Could an Intensified Version of Normality Be the Real Cause of Mass Shootings?


In Aeon, Joseph Pierre explores how research has dispelled many of the common beliefs about the causes of mass murders, such as “bad parenting, mental illness, guns, video games, the media, heavy metal music, or just plain evil.” So what are we left with, he asks, except to look inward for the real roots?

“Therefore, it appears that the most important risk factors aren’t those that set mass murderers apart from the rest of us; instead, they are simply appropriated from culturally sanctioned patterns of aggression,” writes Pierre. “The difference between one who fantasises about revenge and carries it out could be a matter of degree, rather than some bright divide separating a murderer from the rest of society.”

Running amok (Aeon, January 28, 2015)


  1. I think one of the distinctive features of the mass shooters in US is that they were young people who seemed to be largely isolated from their peers and felt like losers. I don’t know if that is ever 100% avoidable but maybe having a more open, accepting culture which does not assign value tags to people (especially men) based on how many cute girls you’ve slept with and how many cool friends you have to go and binge drink with or whether you have a chance to study in Harvard. Loneliness, lack of acceptance and feeling like you are being ridiculed bring out anger. These people went out and killed others because they wanted a name for themselves. They wanted to be recognized for something and they wanted revenge for real or perceived disrespect. In the end they probably needed a real relationship and something to be good at.

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    • B: Yes, while we still live in a sexist society where women shoulder a disproportionate burden in the work world, child and elder care, and all the while have to follow the strictures of the beauty regime, being a male white or otherwise who is caste out, makes life no walk in the park. Thanks for broaching this subject. The dating ritual which starts in earnest in high school leaves many low-status males in the dust. There is little in the way of brotherhood for them. Most women have some type of supportive relationship, while blacks have bonds of mutuality however frayed that limits the numbers of that society from slipping into the role of mass murder or serial killer. I read part of a book a while back, which introduced the concept of hegemonic male, someone who is usually white and derives a high degree of status from their male identity. Conversely, for non-hegemonic males, the world can be a highly unwelcoming place in our society. Looking at my own life, a would say that I am largely a non-hegemonic male, who nonetheless has enjoyed many of the benefits of white privilege.

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      • There’s one thing that any people don’t recognize – the oppressive systems damage not only the victims but also the oppressors. Even the most privileged classes suffer in an oppressive system because they also have to play their roles.
        In the end liberating the prisoners liberates the guards as well.

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        • It is my theory that the reason white males are the ones who go on shooting rampages is because they belong to the privileged class, but don’t feel they are able to participate in its privileges. If a poor black man is feeling oppressed, it’s easy to find a target for your rage: rich white people. Women can band together around being oppressed by men, immigrants by the majority culture, and so forth. But if a white male is a failure, it’s his own fault. He had all the advantages and STILL failed – he has no excuses, he’s just a loser. I think this may give rise to a rage that is very unfocused and random, and if the person additionally is isolated, he has little to no opportunity to be pulled back from the brink.

          The one thing not addressed in the article is that such a person, when exposed to antidepressant drugs, may lose whatever inhibitions that had been restraining them from acting out their fantasies. A hugely disproportionate number of these shooters were on SSRIs, or to a lesser extent, stimulants, during or just prior to going on their rampage. Kip Kinkel, the Columbine boys, the Red Lake MN killer, the Batman killer, the V-Tech guy, at least one of the Fort Hood killers, all had recent or current exposure to antidepressants. There is some soft information suggesting that Adam Lanza may have been as well. While I don’t believe that antidepressants alone would get anyone to this state, I have observed and heard and read that they often create a “what the f*&k attitude (a former colleague of mine called it “Zolofting”) that may feel like a good thing to someone plagued with anxiety, but is definitely NOT a good thing when the fragile inhibition against doing something horrific is set aside by excess serotonin in the brain.

          It is good to hear more people pointing out that mass killings are not always or primarily the work of the “mentally ill.” But we have a long way to go before any possibility that American society is the likely cause will be entertained by the general public.

          — Steve

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          • Great points as usual Steve :).
            The question is what if anything can be done about it? I mean getting rid of the majority of guns would be one thing but I guess it is not possible in US for cultural reasons. How do you reach to these people and show them respect they need and point them to things doing which they won’t feel like failures?

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  2. If you read the actual statistics, you will find that we peaked as far as number of mass killings in 1914. Since then, we have averaged roughly 34 mass killings a year. The only notable change was that in 2012, we did have a peak in number of victims, but it has since settled back to the normal average. What that means is that this could only be the real cause if it had been for over a hundred years. The difference is that social media and the news media new niche in creating stigma towards mental illness with its all-shootings-all-day take on reporting just creates an illusion that they have become more common place just like they have created the illusion that they are largely committed by the mentally ill. In fact, we represent less than 20%. The majority of mass killings are still committed by white, middle age, white collar, middle class men with no history of psychiatric problems.

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