February 13, 2013: The School Shooting Pivot Date

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
I guess this is what he always wanted

is this is what he always wanted?


“People are fed up!” I’m told. “People don’t feel safe!” Uh oh, I’ve heard that before, are we going to vote to invade all the states that start with Co? Everyone hates living in a police state until the moment they suddenly want a police state, and then they wonder why they live in a police state. Understandably, in such existential moments, people want someone to protect them, to take over; but if that’s impossible they will settle for the appearance of a larger power differential– they will willingly weaken themselves to create the illusion– in their own head– that their protector is that much more powerful. Yes, just like the gimmick in BDSM.

“I’m outraged!” someone will have written on Facebook. “This can’t go on!”

The louder people yell for change, the more things will stay the same. You’ve all argued vociferously for or against gun control, I’m sure, but how many of you did something about it– called your Congressman, which is your only (albeit miniscule) avenue of power? Or do you think they read your twitter?

But anyone can say that yelling won’t help, things won’t change, but my point is very different: you are yelling so that things don’t change.

Frantic hyperactivity to mask impotence, frantic hyperactivity to signal to some omnipotent entity that you are trying to make things right– it’s the description for what’s happening now and the definition of obsessional neurosis. That could be coincidence, I guess.


Well here’s what both sides of the debate can agree on: “The media should stop publicizing the killer’s name! It makes killers think they can be famous, getting their fifteen minutes of fame.” Tip: If you find yourself in total agreement with people you wanted to murder in the last election, you’re wrong.

It’s interesting that we think spree killers are motivated by fame, an idea so entrenched it is immune to critical examination, we assume that that must be what drives people, crazy people doubly so. That would be an example of projection. Or perception. Whatever. This guy left no manifesto and obliterated his computer on his way out. Fame? Sounds like his problem was he felt overscrutinized, but I’m no shrink. Unless he thought he was playing Candyland he did it out of rage. You know what’s even more interesting? That you don’t think “rage” is a satisfying explanation, but “fame” is.

“But constant exposure on CNN does spur copycats!” Oh, yeah, because what every twenty-something homicidal maniac uses as an identity touchstone is the news programs targeted to a demo twice his age and three times his estrogen level. You think they are motivated by what they see on CNN? What year do you think this is? You think they want to get on the local news? They don’t even watch TV! I know your heart is in the right place, but are you seriously arguing for a world where someone decides what information is suitable for you to know? And even if some killers motivated by fame, for this to work, you can’t cause a media blackout of a killer’s name on the TV news only, you’d have to black it out on the entire internet. Does anyone have a killswitch for the internet? Keep yelling like that, someone will.


“But now’s the time for action!” Note the date, February 13, 2013, it is the day you will stop talking about this tragedy, it is the day you will simply say, “that’s the system, I guess, we yelled for two straight months, but nothing ever changes.”

I arrived at that date in a semi-scientific way: that’s how long it took Occupy Wall Street to die of ennui, and it’s worth pointing out that those people had youthful energy and infinite free time. You know who they put in charge of changing gun policy? Joe Biden.

Google Trends supports me:


N is Virginia Tech, H is Giffords, B is Aurora, and etc, note they all run about a month, and the dotted lines in the graph is Google’s guess– they give it a month. This is just a horrific massacre, so you’ll be in for two. Then it’s Superbowl, Oscars and Season 16 of Dancing With The Stars.




“Will nothing ever change?” Oh, one thing will, can’t stop the steady march of authoritarianism.

Since you don’t have the courage to look to the inevitable conclusion of your opinions, I’ll do it for you: there’s absolutely no chance that guns will be illegal, so “gun control” means tighter control of who gets guns.

In America, if the word “control” is anywhere near a social policy issue, then to your left will be its unwitting executor: psychiatry. “They already decide financial benefits, criminal responsibility and who gets more time on tests, so why not mandate a psychiatric clearance for gun owners!” Because it’s madness. Of course I’m not opposed to this in theory, because in theory is the only place where it would be conceivably valid or reliable. In practice you will have a guy judge you based on his own prejudices, or his fear of lawsuits, or on the negotiated fee. Why not have a gypsy run some tarot cards? At least when it all goes bad you can blame the cards.


Which is the whole point: the system is designed to fail in specific and predictable ways, because a tragedy that is the result of a failure of the system is much easier to live with than a tragedy that happens for no reason, even though they are equally common and equally dead. Which is the whole point of the frantic hyperactivity. It’s not to prevent it, but to feel like it is going to be prevented. I realize this doesn’t sound very satisfying, but on February 13, you will realize it was.


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27 Responses to February 13, 2013: The School Shooting Pivot Date

  1. situational says:

    Barring external causes (jammed gun, etc), why do you think these guys stop when they do? Does rage expire?

  2. knew says:

    Well, not really.

    To me the point of taking out the media drama is not to interfere with why shooters do it, but what they choose to do. It’s peer pressure. If you’re Malay, the tiger spirit comes and makes you go amok. Algonquin, the Wendingo comes and you kill and eat your family. If you’re contemporary Chinese, maybe you take a knife into a kindergarten classroom.

    My point is, we should be careful about the stories we tell ourselves over and over about what enraged (insane/fame-starved – pick your motive, I don’t care) people do. Because they’ll do it.

    • Rebecca says:

      Mass killings are so ingrained in our society that removing the media won’t change it.

      I do always wonder why these killers choose the targets they do. What’s informing that? Some guy goes nuts at a mall – maybe he broke up with his girlfriend there, got fired, hated a security guard? At high school – obvious yet shallow acceptable answer, people were mean to him. But why did this one choose a grade school?

      • apehead says:

        You shoot kids in a primary school, because very young children have the most heightened awareness of their emotions, compared to older children and adults. So, if you cannot feel anything, or you cannot feel what you ought to feel, or what you want to feel, you take it out on those who can.

        • Rebecca says:

          I understand what you’re saying, but I think I have a hard time comprehending because that train of thought doesn’t logically make sense. There was a line in Fight Club, basically, “I just wanted to destroy something beautiful.” I have a feeling the logic behind both concepts is similar.

      • dovahkiin says:

        It’s ingrained because we keep telling that story. If we stopped telling people about “the normal quiet guy who had a lot of problems, snapped, gunned down 40 people, and now has his problems discussed on national TV”, then there would be less reason to think about that story and less incentive for the disturbed person to choose THAT narrative over something else.

        I think there’s something of the answer in the fact that it happens far more often in the US than in other places with even worse social problems, and it’s done by people in the middle class or above. The Africans who lack good food and clean water are not doing this. Chinese working 14 hours a day and living in factories are not doing this. American poor people in ghettos are not doing this. It’s people who are afraid of losing what they have, it’s loner losers fed on the notion that they’re special, and desperate to prove that it’s not their fault that they cannot win at life.

        I think this points to a few things about the shooters. First, as I said, this isn’t about people who never had or never achieved, but people who were supposed to succeed and didn’t or couldn’t. The person wants to get some sort of ego boost, because he’s supposed to be winning (after all he’s white and raised middle class, and it couldn’t be him could it) and he’s not, and thus he needs other people to say that he’s not a loser.

        So loser turns on CNN or reads the story on Reddit. What does he see — the discussion of the last shooter’s problems. No one is calling him a killer, he’s a monster, but one that has “problems” one that was “bullied”, perhaps, or one that was having problems getting a job, or all kinds of other things like that. The narrative is not “he’s famous”, but that people are not thinking that this is a BAD MAN, it’s a man with problems who would be a productive citizen with a house and a car and a girlfriend if his problems had been dealt with earlier. Narrative, “it’s not you, you are OK, it’s society that drove you to this, society that pushed you over the edge, society that denied you a place — and they’ll see that if you take out a bunch of random people in a massive event”.

        it’s a way out of the SHAME of failure. it’s a way to save your ego. it taps into collective narcissism. You aren’t a failure, and if you kill lots of people, they’ll see that. Suddenly, you’re validated. By corpses


        Basically, these guys can’t deal with not living up to what they’re supposed to be doing, and they are fed the narrative “mass revenge shooting” rather than (like in Japan for example) “just kill yourself”. So they shoot.

  3. SeanM says:

    Amok is a Malay word for the homocidal sprees occasionally undertaken by lonely Indochinese men who have suffered a loss of love, a loss of money, or a loss of face. The syndrome has been described in a culture even more remote from the West: the stone-age foragers of Papua New Guina.

    The Amok man is patently out of his mind, an automaton oblivious to his surroundings and unreachable by appeals or threats. But his rampage is preceded by lengthy brooding over failure, and is carefully planned as a means of deliverance from an unbearable situation. The amok state is chillingly cognitive. It is triggered not by a stimulus, not by a tumor, not by random spurt of brain chemicals, but by an idea. The idea is so standard that the following summary of the amok mind-set, composed in 1968 by a psychiatrist who had interviewed seven hospitalized amoks in Papua New Guina, is an apt description of the thoughts of mass murderers continents and decades away:

    I am not an important or “big man.” I possess only my personal sense of dignity. My life has been reduced to nothing by an intolerable insult. Therefore, I have nothing to lose except my life, which is nothing, so I trade my life for yours, as your life is favoured. The exchange is in my favour, so I shall not only kill you, but I shall kill many of you, and at the same time rehabilitate myself in the eyes of the group of which I am a member, even though I might be killed in the process.

    Americans have always seemed to me to obsess and measure themselves and each other. So going “Amok” will remain as much a part of this culture as long as we refuse to respect human beings merely for being human. But that contradicts what America truly believes in its actions: property valued above people.

    Prediction: At least 80 people will die next year in mass shootings.

    • MarcusB says:

      Very, very interesting that you bring up that definition of “Amok”. I had been in the mode of thinking that a lot of murder-suicides is a purely American phenomenon, but this isn’t the case. As has been pointed out, the debate has pretty much boiled down to two things : gun control and mental health awareness, 2 things that ARE purely American phenomenons.

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  5. Jerboa says:

    “It’s interesting that we think spree killers are motivated by fame, an idea so entrenched it is immune to critical examination, we assume that that must be what drives people, crazy people doubly so.”

    I think a better approach would be to say that humans are motivated by the need to feel important. Even an off-the-scale introvert like me wants to feel important, while simultaneously not wanting to be noticed or mentioned.

    To the extent that a shooter is discussed by the media, I’d prefer that they interpret his act and identity as insignificant. This doesn’t mean we should ignore shooters; you’re right that it clearly won’t work, but their story shouldn’t be reframed in the least positive light possible.

    I’m reminded of this passage from Gavin DeBecker’s book, The Gift of Fear:

    “Since we are discussing what amounts to a form of advertising, information following a public-figure attack could be presented quite differently than it is now. Law-enforcement personnel speaking with the press about a criminal who has been apprehended have tended to describe the arrest in terms of their victory over a dangerous, powerful, well-armed and clever adversary: “Investigators found three forty-five caliber handguns and more than two hundred rounds of ammunition in his hotel room. Since the perpetrator is a skilled marksman, it was touch and go when we stormed the building.”

    This attaches to the criminal a kind of persona doubtless attractive to many who might consider undertaking a similar crime. I have recommended a different approach on my cases, one that casts the offender in a far less glamorous light. Imagine this press conference following the arrest of a person who was planning an assassination:

    Reporter: Would you describe the man as a loner?

    Federal agent: More of a loser, actually.

    Reporter: Did he put up any resistance when taken into custody?

    Federal agent: No, we found him hiding in the bathroom—in the clothes hamper.

    Reporter: Could he have succeeded in the assassination?

    Federal agent: I doubt it very much. He’s never succeeded at anything else.

    Ideally, the agent would always switch the focus to the people and special methods that act in opposition to assassins, keeping the focus off the criminal.

    Federal agent: I want to commend the eight-man team of special agents whose investigative work and application of new technologies made the apprehension possible so rapidly.

    I propose that we don’t show the bullets on the bureau in the seedy hotel room; show instead the dirty underwear and socks on the bathroom floor. I propose that we don’t arrange photo opportunities that show the offender being escorted by ten federal agents from a helicopter to a motorcade of waiting cars. Show him instead in a mangy T-shirt, handcuffed to a pipe in some gloomy corridor, watched by one guard, and a woman at that. Not many identity-seeking would-be assassins would see those images and say, “Yeah, that’s the life for me!”

    Conversely, guarded by federal agents (just like the president), whisked into waiting helicopters (just like the president), his childhood home shown on TV (just like the president), the type of gun he owned fired on the news by munitions experts extolling its killing power, the plans he made described as “meticulous”—these presentations promote the glorious aspects of assassination and other media crimes. Getting caught for some awful violence should be the start of oblivion, not the biggest day of one’s life.”

  6. kiddink says:

    “Which is the whole point: the system is designed to fail in specific and predictable ways, because a tragedy that is the result of a failure of the system is much easier to live with than a tragedy that happens for no reason, even though they are equally common and equally dead.”

    This is fucking terrifying.

    So it’s either failure of system, or no reason; why this dichotomy in people’s minds? Why does the system have to be the reason? Is that just what people jump to? Blaming the system? Because they don’t know what/who else to blame? Because they don’t want to blame themselves? Because they’re programmed to think the system is the solution and problem to everything?

    “Which is the whole point of the frantic hyperactivity. It’s not to prevent it, but to feel like it is going to be prevented. I realize this doesn’t sound very satisfying, but on February 13, you will realize it was.”

    ‘The loudest guy in the room is usually the weakest guy in room because he usually needs to prove something because he usually doesn’t feel confident in himself’—extrapolated and generalized across our culture and we have people yelling because they don’t know what else to do or think that they can’t do anything or think that even if they try, it won’t help?

  7. JohnJ says:

    When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

    That’s why, no matter what the problem is, you think the solution is the same as the solution you propose for every other problem. You believe that all problems have the same cause, because that’s what you see in every ink blot.

  8. BHE says:

    Who is saying the shooter isn’t motivated by rage?

    You don’t think fame can’t be a secondary motivating factor? These shooters may not watch CNN but they sure as hell know who Dylan Klebold is.
    Is it really that hard to imagine that their thinking is something along the lines of “I’ll show them all and then they’ll be forced to acknowledge me”? Aren’t these shooters usually marginalized to extreme degrees? Aren’t they raging about that sense of unimportance by taking it out in a way that makes them important?

    I think wanting these events to be handled differently by the media is different from saying the government should intervene in the way they are reported. The media is making choices and people can speak out about the choices they make.

    • TheCoconutChef says:

      While what you want may be nominally different that the result you get, you may still militate for those results.

      You may claim you “only” want the media to handle these events differently, but how hard will it be to convince you (provided you aren’t already) that no hyper-corporation will volountarily change their behavior, that there need to be a moral counterforce in order to oppose an amoral profit seeking entity? After all, was there any money in it, wouldn’t they already handle it differently?

      I believe we would incidentally be right about some of these propositions and then might even get what we wish for.

      And, I mean, even if you don’t come to these conclusions yourself somebody that matters more than both of us times a million combine will and then what?

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  10. Red says:

    A society that mass-manufactures automatic weaponry, has mass-scale education bureaucracies and mass media is the same kind of society that has mass killings. School shootings like these are not a failure of a system, of our culture — they are the culture. These children were necessary sacrifices.

  11. motard en colere says:

    The whole discussion of gun control seems to me to be a giant diversion. A collective exercise in “let’s all talk about this so we don’t have to talk about something else!”. I’m not sure what that something else is. It might be some genuine reflection about the place of guns in society rather than crafting piecemeal and reactionary responses. Maybe there’s a really important world event going on and there wasn’t an important enough celebrity willing to die to distract us from it. Maybe the fiscal cliff, who knows.

    • qubitman says:

      Maybe this and everything you listed or could list is a distraction from something worse than any of it.

  12. TrickMcKaha says:

    You write as if mass killings of 5 year old children are old hat and that people will accept any illusion of control over this sort of thing. As if – we all keep taking off our shoes to enter an airplane but the flights keep getting hijacked anyway. No. Either we will find ways to prevent the mass slaughter of our children or we will find ways to end the mass slaughter of our children. Things our society and government try may not work at first, but until these tragedies stop I bet the efforts to prevent them will not stop. I think you underestimate the horror. Cynicism may be cool, but it is no answer for preventable mass killings.

  13. TrickMcKaha says:

    You also arrive at the conclusion that change will only be through authoritarianism. I disagree that authoritarianism has grown over the past 250 years, and I find the most significant changes in recent history came through non-authoritarian means. Fax machines, the internet, automobiles, and international air travel have empowered people far more than guns, politicians, and armies have. I think we can change people’s attitudes about guns and about mass killing. OK, not by hollering about it, but who is hollering anyway?

  14. TrickMcKaha says:

    Like this: guess the number of people killed by burglars in the US in a year.
    The answer is 100, according to the FBI crime statistics web page.


    Please spread the news, and only then ask, “What are you afraid of?”

  15. EricF says:

    It is now February 13th, and the State of the Union address yesterday had quite a bit of gun-control talk in it. I don’t know if the system will change in any meaningful way, but at the very least it seems the discussion is still ongoing.

  16. Or says:

    With all the high-profile people who have killed with or been killed by guns since Newtown, it’s probably going to happen. But when the only recent mass murderer’s manifesto speaks in favor of gun control, you do have to stop and think…

  17. dovahkiin says:

    I think it’s somewhat wrong to say that fame has zero to do with the shootings. If they didn’t want to get on TV or internet, why choose to be so public about it? Why choose movie theaters and colleges and primary schools? Someone who wasn’t interested in fame would do something that would not get the media to tell their story. For example, sniping randomly around the city. There’s no “mass event” so no media.

    Rage does work, I think but it seems that rage would be aimed at a particular target, not random strangers.

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