Saturday, November 11, 2017


Serial killers and mass murderers are supposed to be inscrutable.  Sam Vaknin specializes in explaining.  In his pedantic, carefully pronounced, measured way, complete with literary references, he unravels their black guts as he sits alone before his video camera.  
He frankly claims to be a narcissist and surveys that territory with considerable force and clarity.

He’s not thinking in a vacuum.  He begins this discussion with quotes.  I'm using a different font for him.

“Both serial and mass murderers are overwhelmed with a profound sense of alienation and frustration stemming from their feelings that no matter how fierce their ambitions may be (and they are, most often, among the most ambitious of men), no matter what they might do, they could not achieve the place in society to which they aspired. They aim high, these multiple murderers: they have not, like Durkheim’s contented man, accepted their station in life...In such a milieu , a sense of personal missions begins to incubate.”
 (Elliott Leyton, “Hunting Humans”, 1986)

"I have walked the same path as God. By taking lives and making others afraid of me, I become God's equal. Through killing others, I become my own Master. Through my own power I come to my own redemption. Once I seen the miracle light, I didn't never again have to fear or obey the Rules of no Man or no God."
 (Serial killer Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins in his autobiography “Final Truth”)

Serial killers are not quite the same as mass murderers, esp. shooters and — even more so snipers, shooters from a high distance — who are distant, impersonal.  We can understand crimes of passion, we understand that serial murderers are insane, but what about the hardly-known person who goes where there is a crowd and shoots as many as he can?  Is he a narcissist?

. . . In a pathologically narcissistic civilization - social anomies proliferate. Such societies breed malignant objectifiers - people devoid of empathy - also known as “narcissists". . . .

Most spree shooters are loners. They are either schizoid (with deficient interpersonal skills) or paranoid and even paranoid-schizophrenic (psychotic, delusional). Their dysfunction is all-pervasive: their family life, career, romantic relationships, professional and material accomplishments are all adversely affected by their mental mayhem. They feel excluded and shunned and are profoundly ashamed of and frustrated with their inadequacies and with their sadistic, self-destructive, suicidal, and self-defeating "inner judge" (inner, introjected "voices" or narrative). This frustration builds up and results in pent-up aggression which ultimately manifests as furious, uncontrollable rage. The typical spree shooter is in love with all things violent: guns, the military, police work, virulent racism, and crime.

A strange paradox is that in the midst of a culture obsessed with dysfunctions, the mass shooter feels isolated but sits in front of the TV or computer screen rehearsing these shared ideas in the most dramatic terms that screen writers can devise.  He has no empathy for real people, but can easily identify with damaged persons who seem to have so much power.  This is why it’s hard to predict who will explode, who always seemed so normal, since they fit the larger culture so well.  Even extreme ravings don’t stand out in some contexts.

Since spree shooters have no one to share their emotions with, these tectonic and volcanic shifts get shunted (displaced): when the spree shooter seeks to explain to himself why he is so angry constantly, he blames it upon his ultimate victims and their behavior or idiosyncrasies. Members of despised minorities (Roma, Jews, blacks, homosexuals, etc.) are perfect scapegoats because their persecution is socially-sanctioned and the spree shooter catches two birds with one shotgun: for the first time in his life he feels that he "belongs", that his conduct is socially-acceptable and peer-condoned; and he vents his fury on easy, vulnerable, risk-free targets.

During the attack, the spree shooter feels elated and his anxiety relieved. Contrary to the persistent myth, the shooter is aware of his environment, but he suspends morality, judgment, and his sense of danger. The shooter usually takes his life as an act of defiance, not of desperation, rendering himself out of the reach of the Law. It is a grandiose gesture, sort of "Twilight of the Gods". At the same time, self-annihilation tends to uphold the shooter's view of himself as "worthless", a sempiternal loser and an incorrigible failure.

It’s a loop.  A culture in chaos over economics and politics becomes obsessed with destruction, which creates the kind of person who creates more chaos.  Addressing one side of the loop doesn’t affect the other side of the loop, and — in fact — the whole loop can be exaggerated and rewarded by the attention of the media.

I read a lot of material meant for doctors, cutting edge medical diagnosis and treatment stuff.  One of the interesting metaphors has been “biofilms” which are an emergent feature of microbes on surfaces which somehow link up and become impervious to interventions.  They take hold in sinuses with bad results for the person or on medical instruments where they infect people already in trouble.  Just now research has detected the mechanism for this, which is the ability to generate a lattice that supports and links the individual microbes.  The molecular links and morphs that make this happen are now becoming clear and therefore vulnerable to intervention.

Societies are constantly — in very parallel fashion — generating something like these lattices.  Guns, which are not the same as shooters, are part of these lattices, but also our constant preoccupation with media that uses the patterns of malignant narcissism to “hook” readers and watchers.  I have to defend my own interest in BBC mysteries and CSI regional programs by saying my identification is with the pattern solvers.  I think (hope) that’s true of most consumers.  The better programs illuminate sources and preventions.

But we don’t act on the patterns that by now we know very well.  If we detect them, we deny and suppress them instead of reframing and unraveling them.  These dynamics, the lattices of destruction, ought to be taught in high school or earlier.  I consider the understanding of emotional and empathic development to be interwoven with sex education, which is or should be about the management of empathy for others, and about an understanding of what death really means to humans.

This might be related, but I can't read it because it's behind the NYTimes paywall.

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