Adam Lankford's op-ed article in The New York Times seems to me to be one of the best explanations for suicidal mass killers like Adam Lanza. What most appeals to me in Lankford's explanation is his assumption that the aberrant and even monstrous behavior of such people can be explained as exaggerated or distorted expressions of the natural desires that we all share.
Lankford's main idea is that suicidal terrorists and rampage killers have a lot in common. Specifically, Lankford sees them as sharing three factors. First, they generally are suffering from mental disorders or acute mental stress that make then suicidal. Second, they believe that their suffering has been unfairly inflicted on them by others, and they want to take vengeance through murdering them. These two factors explain the murder-suicides that are more common than suicidal mass killings. The third factor that is distinctive to these killings is the desire for fame and glory.
I would explain these three motivational factors as linked to my list of 20 natural desires. First, the natural desire for a complete life is expressed as a desire for self-preservation. But we are also willing to risk our lives for a good cause, like the Sandy Hook teachers who gave their lives in defense of their students. In protecting young children, they were expressing a natural parental desire. And a very few of us can find our lives to be so painful that we might seek suicide as an escape from our suffering.
Second, our natural desire for justice as reciprocity moves us to want vengeance against those who have victimized us. Apparently, Adam Lanza expressed this as a murderous rage against his mother.
The third natural desire manifest here is the desire for social status--for social recognition or honor within the groups to which we belong. Adam Lanza was so socially awkward and socially detached that he became almost invisible, hidden away in his mother's house. We can speculate, as Lankford does, that Lanza could imagine that killing lots of elementary school children could make him world famous after his death. There is a twisted truth to this in that he could enjoy the prospect of gaining social recognition from a monstrous crime that would be known to the whole world.
I am reminded of the killer at my university--Northern Illinois--who killed five students in a crowed lecture hall and then killed himself. It was reported that in his last days he was reading Friedrich Nietzsche, and thus he perhaps imagined that he would become an ubermensch by committing a crime that would show him to be "beyond good and evil."
There is another factor here that is easily overlooked because it is so obvious: these suicidal mass killers are almost always young men. Such behavior is an extreme manifestation of destructive propensities in the minds of young men longing for fame and glory.
Some of my previous posts on the shootings at Virginia Tech and NIU can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
RE: "Destructive propensities of young men"
It does appear to be a problem of males from predominance of ADD/ADHD to autism to various behavioral disorders including the extremes of sociopathy. I am interested what your thoughts are of positions like "The War on Males" from Sommers. Are we failing in our efforts to raise boys to men? Is this a new problem? What of fathering and the father-son relationship and its effect on self-preservation, justice as reciprocity, and desire for social status?
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