Pathos of the Psychopath


Everywhere you go people are talking and writing about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Most of it is predictable, time worn and weary: must change gun laws (both to loosen and to restrict access to weapons);  must change punishment for gun crimes; must increase surveillance state; yada, yada, yada.

I’m always amazed by those who think that if just a few more people were heavily armed and better trained, that these sorts of tragedies could be prevented or ameliorated. Or that if we had stiffer penalties that the consequences would lead even semi-rational people to think twice. Maybe if we heavily restricted access to various forms of portable weapons of mass destruction that somehow individuals wouldn’t find other ways to unleash their psychotic visions upon the rest of us. Maybe if we intimidated the evil-doers-to-be or crazies-in-action, that they would wither at our more mighty power.

What most people forget is that these mass murderers — people like James Holmes, Timothy McVeigh, Anders Breivik, Jared Loughner, Ted Kaczynski and the rest — are psychopaths. They don’t respond to typical legal, social and cultural pressures. They live in a world of their own where consequences and norms don’t apply.

But as usual, we have calls to change public policy that inevitably will affect only the rest of us — because of the actions of a lone wolf, the rest of us will suffer some form of repression. That is, the pathos of the psychopath is what continues to motivate the rest of us to think about gun laws and other ways to change how we as a society respond to these horrible events. Most of it inevitably is misguided and just serves to pander to one’s pet cause.

None of those things deal with the problem of how to respond to the psychopaths among us. What breeds psychopathy? What motivates a psychopath into action? How can we predict who may be, or become a psychopath and strike out? How do we deal with one in action?

To answer these questions, our country needs to engage in some form of self-reflection and critique to see how our culture has bred the tendency for some individuals to become psychopaths. Mass murder creates a pathos where the country emotionally, not rationally responds to events. But the roots of the disease that feeds the insanity of  murderers wantonly acting out their delusions are never analyzed.

We live in country that glorifies violence at home and abroad. We embrace inequality, prejudice and bigotry. We believe ourselves exceptional and mighty, the benevolent empire. We ignore science and fact, replacing it with ideology and faith. We immerse ourselves in pop culture and internet fantasy, shying away from the natural world just feet away outdoors. We glorify the actions of professional soldiers and mercenaries fighting a war few understand, far away in lands we can’t even locate on a map, started for reasons untold. We jail more people as a percent of population than any other “democratic” nation in the world. We imbue pieces of paper — articles of incorporation — with the same rights us flesh-bloodeds receive, yet access to health care is not viewed as a right. We do not hold our “elites” responsible for their political, corporate, legal or financial actions, for fear that they may further oppress us.

Is it really any wonder that there are those among us who might think they are doing nothing more than role-playing their part in a comic book turned film? The pathos of the psychopath should lead us to an understanding that our nation as a whole — our collective way of life — is sick. And the solutions do not involve gun laws, vigilantism, or repression.

  1. Turner

    I agree with you completely — about the difficulty in controlling individual psychopaths and the fact that there’s a lucrative entertainment industry that caters to violence fantasies. I just want to point out something that no one else seems to have mentioned, maybe because it’s so obvious. The real mayhem was carried out at a showing of a film that people were attending, in part, because of its promise of imaginary mayhem.

    That doesn’t mean the people in the theater deserved what they got. But maybe we need to take a closer look at film and video-game violence. Our attraction to it is pretty troubling.

    • lizard19

      I was at a barbecue yesterday and this woman pulled out her phone, so of course my oldest gravitated toward it. we chatted for a bit about kids and phone games. she mentioned how much her 8 year old loves playing grand theft auto, and my first thought was, how nice, a little psycho in the making.

      now I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon of blaming atrocities like Columbine and Aurora directly on video games, but I agree with JC that our collective way of life is sick, and grand theft auto is just one small symptom of our larger sickness.

  2. I would suggest that the term deluded would fit better than psychopath. Obviously, he does not believe that there is an almighty God who hates murder and loves justice. Such a belief would mitigate someone acting in this way, yet JC sees this as part of the problem!

    “We ignore science and fact, replacing it with ideology and faith.” says JC. I don’t see how this follows logically.

    I don’t see were “science and fact” teach someone to be a good person. The speed of light doesn’t effect my personal ethical decisions as it does some people. What scientific fact was Holmes ignoring that would have mitigated his evil actions?

    I would say that Holmes is spiritually sick and in need of spiritual medicine. But then I think we all are, and believe introspective souls know this and seek remedy in ideology and faith.

    • JC

      I was not denigrating the role of faith in contemporary life. I was lambasting replacing science and fact with it. There are those (creationists) who ignore both science and fact to assert that the planet is only 6,000+- years old.

      Nor was I asserting that science and fact teach people how to be moral and ethical beings (though there are some arguments to that effect).

      Obviously Holmes and the others are spiritually sick. How did they get that way? What social and cultural conditions breed mental illness and spiritual voids in people?

      Where I would disagree with you is that the only path to spiritual healing is through either ideology or faith. Even the agnostic and the atheist can, and do have spiritual paths.

      • You still are not demonstrating a rational line of thought. What does believing that the world is 6000 years old, (or for that matter that the moon is made of cheese, or the earth has four corners) have to do with the cause and immorality of Holmes actions?

        Yes, atheists, with extremely few exceptions are good moral people, but it is not because they believe there is no God, whereas belief in a good and just God does aid in suppressing immoral behavior.

        Not sure what you mean about the spiritual paths of atheists as well, but that seems pretty off topic. Spirituality may effect morality, but not necessarily for the better! For example Holmes may have thought he was a god or ultimate moral authority and executing his justice on movie goers.

        • Excuse me Rev., But how wonderful can a God be if he didn’t warn or help those fine folks at Aurora.

          JC is right.

          People of good will who are not bound by religion or Atheists as you call them, simply believe that a hospital should be built instead of a church.

          We believe that deed must be done instead of prayer said.

          And Humanist in us strives for involvement in life and not escape into death.

          We want disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated and people not killed by a lone gunman with a 100 round clip!

          The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

          ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

          • Yes, these wonderful people who were are not bound by religion have done wonderful things! They have built hospitals, but then hypocritically named them after great people of faith like St. Patrick, St. Joseph, St. Luke, and St. Jude!

            The REV. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being a terrific case in point that people unbound by religion can do great things, received his Doctorate of Systematic Theology from the great Boston University founded in 1839 as the Newbury Biblical Institute by others who celebrated their release from the bondage of religion! King then expressed his freedom from faith by taking on the role of Baptist preacher, and civil rights activist.

            During that illustrious and celebrated career, tragically ended by a shooter who did not carry an assault rifle, he preached sermons of love toward ones neighbor paraphrasing Jesus’ “Parable of the Good Samaritan”. But of course he did this all in the name of “scientific fact”, and without any “ideology and faith”.

            (Did you not even recognize this when the quote contained the word Samaritan?)

            Thank for making my point for me.

          • Oh, and BTW. The good people of St. Paul Lutheran here in Ronan, who have been taught to “irrationally” believe in a 6 day young earth creation, have done the following in less than two weeks.

            -Brought together a team to participate in the local “Relay for Life” raising $2500 for cancer research and treatment.

            -Presented a 5 day Vacation Bible School with for children ages 4 through 6th grade where more than 35 kids were taught what Jesus did for them. Besides being taught how God loves them in Jesus Christ, the kids were taught crafts, music, fed, and generally loved! Free of charge of course.

            -Tuesday night we will be providing a community meal free of charge where 50-70 people will be fed for free!

            All of is done by volunteers, with donations, within a small congregation of less than 100 people.

            What has your group of “rational” and free from God been motivated to do in the same period?

          • Not to sidestep your question: “But how wonderful can a God be if he didn’t warn or help those fine folks at Aurora.[?]” But to answer this complicated, and very crucial question, please listen to this interview.


            • The majority of Hospitals in the USA, are not named after saints Reverend.

              Foe example, our Hospital here is named after a man named Barrett not a saint (but a saint of a man). The Majority of hospitals named after saints in Montana were built and continued to be maintained by the sisters of the Catholic faith. Not Lutheran!

              I admire your help, and that of your followers in the world, but the Christian Faithful alone are not what make up the world we live in.

              Might The Reason I used MLK is he did what most of you men of faith, seem, unable to do now…embrace diversity. And if I remember rightly from his writings (as he is one of my only religious heroes), he is one of the only men of faith, that understood the value of non conformists in Modern American Religion and the rights of women and their importance to the faith and America

              MLK brought up the Samaritan story because the person saving the poor beaten man on the road was not Jewish, nor was he a christian, Even in Jesus’s day Samaritans were not considered of Judaism faith, but of the Abrahamic and not very well liked in the Jewish faith.

              In the beginning of the civil rights movement, Martin could find nary a White Pastor, or religious white man to walk by his side. But he found plenty of women of faith, and others who understood the true message of love knowing no boundaries.

              “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning…,” King remarked in 1963.

              It is the same today “Ninety percent of African-American Christians worship in all-black churches. Ninety percent of white American Christians worship in all-white churches,”

              When was the last time you spoke to your congregation about the importance of woman, or others races, or those outside of your faith in a good way.

              For example, the few [female] role models That are offered today are stereotyped, conventional and inadequate, Bible heroines only admired for obedience and not battle spirit. Nothing is said of what they really accomplished.. If I remember correctly ….Didn’t Jesus scorn his own mother, refusing to bless her?

              Have you told your Congregation of:

              Rahab (several times in Joshua 2; Matthew 1 – genealogy of Jesus; Hebrews 11:31 – woman of faith; James 2:25 – for good works) – a harlot related in the past to Jesus who helped the Israelite spies when they entered Jericho. Deborah (Judges 4 & 5), Jael (Judges 4 & 5), Ruth (The Book of Ruth) , Hannah (I Samuel 1 and 2), Abigail (I Samuel 25), Esther (The Book of Esther), The Samaritan Woman (John 4), Priscilla (Acts 18; Romans 16:3; I Corinthians 16:3&19), Elizabeth (Luke 1).
              The Adulterous Woman (John 8 ) This is an illustration of Jesus’ points in the Matthew 7:1-5 (and similarly in Luke 6:37-42) where he states:
              “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

              Your last Question: what have people of non faith or other faith offered us, Scripps, Hopkins, Mayo, Eisenhower Medical Center, are just a smattering of good hospitals outside the orthodoxy of church. The free clinic organizations throughout the country, and planned parenthood have also offered medical help to the needy. No matter the sex.

              International Organizations like UNICEF( which does work in the USA as well), NATO, have saved hundreds of thousands of lives, and are not bound to just christain doctrine but a morality to do good! I could name a million more but this is a comment section on a blog, not a sit-down as in conversation Dear Reverend.

              Your talking to someone who worked in the Chaplaincy of America for years. I kinda know that your God takes in the religious and the not so religious to do his work!

              • My point was never that people of non-faith do no good. Please show me where I said that. The points I make are simple:

                1. JC lists faith among the causes of psychosis. I disagree strongly.
                2. I think that JC thinks that science and fact motivate people to do good. I also strongly disagree.

                Then I suggest that good behavior is motivated by a persons faith, and then you argue against me using a great example of a person of faith doing good.

                I give specific examples of what I and my community have accomplished in a specific two week period. I also offer a link to a reasoned response to why God allows evil like the Colorado shootings. You obviously didn’t listen to that link.

                Then you begin to try to paint me as a sexist, racist….etc. You don’t even know me. Here are my responses to your challenges:

                “Have you told your Congregation of: Rahab…etc. etc.”

                Yes! Last Sunday’s sermon on a important woman you missed, Mary Magdalene:

                As far as other races, please watch the video of our VBS realizing that many who are members of American Indian decent may not fit the stereotype.

                My question was not general as rewrote it, but specific, personal, and rhetorical. “What has YOUR group” In other words you don’t have to answer me with secular organization who do good, but what have you done in the last two weeks within YOUR “rational” free from God (atheist) organization (congregation). I don’t think you are an atheist, and neither do you. Why did you answer?

                I hope this clarifies. I don’t think you need to judge me, you probably agree with my general points.

              • JC

                “1. JC lists faith among the causes of psychosis. I disagree strongly.”

                I make no such assertion.

                “2. I think that JC thinks that science and fact motivate people to do good. I also strongly disagree.”

                Again I make no such assertion.

                What I do assert is that when taken as a whole — the partial list of problems I see in our society (next to last paragraph) — it is no wonder that we have an increasing problem with psychopathy, and the problems that it causes.

                I make no attempt to ascribe any kind of causality behind any single one of those problems and insane, murderous behavior.

              • I dont think you read: I admire your help, and that of your followers in the world, but the Christian Faithful alone are not what make up the world we live in.

                Everyone knows the story of Mary father, that’s not the only woman who has helped the christan faith. What about her sister? What about the others.

                It does take the whole village and the history behind it to raise a child. Just like it takes the whole state to care for its population.

                Nor did I call you a bigot or a racist. because what happened in the sixties, I just reminded you there is no changes in the church of today…. and that in this day and age is a shame!

  3. Big Johansson

    He wasn’t insane. Just evil.

  4. No disrespect to any of the folk in Aurora Co., or even our own people here in Montana …. But how can anyone be shocked by this?
    20 or more mass murders of innocent people happen a year. and that number jumped when the assault weapons ban expired. Three-quarters of the deadliest mass murders in the United States have occurred since 1980, most of which involved firearms as the exclusive or primary weapon.
    You want to know what really peeves me off? When some of the first things regarding this tragedy are when…… Newspapers write about how this isn’t gonna change the gun conversation. What Conversation? What responsibility?
    This Country isn’t Adult enough, to even have a health care conversation…. without nuts crying, “Death Panels!”
    Hell we are not even adult enough to have a health care discussion regarding mental health of our people or our veterans coming home, treating the symptoms of medical health as if it had “Cooties,” we might all get.
    If we have at least these badly needed conversations on a local level, these lone gunman might never have get to the place of taking innocent life…. they might have sought help instead.
    If Congress wouldnt tackle at least assault gun control, by limiting magizines when one of their own was shot, it won’t happen when we are mourning the almost 80 dead at a movie theater…. you all will forget this conversational tragedy in a week, just like you did Gabby Giffords.
    When your Political Representatives stop checking into the mental and physical well-being of your communities and spend more time worrying about their next fundraising drive. … things are bound only get worse as politicos cater to the corporations, before the people….
    Notwithstanding the worn-out slogan that “guns don’t kill, people do,” guns do make it easier for people to commit murder. And semi-automatic guns, like the Aurora assailant’s out-of-the-box spanking-new 100 round AR-15, make it easier to commit mass murder…But don’t be shocked by it.
    When Provisions of the Brady bill and the the assult weapons ban was left to expire, certain gun organizations, merchants, and nutcases like this guy got their freedom back…. or so they say. Do you feel safer now?

  5. I did put a disclaimer at the beginning of my opinion Lizard!

    • Big Johansson

      I admire a person with principles.

      Like Mexico’s President.

      “Mexican President Felipe Calderon condemned U.S. gun laws as “mistaken” and urged Washington to review them after a shooter killed 12 people and injured more than 50 others at a U.S. movie theater on Friday.

      But Mexico’s president, who has repeatedly called on Washington to tighten gun controls to stop weapons flowing from the United States into the hands of Mexican drug cartels, said U.S. weapons policy needed a rethink after the killings.

      “Because of the Aurora, Colorado tragedy, the American Congress must review its mistaken legislation on guns. It’s doing damage to us all,” Calderon said.”

      • Trying to lump me with Mexico Prez Calderon. Bwahahahaha Fail!

        • Big Johansson

          ‘If Congress wouldn’t tackle at least assault gun control, by limiting magazines when one of their own was shot”

          Your words.

          “But Mexico’s president, who has repeatedly called on Washington to tighten gun controls to stop weapons flowing from the United States”

          Calderon’s words. Sound pretty similar to me.

          • Look AHh BJ, Whats your point? I see you are trying to make one, but My opinions are nowhere near Calderon.

            Limiting the size of clips matter. If they were still under the ban, not all of those people would have died.

            Sorry I am not trying to take your gun rights away. But a normal gun with a normal clip is very powerful in itself, and not needed with the population of the US.

            No, I am a little more closely aligned with E.J. Dionne Jr.

            “This is part of the gun lobby’s rote response, and the rest of us allow it to work every time. Its goal is to block any conversation about how our nation’s gun laws, the most permissive in the industrialized world, increase the likelihood of mass killings of this sort.

            First, the gun lobby goes straight to the exploitation argument — which is, of course, a big lie. You can see this because we never allow an assertion of this kind to stop conversation on other issues.

            Nobody who points to the inadequacy of our flood-control policies or mistakes by the Army Corps of Engineers is accused of “exploiting” the victims of a deluge. Nobody who criticizes a botched response by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a natural disaster is accused of “exploiting” the victims of a hurricane or a tornado. Nobody who lays part of the blame for an accident on insufficient regulation of, say, the airlines or coal mining is accused of “exploiting” the accident’s victims.

            No, it’s only where a gun massacre is concerned that an absolute and total gag rule is imposed on any thinking beyond the immediate circumstances of the catastrophe. God forbid that we question even a single tenet of the theology of firearms.”


            Your a little closer to this Guy:



            • correction second paragraph: But a normal gun with a normal clip is very powerful in itself, and a 100 bullet clip is not needed with the population of the US.

              • Big Johansson

                Tell that to the Korean store owners during the Rodney King riots.

              • Big Johansson

                …And mexican can’t won guns let alone large capacity magazines

              • BJ, I was living in Los Angeles, right in the middle of all of it. I had an apartment in Inglewood because of work there at the track, during 1992 riots.

                Armed Koreans roaming the streets shooting Blacks, and police officers no where to be found after the verdict. not the other way around.

                Kinda like you tea partiers want to do now to America! Burn it to the ground.

                Let me tell you what really happened since I had a front row seat!

                A Korean shop owner shot to death a 15-year-old African-American girl!

                Shot in the back of the head.

                Latasha wasn’t some street thug either, she was considered a very good student in High School.

                A female Trayvon Martin of her time… her death came thirteen days after the videotaped beating of Rodney King and the peice of crap shop owner who bullied and killed Latasha was only fined, Sentenced to probation and community service for Killing a little black girl around the same time. as the king trial ended as well

                It wasn’t just about Rodney King buddy, but the injustice done to a unarmed little girl.

                Stick to what you really know, which is only what Fox tells you.

                Secondly, Most American Mexicans I know aren’t armed thugs either( You watch to much TV)!

                About 99.9% of my time was spent working with Mex-American and legal immigrants in the horse racing business. I speak fluent Spanish and worked with Immigration officials for over twenty years. Right now, everyone of them I have meet is a lot classier then your being…. with you bigoted BS.

                Get a real life BJ, cuz you don’t have a clue about American history unless the color suits you. and it comes from those propaganda pushers like Rush Limbaugh, and Shaun Hannity.

              • Big Johansson

                Who’d have guessed you escaped the home land you and your buddies destroyed.

                Don’t like FOX?

                Here’s NPR.

    • lizard19

      you said “you all.” an exemption for Montanans makes little sense.

      I think “we all” will move on to the next spectacle. the flag at the White House will go back up on Monday, the campaigns will resume, and in a few weeks the punditry will be feverishly discussing the latest gaffes and bullshit rhetoric.

  6. Big Johansson

    Yeah, but when are we going to outlaw Jack Daniels bottles?

  7. Big Johansson

    Flashback City.

    FLASHBACK: when Dr. Amy Bishop shot her colleagues, the Left speculated that she was a Tea Partier. In fact, she was an Obama donor.
    FLASHBACK: Discovery Channel hostage-taker was supposedly a climate change denier. In fact, he was an enviroweenie, D.Channel intern.

    FLASHBACK: the census-taker was supposedly hanged by extremist anti-tax Tea Partiers. In fact, he hanged himself.

    FLASHBACK: the Times Square Bomber was speculated to be upset about [Health Care Reform]. In fact, he was jihadi scum.

    FLASHBACK: the guy who flew his plane into the IRS in TX was supposedly a Tea Partier. In fact, he quoted from the Communist Manifesto.

    FLASHBACK: the guy who was stabbing NYC cabbies was supposedly an anti-Ground Zero Mosque Tea Partier. In fact, he supported the GZM.

    FLASHBACK: the Pentagon shooter was supposedly a Tea Party extremist. In fact, he was a 9/11 Truther.

    FLASHBACK: when the Ft. Hood shooting happened, the Left speculated that it was a “RWNJ.” In fact, it was a Muslim nutjob.

    FLASHBACK: When the Tucson shooting occurred, it was immediately blamed on Tea Party rhetoric. In fact, Loughner was a-political & insane.

  8. JC write, “We ignore science and fact, replacing it with ideology and faith.” within her list of problems in society, which may or may not contribute to psychopathic killers.

    As an example of scientific facts being replaced by faith and which are problematic she gives:

    “I was lambasting replacing science and fact with it. There are those (creationists) who ignore both science and fact to assert that the planet is only 6,000+- years old.”

    I see no possible contribution to psychopathic killer behavior, or problem with a society containing young earth or creationists. There simply is no correlation between this belief and destructive behavior.

    I hold to the ancient creeds which state:

    “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

    This faith moves me to believe that all of creation is God’s good work, and that I should honor him by respecting. I also hold that you too are God’s creation and bear His image, deserving honor and respect. How could that be a problem? How does such faith do anything but elevate and support a civil society? For that matter, what does the age of the earth contribute to any moral problem?

  9. I agree with you that what we need badly in our society is a more solid understanding of psychopathy, as well as several other related disorders. We need more objective knowledge about what really underlies harmful, destructive activity so we can put forth truly effective responses based on that knowledge, rather than fear-based speculation.

    It is telling that few people realize there is a scientific field dedicated to seeking this very kind of knowledge. It is called ponerology and I encourage people to look into it. I have a detailed page about it which I’ve linked to for those interested.

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