Many people made some kind of shocked exclamation. Others insisted that their “prayers are with the victims of this terrible tragedy.” Then they shared links to probing news items about the latest mass murder, this time in Colorado, that tell us gruesome details about the violence done–or worse, that tell us about the man (or on occasion, the woman) behind the unprovoked rampage.
That’s right, these rampages are unprovoked. The perpetrators of these crimes are not victims, and if they are misunderstood it is only in that some people in the public are listening to them as if they are going to learn something. But there is nothing to learn; the details are actually meaningless, the deed is a means and the buzz we generate around their rampages is the end. The Liberal Ironist abhors violence and will always see these killers anonymously, as failed human beings. No one fails as a human being simply because they have failed to achieve distinction; they do fail as human beings if they sacrifice others just to draw attention to themselves.
In a recent discussion a friend drew the same observation that I did about the current spate of massacres: To resort to cliche, we live in a culture in which we’re told we’re special. The frustration of these expectations leads to a sense of grievance. But there is no one to blame; sometimes not even oneself. Rather than live a modest if precarious existence, taking it 1 day at a time and recognizing the small opportunities to do some good or have pleasurable experiences, a very small number of people simply succumb to the laziness of their own imaginations: They want to get attention by the only wholly-undeserving means there is–destruction without purpose.
This argument from 2008, or something like it, is all I have to say about the tragedy that happened last night in Colorado. The perpetrators of these crimes are perverts or psychotics who draw attention to themselves at the cost of other people’s lives. Their personal stories and their manifestos are always irrelevant. They carry out their killing sprees because they’re too unimaginative or impotent to do anything meaningful; their stories are just their rationales for surrender. We should recognize that our own morbid interest in the details of their lives is not intellectual in nature, that these people are not serious participants in the “marketplace of ideas,” and just write them off as deviants. Psychologists should be trying to understand these idiosyncratic individuals, not a public turning to the news for perverse entertainment.
Update: Another friend found Charlie Brooker’s excellent, scathing video criticism of the voyeuristic and exploitative media market that allows prospective killers to fantasize.