Thursday, October 5, 2017
Las Vegas Shooter: Psychoanalytic Conjectures
Faux* journalists, like Erin Burnett on CNN, dramatically proclaimed Monday night:
We just don’t know why he did it, we just don’t know…
Police officials, pathetically offering greater access to the truth than journalists these days, plan to leave “no stone unturned” until they determine the motive.
However, three days in, and we do know a few things about mass murderer Stephen Paddock, at least enough to elicit some hypotheses about his behavior.
Paddock purchased 47 weapons legally, 33 in the past year. He installed bump stocks in the AK47s so they functioned like machine guns. Several pounds of the explosive, ammonium nitrate, were found in his car. He installed sophisticated video cameras in and near his hotel suite, tracking the police when they approached. He planned his mass murder for months if not years. He checked into the Mandalay Bay Hotel extremely well prepared to kill scores of human beings.
Paddock had no criminal record, but his father was a convicted bank robber who abandoned his family. Paddock’s mother lied to him about the status of his father, saying he was dead. These facts suggest a potential genetic component of psychopathy as well as likely early childhood trauma.
Employees at a coffeehouse Paddock frequently patronized with his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, repeatedly observed him berating her in public. He abused her verbally; he objectified her. They said,
He would glare down at her and say — with a mean attitude — you don’t need my casino card for this. I’m paying for your drink just like I’m paying for you.’
The observations of the coffeehouse employees go further, revealing not only a propensity to abuse women but an actual example of his doing so. That last line, “… just like I’m paying for you,” contains multiple levels of insult: you’re a prostitute, you lack worth, I own you, etc. Paddock was married and divorced twice. His interpersonal history suggests problems with intimacy.
Also, Paddock was a high stakes gambler — literally living in comped Las Vegas hotel rooms for months at a time — even though he had a home nearby. Compulsive gambling suggests a person on the narcissistic spectrum. They use behaviors they can control — drinking, taking drugs, shopping, over-eating — for pleasure. It is called “narcissistic” because these persons fear intimacy; they control these outside sources, and thus the word narcissism applies. They access these substitutes for love will, rendering them less vulnerable to interpersonal hurt.
In brief, available evidence already suggest Paddock displays instability in interpersonal relationships, a propensity to retreat into narcissistically gratifying activities, a capacity for emotional abuse, a startling lack of empathy for other human beings, and a coldblooded ability to carefully plan for mass murder. Further, he could have genetic psychopathy and likely childhood trauma.
What can be inferred, psychoanalytically, from these few facts?
First, Paddock likely projected self-hatred, and perhaps the terror, loneliness, and emptiness he felt into his real and intended victims. Whatever immense evil resided in him, he projected onto them. He represented good; they represented evil. He took misanthropy to unimaginable heights. Paddock killed 58 complete strangers to him.
In other words, his behavior may have been a form of projective identification. He used nonverbal means to communicate his own feeling states to others. Paddock almost certainly has no conscious access to these emotions. He evacuated them entirely. He literally projected them into his victims, spreading intense emotional pain through the bullets he sprayed from his hotel room.
Second, Paddock objectified the victims. He behaved much like soldiers trained to view opponents as “the enemy.” They became things. Obviously, he had no empathy for the music festival attendees. He was incapable of imagining the terror of the uninjured attendees, the shattered lives of the injured, or the profound pain of the relatives and friends of the dead.
Third, Paddock must have harbored a festering hatred of others for years. He carefully prepared for these murders. He likely waited for a public event like the country music show. He thought through the best way to frighten, kill, and injure hundreds of people.
How did Paddock develop these propensities?
Here, we encounter the mysteries of human behavior. No mental health professional understands why persons develop the specific problems they display later in life. For example, women sexually abused as children will almost always become symptomatic, but no one can predict what form the symptoms will take. Some will develop self-injurious behaviors, like cutting; others will repeat the pattern and become involved with abusive men; still others may become bulimic or anorexia.
Ergo, even Erin Burnett, with whom I would hate to agree, may be correct.
(I imagine she’s a fine person, but wish she could apply her journalistic skills to an entity interested in them, like The Economist.)
We will almost certainly never fully understand Paddock’s motivations.
Nonetheless, enough potentially causative factors exist, all in dynamic interaction with one another, to at least partially explain his motivation. A genetic component likely exists, perhaps entirely explaining the psychopathy with its total absence of empathy. Early childhood factors likely also contributed.
And we should consider, as Erin Burnett did not, the de-humanizing forces affecting all of us. Social media, technology, sensational “journalism” (the rise of the spectacle accompanied by the decline of literacy) invites all of us to lose our sense of community, to degrade our capacity for intimacy. Not many folks have “heart to heart” talks anymore. Social media promotes one-way communication — look at my car, my friends, my fancy food! The immense insurance companies treat us like metal pieces ready for machining. The advertising industry has had centuries to study how to frighten us, and convince us that buying a material item will provide comfort.
Paddock was a millionaire; materialism brought him no peace.
Also, what happened to the government’s role as protectors of the people? Even hard-core NRA members cannot rationally argue in support of purchasing a literal arsenal of military grade weapons. Why did Paddock’s purchase of so many intended-to-kill-humans guns in the past year escape the purview of law enforcement? Another causative factor, then, is the failure of even reasonable governmental regulation.
If not a true psychopath — a lizard-brain — Paddock was at least a deeply wounded, seriously emotionally disturbed person. He harbored chronic hatred for humanity, including himself. His actions clearly tell us that much.
Now, the tragedy is over, the pain has been projected, received, and we all — mostly the victims and their loved ones — face unbounded grief, sadness, loss, fear, and other emotional experiences incapable of reducing to words. Any amount of understanding, whether empirical or conjectural, cannot soothe the pain.
We just have to live with it.
*CNN’s ratings went sky high during their coverage of hurricane Irma, accelerating the cable news network’s descent into pure spectacle; any respectable journalist writhes in conflict over CNN’s cowardly submitting to the demands of capitalism rather than upholding journalistic ethics.
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