Been talking about this with a friend for a few months, but have been reticent to say anything. We’ve had a myriad of mass shootings in the past couple of years, and whenever one takes place, the press and thus everyone gets distracted by either their own political agenda or the alleged agenda of the killer: girls rejected them, abortion is murder, Daesh allegiance, mommy didn’t love him, Black Lives Matter. None of it makes sense, however. We’ve got a single epidemic with a thousand causes? Doesn’t seem likely. If we want to solve this problem, we need to search for commonalities, links, and shared causes rather than using each individual tragedy as an excuse to spout off about one subject or another.
At the end of the day, these are all just flashy suicides. The pet cause each killer trumpets and their targets can be found somewhere to the right of your Facebook Timeline in the bar marked “Trending.”
Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killer who arguably made what I’m going to call “Trendkilling” trendy, wasn’t bullied. He was charismatic and well-liked (though not deeply, because no one knew him), just like every psychopath. He only claimed to be bullied because he knew the hysteria it would cause after his death. He knew it would get us to become bullies to the bullied because we’d see them all as potential killers. The shooter who claimed he was mad at women for rejecting him killed more men than women and was not a member of any Men’s Rights association as was claimed. The one who attacked a black church while wearing a swastika was, just a month prior (just long enough to be around when he started planning his elaborate death), a regular attendant at the church and friend to his black fellow parishioners. The BLM sniper, through shooting police in a county that had famously reformed their police department and lowered brutality, likewise accomplished the opposite of helping the movement he claimed. At this point, every mass killer has to know that the result of their attack will be a loss of sympathy for whatever cause they claim and an increase in mayhem. We must conclude, then, that this is the true goal.
That Trending Bar, those things we obsess over or yell at one another about all day, is a great blueprint for planning an attack. It guarantees headlines and lengthy arguments. Particularly if you design your attack not to make sense, like claiming an underdog movement as you commit an atrocity designed to erode sympathy for that movement. The cognitive dissonance ensures all sides of the discussion to follow will be defensive and confused in equal measure.
Violent psychopaths and sociopaths, both homicidal and suicidal (often all in one), all have one thing in common: they can’t connect. By definition, they lack the social skills for deep friendships and the basic empathy we take for granted that allows us to see ourselves in others all day. Absent of it is a lonely place to exist. Just because you can’t connect doesn’t mean you don’t want to. The inability may drive one to suicide one week, but homicide the next as one oscillates between hating oneself and envying those who possess and take for granted what for them must seem a superpower. Now, let someone going through this see that headline and experience the fallout of a trending tragedy around them — look, everyone’s talking about the killer, not just his name, but his deeds. He matters. The whole world cares that he existed, even if only for one shining moment. Subconsciously, this has to be a motivating factor. Why go out when you can go out with a bang? Why die apart from everyone, the same as yesterday, when you can make a connection in the only way you know how right before? When you know they’ll be talking about you for weeks to come?
In the past, the way to make headlines and manufacture connections when one didn’t possess empathy or the basic human tools to connect was to be a serial killer. Like any addiction, it starts with one small death to feel power in a world you feel apart from and powerless in, moving up the food chain and toward ritualization. All, though, really in service of the headline. Of mattering. Of connecting with thousands all at once, and then ending your miserable existence. It only makes sense in the Social Media age that killing one person at a time wouldn’t be enough to properly connect anymore. You have to reach hundreds in one second and die instantly thereafter.
The adage “Don’t feed the trolls” comes to mind. What are trolls but the comments section’s minor sociopaths? Gaining power from our frustration, and mania with our indifference. The only way to stem the tide of mass killings then is to stop reporting them, something unlikely to happen. Ubiquity normalizes behavior, no matter how condemned. Articles featuring details, not just the names of the killers, but their deeds, fuel the perception that these acts are a viable solution to their problem. But we cannot ignore the deaths of large numbers of victims to help prevent the next one. Silence isn’t a message that can be sent. What then?
The only thing I have to offer is this: stop letting the killers dictate the discussion. They aren’t doing it because they’re MRA or BLM or IS or Pro-life or Goth or unpopular. They’re doing it because they want to kill and they want to die. They want those things because they’re sick and alone and disconnected from humanity (an increasing condition due to the internet, just as Industrialization did at the turn of last Century). So maybe say, “Another sad loner, estranged by the common disconnect experienced by human beings during a paradigm shift, committed suicide via terrorism today,” rather than feeding into the ideological misdirection or making anyone famous. Maybe notice that as the false, addictively unsatisfactory, corn syrup saccharine of social media rose, so did the amount of disconnect. As the disconnect rises, so do Trendkillings. And a Trendkilling is just a flashy suicide.