Let us turn to transparent speculation about a well-known role, The Shooter, rather than the man whom we do not know. The public knows how mass murderers are portrayed, and tends to leap with both feet into the rushing narrative river sensationalism creates. This puts communities needing to recover at risk of accepting and perpetuating mythologies in which mass murder makes sense. If Holmes-the-soon-to-be-ex-graduate-student can draw people into seeing him as The Shooter by literally shooting people, then he can distract his own and other’s attention from the anger and sadness of the characters underneath—be they The Boy Falling Apart or some other variant. The Shooter must shoot and cannot really be blamed. It is not The Boy’s fault if the story goes this way. The public follows perpetrators into denial of responsibility by taking refuge in semi-conscious stock characterization. The community of victims and witnesses might instead deploy archetypal psychologies to work metaphorically with the black and blue feelings that naturally follow. We forget the names of shooters, as Cassidy observes, but it is because as individuals they are eventually and inexorably cliché to everyone beyond those who knew the victims; because we can thereby cover over the complexity of the system that regularizes mass murder in order to comfort ourselves and “move on.”
From the point of view of an imagined potential murderer, why struggle along, broken, when apotheosis into a universally recognized power role, The Shooter, is possible? Why not act out and make concrete the homicidal impulses with which human beings are afflicted? Perhaps perpetrators move from destructive feelings and imagining mass murder, at least in part, because of solipsistic literalism in the face of natural human limitedness: I cannot make things work out in the way I would prefer, therefore hope is a hoax and I can do as I please. From the outside, one can see this as being little better than plastic action-figure thinking, seizing power and attention by acting out in predictable ways, becoming a caricature by attempting to avoid what feels like restriction to human capacity.
If you like, consider all that is before you as fiction, just as an exercise, and put to the side the idea that psychology thinks of itself as a science. Imagine instead, that psychology is about what its name indicates, psyche's logic or soul sense, and remember that scientific-sounding thought-devices are from an ill-fitting genre when it comes to relating to or understanding something as metaphorical as “soul.” The apparent cultural pandemic of violence is a soul issue, always part of humanity but never before seen on this scale (when measured by body count or media coverage). It is revealed through study of the patterns and stories we inherit, live in, and perpetuate, rather than being attributable to brain dysfunction and diagnosed away into isolated incidents by madmen who may be dismissed as aberrations. Why do we repeat ineffectual reactions to mass criminality? Hedges offers this answer:
Bureaucrats . . . . cannot think on their own. They cannot challenge assumptions or structures. They cannot intellectually or emotionally recognize that the system might implode. And so they do what Napoleon warned was the worst mistake a general could make—paint an imaginary picture of a situation and accept it as real. But we blithely ignore reality along with them. The mania for a happy ending blinds us. We do not want to believe what we see. It is too depressing. So we all retreat into collective self-delusion . . . Blaise Pascal wrote in Pensées, “We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us from seeing it.”[i]
Imagine: it is in what gets called normal where “senseless” murderous behavior moves blithely. Human beings are profoundly self-fictionalizing, but those who thrust themselves into the public eye are doubly so. The Eichmanns and Holmeses of the world are recognizable by their fixation on the story of themselves they adopt. Events like these make more sense if you learn how mythologies work by tracking through the darker side of humanity by way of acknowledged fictions. The story being crafted around and by this murderer is driven by narrative causality (that's how things work in stories) to set him on the path to being a Supervillain.
[i] Chris Hedges, “The Careerists,” Truthdig, July 23, 2012, http://www.truthdig.com/report/print/the_careerists_20120723/.
[ii] “The Greatest Crimes Against Humanity Are Perpetrated by People Just Doing Their Jobs.” Truthout, July 23, 2012. http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/10476-the-careerists.