Saturday, October 7, 2017
Further Reflections On Las Vegas Shooter
Nearly a week has pasted since the Las Vegas shooter, Tim Paddock, ended 58 lives and destroyed hundreds of others at the Route 90 Harvest music festival.
Print, internet, and broadcast journalists continue to wring their hands over his motive. So do law enforcement officials.
I explain why I find the disaster less puzzling. This enhances my my post earlier this week which you can see at:
Two psychological trends come to mind–the nature of psychopathy and of narcissistic retreats—both of which I introduced in the earlier post.
J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist specializing in psychopathy, helpfully differentiates between primary and secondary psychopaths. Primary psychopaths are dominated by anti-social feature of their personality. Some mental health professionals consider it a genetic, biological condition depriving these persons of a conscience (conscious) or of a superego (unconscious); others think it results from extremely traumatic childhood experiences like exposure to incest, satanic cults, or repeated, brutalizing beatings.
In a lecture Dr. Meloy gave years ago in Pasadena, he recommended that if you are kidnapped by a primary psychopathy, and he drives up the 5 freeway with you handcuffed in the backseat, you should jump from the car (if you can). Your chances of survival by rolling out of the car at 80mph exceeds those of your remaining with a man who will surely kill you.
Primary psychopaths, likened to reptiles, experience no emotion whatsoever in response to hurting or killing another person. Killing someone feels the same to them as shaking their hand.
Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer prize for his fictionalized account of the life of a primary psychopath and mass murderer Gary Gilmore. Executed by firing squad in Utah during 1977, Gilmore’s last words were:
Let’s do it.
Another formidable expert in psychopathy, Robert Hare, has written extensively about psychopaths in every life. They can be successful in business; they often excel in politics. They are charming. They look socially involved. In truth, they care only about themselves. They are incapable of even imagining your world view, and they never feel guilt.
Primary psychopaths differ from secondary psychopaths in terms of the primacy of the anti-social features. The California prison system, for example, incarcerates mostly secondary psychopaths. These are individuals who are capable of violence, even murder, but only in a broader context. They might kill the owner of a liquor store during a botched robbery. However, it’s not their primary motive.
Secondary psychopaths often encounter law enforcement officers because of poverty, drug or alcohol addiction, and other psychosocial problems. These life difficulties impair judgment. They may lead those afflicted to find themselves in situations where an immediate need overshadows their weakened conscience/superego. Burglars are surprised when homeowners walk in on them. They panic and kill them. Unlike their reptilian cousins, they typically find the violence emotionally upsetting.
Meloy, Hare, and many other mental health professionals including me advocate for a prison system that aggressively treats and rehabilitates (in the true sense of the word) secondary psychopaths. Primary psychopaths, in contrast, need to be isolated from the rest of society. They cannot help but exploit the vast majority of humans who are social animals.
Like the difficulty in differentiating primary from secondary psychopaths, mental health professionals also struggle to distinguish between what Otto Kernberg calls “malignant narcissists” and psychopaths (primary or secondary).
In truth, telling them apart is often impossible. Theoretically, primary psychopaths have absolutely no capacity for telling right from wrong. They lack any conscience or superego. Malignant narcissists have at least the tiniest seed of these capabilities. Given the right interventions, these socially beneficial capacities can be expanded.
Persons on the narcissistic spectrum rely excessively upon sources of comfort over which they have complete control. They tend to abuse alcohol, drugs, or food; they may compulsively shop, gamble, engage in sexual activities or otherwise participate in self-gratifying behaviors they control.
Sometimes, these people also behave in anti-social fashions.
For example—and considerable information about Paddock has emerged to validate this—he seems to have been negative towards, and felt uncomfortable with, other people. He was obviously involved in gambling, probably to excess. Although an inferential leap, it may well have been that his interest in gambling represents just such an inward turning propensity. He likely was a malignant narcissist.
Sadly for the dead, injured, and grieving of his Sunday night attack, Paddock’s having either psychological deficit invites likely hypotheses about his behavior. Whether primary or secondary psychopathy, or malignant narcissist, he likely gained great internal pleasure from silently planning his attack.
Instead of relying solely upon gambling, Paddock could have used the planning of the attack as another internalized, silent way of stimulating himself. Imagine the hours he spent purchasing guns, altering them, buying sophisticated video surveillance equipment, and planning his assault. Likely, the idea of keeping the motivation a mystery to the outside world propelled him forward.
Most mass murders have a motive. Some seek sexual gratification; some enact traumatic scenes from their childhood experiences through their victimization of others; still others seek to promulgate terror or further political agendas through their destructive acts.
Paddock appears to have achieved his unique goal of committing a horrific crime for which no obvious outward motivation exists. We can only hope that, now that he has created his evil mark, other psychopaths, or malignant narcissists, will be less likely to act out in the same way.
Babiak, P and Hare, R.D. (2006). Snakes in suits: when psychopaths go to work. New York: Harper.
Kernberg, O. (1995). Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism. New York: Aronson.
Mailer, N. (1979). The executioner’s song. New York: Random House.
Meloy, J.R. (1997). Violent attachments. New York: Aronson.
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