Humans have seemed to have mastered the tendency to use violence in a senseless and massively lethal way. Animals never use violence randomly or simply for the fun of it. Humans evolved a pre-frontal cortex to cover up the fight-flight mechanisms of the limbic system. This cortex offers humans the ability to reflect and symbolize experiences. Modern psychoanalytic theory pioneered by Peter Fongay views a human’s ability to reflect or mentalize to be a function of attachment. This approach views problems of violence as a failure to empathize or think before acting. This space between the first thought or urge and the first behavior is where violence is incubated.
Violence is a three-headed snake. The first type of violence is the most prevalent and easily understood. This impulse-driven violence typically is instrumental in nature. Often, the motivation for this type of violence involves money, survival, territory, or romance. Urban violence is fueled by poverty and oppression. These violence explosions have a clear motivation and occur quickly among rivals and intimates. While illegal and never justifiable, it is quite understandable and much easier to predict and see coming.
The second type is domestic violence. The best description comes from Dr. Logan who describes domestic violence victims as suffering from Stockholm Syndrome with intimates. The violence here has no economic zones. Impotent and aggressive men exist at all levels of the SES. Aggression percolates under a closed family system in which psychological and physical violence is ever-present for all dependent family members. Included in this type of violence is the physical, economic, and emotional abuse of elders, often by a dependent male child. Here, dependency leads to attachment to dominant and often sadistic partners. This pattern can easily slide into LGBT families.
The third type is the mass shootings and serial murder. This world is the specialty of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit, which I was privileged to consult with on school shootings after Columbine in 1999. This experience was overseen by now retired SSA Mary Ellen O’Toole, current editor of Violence and Gender and a professor at George Washington University. I left that experience talking with experts, FBI profilers, and teachers from 18 schools that had shootings, most recently Columbine (4 months earlier), with 3 concepts: the Injustice Collector, callousness, and grandiosity. Also, the FBI often repeated the idea that violent fantasy is a crime in process.
Shootings and lone wolf attacks have diversified and grown beyond schools. The Secret Service has found that 43% of mass shootings involve a personal grievance. The violence is thought out and mission oriented with symbolic targets that reflect the shooter’s grievances. The question remains, why? The symbolic targets often aim at innocence, joy, faith, or perceived injustice. How can somebody plan and decide that their personal grievance is worth mass slaughter. It is clear that the invisible process of a shooter’s mind during the planning of an attack is the arena in which a personal narrative becomes locked away in fantasy where it incubates into a military-style assault on a symbolic target.
This human quality of self-reflection can go wildly awry trapping humiliated souls in a world with non-human targets sacrificed in the name of justice. How callous and grandiose doe someone have to get to shoot down hundreds of concert goers?
This type of violence is very difficult to predict and prevent. No early warning signs are enough to catch the seemingly endless personal gripes developed by modern humans. Virtual reality is likely to offer a very safe harbor for violent fantasies, weapon research, and recruitment. While self-reflection is a valuable skill for humans, it seems to have also given humans the ability to destroy not only themselves but the environment and other people. Guns and lack of mental health feed the flame but do not cause violence. It’s caused by human nature in the digital age with increasingly isolated and forgotten people.