Yesterday I published a brief piece arguing that the Santa Barbara shooting had less to do with solo mental illness and more to do with a bigger ideology or worldview that makes it acceptable to kill someone without seeing that as wrong. I noted that past mass killing events like the Rwandan genocide have been prime examples of a lot of people suddenly coming to the belief that the morally “right” course of action is actually the immediate extermination of a class of fellow humans. Maybe there’s a “mob mentality” / Salem witch trial hysteria element to it, but at its core, it’s not so much that everyone suddenly went crazy but that everyone was primed by received messaging to believe that mass murder was now acceptable because of reasons.
In the grand scope of history, I’d hypothesize that the number of ideologically motivated murders astronomically outnumber those committed in a lunatic haze by someone who is just totally out of it and has no sense of up or down, let alone right or wrong. In fact, I’d even go as far as guessing that in the United States today, more mentally ill people who are confused are accidentally killed by police than other people are killed by a mentally ill person on a rampage. It happens, but not much. Plus, those people basically don’t have any idea what they’re doing. Which is vastly different from premeditating an elaborate killing spree for specific, defined reasons based on ideas (not, say, amorphous perceived threats or imagined voices).
It’s disrespectful, at best, to suggest automatically that a mass shooting is the result of mental illness (and, at worst, contributes to further stigmatization which can only make it less likely people who need help will seek it). But it also conveniently and decisively removes any opportunity to discuss the ideological motivations or worldview that actually led a person (who may or may not have a mental health issue) to commit a violent crime. It requires an ideological component well beyond any mental atypicality to take a socially awkward person and make him angry, hate-filled, murderous person. Not everybody who is awkward or struggles with mental health challenges has that reaction.
A reader posed several questions to me, in response to the original post:
Don’t you think you’re going down a slippery slope here? With that mentality you could attribute every awful thing anyone does to their having a different ideology. Also, he didn’t live in a society where killing girls who aren’t interested in you is OK. If he wasn’t mentally ill, how did he develop an ideology that almost no one else around him shares? I don’t doubt that a lot of guys think women owe them sex, but don’t you think you have to have some issues to take it to the extreme that he did?
I think that’s a fair question to ask me, to the extent that I didn’t fully explain why I was making the argument. So in the interest of clarifying, I’ll answer that in full, for everyone’s benefit: