Atlanta Shooting: The Rush to Oversimplify

Sunday, March 21, 2021
Glendale, California

Atlanta Shooting: The Rush to Oversimplify

My Dearest Readers,

[Before delving into a possibly life-endangering topic, I want to shamelessly self-promote a newsletter. It costs all of $70 per year, but you will get 50 issues/year. The newsletter is intended for depth psychotherapists, their patients, and anyone interested in the psychoanalytic field. To find it, cut and paste this url into your search engine: www.unconsciousjourneys.com. Thanks so much! Alan]

Hate crimes are awful.

More often than not, they are clearly delineated.

Here are a few recent examples:

If you just search for federal hate crimes, you’ll see that on August 6, 2020, a man assaulted an African-American man for reasons of racial hatred. On July 9, 2020, the Texas man responsible for the mass shooting at the El Paso Walmart was charged with hate crimes. His clear intent? To kill Latino people. Finally, on June 20, 2020, a New York man was charged with federal hate crimes for making anti-semitic threats to a Jewish resident of Stratford, Connecticut.

In sharp contrast to these three horrific incidents, the young man who killed six Asian women, and one Caucasian man, on March 16, 2021, was driven by multiple motivations. Hate might have been among them. However, it seems clear it was the lesser one. He sounds like a sexually-obsessed, religiously perverse, mentally-disordered, and compulsively sexual 21-year old male.

The thesis of this post concerns our cultural propensity to oversimplify.

I watched, with horror, as the biased media, on both sides of the political spectrum, rushed to hype this tragic episode as a hate crime.

Why worry about oversimplification?

Because it’s a form of propaganda.

It feeds fear in people around the world, heightening their proneness to loneliness and emptiness which, in turn, leads them to purchase useless items to lessen their mental pain.

Besides, our culture has enough trouble holding onto free speech these days.

Hate crimes are real.

They are, by definition, despicable.

But please watch out for the international pandemic of oversimplification.

Consider the myriad motivations causing the perpetrator, Robert Aaron Long, to admittedly commit these shootings.

He is, according to him and others who know him, engaged in compulsive sexuality over which he likely feels guilt and shame. Perhaps an excellent example of primitive mental functioning, he probably projected these negative emotions onto the massage parlor workers. Killing them, unconsciously, eliminated the sources of his guilt.

Ridiculous, I know, from a rational perspective.

But a real possibility from a psychoanalytic perspective.

Building on this motivation, fanaticism, in any religion, is associated with cognitive rigidity. It is likely Mr. Long demonstrated such rigidity—also a characteristic of all the personality disorders. This trend might add weight to the prior motivation noted.

Also, Mr. Long underwent treatment for his compulsive sexuality at an evangelical treatment center—hardly the standard of care for treating addictive behavior. What if they imbued him with a sense of shame for his “sinning?” That certainly would have contributed to the primitive splitting clearly evident from his homicidal behavior.

Another possibility, still similar, surrounds him projecting his own disturbed sexual issues onto workers at these massage parlors. In other words, he figured, unconsciously, eliminating them would eliminate his problem. Again, bizarre from a rational standpoint but the unconscious lacks rationality.

Provocative for gun advocates, we also cannot eliminate the contribution of the easy access to guns in Georgia. Here in California, you have a wait at least a week to obtain a gun. Not so in Georgia. Mr. Long allegedly bought the weapons he used to kill his fellow human beings the same day. There was no background check. “Most background checks, if there’s no flag on it, take about 100 seconds,” says Robyn Thomas, executive director of Giffords Law Center.

Now, hate may well also have been part of the problem. Donald Trump’s foolish leadership, featuring repeated racist comments like “The Kung Flu” or the “Wuhan virus” infected many people prone to simplification. Much earlier, Trump displayed an ongoing propensity towards public racism. On Sunday, July 14, 2019, he tweeted regarding four female freshman congresswomen: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” He was referring, of course, to Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali American; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, an African American; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, a Palestinian American; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a Puerto Rican. 

So, yes, hate needs to be considered as a factor here.

However, the evidence so far argues against it.

Imagine if Mr. Long were gay. He would have killed men. (The world’s propensity to oversimplify which is another form of splitting which is the most primitive ego defense mechanism). In that case, Long would have been accused of crimes against men.

In the final analysis, and whatever his motivation, Long’s behavior was heinous, evil, and cruel.

Of that no doubt exists.

A final irony, this kind of oversimplification, namely banner headlines in newspapers proclaiming Asian Woman Hate Crimes and similar BREAKING NEWS flashes on TV sets, is exactly the kind of thinking that creates racism in the first place.

Let’s all grow up, reflect carefully on the unending complexity of human motivation, and attend to media giving balanced rather than fear-mongering reporting.

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