Facts are still few and far between where the murder perpetrated in Las Vegas last night is concerned. Most of what we’re hearing is speculation about motives, along with spurious claims of responsibility by pissant Middle Easterners and political pablum by people for whom, pace Clausewitz, politics is the continuation of sports by other means. Pardon my sarcasm when I say, please tell me more about how national background checks, national reciprocity, or the Hearing Protection Act would have/would not have made it harder/easier to prevent these murders.

In the interests of promoting sanity in what has started out as an utterly insane week, I’d like to ask all the ladies and gentlemen of open minds and goodwill to kindly consider the following three points:

(1) Watch the language being used to describe the murder

Nearly every headline about this murder has referred to the perpetrator as a “shooter” or a “gunman.” They’re terming this mass murder a “shooting” — suggesting that the gun or the act of shooting was, somehow, the most important part of the story here. Folks, if — God forbid — I had been a fatality at last night’s concert, I promise you that I would have no concern about the method in which I’d been shuffled off this mortal coil.

What took place last night was a mass murder. The person who committed this atrocity was a murderer. “Shooting” happens every day, at ranges and in fields across the nation, in the pursuit of target practice, clay birds, and, indeed, happiness. I align with Dave Grossman here — the use of the word “shooting” to describe a mass murder like last night’s atrocity, is the understatement of the year at best, and an act of intellectual cowardice at worst.

That said, I don’t mean to imply a political agenda in the minds of those who use the term (some of whom, I acknowledge, are friends of gun rights). I’d like to gently suggest, instead, that the word gets used because it’s…comfortable emotionally. Comfortable in a way that transcends partisanship. Comfortable in a way that lets us ignore unpleasant things.

“Shooter” and “gunman” are very cold terms. They focus our attention away from the person, away from the motive, and toward an object. This is comforting for us, I think, because it allows us to focus on the how rather than the why. We as Americans are, classically, a can-do people who solve problems. We can come up with all kinds of gadgets and gee-gaws, laws and regulations, that (we think) will allow us to solve the “how”. The problem is that, as Robert McNamara learned in Southeast Asia to the dismay of nigh-on 60,000 of his fellow citizens, trying to solve the “how” without understanding the “why” is baking failure into the design.

Daniel Kahneman described this phenomenon quite well in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. We like solving problems. We get a mental boost when we do. But when presented with a difficult problem, our minds will sometimes solve a different one — one that is easier…but not the actual problem at hand. It’s common. When talking about a mass murder, the use of the word “shooter” plays right into our unconscious biases.”

“Shooter” draws our attention to the object, not the murderer. If it’s a gun issue…well let’s pass more gun control laws! Or repeal them! Let’s impose more gun free-zones! No, let’s get rid of them! The arguments are the same tired ones you, I, and everyone else with an interest in the right to keep and bear arms have heard and made dozens of times over. By this point, we could all recite them in our sleep. And yet…there’s comfort here. We know the script. We know the role we’re supposed to play. If it’s all about guns…we know what we’re supposed to do. We can feel like we’re doing…something.

But what if it’s not?

What if the issue isn’t the “how”, but the “why”?

Hold on to that for a moment.

(2) Don’t dismiss the murderer as a “nut job” who “snapped”

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo called the Vegas murderer a “psychopath” in a press conference earlier today, and a lot of people voiced similar sentiments. With all due respect to the Sheriff– who today must be doing a miserable and thankless job — psychopathy is a medical diagnosis that he is ill-equipped to issue.

To be fair, the Sheriff probably just wanted to express his feeling that the murderer was acting on impulses that not only made no sense, but had horrific, terrible, unthinkable consequences for innocents. Actions that to a decent man with good values — which describes most law enforcement officers — are utterly abhorrent. President Trump expressed the same feeling with superior word choice when he called the attack “pure evil.” Of course the President is skilled at such things and had the luxury of reading from a prepared statement, unlike Sheriff Lombardo.

The problem is that using “psychopath” to describe this murderer encourages us to go to sleep — or, at least, move toward solving the wrong problem.

Here, “psychopath,” “nut job.” “snapped”…they all express a similar idea. Some ordinary guy was walking down the street one day, minding his own business, then suddenly “went nuts” and decided he needed to murder a lot of people.

I suspect this idea is comforting to a lot of people, even if they wouldn’t describe it that way. Because once you start thinking of the murderer as just some kind of “nut job”, you pair that with the mental image of the cast of characters from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…and, suddenly, you’re not as inclined to think too hard about the problem.

You shrug your shoulders, say to yourself, “well, some people are just crazy” and move on. Maybe you go back to solving the “how” problem with a McNamarian devotion to data analysis…or maybe you just go for a tasty frozen coffee drink and call it day. Just another wack-o who snapped.

But look at what the Mandalay Bay murderer did. He carefully selected a soft target that would be populated by the sort of people he presumably wanted to kill. He booked a room that would give him a perfect vantage over his field of fire. He acquired equipment such as rifles, ammunition and (allegedly) a webcam system that was set up to let him see when first responders were coming for him. And he either obtained at least one full-auto rifle (which are very hard to come by) or altered a semi-automatic one to make it a machine gun. Then he smuggled all of that into the hotel to execute his plan. These actions…might be rather difficult for the proverbial drooling denizen of the asylum rubber room to carry out.

One other thing: this guy was sixty-four years old. And, as of this writing, no one has turned up significant information about previous encounters with police or mental health professionals.

When someone who’s generally lived a “normal” life gets to sixty-four and then does something horrible, my bias is to assume it’s because he really wanted to do it. And that the decision was made rationally. If he knows that his actions will result in hundreds of casualties and likely his own death — and he’s still okay with that — well, my default assumption, until I see facts that prove otherwise, is that he thinks he’s serving some sort of higher purpose.

That purpose may be bizarre, twisted, terrible and evil. It may be religious in nature. It may be secular. It may be selfish. It may be for the “greater good” (and I’d bet on the latter — evil only comes about when men wrongly think they’re doing good; we’re all the hero of the movie playing in our own minds, after all.) But he had a purpose in mind.

And that brings us to another unpleasant question: what is wrong with our society that we’re doing such a bad job selling good values to people? I’m not talking about being polite to your neighbor despite the fact he had an all-night party at his new pool cabana and didn’t invite you. I’m saying something as fundamental as: “Going on a mass murder spree is something fundamentally evil and wrong.”

Excuse me, but what the f@ck is wrong with our society that we can’t seem to sell that idea to people? We really haven’t had this problem before. Now we do. And these mass murders are happening more and more often, both here and in other outposts of Western Civilization. What’s changed?

That’s a difficult question. It will lead to places that are uncomfortable. The answer(s) will inevitably weave its way through things such as postmodern American popular culture, the decline of American Judeo-Christianity, politics, and even the Constitution. But I am convinced, more than ever, that this is the correct path to investigate and, eventually, solve the “why” problem.

3.) Stay away from public events

If you’ve stayed with me this long, you get a piece of solid, practical advice for your perseverance: don’t bother with public gatherings for the near future.

The old saw offered to newly-minted concealed carriers used to be: avoid stupid people in stupid places doing stupid things. I’m afraid in light of recent events, of which last night’s mass murder is simply the latest example, going to a concert, sporting event, or any other venue with a large amount of people is simply a soft target for someone who wants to emulate what happened last night.

Do I go too far here? No. The people who perpetrate these sorts of mass murders are looking for lots of soft targets, and these sorts of venues are made to order — all the more so when the law-abiding are required to be disarmed by act of property owner policy or the force of law. Is your life worth the chance to see a live concert, when the music can be had for under $20 online? Is your life worth watching a live ballgame, when it can be seen at home for a $150/season subscription? Is your life worth going to a crowded nightclub for a romantic encounter when — let’s be honest here — you usually meet a better class of people through friends or online?

Speaking personally, I feel much safer walking down the streets of Detroit at night with my sidearm strapped to my hip than going to a concert, a game, or a nightclub. Armed or otherwise.

That’s enough for now. A lot of verbal and possibly legislative defecation is about to hit the oscillation — to borrow from the late Louis Awerbuck. Keep your powder dry, and focus on what’s important.

 

 

32 Responses to Keep Focused on What’s Important after the Mandalay Bay Massacre

  1. Ok I disagree on two things. One, yes, he absolutely snapped. That doesn’t mean he was a “proverbial drooling denizen of the asylum rubber room”, however. He snapped long enough ago to carefully plan this murder out. Two, I absolutely refuse to allow myself to be scared of going to public events. I will continue to go, I will continue to go to the strip and I won’t change my lifestyle because of this one catastrophic event. After 9/11 I didn’t stop going to high rise buildings, after 10/1/2017 I will not stop going to concerts, sporting events, mass gatherings, etc.

    • Just because someone decides to kill people in an awful, horrific way, does not mean they’ve snapped.

      The 9/11 murderers, for instance, perpetrated their crimes in the name of their religion. They believed what they were doing was right. They valued something I don’t, and committed mass murder in the name of those values. I believe their values were awful, and something no civilized person would embrace, but I can’t say they weren’t values of a sort.

      Choosing to act in accordance with values that are contrary to all that you hold good does not mean that someone snapped, even if the actions resulted in scores of people dying senselessly. They were acting in accordance with what they’d allowed themselves to believe was right. It was…rational.

      • All preliminary indicators indicate this guy did not act alone. Not a “gun guy” but somehow came to acquire or convert a semiauto to full auto? Stash nearly a dozen firearms in a hotel room, set some up on tripods and go to town? Just because he was the only guy in the room when the door was popped doesn’t mean he was the only guy involved.

  2. “… well, my default assumption, until I see facts that prove otherwise, is that he thinks he’s serving some sort of higher purpose.”

    *BINGO*

    Someone, who may be simply suicidal or given a medical death sentence *coldly* decides to ‘take one for the team’ to achieve a political outcome.

    People like *that* are one of reasons why I carry…

    • It does make you wonder doesn’t it?

      FWIW, this comment system sucks. In fact it sucks so bad you can’t comment on it’s suckiness a good deal of the time.

  3. “Do I go too far here?”

    Yes. Yes, you did.

    Gathering with like-minded people (fans of a certain team, listeners of a certain artist, worshipers of a certain God, members of a certain political party) is a most enjoyable aspect of human existence. Refraining from such activity because of some perceived risk is folly and would only serve to reduce the quality of life for everyone.

    The fact remains, riding in a motor vehicle on the public roadways is far and away the most dangerous thing most Americans do on a daily basis. Everything else, from attending a concert to visiting a gun range, is several orders of magnitude safer by comparison.

    • Some of us are enochlophobics. Continuing to avoid mass gatherings makes my life better not worse.

        • No.

          My close family and close friends are the only people I enjoying spending time with (and yes I need that). Otherwise I converse with others just to make a living, to politely get by, or to vent here on the internet behind the mask of anonymity.

          I’d much rather spend my time punching holes on paper or messing with a small block. Animals 2 or 4 legged please stay away from me.

    • Lots of things are enjoyable. But the question is: does the potential pleasure outweigh the potential risk?

      Can’t really quantify that. Gotta go with what you feel.

      Personally, I find far more pleasure in a small gathering of close friends and family than sitting among the anonymous masses at a rally, concert, or show. Of course, I also have a family and a really nice home, and so I genuinely enjoy sticking around home unless we’re out to visit friends old or new. So yes, it’s easy for me to say ‘avoid large public events’.

      Keep in mind, though, that wouldn’t have been my recommendation if this massacre appeared to be a one-off thing. It sure doesn’t seem like these things are anymore, does it?

  4. Confirmed: Las Vega shooter Stephen Paddock was a REGISTERED DEMOCRAT, voted for “Her” (Diane Rodham aka “Hillary Clinton”) in the Presidential Election and voted for Obama twice.

        • Read & Weep: https://twitter.com/paydirt101/status/915043092088188929

          Shooter was a DEMOCRAT since 1984 when he was in Palm Beach Fl.

          Additionally Kevin Martin (a Black Conservative) working for President Trump’s administration as an advisor reports that the shooter belongs to nearly ALL the same “anti-Trump” Facebook groups as Scalise shooter James Hodgkinson including being OFA/Obama and big Rachel Maddow fan. Scroll down his page to see the post: https://www.facebook.com/kevv.martin?ref=br_rs#

          “The shooter, Stephen Craig Paddock, 64.. a white liberal Democrat, hated President Trump and spoke openly about his political views. They are as follows…

          Political Views per his Facebook page:
          -Proud to Be A Democrat
          -The Rachel Maddow Show​
          -Thank You Obama
          -Anti-Trump Army
          -Progressive Day,
          Organizing for Action (Soros)
          -Not My President
          -Fight Trump
          -Boycott All Things Trump
          -Impeach Trump

          I am sharing, because the media won’t.”

  5. This is thoughtful, compassionate, and well-argued.

    And were I to post it to Facebook, 90% of my “reasonable” friends would call me every nasty name in the book, and the rest would unfriend me immediately without further discussion.

    The inability to have discussions past screaming political talking points–the ones, as you so accurately point out, we all know BOTH sides of by heart–seems to have effective killed civil discourse at the moment. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, we scream our catechisms, pat ourselves on the back, and wait for our friends to do the same.

    This simply can’t end well for our society.

  6. Well, now, let’s not go overboard with the Ted Kaczynski hermit impersonation. You can still attend public events and just accept the absolutely minuscule risk that goes with them. I absolutely enjoyed my AC/DC concert tix and all things considered, the risk of getting blasted by a terrorist was quite acceptable.

  7. A well written read! I won’t avoid large gatherings, but will always keep my head on a swivel and alert to surroundings. That’s the best one can hope for in these days and times. Carry when and if you can.

  8. I believe it will eventually come out that he is another crazed Hillary voter, just like Steve Scalise’s shooter.

    ..Either that or it is a false-flag attack – Though I can’t imagine what the perpetrators of that circumstance would be seeking to gain. (Perhaps just to hurt Trump’s presidency and alienate him from his base by pushing him towards a gun-control policy?).

    The amount of planning involved certainly shows that if he was a sole actor, then he had been making preparations for several months.

    Also, they say over a dozen guns were in his hotel room… (and he’d purchased around 30) how could a single person expect to use more than 3-4?? That part does not make sense at all.

    • “…how could a single person expect to use more than 3-4??”

      You’re expecting rationality where there may be none. The ability to plan and execute this speaks to (at minimum) a decent level of intelligence, diligence, moderate attention to detail and the ability to go through each step without stopping the plan.

      None of that means the guy was sane or rational. People can be crazy and moderately intelligent or complete genius level intelligence at the same time. The really smart ones can hide their insanity, sometimes for a very, very long time.

  9. With regard to point #2 values etc.

    IMHO this is a trap to being discussing. There have been people of questionable morals since the beginning of time. Likewise there have been people were, for lack of a better term, evil. That’s not news. At all. People have been doing terrible, fucked up shit to each other since before we had the ability to record history.

    The major change now is that for a small, demented, segment of the population who feel marginalized by society and probably do have some sort of mental issues, doing something like this in the modern work is a way to get famous. We all know the names James Holmes, Adam Lanza, Dylan Roof etc.

    Now, ask yourself how many people could, off the top of their head tell you who Andrew P. Kehoe was? Even though this asshole is ranked 4th worldwide for body count in an attack on a school, and still holds the #1 spot domestically (VT being #2 domestically and 5th worldwide) I would be willing to bet you that walking down the street you’d have to ask A LOT of people who he was before you found one who knew. For those that didn’t know you could tell them that he killed 44 people in an attack on a school in Michigan, 38 children and 6 adults while wounding another 58 or so people. Hell, you could probably even tell them the name of the event, The Bath School Disaster and they’d still have absolutely no idea what you were taking about.

    Why? Because Andrew Kehoe did what he did on 18 May, 1927.

    So, I really don’t see this as a “values” issue. It’s a societal issue for sure but one that’s probably based on narcissism mixed with mental problems mixed with the way that we practically promote this shit by kind of glorifying the perpetrator. Now, I know that’s not the intent and that statement will piss off a lot of people but in a sick way it’s true and in the mind of a sick person, well that’s how they’re going to see it and if they’re the one with the gun or the detonator or the box truck it’s their view that matters if we’re trying to stop this sort of thing.

    The other thing I would say is that I would be careful saying he had a “higher purpose”. I know some people will saying I’m being overly clinical with my language here but I would say he had an “objective”. That objective may be nothing other than wishing to die and take as many people with him as he could, possibly while immortalizing himself by doing it or maybe just because why not? or maybe just because he felt that other mass shooters didn’t do it right.

  10. After reading the article I have a couple of counter arguments that I feel need to be made. ( full disclosure I am not an american so feel free to tell me to butt out and mind my own buysness )
    1. Nearly every headline about this murder has referred to the perpetrator as a “shooter” or a “gunman.” I understand the fear that guns will be demonized and gun owners stigmatized as a group after the attack. But come on, he shot almost 60 people dead “shooter” is a pretty accurate description here. You can argue that “gunman” is more sensationalist and I will grant you that. But it’s not that far off the mark, this wasn’t a mass stabbing or a bombing. I do however agree that attention should not be focused on the weapons used. In the US there will always be easy access to guns there is simply no escaping that.
    2. I agree with you on this. The mental health angle and the motive of the individual need to be examined in greater detail and understood in depth. Since guns are there to stay, for better or worse ( that’s up to the american people to judge ) there will always be mass shootings, there is no perfect system. However if more attention is given to helping people with mental health issues it may help reduce the frequency of the events.
    3. I think you go too far here. Don’t go to concerts or movies or the theater or the opera or a sporting event or a night club is your advice, how about a restaurant or a ted talk or the park? In a city there is nothing to do (other than staying home) that does not involve a crowded place and in developed nations almost 75% of the population lives in cities. While I understand the spirit in which the advice is given I personally feel it’s not good advice. There will always be places and circumstances that will render you vulnerable or even defenseless, but the gains in my opinion far outweigh the risks. Having a gun on your hip is not a magic shield from harm it’s exactly like insurance. It gives you a much better fighting chance under some circumstances but does not cover every eventuality and getting it to cover everything would be too “expensive” to be worth it.

    • I appreciate your comments, and would encourage you to ‘butt in’, as I feel it’s important to hear ideas originating from a different perspective.

      That said, I find your statements unconvincing.

      1. Respectfully, if you’re acknowledging that the term is more “sensationalist”, you’ve pretty much given up the argument to me. Case in point: would you object if we referred to a perpetrator of a mass murder who used an automobile or truck as his weapon of choice as a “driver”? Or: calling the 9/11 hijackers “flight crew”. If you would object to those terms, then that’s a clue that there’s something…sanitizing about the word.Something that’s leading you away from the truth.

      Again: this was a murder. It was perpetrated by a murderer. Not a shooter. Not a stabber. Not a bomber. Not a driver. Not a pilot. Murderer.

      2. I don’t fully agree here. While I endorse the idea that more effort should be spent on mental health, I’m not sure how much that would’ve helped here. This fellow was, apparently, living a life generally unnoticed by government officialdom. He never would’ve entered the system in the first place. More to the point: I haven’t seen anything yet that he wasn’t acting ‘rationally’. (Remember: ‘rational’ does not imply that he’s a good person doing righteous things.)

      3. The urban/rural numbers are far different in the USA — 62%, I believe, are ‘urban’, according to the US Census. Worldwide, according to the UN, it’s 54% urban.

      It is an interesting question about whether or not the trend toward urbanization will continue, and the political/social consequences of that….and is something I’m writing about now. So I will save my comments for that upcoming piece.

      (Aside: I discourage the use of the term “developed world”, as it is often just a smokescreen behind which people cook the data. E.g., is China “developed’? Mexico? Bulgaria? Belarus? India? New Zealand? The term originates from, essentially, Cold War academic propaganda, and was based on concepts appropriate to the mid-20th century, not the early 21st.

      Case in point: isn’t China more “industrialized” than New Zealand? And yet, how many would say New Zealand is “developed” but not China?)

  11. “I’m saying something as fundamental as: “Going on a mass murder spree is something fundamentally evil and wrong.”

    Excuse me, but what the f@ck is wrong with our society that we can’t seem to sell that idea to people? We really haven’t had this problem before. Now we do. What’s changed?”

    We’ve produced a degenerate society that has a lot of shiny stuff, but is essentially empty inside. We are a nation that prosperity has turned into narcissistic children that violently lash out for any, and no, reason. We’ve done this to our selves. Principles are harder than convenience. Thinking is harder than not. It’s easier to sit on your ass and watch some bullshit on TV than reading Locke. I don’t think I can do better than Chuck Palahniuk in summing it up:

    “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives, we’ve been all raised by television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars, but we won’t and we’re slowly learning that fact. and we’re very very pissed off.”

  12. Advising people to not attend public events is the worst advice. I for one refuse to be intimidated and will continue to attend public events. My life is not going to be put on hold on account of one murderer or one thousand murderers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *