Are Shooting Spree Killers Following A Cultural Script?

Via the Public Library of Science, Daniel Lende on the need to understand horrific mass shooting as a cultural practice with underlying meaning, rather than as anomalous, randomized insanity:

Paul Mullen, the esteemed Australian forensic psychologist, invokes cultural scripts as central to understanding why young men like James Holmes, Anders Breivik, and Jared Loughnerdo what they do. It is not because they are insane, some idea that seized them from the inside. Rather, they act out something – and the young men who do so are not random members of society, but have definable characteristics.

Mullen compares these mass killings to the Malaysian amok, a recognized “culture-bound syndrome” often defined as a “spree of killing and destruction (as in the expression “run amok”) followed by amnesia or fatigue.” (For more references, [search] Google Scholar for “amok Malaysia”.

Mullen also counters the common explanation in the United States and elsewhere that these killers must somehow be insane or mad. He distinguishes between a common sense view of mental health – “of course he was mad” – and a technical sense of mental health (“clinically insane”). Most of these men are not clinically insane in the way typically recognized.

Interestingly, they’re not like many offenders, they don’t tend to have problems with alcohol and drugs. They’re certainly not impulsive, quite the reverse. These are rather rigid, obsessional individuals who plan everything extremely carefully. And most of these massacres have been planned for days, weeks, sometimes months ahead.

9 Comments on "Are Shooting Spree Killers Following A Cultural Script?"

  1. TennesseeCyberian | Dec 31, 2012 at 5:38 pm |

    I agree with basically everything that this gooney old Australian academic says in the full ABC interview video: that mass killings follow a cultural script, that the killers are not “random” so much as rare, that the Internet only exacerbates the problem by feeding a mass murderer’s narcissism, etc. Of particular interest is the fact that mass killings among the Malaysians have been normalized for over a century. No one in the West ever mentions the international popularity of mass murder.

    But by the end of the interview, when Paul Mullen seems to suggest that authorities should conduct some universal dragnet of online sites that attract killers, scoop them up (?), ” sort out the sheep from the goats,” and then “give them the help and assistance they require to deal with the problems which are overwhelming them,” his sour old face certainly takes on a more sinister appearance.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Dec 31, 2012 at 7:38 pm |

    these few incidents of mass murder
    ( 62 mass shootings in 31 years in US – an average of 2 mass shootings per year)
    pale in comparison to the mass murders
    committed by the US military on a periodic bases
    (Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan come to mind)
    the number of people killed in those mass shootings
    is a small fraction of those killed by US peace keepers

    so wtf is the problem
    why all the belly aching in a nation
    that regularly practices mass killings outside its boarders?
    what’s good for the geese is good for the Homelanders

    • Apathesis | Dec 31, 2012 at 8:45 pm |

      It’s because these mass murderers don’t have a ‘License to Kill.’ The military and police get a pass because they are ‘highly trained’ and those institutions “don’t just accept anybody.”

      Imagine if Adam Lanza was a ‘properly trained authority.’ Notice how there are never calls for gun control after cops murder innocent people.

      • No, they get a pass because they’re on the ‘right’ side. It doesn’t have to do with being ‘highly trained’. They are the big gang that’s in charge and often operate with impunity. There are many vindictive, argumentative, domineering, egotistical personalities among their ranks that socialize the others.

        • Apathesis | Jan 1, 2013 at 10:06 am |

          I was trying to imply it rather than be blunt. People who say the things I paraphrased do so because they obviously respect and trust authority over themselves and/or others.

  3. emperorreagan | Jan 1, 2013 at 7:54 am |

    I absolutely agree that it’s a cultural issue and that in all of these cases people beat around the bush looking for easy answers.

    One thing that I’m very grateful to my parents for is how strict they were about television and movies – makes me feel a bit clueless sometimes when people get excited about transformers movies or rambo (unless it Star Trek or Looney Tunes, my “have you seen” response to most 80s and 90s TV/movies is no) – but I ultimately missed out on a lot of cultural programming that my peers received.

    I struggled enough with rage at teachers and feeling penned in by school without being exposed to a culture that tells you violence is an appropriate response to problems.

    • I’m grateful to your parents for recognizing how weak-willed you apparently are.

  4. Cultural scripts are very important as the ‘violence’ is being defined erroneously as individual based and not genetically and culturally as it should Professor Mullen expands on the notion it is the class itself which has to be addressed as the issue rather than the individual. The comment below is on the notion of violence as a class issue rather than the individual which tends to leave communities ill advised on actual risks.

    “Although that proved true for the great majority of patients, recent research has demonstrated that schizophrenia sufferers, who are prone to psychosis and paranoia, are significantly more violent.

    Professor Mullen said many researchers and mental health advocates were reluctant to admit this, and the “community care” treatment available from hospitals and medical centres had proven to be hopelessly inadequate for the small group of severely mentally ill people who were prone to violence.

    “I think it’s a great pity that we have been so one-eyed,” he said. “It’s rebounded on us because it’s become very difficult to convince our colleagues that preventing patients from hurting people is part of our job. In a sense, we have solved one problem and created another.”

    The belief that mentally ill people are not inherently more violent became widespread in the 1980s following a major research project known as the MacArthur Study, which tracked US prisoners after their release from jail. That study has since been criticised, but many mental health advocacy groups continue to insist that mentally ill people are no more violent than anyone else.”
    Mentally ill ‘more prone to violence’ BY:RICHARD GUILLIATT From: The Australian May 11, 2013 12:00AM

    Finally Psychology the determinant of the ‘normal’ will have to move from its ethical relativism, individual and cultural, to inform the reality of the risks both individuals and cultures hold for humanity, so humanity can develop societal policy which accounts for real life threats rather than a delusional view ‘Anyone who believes risks exist are stigmatisers, racists, bigots, irrational suffering from phobias.’

    Why is this article very significant in informing positive outcomes not only for the mentally ill but other areas of human interaction between cultures?

    1. The article underlines the reality of any individual, group, culture, Nation, each inform a consistent behavior set in a predictable variance derived directly from their foundation codex (genetic, cultural) which details what behavior will be rationally expected in time and space.

    2. The article reveals a truth humans necessarily utilize hierarchical classification constructs of classes to define entities so as to link knowledge and inform actions relative to the classified entities in time and space.

    Knowledge linked to a classifications class encompasses the meaning relative to each other class and the potential risks and benefits inherit in the class itself. If inherently a particular classification class informs in time and space within its consistent behavioral variance violence against Other, be it a specific mentally ill condition such as schizophrenia; be it a culture European, Indigenous, Chinese; be it a political construct, religious or secular, Socialist, Christian, Communist, Islam, Right/Left-Wing, Hindu, Free-Market, Buddhist then rationally the class as a whole represents a relative risk to Other and not simply individuals who may happen to be in the classifications class.

    Why is this distinction important, it is not the individual within the class it is the class as a whole upon which the relative risk to society must be evaluated? It is because classification classes have common traits (genetic and cultural derived) which cross all the entities within the class. These traits are the foundation upon which the subsequent variance of behavior are based. By addressing the violence itself as individual based, by erroneously unlinking such violent behavior from the actual underlying genetic and cultural cause, the class itself in this case schizophrenia (could just as well be a cultural class) negates any attempt to direct sufficient resources to adequately protect citizens in the short term as well as but more importantly the long term.

    3. This article shows clearly by underplaying, even negating the risks of interaction with mentally ill people and cultures the public policy required to direct resource to address cause, genetic and cultural simply does not eventuate. Instead humanity have precious resources invested in advertising campaigns and research based on deduction not induction directed to prove a falsehood mentally ill people pose no threat and neither do other cultures.

    4. The mentally ill and cultures with inherent violence are invalidly left with a false belief they pose no cost supported by the benchmark setter of the ‘norm’ the psychology fraternity. The mentally ill and cultures which inform violence consistently therefore have no need to take responsibility at all for their inherent behavior nor the rational reactions to it. Anyone who says they clearly pose a risk and the cause genetic and cultural needs to be addressed rather than just the violence itself to obtain better outcomes are determined heinous bigots.

    5. The argument against the notions expressed in this article are, not all mentally ill are dangerous and neither are adherents of cultures is utilised to go an astonishing step further, all in terms of interaction and public policy are due positive feeling of esteem or deference, fear is a phobia and attempt to increase social distance and demand resources be redirected to address cause not symptoms regarded as bigotry. This argument is fallacious for two reasons.

    Firstly it ignores the fact common class genetic and cultural informed traits underlie the violent behavior. Class necessarily informs a homogeneous state. You cannot I repeat cannot have the liberal, moderate, without the extremist, terrorist, you cannot have the relatively safe without the relatively unsafe as long as they derive from exactly the same genetic and cultural causation.

    Secondly it attempts, currently successfully, to transfer the responsibility for the violence from the source to Other. Other have to change their behavior and the violence will go away. If Other reduces social distance to accept the classes which are the source of the violence without judgement and provide them without impediment access to societal ‘goods’, employment, health services, etc which entail minimum social distance you associate with your nearest and dearest then everything will be OK. Given the genetic and cultural codex informing the behavioral variance for the individual and the culture have not changed how is it possible for the propensity for violence to be extinguished. It clearly is not. Distraction is not a cure for ingrained class traits.

    Who does this current Psychology of ethical relativism, individual and cultural, help?

    Not the actual and potential victims operating under the paradigm ‘Any fear of another entity is a phobia.’ Any move to effectively protect yourself or those you are responsible for deemed to be inappropriate behaviour and detrimental to the feelings and welfare of the actual entity whose variance of behavior consistently informs harm against Other.

    Nor the entities of whom knowledge has informed a real risk in time and space, be they individuals or cultures informing negative outcomes for Other, for these entities are informed they are in essence ‘normal’ and they have a right to be treated with the same positive feeling of esteem or deference as the rest of society; housing, employment, social distance, freedom of movement, etc. The reality of the knowledge of the relative threat rationally informs Others reaction based on the know variance of behavior which can and does rationally differ significantly from the individuals and cultures unrealistic expectation supported by current psychological discourse of ethical relativism.

    Nothing is therefore done via public policy to effectively address the issues and the ‘everything is subjective’ uncertainty discourse continues to ignore ‘subjective’ does not negate the objective contained within a statistical variance – you will in essence be assured in time and space violence will occur individual and culturally derived and if you leave yourself unprotected based on ethical relativism society and the individual citizens will pay the price for psychologies “one-eyed” drift however well meaning.

    Unless we confront the existence of violence and subjugation from whatever class derives from that class and develop policies to address the homogeneous underlying genetic and cultural causes rather than deal with pinpoints of violence from individuals determined as erroneously ‘perverting’ a dogma (which is impossible) or simply giving those with a specific mental illness an unjustified stigma, scarce resources will continue to be wasted utilizing the least innocuous example of the whole in space and time to prove all is well with the world. Such a tragic waste in so many ways as we see everyday.

    Personal Reflection on Terror Theory- The Mortality Salience – Regards Self or Culture?

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