Although there has been discussion in this column about the state of mind of a would-be mass murderer, it would perhaps be appropriate to delve further into the process by which a person is activated into committing a random massacre. We start with the proposition that modern technological environments and consumer technology in particular have made all of us somewhat numb and many so profoundly numb that they have to fight off tendencies to become like will-less zombies. I have talked about a person numbing his own will through conative anesthesia as a defense sometimes used against the sensory distortion that is so prevalent in modern technological society. Yoga, meditation and certain drugs are used to accomplish this. But much of the time the numbness a person experiences today is involuntary and is the result of living in an experiential vacuum filled with frictionless and mediated experience, a place where a person can gain little or no traction to engage the world fully and have rich vibrant experiences, make, receive and preserve organic imprints, participate in a meaningful life narrative and prepare for death with a surrogate immortality. A person who is experiencing this involuntary numbness is in a living death where he is conscious of being alive, but is incapable of properly carrying out the functions and having the experiences that validate his being alive. It is an immobile, paralyzed, impotent life that is in some ways still appears like ordinary life, but in some ways, is like death. To the person who experiences it, it is intolerable, and such a person longs for some experience or event that will pull him out of this life situation and help him to really feel again.
Once in such a profound state of numbness, a person loses his ability to properly absorb a lot of the experiences in life that people have traditionally taken for granted. Because the person can’t absorb them properly, they threaten to overwhelm his consciousness, his sense of self. Along comes such an experience and it impacts him strongly and causes him to feel in a way as if he is dying. To deal with it, he overreacts in order to mentally attempt to take control of it and push it away from him. The slightest little experience, the slightest little stimulus can throw him off balance. One way to gain control of it is to become angry and violent. Anger and violence allow for the expulsion of a lot of uncontrollable feelings created by the unsuccessful absorption of an external experience or stimulus. And it is a way for the person to deny the threat to himself and to project the threat to himself onto others. It is a way for the person to say “It is not me who is dying, but rather it is everyone else who is dying.” Again we are talking about ordinary life experience that can unpredictably trigger a reaction or set off a tripwire in the person’s mind. As was discussed in a previous article, the profoundly numb mind is a little like dry tinder that once lit can set off a conflagration.
After the person has committed a mass murder, he frequently ends up killing himself. This is separate from the suicide bomber who kills himself while committing his mass murder. In the first instance, the person has killed many people in order to gain the explosive friction to pull himself out of his numbness and at least temporarily feel fully alive. But then he discovers that in spite of his intense labors, the effect that he is searching for is only temporary, and he sinks back into his numbness.
Does this mean that when he is killing himself, he is simply giving up any hope of permanently pulling out of his numbness? That is a possibility. But another possibility is that nothing can help a person feel temporarily fully alive in the same way that he is about to voluntarily kill himself can. It may be the ultimate kick. The person is literally going out with a bang.
The Islamic suicide bomber, among other motivations, honestly feels he is leaving the vacuum of a technological world that makes him feel numb and impotent and is going to a paradise where among other things, he will have seventy-two virgins to satisfy him. To him, that would represent an environment of great physical and emotional grounding.
The common denominators for all these murderers is numbness and how to use extraordinary strategies to try and pull out of it. In today’s world, we all suffer the effects of numbness as a result of our modern technological living environments. But these murderers are profoundly numb people who, as a result of their chronic numbness, have very fragile senses of self. The problem is that it is not so easy to identify all these people by their surface behavior. After they perform their heinous actions, other people who study the murderers analyze their lives and frequently say that there were obvious signs that something wasn’t quite right with them. Of course, there are lots of people who come off as being imbalanced and never get involved in any kind of homicidal or even physically aggressive activities. At least at present, there doesn’t seem to be much hope going down the path of trying to separate out all those people who are potential murderers. In many situations, they appear to be not too different from you and me.
Perhaps there is another approach that can be taken to begin to eliminate the predisposition of many people to commit mass murder. Unfortunately, because we are surrounded by our modern technological living environments, it is difficult to totally escape their influence. But there are things we can do to minimize their effects in our private daily lives. We don’t have to fill our homes with all the gadgetry that is part of the Internet of things. This is the gadgetry based on sensors that interconnect everything and make our whole house seem like one frictionless machine, a machine that requires our intervention with buttons and levers and dials at only a few points in the processes it creates to run our homes.
But this is a phenomenon that is just beginning to happen in our lives. What is really much more insidious is the consumer technology that we have that involves our constantly entering the alternate realities of screen reality and increasingly virtual reality. These harmful consumer technologies, with which we voluntarily choose to engage, create subtle problems for all of us. But for a small minority, the influence is of such a nature that these people are turned into mass murdering monsters. It would be good for all of us to ween ourselves from the excessive use of these technologies. But for these profoundly numb people it would be crucial. Finding ways for all of us to start living more of our lives in primary experience in external world reality, would be a healthy shift in our daily patterns of being, diminishing the numbness that we feel. And if it helps pulling some profoundly numb people away from the need for anger and violence to feel alive, then maybe we can start to control this epidemic of mass killings that is engulfing us.