I’m from Highland Park. I grew up in the nearly idyllic family oriented suburb where an angry depressed and certainly deranged 21 year old decided to act out some unhinged final fantasy special edition version of Grand Theft Auto meets Lee Harvey Oswald in real time. Using a legally purchased automatic rifle Robert Crimo III rained bullets down on innocent families simply there to watch a July 4th parade. Seven people were killed, dozens injured and a whole town, my hometown forever traumatized.
I’m also a retired psychologist who cant help but wonder what went wrong in that young man’s broken head as well as in his seeming frozen if not broken heart. How could he do that? What was he thinking? How do you shoot innocent children and grandparents in wheelchairs? It makes me so angry. Well, it’s been exactly one week and a day since the incomprehensible tragedy and here’s what I now think. It’s just my opinion of course.
While it is certainly understandable to feel shocked, pissed off and totally outraged about Highland Park’s holiday celebration turned unspeakable tragedy I believe it would be a mistake to place all of ones anger and righteous indignation solely upon any one individual, any one family, or any single admittedly significant social problem like gun control or mental illness. Most to all of these disturbed and deranged violent individuals certainly have something wrong with their thinking and may very well have a diagnosable mental illness like severe depression, drug addiction, or bipolar disorder. However, what more likely correlates to and may potentially end up predicting a hyperviolent episode like a school shooting or July 4th mass casualty event is a longstanding deep-seated sense of despair in certain vulnerable individuals and a progressive loss of hope in ever achieving basic human needs like love, intimacy, happiness and personal success. In a nutshell many of these disturbed and disaffected young men seem to have something in common… they’ve given up on the idea that their life will ever substantially get better, particularly in regard to their present circumstance and dismal existence usually characterized by extreme anger, depression, suicidal ideation, social isolation, rejection and lack of loving relationships or care to and from significant others.
As a result, many of these young digital savvy but alienated individuals withdraw into alternative online worlds and anonymous social platforms including underground communities on the dark web where they are free to craft totally different lives and personas and engage in extremist social, political, and ideological discussion groups and forums. “Losing oneself” online is not necessarily an exaggeration as real in-person affection, touch, love, understanding, bonding, sense of belonging and physical/emotional validation are often key ingredients in promoting psychological health, resilience and optimism. Without it, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and suicidal or even violent homicidal thinking is much more likely to attach itself like a self-replicating negative mental virus or maladaptive mindset.
Here comes the extra dangerous part. The negative/destructive or extreme nihilistic mindset is sometimes accompanied by a progressive loss of empathic understanding or emotional connection with others that is normally present to ground ones moral reasoning and sense of right or wrong. Besides the debatable nihilistic philosophical belief that there is no real right or wrong the thought “i should not do that because it will hurt others” is no longer a indissoluble moral principle or interpersonal tenet that once learned cannot be unlearned or forgotten. Other preexisting conditions like a predisposition towards obsessive compulsive disorder ( negative intrusive thoughts/compulsive behaviors subtype) or a history of childhood trauma/violence and/or substance abuse especially alcohol, stimulants and gaba neurotransmitter altering substances like anabolic steroids, cocaine, amphetamines, sedatives, opiates, and hallucinogens can potentially add to and worsen the likelihood of a deranged act of violence, even if the shooter himself believes his horrific act to be sensible, necessary, or even inevitable.
Summary: As a society, rather than shoot all of our social problem-solving missiles towards one obviously important need like better gun control (no doubt very important) or even better mental heath screening and treatment (certainly important) perhaps we need to also recognize an inconvenient truth lying right before us in plain sight. Extremely unhappy/dissatisfied young people with no hope and no “skin in the game” in the celebrity social media driven real world (capitalistic/materialistic culture of today) and who are socially isolated and unmonitored (meaning nobody knows or cares enough to actively question, challenge or intervene in such an individuals evolution towards extreme hatred and violence) and who were previously exposed to violence, mind-altering drugs and/or polarizing political beliefs and propaganda that foster aggression and include violent dehumanizing rhetoric are not just human ticking time bombs in a mental health sense but essentially weaponized suicide bombers in a domestic terrorism sense.
If we as citizens and shaken survivors can recognize a related but perhaps less complete version of such transgressive social and psychological programming on January 6th, 2021 at the Capital building in Washington DC in the faces and actions of common American citizens turned Stop the Steal violent protestors then we should also be able to recognize what antisocial human recipe results when the unfinished brain of a deeply depressed and disconnected suicidal young person with a history of drugs/psychedelic abuse lacking love, nurture or genuine family closeness gains parental approval for a collection of knives, ninja swords and guns including permission to purchase automatic weapons but little to no positive reinforcement for believing they have a worthwhile place in society not to mention a future with any realistic hope for love, happiness, or success. Awake the Rapper no doubt at some level woke up to THAT reality, nurtured its nihilistic ramifications and chose the predictable alternative of antisocial infamy. No surprise since The Joker did the same thing. Maybe we as a society need to wake up to and confront that kind of unfortunate and inconvenient human truth that is just as real and unavoidable as climate change.
Notes: Radicalized individuals as I’ve described above who’s destructive brand of nihilism despises existing societal norms also detest joyous community celebrations of freedom (like Passover among Jewish people and the Fourth of July by American citizens). As a result they may choose to turn their formerly benign or constructive energies into purely destructive pursuits. Antisocial forms of self-expression and behavior go beyond the bizarre or merely outrageous because they actually aim to destroy the core ideas, symbolic images (like a 4th of July parade) and people living in what we typically perceive to be a happy healthy democratic society. Put another way, that which we celebrate is directly associated in their disturbed upside-down minds with having caused their intolerable misery.
More than money, fame, career success, social class, intelligence or genes the single most important factor in a long and happy life is love. Intimate bonds protect us from life’s hardships, delay mental and physical decline and predict long-term happiness.Sep 29, 2018
“For certain vulnerable people in these corners of the dark web, reality is meaningless, and if they can destroy reality, then that’s the only thing worth doing anymore,” said Newhouse. “The dehumanization of both the self and other people is the core aspect of why this shows up in these types of cases.