Whenever there is a mass murder outbreak in America, the amateur Psychologists look to find the causes in the ideology of the people they disagree with. When a failed human being in Pittsburgh, spewing anti-Semitism and virulent right wing ravings, murdered four police officers, the left jumped at the opportunity to attribute the murders to his politics. Note the inane comments of Oliver Willis in which he attacks those who have the temerity to suggest that conservatism does not necessarily equate to hate or facilitate mass murder: [HT: Glenn Reynolds]
The conservative blogs are enraged that people are pointing out that they have and are stoking the fires of an atmosphere of hate that leads to police officers getting killed. As I’ve written for years, this is part of their pattern of behavior in America and for too long we’ve accepted their verbal diarrhea and incitements to violence as honest political dialogue and not the insanity it is.
Apparently Oliver Willis believes that if there are some on the far right who propagate conspiracy theories, then all Conservatives are responible when one disturbed individual commits mass murder. This is the equivalent of charging that since some on the left propagate the theory that the current financial meltdown was caused by greedy Wall Street Capitalists, then they are responsible for the anarchists at the G-20 breaking windows. Only someone who believes that other people have no independent agency can believe such nonsense.
Consider a psychological explication that is closer tot he material. In response to yet another mass murder in Binghamton, this one by a failed human being who happens to be a Vietnamese immigrant, Dr. Helen takes a more nuanced view and asks some reasonable questions: [HT: Dr. Helen's husband]
I do wonder how much a sense of entitlement (these types of killers often display a sense of narcissism) combined with continued coverage of how bad America is played a part in contributing to this killer's distorted thinking process? Psychologists and experts often find that in mass killers:
..."the central role of narcissism plainly connects them. Only a narcissist could decide that his alienation should be underlined in the blood of strangers..."
... In America, we continue to teach people to be more and more reliant on government and in a sense, never grow up. How will a nation of victims play out over the coming years? Will we see more of this type of violence? Mass killings are rare but what are the other repercussions that a lack of personal responsibility combined with a sense of entitlement will bring?
Dr. Helen gets much closer to the essence of mass murder when she brings in the subject of Narcissism.
Doubtless, people like Oliver Willis will find ways to excoriate her post as an example of ideological blindness but what people like Willis fail to recognize is how closely the far left and the raving right resemble each other. They are mirror images. For the left, society's ills would be addressed if only the immoral capitalists (bankers, Wall Street executives, greedy businessmen, et al) were better controlled by the good and wise liberal political class. The extremist right believes we could return to a more perfect union if only the blacks and the Jews and the immigrants would go back where they came from and the true Americans, white Christians all, were to be back in control. In either case, all of our shortcomings are externalized onto convenient scapegoats. All that is different is the identity of the chosen enemy.
People with Narcissistic pathology never recognize their own culpability for problems. It is too painful and intolerable. The Narcissist has a damaged self. When the environment (esp other people) support his self esteem, he does relatively well. He may be charming and charismatic and appear to be self assured and in command of himself. However, should the other fail him the pain of the assault on his self esteem is destabilizing. The Narcissist reacts to failure with terrible shame which evokes rage. The rage, if held within, leads to despair; suicidal depression is a danger at those times. When the rage is directed at the object who is imagined to have caused the humiliation (or has actually caused the humiliation, as by a lover's rejection) the outcome can be murderous. Often enough the rage is inchoate and the objects include those who have caused his pain (America, the Jews, women, and the police as symbols of the frustrating society) and murder-suicide is the outcome. The most severe form of Narcissistic pathology is Malignant Narcissism, which I described in a series on Narcissism, Malignant Narcissism, and Paranoia: Part III:
In more severe cases, the existence of the other person’s mind and life is simply of no consequence. For the Malignant Narcissist, other people are mere props in the pageantry of their lives. A tyrant can throw someone into a shredding machine without a second thought because the victim only matters in relation to how he can support the grandiosity of the tyrant; beyond that, he is faceless, nameless, worthless. It was no accident that Saddam Hussein was surrounded by sycophants who all grew mustaches to look just like him.
As might be apparent from the descriptions of narcissism, the attitude of the other is extremely important (narcissists are very sensitive to slights from others and almost anything that is not supportive is felt as criticism or attack One can see how, as you move down the spectrum from the healthy narcissist who has a concern and regard for the best wishes of others, to the more pathological narcissist who is intensely needful of being aggrandized, to the malignant narcissist who demands obeisance just as he can not trust anyone to really think well of him, you are moving down a spectrum from sensitivity to paranoia.
Further complicating the situation is that the Narcissistic Character is extraordinarily sensitive to humiliation and equally intolerant of it.
Jim Lindgren wrote a chapter in his PhD thesis on a relevant question:
It is sad that Willis would point to Republicans as particularly angry or vengeful, when those who strongly favor income redistribution (a central position of the current Administration) are more than twice as likely as strong opponents of leveling to admit that they responded to their anger by plotting revenge.
I would suggest that it not that those who favor income redistribution who are most prone to anger and revenge fantasies but that those who most readily deny their own responsibility for their circumstances and tend to externalize, ie blame others, who are most likely to respond with anger and revenge fantasies to perceived or real frustrations. I suspect that those who externalize are more likely to look to a presumed benevolent (toward them) Other (ie, the government) to make things right and will be attracted to redistributionist ideas. That does not, of course, mean that people can not come to such ideas from different and healthier psychological organizations and favoring redistribution is hardly diagnostic.
Finally, to return to Dr. Helen's comments; the combination of "a lack of personal responsibility combined with a sense of entitlement" is indeed a combustible combination. We see this combination on a daily basis in Adolescents, who often develop a hostile-dependent relationship with the parents whose support they they need and whose limits they resent. Needless to say, most Adolescents remain within the bounds of what we loosely refer to as normal and negotiate the trials and tribulations of adolescence without resorting to murder, though their rage when frustrated can be quite daunting.
We are now a Nation filled with overgrown adolescents used to getting whatever we desire. Perhaps the most worrisome problem is that, at last, we are going to have to learn to live within our means.
[Thank you to Dr. Helen's husband for the Instalaunch; Glenn's readers are always welcome here.]