupation, increased equality and social mobility among other demographics, shifting cultural norms. The more prevalent those conditions are, the
more often mass killings occur. Although there are certainly unrelated factors that exacerbate the problem, that is the master pattern.
If the above holds true, what can we do to mitigate the trend here in the West? At the very least, we must reckon that mass shooters are the extreme
outliers of a larger group of young men who share their sense of isolation and disenfranchisement. There is one solution: they must be understood and
reincorporated. We can approach this in a number of ways, but here's where I'd tackle it:
1. Stop romanticizing maniacs, and start giving our young men some better templates to work with. Create heroes worthy of admiration, but also render
them accessible and realistic. Fewer Jokers, more Peter Parkers. As it stands, we've got nothing but tortured anti-heroes and morally ambiguous
misfits to offer young men as behavioral models. One may argue that the popularity of those archetypes merely reflects the zeitgeist, but I say it's
flat out irresponsible and short-sighted to pipe that poison into the collective consciousness just because it sells.
2. We want to be good people, and even the worst among us will make a concerted attempt to see themselves as justified in their actions. Yet, virtue
isn't cool these days. Civic duty, honor, bravery and integrity are simply not being transmitted or valued, neither in the home nor in the larger
social sphere. The only virtues being extolled are non-violence and tolerance, but "don't harm" and "be nice" are insufficient to provide the
moral scaffolding some young men need to grow into good people.
3. There is a deep dissonance in the way women are viewed in the West, and it's the young men who are soaking up the most toxicity from the
commodification of women. Either women are equals (the surface message, which is socially expedient) or women are useful objects (the deeper signal,
which is an economic engine). We can't have it both ways, and the cracks are really starting to show.
4. Absent a legitimate life-path, these young men gravitate toward a "warrior mentality". This suggests (to me, at least) that if we have "born
warriors" and their only means of self-actualization consists of video games and devalued military enlistment, we are gonna be having problems.
Wholesome martial ideologies that emphasize self-control and service, that foster a sense of oneself as a vital part of a greater whole should be
5. Less meds, more action: more counselling, more outreach, more awareness.
Finally, a little aside to the MSM: you guys have seen the data that correlates sensationalizing these events with copycat murders, right? Your
treatment of these events accomplishes nothing but the reinforcement of a powerfully negative template. Please stop doing that, or at the very least
adjust your coverage so that we focus less on the killers and more on the victims.
Hegemonic Masculinity and Mass Murderers in the
Psychological Profiles of School Shooters
A History of Mass Shooting in the US Since Columbine
The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide
Dying to Win
The Rationality of Suicide Bombing
Mass Murders Are On the Rise