Friday, February 15, 2008

Without Conscience: The Shootings at Northern Illinois University

I teach at Northern Illinois University. Yesterday, I left campus shortly before a gunman entered a large auditorium lecture hall with a shotgun and two handguns and began shooting at the students. After killing six people and wounding many others, he killed himself. Some of the wounded are now are critical condition and might die. The gunman has been identified as a former sociology graduate student at NIU who was enrolled at another university.

Along with the Virginia Tech shootings last year, this reminds us again of our vulnerability to attack from mentally disordered people who become predators who kill without conscience.

In various writings, and on this blog, I have written about the naturally evolved moral sense as the ground of moral experience. One way to think about the character of that moral sense is to look at those who lack it, who are literally without conscience. Pure psychopaths exemplify this condition. They are people who lack the moral emotions of shame, guilt, and sympathy, and so they can injure and even kill other people with no remorse. These are the people Darwin identified as "unnatural monsters." My chapter on psychopaths in DARWINIAN NATURAL RIGHT elaborates on this.

Of course, it is too early now to know anything about the psychological profile of this gunman. But we do know that he was a young male. And we can reliably predict that he was unmarried and solitary. We can also predict that he was emotionally flat. One of the students who survived the attack described the gunman this way: "His face was blank, like he wasn't a person. He was a statue, aiming."

Most human beings are not like this. If they were, social order would be impossible. But it seems that in every human society, there is a small minority of people who do take on the emotionally flat temperament that makes it possible for them to kill without conscience.

One of the most important projects for the social sciences and moral philosophy is to understand the nature and nurture of the moral sense and of the conditions that explain why some people have no moral sense.


Anonymous said...

Found your blog while searching the web and thought the embedded concepts were very interesting.

In regards to the article entitled: Without Conscience: The Shootings at Northern Illinois University

I was reading your thoughts on the horrible events that once again occurred at a public institution and had some unformed random thoughts. As a young American male who is in his early twenties I have this feeling that the answers to this social problem relies on perhaps a type of social moral decay. Perhaps you’re Darwin inspired theory is correct but I have this feeling that this type of rage is more then just the lack of a morally evolved mind.

There is a real type of confusion in my generation and especially with the middle class. You can see it in their eyes every day and most of these troubled individuals are funneled into the social sciences themselves. What a percentage of these students gain from the social sciences is not a critical and humanistic mind that should be constructed or reinforced but a type of isolation and rebel mentality. Supposedly the shooter in this case was a graduate student in sociology. While certain variables indeed point to the lack of ethical and moral individual capacities perhaps we are witnessing a type of new criminal mind.

The mall shooting that happened prior to this current violent media event somehow corresponds with each other. I am not educated enough in certain areas to create a theory on this new type of violent criminal but perhaps the social decay that occurs in a post modern world could give insight to these shootings. Reality seems to be a hoax to these individuals and their acts seem to signal a kind of false ideal of a revolt. Ideology is surly a variable. But I guess it always is.

“They are people who lack the moral emotions of shame, guilt, and sympathy, and so they can injure and even kill other people with no remorse. These are the people Darwin identified as "unnatural monsters."

Unnatural monsters could be said to be Natural monsters. These people are created by social interactions or like you said even the lack of them. Perhaps these morals that most of society has is not what these killers are lacking. Maybe they have a confusion of these morals, a decay of what the symbols mean. Maybe these emotions overwhelm them and they have too much of a certain emotion. I am not sure but to cast these people as inhuman would be repeating a mistake that has transferred dramatic social problems on the society we live within today.

As I stated earlier I enjoyed your post and look forward to reading more on your blog in the future. I wrote this because this is a social problem that we need to address very soon as a society or this event will keep occurring, only more troubling as the numbers pile up.

The new generation who is coming to age is facing many problems that seem to be as relevant as the middle class families seem to be. A historical analysis needs to be made with perhaps other societies where a similar middle class underwent social decay.

Correlation with Prescription drugs on University students? New variables need to be accounted for.

And so it goes….


Anonymous said...

Dear Larry,
I am so glad you are ok. My prayers are with you and families. I still remember Cole since I was a GA their. Let me know if I can do anything.

Mark Griffith

Mersida said...

I heard that the gunman had asked another friend to participate in the shooting, but the latter had not accepted. Is this true? Anyone heard anything about this?

Anonymous said...

Mr Arnhart:

The are unconscious, but they are by no means idiots. All the massacres are perpetrated in locations where firearms are prohibited, so no other person has firearms with which to respond.

They want to kill as much people as possible, and they choose the easiest place. The schools and universities are such kind of places given to psicophats by politically correct idiots that misinterpret positive law as reality, and don't ellaborate any further consequence.

Maybe one day such policies will be judged by its consequences: The lost lifes of childs and youngs killed by the norms that pretend to defend themselves.