Social Suicide and Mass Murder

On Valentine’s Day a 19-year-old kid marched into his old high school and opened fire on students who walked out of their classrooms when the killer pulled a fire alarm just before the end of the school day. Reports have come out giving us some insight on his life. The media (both mainstream and social) is focusing on guns and mental illness. Here is why I believe they are looking at the wrong thing.

In Emile Durkheim’s seminal work, Suicide, he looked at death records from several countries in Europe. He found that there are essentially four types of suicide: 1) Egotistic – when someone experiences a lack of social integration or are isolated (widows, hermits, victims of bullying); 2) Anomic – lack of moral regulation or a sudden change in life where the “new normal” feels overwhelming. There is a sense of “normlessness” where all of the social norms we abide by change and the new rules are difficult to grasp (losing a job or loved one; moving to a new country); 3) Fatalistic – overwhelming oppression and hopelessness (prisoners, terminally ill); 4) Altruistic – for the greater good (soldiers, firemen, suicide bombers).
Durkheim found that suicide is not a psychological phenomenon, but a social one. Changes in one’s social integration is a greater indicator of violence against oneself than any psychological condition.

Now, let’s apply this theory to what we know about the Valentine’s Day shooter.

  1. He was social isolated. Most reports are that he was bullied pretty regularly. He had very few friends. He was kicked out of school and other social organizations. This is indicative of Egotistic suicide.
  2. His adopted father died a few years ago, but his adopted mother died just three months ago. This dramatic social event would be a likely catalyst for anomic suicide.
  3. He apparently exhibited numerous histrionic outbursts – I believe these were to draw attention to an otherwise lonely boy – yet still managed to fly under the radar of law enforcement.
  4. Therefore, he was isolated from peers by choice (making numerous threats) or force (expulsion and bullying), as well as dealing with the death of his last remaining parent (and I have to wonder if being adopted started his feelings of social isolation). He also lives in a country where guns are weaved into the fabric of the nation and are constantly depicted in the media in both positive and negative lights.

It seems to me that this is a social recipe for a disaster. Rather than turning the weapon on himself, he turned it on others. Regardless, he follows a similar pattern to other mass murders, serial killers, and the suicidal. Reports are that the Vegas shooter, Steven Paddock, lost a lot of money before his rampage and was socially isolated from almost everyone except his roommate/girlfriend. The Columbine shooters were socially isolated and bullied. The same goes for the Aurora shooter, the Virginia Tech shooter, and almost all other mass murderers over the last 20 years.

I truly believe that we need to stop thinking of these events as psychological anomalies. There is something wrong with the SOCIAL fabric of the nation right now.

We have been in perpetual war since 2001. We just experienced a major economic recession. Social media and online video games are keeping kids from face-to-face interactions. We are the most medicated society in history. Our social and demographic categories are being constantly challenged and redefined. Religion is becoming less and less of an effective institution. Our electorate is becoming more and more divided.

Basically, we are in a national state of anomic normlessness that is leading to increasing social isolation. As our institutions continue to crumble, so does our ability to maintain solidarity. Without social solidarity and stability, we feel hopeless. We feel socially suicidal.

Some of us develop depression. Some of us do kill ourselves. Some are committing mass murder. The signs and symptoms are all there.

Since Suicide was published in 1897, data continues to back up Durkheim’s theory. I truly believe that we are experiencing social suicide that is beginning to manifest in social homicide.

These shooters are not “mentally ill”, they are socially constructed monsters. No laws can stop the inevitable destruction brought about by social unrest. Medicating the problem like we medicate our citizenry will not solve the problem.

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The Satanic Era

In the first episode of Mindhunter, the Netflix show about how the FBI serial killer program began, an interesting proposition was presented. The gist is that prior to the 1970s, crime had motive. In the contemporary era, however, motive was no longer a factor. Serial killers may have a modus operandi, and even a purpose, but they essentially kill indiscriminately. Random people become targets. Of course, this is a fictional story, but does that make the point any less relevant?

We may understand a killer has a motive, such as creating fear or terror, but there is no motive for target selection. Consider the most recent case of the Las Vegas shooting. As of this writing, a full month has passed and no one knows what motivated Stephen Paddock to shoot 500 people. Many terror attacks are on large groups of people, but none involve a personal motive.

Gone are the days of organized crime when gangsters wanted to “send a message” by killing a rival or snitch. No longer must a woman die because she was cheating on her husband. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is as dangerous as infidelity in today’s world. When did this change?

I will once again point my finger at what I have termed “the Satanic Era” of the 1960s. Prior to the 1960s, the majority of mass killings were familicide. Since the 1960s, mass killings have been in public places against innocent bystanders. The deadliest decade prior to 1960 was the 30s, with 9 mass shootings. The 1960s had 6, the 70s had 13, there were 32 in the 1980s, and over 40 in the 1990s. The number since then as only increased.

Again, low numbers of mass shootings which primarily were targeted at family members prior to the 60s. Much higher frequency of shootings with a major increase in bystander fatalities since the 1960s.

How about serial killers, the focus of Mindhunter? According to one site, there were only a dozen or so serial killers in the United States in the decades leading up to the 1960s. There were 19 in the 1960s, 119 in the 70s, 200 in the 80s, and 141 in the 1990s. The number has since dropped to 60 or less in the twenty-first century, but the line drawn through the Satanic Era is still worth noting.

It does appear that this notion of random killing has increased since the 1960s.

17,000 women were forcibly raped in 1960. By the end of the decade, the number of victims had more than doubled. By 1992, the number peaked at over 109,000.

Recreational drug and alcohol use, though prevalent regardless of drug laws, has exploded since the 1960s.

Increases in violence against strangers, depictions of violence and sex in film and television, sexual assault, drug use, alcoholism, the opioid crisis, teen pregnancies, deviant sexual behaviors, homosexuality, transgenderism, mass murder, and serial killings are directly correlated with the decline in major religion and distrust of major media and government institutions.

In every single one of these categories – religious decline (secularization), increases in crime and deviance, the birth of new religious movements and serial killers – you can draw a line before and after the Satanic Era of the 1960s and see that there has been a seismic social shift in the United States.

One cannot help but notice that many of the same issues of the 1960s are manifest today. Civil unrest, shouts of racism, segregation, unending protest, free love, excessive drug use, sensitivity toward anything deemed “offensive”, attacks on free speech and the Constitution, militarized police, political corruption, calls for revolution, Marxism, and the list goes on and on.

I am a child of the 80s, but I would love to hear from those who were alive during the 60s. Does your lived experience mirror my theory? Has the shift been noticeable? Do you think there has actually been a shift? Please, I want to hear from you.

Debate Should Not Lead to Death

I have been in my fair share of arguments. I have debated on Facebook, among friends, and in classrooms full of people. When the situation isn’t resolved, I generally leave the conversation feeling awful. No matter how hard I try, I just cannot convince the other side that I am right. I do not want innocent babies ripped apart in the womb. I do not want speech, no matter how hate filled, to be banned. I do not want anyone to go to hell when they die. I do not want my Constitutional rights taken away.

I do not like being wrong. I come in to every argument with as much knowledge as I can muster. I approach every debate with the mindset that empiricism trumps emotion. I want to be able to point to statistics and use my Sociological training to raise awareness and debunk irrational arguments. When I fail, I take it personally. After all, if I cannot convince an atheist that my religious beliefs are correct, then I’ve just my shot at seeing them saved by God’s grace. If I cannot convince a liberal that abortion is murder, then they will continue to advocate for the slaughter of innocents. If I cannot convince the Left that I have the RIGHT to bear arms, then my family may be in danger one day and I will be weaponless.

These are important arguments to me.

However, there are an increasing number of times when I feel rage from my opposition. Whereas I am saddened by my failure in disagreement, the other person HATES me. When I am disappointed, they want me silenced. They want me to lose my reputation and job. If I were to take social media seriously, I’d think they want me…dead (as a member of the NRA, there have been dozens of calls for my murder).

After this most recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, irrationality has become the norm. I know people who were there. I know others who lost someone. I drive past Mandalay Bay several times a week on my way to UNLV. I can see it from school. I can see it from the highway. I can see it when I drive to my home from grocery shopping. No one has to tell me the impact and devastation caused by the actions of an evil mass murderer. I am reminded of it several times a day, and most likely will continue to be so long as I live in Vegas.

Although I am shaken, sullen, and uneasy, I cannot and will not use this tragedy as justification to rid my city or country of firearms. As a matter of fact, I want MORE freedom and LESS restriction on firearms. Rather than feel weakened by the event, I feel my resolve strengthened. When I feel unsafe, I want to increase my own stockpile of weapons. I want to freely exercise my Second Amendment (that is, GOD-GIVEN) right to protect myself and family by any means necessary.

No counter-argument can change my mind. I see the statistics that show the correlation between INCREASED gun ownership and DECREASED crime rates. I understand the scenarios where a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. I know personal instances where having a firearm stopped robberies and sexual assaults from happening. I know that if someone were to come into my home in an attempt to violate the safety of my family, they will be met with lethal force.

More guns save lives than take them, not matter how many mass shootings occur; it’s just not sexy to report them on the news. It’s difficult to know the actual number, as gun saves are not often reported to the police or FBI.

We can disagree on this matter. You can push for gun control, and I will work tirelessly to resist your effort. I can promise you this, while I may be disappointed in our disagreement, I will never wish you dead. I would never want you to lose your job over it. I would never want you to lose your life. I just hope you feel the same.