By Dr David Laing Dawson
In the Buffalo killings there certainly are overtones of hatred, fear, racism and white supremacy. The authorities and pundits declare this was a “Hate Crime”, a crime motivated by “hate”, domestic terrorism.
Indeed the 18 year old murderer wrote a manifesto (at least partially cribbed from other manifestos), rife with references to “Replacement”, hatred for blacks, anti-semitism, and he planned his assault at a popular grocery store serving a mostly black community.
But I am writing about this because while the word “hate” or “hatred” is probably an apt description of the feeling state of Peyton Gendron before, during and after the shooting, it does not explain this tragedy in any helpful way.
During a time that seems almost quaint now, the late 1960’s, a friend and colleague pointed out that some of the LSD-driven popular literature of the time could be seen as instruction manuals for psychosis. Tune in, drop out, join a commune or Hare Krishna. And many teenagers and young adults searching for meaning (which really means organizing principles that provide some security and predictability) drifted into communes, communal pads, cults, and that strange Hare Krishna thing.
For most of us going through adolescence and youth our organizing principles, our realities, are formed through our daily interactions with others. For teens many of those interactions are with other teens, which can lead to some temporary extremes of idealism, pessimism, rebellion, and the adoption of some strange notions of identity and community. (Which is why it is so important to have teachers, coaches, bosses, uncles, aunts and parents within that sphere of daily social interactions.)
Now out of these interactions should come a sense of who we are, who we might become, how we fit in – a sense of how the whole thing works, a realistic sense of how the whole thing works, and what my part in this should or could be.
While we like to think of our identities and our realities as growing from some innate destiny, some inner soul, a self that we can find, we are actually social animals and to a great extent our thoughts, opinions, our sense of reality, our sense of what is causing what, derives from the thoughts, actions and opinions of others. We imitate and we oppose.
Some teens and youth cannot or will not avail themselves of the very real social interactions that would help them form a balanced, pro-social, rational system of meaning and identity. This includes some teens developing mental illnesses, and some on the autistic spectrum. But the need for the brain to arrive at some organizing principles persists. So they seek meaning and organizing principles elsewhere.
In the 60’s we might find meaning in cults, religion, pop culture, psychedelic literature, science fiction, counter culture literature, and serious literature, TV, and film.
Today we have the likes of Tucker Carlson, Jordan Peterson, thousands of other guru podcasts, websites and forums hosting a large number of conspiracy theories, the internet, the dark net, social media, video games and more …..
The man who killed people (women) with a van in Toronto was on the Autistic Spectrum and had found organizing principles and meaning in Incel.
Peyton Gendron found his reality in White Supremacist websites, podcasts, the internet published manifestos of other mass killers, and apparently Tucker Carlson and the Replacement Conspiracies. These explained the world to him.
And then he became delusional.
And I say delusional because it is one thing to flirt with, even partially or wholly believe any number of racist conspiracy theories, but another leap of grandiosity to go on a suicidal mission of mass killing with the delusional belief that this will……. Unfortunately only Peyton Gendron would be able to finish that sentence.
Which leads to this summary:
1. It is astonishing that an 18 year old can legally buy assault weapons. We need far reaching and effective gun control in every country.
2. Today, the internet provides a vast number of ways of viewing the world and ourselves, many of them fantastical, some of them dangerous.
3. We will always have some among us, usually socially isolated and/or developing a mental illness, who are susceptible to the worst of these conspiracy theories.
4. And a few of these will become sufficiently delusional and grandiose to take it upon themselves to act.
And these conclusions:
1. Gun control, gun control, gun control.
2. Maybe we can find ways of limiting the reach of dangerous ideas without damaging the principle of free speech.
3. There are warning signs often missed, not acted upon, or lost in our maze of institutions and administrative processes.
4. In some of these situations timely mental health/psychiatric intervention and treatment could be effective.
Last week for our special schizophrenia kindle book sale in honour of Mental Health Month https://www.prlog.org/12915487.html