Mass shootings, sick ideologies, and social alienation (Aug. 14)

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

Recently, in El Paso, Texas, a 21-year-old White male stormed into a Walmart with a semi-automatic rifle and murdered 22 people. According to the gunman’s alleged manifesto, posted right before the shooting, he targeted Hispanics in response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

The resulting hysteria over “White nationalist terror” and demands for stricter gun laws were expected. After the shooting the governor of Texas said, “Bottom line is mental health is a large contributor to any type of violence or shooting.”

The governor’s link to mental health was unexpected.

Critics stated the governor’s focus on mental illness diverts attention from gun safety and racism. U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from El Paso, begged people to stop using mental illness as an excuse.

The gunman’s alleged manifesto is evidence that he was motivated by a White nationalist ideology which is not a mental illness—right?

But New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated: There is a difference between a White supremacist and White supremacy. White supremacy is like a “virus.” Supremacists are those completely overcome by the “disease,” but supremacy—the virus—exists on a larger scale beyond just the infected. It also lays dormant. White supremacy is often subconscious and clearly our nation has not been inoculated.

I understand Rep. Cortez was trying to make a point about deep-rooted hatred within a specific segment of the population, but terms like “virus” and “disease” and phrases like “the infected” and “not inoculated” links ideology to illness instead of making the necessary differentiation.

In 2013, cognitive neuroscientist Sam Harris listed types of mass shooters. Harris listed the mentally ill, people who would harm others for reasons that wouldn’t make a bit of sense, even if they could be articulated. He listed evil psychopaths, people who aren’t delusional, but are malignantly selfish, ruthless, and prone to violence, but Harris concluded these types of mass shooters “trouble us for reasons that have nothing to do with culture, ideology, or any other social variable.” Harris stated the other types of mass shooters were people motivated by religious or secular ideologies.

Now, ideologies are sets of beliefs or myths that influence and justify political behavior. Napoleon Bonaparte coined the term—ideologue—as a smear against opponents that weren’t pragmatic but possessed by an ideology. Napoleon believed ideologues were “blind to historical reality in their pursuit of abstract truths and they were troublemakers as wielders of ideas in the quest for reform and improvement.” (Or lofty political goals such as to preserve a racial hierarchy or homogeny.) So, sick ideologues aren’t mentally ill, they’re self-indoctrinated with a belief-system that is detrimental to society.

But, Matthew Walker, national correspondent for The Week, wrote an op-ed called: Mass shootings are about alienation, not ideology.

Walker asked, what can we possibly do to change all of this? Ban video games that wrap the consciousness of young men, reverse the legalization of marijuana (because of its psychosis-inducing properties), place a moratorium on non-military production of guns and confiscate all privately owned firearms, imprison anyone who searches for hate forums, create a China-style closed Internet and put an end to the free and open distribution of information?

Walker concluded, none of this is feasible, instead we are going to continue to live in a country in which young men continue to fall into acedia (spiritual apathy), purchase weapons, and kill for entertainment. (Mass shootings) can happen anywhere at any time and short of a complete revolution—moral, social, political, and religious—there is nothing we can do about it.

That sounds pessimistic, but what’s worse, admitting the inability to prevent mass shootings or pretending to have the ability to prevent them?


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