On Learning From Psychopaths

This morning, in Colorado, a man opened fire on a crowd of people after putting a gas canister in the theater.  I,  and probably everyone in the  legitimate media (“professional” media?) will want to make something out of it. We will try to learn a lesson from it, make meaning of it, as human beings naturally want to do. We will ask ourselves, individually and as a nation, “Why did this happen?” and “What can we do to prevent it?”. You know what? I don’t care why it happened. I care that it happened, and I might care about how not to have it happen again if it doesn’t involve a change in behavior on my part.  I want it to change behavior on the shooter’s part.

I read someone’s comments this morning and they were talking about doing something re: gun laws. OK, I can go with that. I’m also against gas canisters indoors and yelling “fire” in a crowded movie house. Perhaps we need to look at the culture of violence that the Batman series shows.  OK. Perhaps we need to spend more on mental health services to identify people like this before they become people like this. OK. But you know what? I don’t want to do any of it because of this psychopath. All of the things I suggested above, we should look at — at some point. But I don’t want to give people like this  credit for anything.  I don’t want to try to understand the kids from Columbine — ever. I don’t want to consider the demands of terrorists or gun-toting drive by shooters or child kidnappers or serial rapists.

When 9/11 happened, The Nation magazine had two columnists discussing it — one who said we should accept blame for whatever they think we did. The other person said “even if that’s true, no one has the right to take a life”. I guess it was a big controversy. I’m with the second guy.

I am sick of being terrorized by terrorists. I am sick of going crazy worrying about random criminal people. I am sick of curtailing my kids’ childhood because some pervert doesn’t feel they got one. Each of these people is a spoiled brat in one way or another.  That’s it. They’re throwing a tantrum big enough so the whole world will feel their pain, but no one’s pain justifies taking someone the life of someone else. No unreasonable loss of  one person’s freedom justifies the unreasonable loss of someone else’s freedom.  In a population of 100,000 or 1,000,000 people, one person with a gun doesn’t get to effect the lives of all the others, or paint the tint on my world view. You may remember that there was a campaign in England after a terrorist attack where people said, “I am not afraid” and posted it on the internet. I think terrorists increased the number and severity of the attacks.  You know what, though? That’s what brats do. If one temper tantrum doesn’t get your attention, they throw a bigger one. After awhile, the behavior extinguishes (goes away).

As horrible as some people’s lives are — and, as a therapist, I have heard some horrible , God-awful stories in my time — we don’t have the right to pass along our pain. We shouldn’t pass our pain onto our children. We shouldn’t pass it on to our friends, our neighbors, our countrymen and countrywomen or people overseas.  We might need to give it back to the people that gave it to us, but even then, I hear that taking life via capital punishment  doesn’t really give closure. Just because the second person is dead doesn’t bring back the first person.

When I was 18 or 20 and had first come home from college, I had learned how incredible community could be, for the second time in my life (after Deering). Apparently, around the same time in West Covina, where we lived, there were gangs doing random drive-by shootings. My mother was terrified that I might go to the 7-11 near our house and get a slurpee. But the statistical chance of me and a specific gang member and a specific bullet being in the same place at the same time were so small I went anyway. The odds were so much in my favor that I’m still here to write about it.

We cannot give into fear. We cannot stop going to the store, or the movies, or to the park or our yards or hallways. When we give in, we die. If I’m going to do that, I want to actually die. This is why it’s better to be dead than to be a vampire or a zombie in mythology. We’re all going to die sometime. Living and dead at the same time is no way to be.

So, this weekend, I’m going to probably see The Dark Knight Rises. Or maybe I’ll wait til it works best for me — when time and finances allow. In any case, I will go, because I was planning on going and I’m not going to change my behavior because of some psychopath in Colorado. I might think about the violence or not. I might contemplate what happens when we escalate our violence. I might support funding for mental health or gun control.  But I never want to understand the way these people work, because I don’t want to give them the time of day. There is nothing they can say to justify their behavior.



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