NIHILISM: THE TUCSON GUNMAN & THE OTHER PARALLELS

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Nihilism:

The Tucson Gunman

And the Other Parallels

Cross reference my three articles on the 2011 Arizona Massacre:

< http://jaygaskill.com/Tucson11.htm >

< http://jaygaskill.com/jaredTheKiller.htm >

< http://jaygaskill.com/DefendingCuddles.pdf >

The profiles of Charles Manson, a teenager named Scott Dyleski and, now, the case of US. Vs Jared L. Loughner are revealing a similar pattern.

Here are the three premises from which the rest of my discussion will follow

[1] Ideas, including the modern torrent of images, sounds and other information, directly affect the mind, even to the point of altering one’s brain pathways.

[2] Malevolent ideas, in this broad sense, can erode or even destroy one’s moral orientation.

[3] Evil is a real force or influence within the human condition. To deny this feature of our history is beyond foolish.  Think of Evil, of you will, as a malign package of attractive lures, a pathogenic subset of ideas, bound together by a general negation, anti-life, anti-human, anti-creativity and anti-intelligence.  As a cluster of malevolent ideation, Evil attacks the vulnerable and susceptible among us.  Evil is opportunistic, an eternal threat.

I resist the popular notion that Evil is “just” a mental illness.  That qualification acknowledged, the medical (or more usefully, the epidemiological) model is still useful as metaphor.  We just need to keep clearly in mind that we are dealing with a moral category, here, not a physiological one.  When we naively use the medical model, the core problem is this:  A physician who seeks to cure a sick person is morally neutral in the sense that even a serial killer should be treated.  But a person who is operating under the spell (metaphor again) of a durable evil mindset can be lucid, physically healthy and “well balanced”, just morally reversed, if you will.

If an evil mindset is an infection, it is a moral infection.   Moral breakdown begins with nihilism, the world view that, in its naked form, represents the affirmative rejection of morality.  Drawing room elites have toyed with the theory that morality is personal preference, like one’s lipstick choice or brand of beer.  For these intellectuals, such ideas are a harmless parlor game. No, these elites do not rape and pillage their neighborhoods; but that’s a small consolation.

They are the Typhoid Maries of the culture.

Inevitably, nihilism grants the license to do evil

It now emerges that Loughner is a nihilist.

“He was a nihilist and loves causing chaos, and that is probably why he did the shooting, along with the fact he was sick in the head,” said Zane Gutierrez, 21, who was living in a trailer outside Tucson and met Mr. Loughner sometimes to shoot at cans for target practice.”

New York Times 1-11-11

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/12/us/12loughner.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss&src=igw

This calls to mind another example that I studied in 2005, the gory Goth murder of a woman named Pam in Contra Costa County, California, by a teenager named Scott.

Some excerpts:

“Why did Scott Dyleski, a 16 year old suburban male, brutally murder Pam Vitale and carve a double armed cross symbol in her back? Then why did he attempt to eviscerate her abdomen?

“Don’t tell me this was some ordinary crime.

“Post conviction, we have good reason to believe that Scott Dyleski was particularly receptive to the morbid and warped elements in the local teen culture, and that he found in that stylistic darkness, an “art” that contained the precursors and suggestions of evil.

“You don’t have to believe in some medieval version of Satan to understand the reality of evil in the modern world. In any reasonable sense of the term, the language and images that Dyleski apparently found so attractive -see my discussion below – suggested real evil. Far, far too many of the graphic and musical narratives that enthralled Dyleski were explicit anti-life urges.

“Bleak calls to despair and meaninglessness are as harmful to the teenage mind as a computer virus to your hard drive. And these images and narratives were too often coupled with the symbols of murder and mayhem. Not to put too fine a point on it, they were invitations to evil.

“I grant that this kind of analysis, especially the use of the “E” word, tends to make “modern” minds a little uncomfortable.  And the crime itself did not?

“Not every teenager is susceptible to this crap.  Why was Scott? And not every neighborhood contains a cesspool of satanic followers.  Did Scott’s? Are there others? The internet seethes with this stuff. What was going on in Lafayette?

“And why is any of this important?

“No parent of a killer, mugger, burglar or robber wants to feel responsible for the acts of his or her child.  Yes, responsibility does shift; the new generation gets to carry its own guilt. The sins of the children are not those of the parents.

“But…

“All parents are at least minimally responsible to prepare their children for the challenges of the world.  As part of that preparation, the parent generation needs to impart a robust moral code to those who follow.

….

“In a Blair Witch Project moment, investigators were startled to find a recently decapitated calf’s head and a hand saw (with bits of fur) nailed to the shed wall.  Recall one of the pictures that Scott Dyleski made for art class: It depicted a human or humanoid figure with an animal head holding two severed human heads, one head in each hand.

“His “morally neutral” art teacher gave him excellent grades.

“Children and young ‘adults’ are subjected to a seductive torrent of bizarre, unfiltered material, both emotionally and morally disturbing; it seethes through the culture and the adolescent sub-cultures like a computer virus. This toxic material is relatively harmless to those who are well rooted in the deep ethical traditions that have upheld humanity, but it is highly contagious to New Age addled juvenile minds.  These are the malogens, the information-carried toxins (really they are moral pathogens); they saturate the internet; they are carried by computers, cell phones and personal contact wherever “modern” juveniles congregate.

“Last year I was pleased to exchange some of these ideas with a political scientist, Maria H Chang.  Professor Chang is author of ‘Falun Gong: The End of Days” – Yale 2004. She has written a paper, ‘Christology in Popular Culture: Christ Images as Antidotes to “Malogens”’

“’Transmitted via the media are cultural pathogens, for which retired Alameda County public defender Jay B. Gaskill has coined the word “malogens.” These are “malevolent” ideas, images, and themes in popular culture that are “as dangerous to the developing mind as biological pathogens are to the developing body.” The pathogens are transmitted through personal contact and the media—in music, movies, television, video (or virtual) games, and on the Internet. The malogens behave as opportunistic infectious agents seeking fertile breeding grounds, sometimes attacking and overtaking entire subcultures. The teen subcultures especially are vulnerable because they are among the most under-protected targets in American society. [Fn. Jay B. Gaskill, “Reading the Defense: The killing of Pamela Vitale-Horowitz,” September 23, 2006, http://www.jaygaskill.com/Vitalehorowitzdeath.htm. ]

“’That the malogens are malevolent or evil can be seen in two ways. Gaskill identifies the first “telltale” sign to be “the celebration of violent, even homicidal imagery”; the second is “a nihilist, even anti-life ethos.” [Ibid.] Indeed, Gaskill’s conception of malogens as being malignant is consistent with a definition of evil among psychiatrists. Erich Fromm saw evil as “all that serves death” and “all that stifles life, narrows it down, cuts it into pieces.” [Fn. Erich Fromm, The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 47.] M. Scott Peck similarly observed that evil is “live” spelled backward. “Evil is in opposition to life. It is that which opposes the life force. It has, in short, to do with killing. Specifically, it has to do with murder.” [Fn. M. Scott Peck, M.D., People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (New York: Touchstone, 1983), p. 42.]

“The cultural pathogens of anti-life nihilism suffuse contemporary popular media—in the ubiquitous pornography on the Internet, in increasingly violent images in motion pictures and television, in macabre role-playing computer games, and in the death-obsessed music of alternative rock.”

“Chistogens are, in professor Chang’s proposal, an effective antidote. As she puts it:

“The most remarkable of these antidotes are the “Christogens”—Christlike characters in wildly popular works of film and literature, most notably J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, and the Superman mythos. The unmistakable draw of these stories suggests that, despite the efforts of those hostile to Western civilization, many in our contemporary society remain attached to its core values of good vs. evil, family, country, and private ownership, as well as personal virtues of charity, courage, loyalty, self-discipline, chivalry, honor, fidelity, and chastity. The stories’ enormous success signifies strong popular dissent from the Progressive worldview and agenda of moral relativism.”

[From Chang’s “Christology in Popular Culture”.] 

“So we are entitled to ask: Why are these toxins able to propagate so freely?

“There is no effective resistance.

“The New Age fog has disabled the faculty of critical intelligence among thousands of Northern Californians. These are the putative adults for whom the traditions of integrity and courage that animated the “Greatest Generation” have long been forgotten.

“We inhabit a culture that is paralyzed by moral ambivalence and remains apparently unable – like the characters in Harry Potter who couldn’t utter the name of Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort – to actually recognize and name evil, even when it makes one of its blatant appearances.

“All parents have a unique and essentially non-delegable responsibility to protect their children from evil influences.

“When I defended juvenile cases, I was soon able to predict whether a particular miscreant minor would become a repeat customer.  It usually took only a ten minute conversation with the primary parent for the dreaded pattern to emerge. It was all about the excuses for little Johnny or Jill, and evidenced a moral hollowness that was palpable. Sometimes I would see the minor again, years later, as a killer. See: http://www.jaygaskill.com/humancondition.htm .

“As I intimated earlier, we may have in this case the makings of a poster child for what is dreadfully wrong with our culture.  If any good comes of this sorry episode, maybe it may be the realization that young people like Scott are the canaries in our mine.

“Evil (as I occasionally remind my naïve friends) is one of the realities of modern life every bit as much as it was in ancient times.  Only now we just use the term “sick”, as if by ‘“medicalizing’ a profound moral mal-orientation, we can somehow create the comforting illusion that the world consists entirely of good people, some of whom occasionally “catch” a case of “badness” as if it were some kind of cold. Evil, in this faux-therapeutic mindset, is a very bad flu.

The full piece is located at this link:

http://jaygaskill.com/Malogens.htm

As more details about the formation and influences on young Jared emerge, I expect the underlying parallels to become clearer.  This will have two implications, both of great importance: (a) Parents and mentors need to monitor malogens vigilantly. (b) Profilers need to pay much more attention to moral disorders, in addition to the merely psychological ones.

JBG

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Addendum

“Without God everything is permitted.”

This is Sartre paraphrasing Dostoevsky.

I think Sartre got Dostoevsky essentially right, while there is no statement quite as terse in the Brothers Karamazov from which the essential thought was lifted.[1] Dostoevsky was undoubtedly speaking for himself through his characters as the brothers endlessly debated about God in the context of the murder of their father by one of them.  In the novelist’s usage, I think the core idea was that only God (seen by the characters as a merged being, God and Christ) could justify and uphold the moral law.

A better paraphrase would have been “Without God, everything is lawful”.

I’m sure Sartre was rebelling against a “straw man” deity, one who was all controlling and all condemning.  Against this distorted construct, Sartre found the prospect of absolute freedom very appealing, though at the cost of moral emptiness and malaise.   The latter state is better endured in a narcissistic fog, especially in French coffee houses surrounded by fawning admirers!

Moral relativism is the precursor of nihilism which in turn is the precursor of evil.

For a number of reasons related to my own spiritual path, I’d prefer not to put all the defenders of natural law in the “orthodox” camp.  As someone once said, it is less important to “believe in God” than to “believe G-d”.

Against the malign lure of narcissist-nihilism (the gateway drug for actual evil) we need all of the allies we can gather.  And without God, named or unnamed, it is very, very hard to answer the key question: Why bother to do the right thing?

J


[1] Sartre may have had in mind a passage from The Brothers, in Book X, at Chapter 4, where Mitya Karamazov is in jail awaiting trial for killing his father. He’s speaking to his brother, Alyosha, the novitiate. Mitya has just said that he is “sorry for God” because, “Your Reverence, you must move over a little, chemistry is coming!” Then he says: “How…is man to fare after that? Without God and a life to come? After all, that would mean that now all things are lawful, that one may do anything that one likes.”

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Jay B Gaskill is a California lawyer who served as the Alameda County Public defender before her left his “life of crime” to devote full time to writing.  His profile is posted at www.jaygaskill.com/Profile.pdf .

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