Tying to make sense of last night’s mass murder in Colorado

I should be spending my evening thinking about just what in the hell I’m going to do at tomorrow’s Shadow Art Fair, but I can’t stop reading about last night’s horrific events in Colorado. Predictably, a lot of people, like our friend Roger Ebert, are taking the opportunity to argue that more meaningful gun control laws are called for. And, as you might expect, others, like Congressman Louie Gohmert, are saying that this would never have happened, if only everyone in the theater had been armed and ready when the gunman made his entrance. (Gohmert also took the opportunity earlier today to share his theory that this was somehow the result of “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.”) The most persuasive arguments I’ve read thus far, though, have been from people who have stayed out of the gun control debate altogether, and focused instead on access to mental health assistance. I haven’t verified it yet, but, according to something that I read earlier, funding for the National Institutes of Mental Health has dropped nearly 20% since the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a mentally ill young man in 2011, which left several, including a nine year old girl, dead. (But we had to have those Bush tax cuts, right?) So, I’m thinking about all of this, and going back to what was written by people, like Marilyn Manson, at the time of the Columbine shootings, which, coincidentally, took place just 20 miles away from the scene of last night’s mass killing. And, I’ve been debating what I wanted to share with you… what best got at the heart of the matter. Well, here’s what I settled on. It’s a thought-provoking quote from Steven Pinker, author of “How the Mind Works,” which was shared earlier today by someone on Metafilter, using the handle AceRock.

…Amok is a Malay word for the homicidal sprees occasionally undertaken by lonely, Indochinese men who have suffered a loss of love, a loss of money, or a loss of face. The syndrome has been described in a culture even more remote from the West: the stone-age foragers of Papua New Guinea.

The amok man is patently out of his mind, an automaton oblivious to his surroundings and unreachable by appeals or threats. But his rampage is preceded by lengthy brooding over failure, and is carefully planned as a means of deliverance from an unbearable situation. The amok state is chillingly cognitive. It is triggered not by a stimulus, not by a tumor, not by a random spurt of brain chemicals, but by an idea. The idea is so standard that the following summary of the amok mind-set, composed in 1968 by a psychiatrist who had interviewed seven hospitalized amoks in Papua New Guinea, is an apt description of the the thoughts of mass murderers continents and decades away:

“I am not an important man… I possess only my personal sense of dignity. My life has been reduced to nothing by an intolerable insult. Therefore, I have nothing to lose except my life, which is nothing, so I trade my life for yours, as your life is favoured. The exchange is in my favour, so I shall not only kill you, but I shall kill many of you, and at the same time rehabilitate myself in the eyes of the group of which I am a member, even though I might be killed in the process.”

The amok syndrome is an extreme instance of the puzzle of human emotions. Exotic at first glance, upon scrutiny they turn out to be universal; quintessentially irrational, they are tightly interwoven with abstract thought and have a cold logic of their own…

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  1. Erika
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    I wholeheartedly agree that mental health screening, treatment and monitoring MUST be increased and funded; however, in this country, the individual’s right to self-determination vastly outweighs the public’s responsibility to protect its members from madmen. If young men like this refused to allow other people to know what was going on in their minds, if they said virtually nothing to anyone, as this man did, then how are we to know which people need mental health treatment? Wait until they legally purchase an arsenal of weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammunition in a short amount of time and pay him a visit? That’s a violation of his privacy, his free speech, his right to bare arms! It’s UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

    The problem with the mental health problems is that, unless someone is paying attention and that person cares enough to get involved (fat chance – most people don’t care enough about each other to help them change a flat, let alone to ask them how they are feeling) then the problem goes unnoticed. As someone who has experienced severe depression, I know that the last thing I was going to do was tell anyone about it.

    We will NEVER be able to stop crazy people from killing innocents. What we can do is slow them down by making them use a machete or at least have to stop to fucking reload. There will be blood – but 70 people won’t be shot before they have a chance to get away, or fight back. The weapons that this man used had extremely large magazines – 100 for the assault rifle, 30 for the handgun and then there was the shotgun too. Why the fuck can someone buy an assault rifle, let alone one with the ability to shoot 100 rounds without having to reload?

    Jared Loughner was able to squeeze off 33 rounds that hit 18 people and killed 6 before he stopped shooting to reload – and was taken down by a woman with a folding chair. If he had only been allowed a clip of 10, people would still have been hit, but not as many as quickly.

    We can also make sure that any mental health diagnosis and treatment that has occurred (along with any arrests for domestic violence or any sort of bizarre behavior) is well documented in the background check information. As we have learned from past incidents, the federal background check system is not taken seriously, updated efficiently or even used to track mental health status in more than half of states.

  2. Erika
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Oh, and fuck Louis Gohmert and anyone else that says that “if only someone else had a gun” this could have been stopped. This guy was wearing a full body suit of protective armor – from the top of his head to his feet. Also, having John Wayne wannabes shooting into a dark, smoke filled movie theater, with people’s heads popping up from behind seats doesn’t sound to safe either. What if there were more than one other person “firing back”? Would police shoot the John Waynes or would the John Waynes shoot each other in confusion?

    Someone else HAD a gun in Arizona and he was too overwhelmed and confused to use it. He actually almost shot the person wrestled the gun away from Loughner because he didn’t know what was going on.

  3. Edward
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    You’re not thinking logically, Erika. What we need is ammunition that will pierce body armor. That’s the obvious solution.

  4. mark k
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Sometimes a extra gun makes a difference, better then being a willing victim.

  5. anonymous
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    If we all were allowed to carry suitcase nukes, we’d be truly safe.

  6. anonymous 2
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I beg to differ. A mentally ill person might detonate a suitcase nuke.

  7. mark k
    Posted July 21, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Theres no making sense of this, the guy was a wack job. He was truely defective. Thom maybe able to explain this, as he’s talked about thrill killing in the past. Thom?

  8. Posted July 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    In fact, the Second Amendment simply states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It doesn’t specify that it just means guns; apparently it covers all arms, including nuclear. I’d be happier with a strict constructionist interpretation: that only those arms extant in 1791 are protected.

  9. Thom Elliott
    Posted July 22, 2012 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    Natural News is saying this was clearly a false flag attack… knowing some graduate students myself, I know they have no means to create sophisticated incendiary traps, or aquire quality firearms. They barely have enough money to pay for their smokes, coffee, and Ramen. I think it is a valid question; who was behind this? With the Virgina Tech shooter, he had diagnosed anti-social personality disorder, and had recently bought guns after a disturbing episode with an english prof. Whitman, when he climbed the water tower in Texas was sure he had a brain tumor, and was seething with irrational rage for years at his wife. This guy sounds like a complete normy until one fine day he showed up in a theater armed to the teeth

  10. Brainless
    Posted July 22, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Doug, the second amendment applies to a different time and a different national defense structure. It very purposely starts with “A well regulated militia…” because that was our damn army. Yeah, I want the army to be armed, too. It’s an outdated law that we twist our heads in knots trying to interpret for no good reason. Just rewrite the fucking thing.

    On the other hand, you’ll have to pry my personal nuke from my cold dead hands.

  11. Mark k
    Posted July 22, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Thom maybe he put the quality firearms on his credit card, and since he’ll be in jail and not able to pay his bill, you and your mother will be visiting him soon.

  12. Posted July 22, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Brainless — That too; but SCOTUS already rejected that reading. Where are the strict constructionists when you need them?

  13. Kassandra
    Posted July 22, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Dave Chapelle’s Behind the Actors Studio touched on mental illness briefly. He said something along the lines of: One of the worst things you can do is call someone crazy. That means you’re writing them off.

  14. ChelseaL
    Posted July 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry to have to say this, but there are people who cannot be helped. (I’m not saying that that isn’t the first and best thing we must try to do; only that it’s not always possible.)

  15. Sir Colgrevance
    Posted July 23, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    The fact that the 2nd amendment begins with a conditional phrase seems pretty important to me, an admitted non-authority in every way. I think the founders were less than 100% clear for a reason – if they wanted everyone to own as many guns as they could horde, they would’ve said so. The ongoing gun mania in this nation baffles and is beginning to sicken me.

    That said, I love Doug’s suggestion of applying the 2nd only to those arms available at the time the amendment was written. Try taking out a crowd with a blunderbuss.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] laws are enacted, but do we know that to be a fact?By Mark | July 24, 2012A few days ago, after a man in body armor fatally shot a dozen people in a Colorado movie theater, I saw someone official-looking being interviewed on television. (My sense was that he was with law […]

  2. […] smarter, I would have withheld some of the outrage I expressed in the wake of the Sandy Hook and Aurora shootings. I should have known that we’d have another, even bigger mass shooting just around […]

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