What Made Alexis Do It?

A reader asked me if, in the context of our free will, that bad philosophy has the potential to push people toward madness or psychosis.

Absolutely. Actually, people drowning in madness and psychosis are, by definition, drowning in mistaken or bad ideas. Mistaken or bad ideas, in turn, are grounded in bad or wrong philosophy.

One of the worst philosophical errors one can make is to equate feelings with fact.  Definitions of psychosis include such terms as ‘loose associations’ and ‘loose connections.’ These refer to a total breakdown in logic. If one holds logic as a strict standard, with logic overriding emotions when the two conflict, then psychosis is minimized or unlikely. If one never had good critical, objective thinking skills in the first place, then one is more prone to some sort of mental disruption.

Most often, the mental disruption we observe is neurotic anxiety or depression. Individuals with these problems are not psychotic or mad. But they do experience emotional states somewhat at odds with reality.

They see themselves, life, or their ability to cope as much more futile or danger-ridden than is actually the case. They don’t lose touch with reality completely, but their emotions distort reality. They leave these emotions unchallenged or uncorrected at their psychological peril.

An especially disastrous philosophical error is the false belief that we are somehow ‘owed’ a living, or happiness. This belief is deeper than financial; it’s an error in the realm of ethics. Ethics is the field where ‘should’ or ‘ought’ are operative. ‘I should have happiness,’ can be an implicit belief, contained in deeply felt emotions. Some people even consciously subscribe to it.

Consider Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter. NBCnews.com reports:

Aaron Alexis was so unhappy with his life in America — where he was beset by money woes and felt slighted as a veteran — that he was “ready to move out of the country” last year, a friend said Tuesday.

He felt like he had been cheated out of money from the contract and complained that he was mistreated because he was black, [Alexis friend] Kristi Suthamtewkal said.

“He felt a lot of discrimination and racism with white people especially,” she said.

There was also a growing sense of entitlement and disrespect, she said. “He did have the tendency to feel like people owed him something all the time.”

He got annoyed when she couldn’t give him rides, and he started eating the couple’s food without permission, and ignoring her when she complained, she said. When her cats developed fleas, he was angry.

Mostly, though, she felt like he was fed up with the United States.

Of course he was. The United States always gets the blame. Why? Because, historically, it has been the place with the most freedom. The place with the most freedom is the place where people are most responsible for attaining—or failing to attain—their own happiness. When you fail under freedom, it can’t be someone else’s fault.

Those who become disgruntled feel they have to blame someone. The United States is the living embodiment of the self-responsibility any genuine happiness requires and implies. This is why some will always hate the U.S. It’s not a political issue; it’s freedom and responsibility for one’s happiness that they loathe.

Alexis was a classic example of the entitlement mentality put into consistent practice. It has nothing to do with his race or with racism. The issue here is entitlement. ‘I’m entitled to be happy. And I’m not happy. It must be my race.’ Translation: ‘It must be somebody else causing me to be unhappy.’

People afflicted with the entitlement psychology can be white, Hispanic or any race; similarly, people with rational viewpoints and perspectives come in all shapes, colors and sizes.

By refusing to acknowledge what he might be doing wrong, or what might be wrong with his thinking, Alexis stewed and stewed on how he was ‘wronged.’ The more he wallowed in such self-defeating misery, the more his life stagnated or got worse. The worse he felt, the more he blamed it on other people.

A rational philosophy of life suggests that the power of human reason, combined with intelligent effort over time, is the best and indeed only route to happiness. Happiness must be rationally created by each and every person, and then sustained once attained.

I do not know the precise nature of Alexis’ psychological problems. But we can be sure that profound philosophical errors and falsehoods were at the root of them.

A culture where philosophical errors are on the rise, or even prevailing, is a culture where you’ll see more—not fewer—incidents like Aaron Alexis’ mindless rampage. Forget about guns and racism. The issue is philosophy.


Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.