Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Should An Author Be Held Responsible For Mass Shootings?

The 2010 book Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters profiles 10 shooters and breaks them down into three personality types.
The news (New York Times, Sunday, p. 1) that the 18-year old German -Iranian mass shooter was in possession of the book, 'Why Kids Kill: Inside The Minds Of Mass Shooters', has again triggered questions of whether the author (Peter Langman) must somehow share responsibility.   The perpetrator in Munich, like the Columbine killers he idolized, evidently was bullied like they were and also suffered from depression.

Like the psychotic Colorado killer Karl Pierson, German authorities in Munich found the gunman had been bullied, and seemed to have few friends. No link to religious extremism or Islamic State zealots have been found.

Alas, the book by Langman was also found in the possession of Arapahoe High School student Karl Pierson, an honor student who shot to death a fellow student, Claire Davis. Pierson barged into the school hallway armed with a shotgun and Molotov cocktails. He was angry and looking for a debate coach with whom he wished to settle a score.  He fired a blast that struck Claire in the face at point blank range and sent her into a coma, dying after lingering unconscious for a week. Friends and family prayed that she'd come out of it - but that didn't happen.Pierson wrote in his diary that he was psychopathic with a superiority complex.  According to author Langman: “I think he was right and correctly identified himself as a psychopathic personality from my book.”

However, is a coincidental profiling of oneself from the subject matter of a book on mass shooters  enough to impute blame to the author? Probably not. And Langman himself has made it clear he gave absolutely no details concerning techniques or strategy, nor did he deliver gory details.
But this may not matter in the end, because a certain niche of intelligent potential shooters can become obsessed and ensnared with their own divergent psychological manifestations. Then  - with self diagnosis - these misfits often end up analogizing themselves to Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the infamous Columbine killers.
In a Mother Jones analysis of Langman's book from 2012, it appeared that many school shooters had become mesmerized by the story of Klebold and Harris. The Colorado duo's violent actions then formed the template for dozens of subsequent shootings. In particular, the pair's sense of isolation, plus the relentless bullying they endured from the jocks at Columbine High School. Add in their single-minded objective to deliver payback to those who they believed tortured them and the nefarious stage was set.
Thus, the MJ conclusion was that this template might be taken to heart by others, even if no particular strategies were given, or gory details.  But Langman himself has downplayed the bullying aspect though he wasn't specific on causes, noting in a UK Guardian piece (7/23):

Sometimes there’s a revenge factor. Sometimes they are full of rage and lashing out against the world.  Sometimes they are wanting to make a name for themselves. As a nobody, they see the only way to be a somebody is get international recognition for killing people.”
Well, the inverted fame may also be a part, but it could also be that certain beliefs arising from the Columbine template are also in play. Also there is no gainsaying the fact that since Columbine the two killers have emerged as the "anti-heroes" of a misshapen death cult that idolizes the pair. The MJ  article noted other mass killers have been obsessed with the Columbine attack, drawing on a wealth of information in books and movies, fan websites dedicated to the shooters, and even a Broadway show

In this super-heated environment of self-absorption and  lunacy a single author can hardly be blamed for the dastardly acts of a series of misfits entranced by Columbine's killers.

Sue Klebold - Dylan's mother -  has even said she still receives mail from young women across the country professing their love for her son.  Twisted? For sure, but again if true - and there's no reason to doubt Mrs. Klebold - it might also help explain the ongoing demented fascination with the whole Columbine incident and why its infectious memes continue to generate offshoot killings. As for Mrs. Klebold, in her recent book  A Mother’s Reckoning,  she leans to the idea her son suffered from a "brain disease"

An alternative explanation has been advanced by Tahir Rahman, a forensic psychiatrist at University of Missouri. In his recent paper he argues for the need to examine "the extreme overvalued belief/"  This term was coined originally by Carl Wernicke, a German neuropsychiatrist. He used it to describe ideas that dominate a person's mind causing non-delusional but extreme behaviors. Anorexia nervosa has been cited as one example in which extreme beliefs of body image dominate minds. (To the point of starvation.).

The same can be said for racists, anti-Semites, anti-Muslims,  psychotic anti-liberals or any person gripped with hatred toward a target group. (Often because of his own lack of adequate information, knowledge).  Most don't act out in violence, reach for an AR-15 and shoot twenty people. But those who become fixated on the misshapen justification of their hate can and do.  Thus, we beheld the demented Orlando mass shooter acting out his overvalued ideas, just as we also saw  the confused, alienated teen in Munich doing the same. .

The danger of all such overvalued beliefs is their propensity to become amplified by the possessor,  fulminating in the mind until the beliefs dominate. For example, the belief that Obama is a Muslim and is guilty of aiding the cause of radical Islam in some weird way.  It is difficult to deal with these people because their beliefs are magnified out of rational proportions, and tied to emotional over-investment. This disposition is also associated with an abnormal personality, e.g. the schizoid type or submerged personality manifested by James Holmes. .

As an example, Eric Harris idolized Hitler, and felt the human race was totally worthless. Being a hostage to such beliefs, then having them confirmed by being picked on by jocks, led him to conclude the only solution was to annihilate as many fellow students as possible.  This led to joining forces with Dylan Klebold to kill 13 and injure dozens more on Hitler's birthday (April 20) in 1999.

The danger of Trumpism now is sowing many more minds with such hateful, overvalued beliefs, in this case centering on white superiority and ridding the nation of immigrants, gays, and liberals ("libtards").   This morning, while grabbing a quick breakfast at McDonald's I even overheard three local wingnuts complaining loudly about no American flags seen at the DNC. One said: "What do you expect from these Muslim lovers? And they haven't even mentioned the word 'Isis' yet!"  Another fed into the first guy's overvalued idea by asserting: "Yeah, and they have a fence all around their Convention center but don't want Trump to build a wall!"

Could I have interjected reason with these guys? Not likely! Short of a brain transplant I'd have had no more success than trying to convince a denier like Kort Patterson of the reality of man-made global warming.  Reason and evidence simply play no role for the brain committed to an overvalued idea.

Hillary Clinton clearly has her serious defects  and disadvantages but may be the only "antidote"  to preventing a nation based on extreme overvalued beliefs. Kind of like using the toxins delivered via chemotherapy to eliminate a cancer.

Or, mayhap we need a "political physician" as Jill Stein describes herself, to clean house of these nasty overvalued, extreme memes warping the minds of so many of our citizens. People might wish to watch Dr. Stein's extemp speech to Sanders and other supporters outside the Wells Fargo center, e.g.

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