6 To Remember, 1 To Banish

isla-vista-rampage-6-fatalities The here-to-be-nameless Isla Vista killer marks, I think, a significant milestone in the history of this type of spree killing[1] in the U.S.

The killer and the crime fits in no easily identifiable box, to be conveniently labeled and put away on a forensics shelf. Rather, it’s a combination of several different factors, all re-arranged in a startling new pattern, a perfect storm of evil intent and neurological dysfunction that, for the moment at least, sits sui generis before us.

As I’ve posted elsewhere, all the negative elements leading to this were in perfect balance ala Goldilocks’ “just right”: No so pronounced as to require a pre-emptive response such as involuntary commitment, not so mild as to lead the killer to realize the foolishness of his thoughts and plans.

The crime was notable as not being primarily a gun crime. This is most certainly not to say the pain and tragedy the victims’ families feel is unimportant, or that concerns about common sense firearms regulations are to be dismissed, but the killer’s arsenal was not exceptionally large (3 handguns, 410 rounds of ammunition), nor were the weapons designed for large scale killing (as a military-style rifle is), and he used a knife to equal lethality as well as attempted to kill other victims by running them over.

I hope the people seeking sane gun regulations see success in their efforts, but this particular crime is not at heart a gun crime.

Nor is autism, nor Asperger’s, nor his parents’ indulgences, nor their show biz careers, nor his narcissism directly to blame although each element contributed in some way to the final tragedy.

Reading his manifesto, for the young child who could not comprehend, could not understand, could not bond with others in a way that would alleviate the loneliness and ache in his heart, one can have pity.

For the selfish, self-centered, oblivious to all humanity monster he carefully cultivated, taking pains to hide his true feelings and intent from his parents and family and therapists, no pity.

A pit bull attacking a child may have been neglected and treated cruelly as a pup, but at the moment of attack it is nothing but a destructive force that needs to be stopped without pity or remorse.

His misogyny is notorious, but I don’t think it is a result of rational thought, no matter how misdirected[2], but rather the form in which his particular mental problem expressed itself.

It could have just as easily been religiously or politically based hatred; he wasn’t driven mad by what he thought about women or religion or politics but rather his madness lead him to choose a means of expression.

I have a close acquaintance (details altered to protect privacy) who is profoundly delusional. His home is filled with arts and crafts supplies for a big project he’s going to do “one of these days.” The big project has a religious theme, and he thinks he will be able to lead people to Jesus because of it.

When you ask him why he doesn’t start now on the project (or for that matter, just start telling people about Jesus without the art project), he explains he’ll do it after he gets a big house to display the project in.

See, God will have a Very Big Organization hire him for a Very Important Position and so he’ll be able to afford the nice big house, and because he will be occupying a Very Important Position in the Very Big Organization, people will be honored when he invites them to his nice big house and shows them the art project and because of that they will come to know Jesus.

But at least his delusion is non-violent, and even if by some chance he acted on it, there would be no harm visited on anyone.

The Isla Vista killer was delusional in an entirely different manner.

If it wasn’t for the tragic events surrounding it, his manifesto would read like a comedy, a broad farce about a clueless self-involved git who could never figure out he was the author of all his misfortunes.

For all his rages and rants against females who wouldn’t date him, he never seems to have actually tried approaching one and, y’know, talking to her.

No, he expected women to approach him because of his “obvious” superior nature / hair / clothes / car.

As others have pointed out, he spent his life crafting himself into just the sort of one-dimensional stock 1980s teen farce stuck-up rich jerk character who is invariably the villain of those pieces.

He saw that as something to emulate.

I’ve known a few people with Asperger’s and/or high functioning autism. One such person was a young man who, in a children’s Sunday school class, had been taught a grossly simplified and expressed-literally-for-young-children version of the Bible.

When he reached his teen years he was almost a one man wrecking crew in his youth group’s Bible study. Any attempt to find anything more than the most direct and simplistic reading of Scripture would result in angry, furious denunciations from him.

See, once his mind had locked onto a thought as a child, it became impossible to dislodge it as a teen or a young adult not matter how much evidence / proof / reasoning was produced. Anything outside his narrow range of belief / perception was not merely dismissed, it wasn’t even acknowledged.

As he grew older this led to a series of confrontations with pastors and church leaders who as diplomatically as possible finally suggested there might be some other church that more closely matched his personal beliefs.

The Isla Vista killer had a truly infantile sense of self-importance. As an infant is all appetite and desire for gratification, so was the killer obsessed in what others should be doing for him rather than in learning how to have genuine reciprocal relationships. He was angry at them for failing to provide for him -- even to the point of anger at his mother for not finding and marrying a wealthy new husband after her divorce in order to better fund the lifestyle he felt he should enjoy!

Everything was a calculated insult against him in his eyes. In the real world relying on the lottery as a financial plan is a joke found in Chevy Chase movies; in his weltanschauung it was an entirely logical and obvious plan, one so logical and obvious that he was literally incapable of recognizing the odds against him or of accepting failure as anything but the workings of not merely a cold and indifferent universe but rather one actively and maliciously conspiring to deny him his duly entitled happiness.

Not to denigrate the very real problem of misogyny and patriarchal privilege[3], but the killer’s pathology is to be found at a far deeper level than sexual politics. His manifesto demonstrates he was incapable of seeing himself as anything but a sensory organ deserving of pleasure and power, and the only purpose for any other living being was service and supplication to him.

Ah, yes, that manifesto…

He’s far from the first killer to leave behind a detailed explanation of his crime/s, but rarely has such a motive been exposed so nakedly and clearly, with no real attempt at mitigation or explanation beyond “they deserved it for disappointing me”.

I’m struck by the similarities and overlap between his manifesto and four other books[4].

First and foremost, this could almost be a chapter out of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. For those unfamiliar with the book, the big climactic set piece is a trial in which the central character[5] successfully defends himself for blowing up a public building. His rationale, once all of Rand’s tedious verbiage has been stripped away, boils down to simplicity itself:  I did it because my feelings were hurt.

Second, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Burgess’ narrator is a violent sociopath who views his victims as toys for his personal gratification; his weepy, self-pitying account of his arrest and imprisonment are mimicked by the killer’s manifesto. But Burgess’ narrator has a touch of humanity lacking in the real life killer, and once the narrator experiences the same horrors he visited on others, some rudimentary connection with the rest of humanity is rekindled. The book ends with a glimpse of the narrator moving into semi-normal, semi-respectable middle age (the movie ends somewhat differently).

Third, and almost de rigueur, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye. Lauded by many as the great coming of age novel, dismissed by others as a wallow in self-pity and self-justified jerky behavior, Salinger’s book certainly captures the self-centeredness that marks many young adults (particularly teens) as immature. Like the manifesto, there is nothing in the book about what the protagonist can do to change or improve things, just a lengthy whine about how the universe fails to meet the narrator’s expectations.

Finally, and most problematic, Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. Fight Club is the other tent pole to The Fountainhead in regards to the manifesto[6]. To quote the book’s second most famous speech:

“I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we've been all raised by television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won't and we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very very pissed off.”

The manifesto echoes that, running through a Christmas wish list of things and products the killer desired and/or acquired, and the increasing frustration then rage at the failure of these items to provide the desired effect in his life, which is to say actually fulfill all the self-aggrandizing fantasies he possessed about himself.

Which leads to this: We live in a consumer oriented society, and not just the fulfillment of utilitarian consumer needs but the deliberate creation of unneeded (and often unwanted) desire that can then be fulfilled (purportedly) with massive amounts of products and services supplied by the very people creating those desires.

For a culture that purports to put such high value on the ten commandments, it’s interesting to see a violation of the 10th (“Thou shalt not covet”) setting the stage to justify a violation of the 6th (“Thou shalt not kill”).

This is the point in these sorts of essays where the writer traditionally wraps up with a lesson to be learned, a conclusion to be drawn, and a call of action to be heeded.

I’ve got nothing, folks. The specifics of this case are too singular and unique for me to think the killer could have been stopped before his crime by anything other than pure chance.

But I can’t help wondering how many brothers and sisters this guy has out there who are mired in the same mindset, only possessing enough sense not to act too egregiously on them.

And I can’t help feeling nobody in our society wants to pursue that back to the source of contagion for fear of finding out who’s selling…

…and who’s buying.

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[1] A horrifically frivolous sounding name for horrendous crimes, but one to mark it as a distinct from mass murders and serial killings.

[2] I am not saying misogyny is rational -- far from it! -- but most misogynists can express their misogyny in a series of steps that, while based on erroneous presumptions, proceed logically from those presumptions. There is no such logical-but-erroneous process to be found in the killer’s manifesto.

[3] If any good is to come from this tragedy, may it be that it’s finally lifted the rock off the extreme ugliness slithering around just under the surface of far too many males, and will force a societal accounting that goes beyond “boys will be boys”.

[4] Several people have commented on similarities to Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho but as I have not read that book nor do I have a desire to, I’ll limit myself to saying their comments seem plausible.

[5] It abuses the language too much to call him an anti-hero, much less a hero, or even to label him a protagonist.

[6] Unlike Rand, who embraced what she wrote, Palahniuk can see the symptom without falling prey to the disease. Fight Club is a warning, possibly even a call to action, but it is not an invitation to imitation.

 

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