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.