We shouldn’t give ruthless killers undeserved dignity by asking “why” they do what they do. But the mindset behind the pulling of the trigger is not that difficult to identify.
Stanton Samenow, author of the classic ‘Inside the Criminal Mind’ said it best when he wrote:
‘Many people might imagine themselves as heroes and multimillionaires. Such idle thoughts flash into their minds and either self-destruct automatically or are consciously pushed aside. Some fantasies recur and spur people to take creative initiatives and work hard to achieve what they want. But the criminal believes that he is entitled to whatever he desires, and he will pursue it ruthlessly.’
Most people blame these tragedies on guns. If there were no guns, there would be no tragedies, they think in their naivet Or, next best thing, if only the government outlawed guns, criminals would never get them.
This simplistic form of thinking evades the mindset that causes the criminal to pull the trigger. That mindset is precisely what Samenow named: The entitlement mentality.
The entitlement mentality refers to the false belief that ‘I deserve what I want, regardless of what I have to do to get it.’ Entitlement, in this context, means: ends without reference to the means. Frankly, a lot of people hold this false belief. Not everyone holds it to the same degree, and not everyone is prepared to initiate violence to get it. But the entitlement mentality is usually behind any human irrationality, criminal violence most of all.
What’s significant about these shootings is not what deranged ‘purpose’ the killer had in mind. What’s significant is the killer felt entitled to play out those delusions, regardless of the results and with ruthless consistency.
Yes, it’s possible to outlaw all weapons, even for peace-loving people who only wish to defend themselves from potential criminals. But it isn’t possible to outlaw the entitlement mentality. It is possible not to foster and encourage the entitlement mentality. In this arena, educators and moralists/spiritualists have done a terrible job.
The underlying cause of the entitlement mentality is a wrong definition of ethics.
Consider the prevailing approach to morality: ‘Self-sacrifice is the ideal.’ Most don’t practice it consistently, but a few attempt to do so.
The problem with an ethical code of self-sacrifice is that it sets up two types of people: Victims and victimizers. Think of it as philosophical S&M.
Most of the time, this code does not play out so literally. Once in awhile, somebody gets a hold of this idea—like this most recent shooter in Connecticut, who took the lives of innocent others (including small children) and then his own.
The evil in this killer’s action is that he acted out the ethics of self-sacrifice literally and completely. He first sacrificed others—in an appalling, unspeakable bloodbath—and then himself.
As much as people insist that the ethics of self-sacrifice is really about benevolence, kindness and charity, in reality—especially when consistently acted out in practice—the so-called virtue of self-sacrifice is no such thing. It’s either eat—or be eaten. Homicidal-suicidal killers end up doing both.
As Stanton Samenow writes, ‘The criminal’s attitude toward people is mercurial, dependent on whether they serve him. One day he may regard a person as his bosom pal and the next day as his mortal enemy.’
Admit it or not, this is the ethical code of self-sacrifice in practice. By claiming that virtue consists of sacrificing the self, the way is paved for criminals (and others of low or no character) to take advantage of others’ humility.
In the process, a criminal sacrifices his own rational interests by having to live his life as a criminal on the run, and in the case of the suicidal-homicidal killer, ending his own life after his spree.
It’s all about sacrifice in practice, and it’s nothing about self-preservation. Yet it’s the ethics of self-preservation and self-interest that get the blame for all of these killings, plus anything else wrong in the world.
Confiscate the guns, if you like. It will be about as effective as outlawing drugs. And you’re fooling yourself if you think that violence will go away, so long as the entitlement mentality is alive and well in our culture.
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