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It's All About Him

Postby Omaha Red Sox » Wed May 02, 2007 8:24 am

It's All About Him

Thursday, Apr. 19, 2007 By DAVID VON DREHLE
Carsten Rehder / EPAArticle ToolsPrintEmailReprints

My reporter's odyssey has taken me from the chill dawn outside the Florida prison in which serial killer Ted Bundy met his end, to the charred façade of a Bronx nightclub where Julio Gonzalez incinerated 87 people, to a muddy Colorado hillside overlooking the Columbine High School library, in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wrought their mayhem. Along the way, I've come to believe that we're looking for why in all the wrong places.

I've lost interest in the cracks, chips, holes and broken places in the lives of men like Cho Seung-Hui, the mass murderer of Virginia Tech. The pain, grievances and self-pity of mass killers are only symptoms of the real explanation. Those who do these things share one common trait. They are raging narcissists. "I died--like Jesus Christ," Cho said in a video sent to NBC.

Psychologists from South Africa to Chicago have begun to recognize that extreme self-centeredness is the forest in these stories, and all the other things-- guns, games, lyrics, pornography--are just trees. To list the traits of the narcissist is enough to prove the point: grandiosity, numbness to the needs and pain of others, emotional isolation, resentment and envy.

In interviews with Ted Bundy taped a quarter-century ago, journalists Stephen Michaud and Hugh Aynesworth captured the essence of homicidal narcissism. Through hour after tedious hour, a man who killed 30 or more young women and girls preened for his audience. He spoke of himself as an actor, of life as a series of roles and of other people as props and scenery. His desires were simple: "control" and "mastery." He took whatever he wanted, from shoplifted tube socks to human lives, because nothing mattered beyond his desires. Bundy said he was always surprised that anyone noticed his victims had vanished. "I mean, there are so many people," he explained. The only death he regretted was his own.

Criminologists distinguish between serial killers like Bundy, whose crimes occur one at a time and who try hard to avoid capture, and mass killers like Cho. But the central role of narcissism plainly connects them. Only a narcissist could decide that his alienation should be underlined in the blood of strangers. The flamboyant nature of these crimes is like a neon sign pointing to the truth. Charles Whitman playing God in his Texas clock tower, James Huberty spraying lead in a California restaurant, Harris and Klebold in their theatrical trench coats--they're all stars in the cinema of their self-absorbed minds.

Freud explained narcissism as a failure to grow up. All infants are narcissists, he pointed out, but as we grow, we ought to learn that other people have lives independent of our own. It's not their job to please us, applaud for us or even notice us--let alone die because we're unhappy.

A generation ago, the social critic Christopher Lasch diagnosed narcissism as the signal disorder of contemporary American culture. The cult of celebrity, the marketing of instant gratification, skepticism toward moral codes and the politics of victimhood were signs of a society regressing toward the infant stage. You don't have to buy Freud's explanation or Lasch's indictment, however, to see an immediate danger in the way we examine the lives of mass killers. Earnestly and honestly, detectives and journalists dig up apparent clues and weave them into a sort of explanation. In the days after Columbine, for example, Harris and Klebold emerged as alienated misfits in the jock culture of their suburban high school. We learned about their morbid taste in music and their violent video games. Largely missing, though, was the proper frame around the picture: the extreme narcissism that licensed these boys, in their minds, to murder their teachers and classmates.

Something similar is now going on with Cho, whose florid writings and videos were an almanac of gripes. "I'm so lonely," he moped to a teacher, failing to mention that he often refused to answer even when people said hello. Of course he was lonely.

In Holocaust studies, there is a school of thought that says to explain is to forgive. I won't go that far. But we must stop explaining killers on their terms. Minus the clear context of narcissism, the biographical details of these men can begin to look like a plausible chain of cause and effect--especially to other narcissists. And they don't need any more encouragement.

There's a telling moment in Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine, in which singer Marilyn Manson dismisses the idea that listening to his lyrics contributed to the disintegration of Harris and Klebold. What the Columbine killers needed, Manson suggests, was for someone to listen to them. This is the narcissist's view of narcissism: everything would be fine if only he received more attention. The real problem can be found in the killer's mirror.
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Postby Coppermine » Wed May 02, 2007 9:46 am

Nice article Omaha, I couldn't agree more. I always thought that when a tragedy like Columbine or VT happens, people are quick to blame everything and everyone other than the killer himself. Video games, television, music, society, parents, teachers, friends... where is the accountability? Does the killer's own death de-personalize him so much that we can't say that he did it because he was a sociopath?

And prevention too; excellent point about Cho; comparing himself to Jesus Christ, telling teachers he was lonely but voluntarily extracting himself from society... ignoring greetings and conversation with other students. Nothing could have changed what he did in my opinion, it would have happened... it was just a matter of when and where. You can only point fingers for so long.
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Postby great gretzky » Wed May 02, 2007 10:05 am

I read that in the Time and thought it was fantastic. I'm tired of all the excuses all the time myself.

They definitely aren't in the same reality. Who says stuff like "I didn't think anyone would notice."? Or Cho ignoring people then complaining that he is lonely. I mean on a day to day level its like the girl who stays in and watches movies, then wonders why she can't meet a good guy. You just have to wonder how these people actually think, because their perception is definitely way off base.
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Postby Omaha Red Sox » Wed May 02, 2007 10:14 am

great gretzky wrote:its like the girl who stays in and watches movies, then wonders why she can't meet a good guy.


That's my neighbor. !+) :-°
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Postby Coppermine » Wed May 02, 2007 11:10 am

Omaha Red Sox wrote:
great gretzky wrote:its like the girl who stays in and watches movies, then wonders why she can't meet a good guy.


That's my neighbor. !+) :-°


You should go knock on her door :-D
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Postby great gretzky » Wed May 02, 2007 11:15 am

Coppermine wrote:
Omaha Red Sox wrote:
great gretzky wrote:its like the girl who stays in and watches movies, then wonders why she can't meet a good guy.


That's my neighbor. !+) :-°


You should go knock on her door :-D


NICE guy being the operative word here...

Ohh burn...

j/k
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Postby Absolutely Adequate » Wed May 02, 2007 11:43 am

As always with Time, I thought the article was shallow and empty. Yes, people don't give enough blame to the person who committed the crime but instead focus on external causes.

The reasons are twofold:
1. These crimes have become much more common in the last few decades in the US
2. By looking at causes we can change, we are empowering ourselves to help stop future cases.


I mean, we've always had sociopaths in society. Since the beginning of time they've been here, self-absorbed and unfeeling. However, it is only in the last few decades that they've been attacking society with such regularity. Why is that? Are they fundamentally different from their sociopathic ancestors? I don't think so.

There is something about our society that pushes these already crazy people a step further.

God, I hate Time magazine. What a waste of paper.
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Postby great gretzky » Wed May 02, 2007 11:56 am

Absolutely Adequate wrote:

I mean, we've always had sociopaths in society. Since the beginning of time they've been here, self-absorbed and unfeeling. However, it is only in the last few decades that they've been attacking society with such regularity. Why is that? Are they fundamentally different from their sociopathic ancestors? I don't think so.

There is something about our society that pushes these already crazy people a step further.



Really? I don't think this generalization is exactly accurate. The per capita murder rate in the western world has been on the decline as compared to earlier times. Perhaps its harder to get away with it now? I don't think the data support the "regularity" because our ancesters didn't keep such data on hand. I'd also add that the modern school house is not exactly some ancient thing, its basically been around since the 1850's, and the heavily populated campus is even younger. And the experiences were fundamentally different. So I don't think comparing the things is always that illustrative.
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Postby Coppermine » Wed May 02, 2007 12:07 pm

great gretzky wrote:
Absolutely Adequate wrote:

I mean, we've always had sociopaths in society. Since the beginning of time they've been here, self-absorbed and unfeeling. However, it is only in the last few decades that they've been attacking society with such regularity. Why is that? Are they fundamentally different from their sociopathic ancestors? I don't think so.

There is something about our society that pushes these already crazy people a step further.



Really? I don't think this generalization is exactly accurate. The per capita murder rate in the western world has been on the decline as compared to earlier times. Perhaps its harder to get away with it now? I don't think the data support the "regularity" because our ancesters didn't keep such data on hand. I'd also add that the modern school house is not exactly some ancient thing, its basically been around since the 1850's, and the heavily populated campus is even younger. And the experiences were fundamentally different. So I don't think comparing the things is always that illustrative.


Gretzky is right and this is something I try to point out to people but they refuse to listen because you WANT the world to be more violent. Yes, there is in an increase in incidents where people go out and shoot a bunch of people at once but there have always been serial killers and the world is a safer place now than it was 20, 50 or even 200 years ago.

If we're going to blame the media for anything, we should blame them for informing us. There was time a where people didn't know what was happening outside their own neighborhood. I think knowledge and information is power, unlike some people who truly believe that it's a negative force. It's all in how it's interpreted. Yeah, we've always had sociopaths... we've also always had mass murders. If you look at the facts, we're a lot safer now than we were back in the "good old days."
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Postby knapplc » Wed May 02, 2007 12:11 pm

That’s a really good point, Cu. The media has a tough problem – it’s their obligation to inform us of the news, but at the same time there’s a part of that process that helps to disseminate ideas to people that may not have had those ideas had the media not reported on them. The answer is not to have the media stop covering stories like VT and Columbine, but rather a more mature audience that views these stories without the narcissistic need to copy-cat them.
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