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Who’s the alpha male now, bitches?


#1

Now that mass shootings by young, mostly white, sociopathically angsty men has become a terrifying new normal, so has risen a new genre of writing: the mass shooter manifesto. Andrew O’Hagan writes about this particular breed of writing for the LRB; in partial below.

On 20 July 2012, James Holmes, after dyeing his hair a kind of purple, went to a midnight screening of the Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises at the Century movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, and sprayed the crowd with bullets, killing 12 and injuring 70. He had earlier thought that a mass shooting at an airport might be better but reckoned airport atrocities were too much associated with terrorism. He made a note in his two-dollar Ampad notebook. ‘Terrorism isn’t the message,’ he wrote, ‘the message is there is no message.’ Holmes wrote screeds of self-doubt masquerading as higher purpose, hunting for a vision of human worth. (He was on Sertraline, brandname Zoloft.) ‘Why does the value of a person ever matter?’ he wrote. He drew lines of matchstick men lying on their sides (‘Value = 0’). He noted that ‘life’s fallback solution to all problems’ is ‘death’. He expressed the certainty that he had a broken mind, and named his conditions (‘Dysphoric mania, social anxiety disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, schizophrenia, body dysmorphic disorder, chronic insomnia’). He couldn’t stop checking his hair in the mirror. He scribbled seven pages of the single word ‘why?’, getting larger each time until, on the last page, there was room for only one. He laid out his fantasy: ‘to blow up the entire world with nuclear bombs, then a biological agent that destroys the mind … And finally, the last escape: mass murder at the movies.’

Someone, perhaps not a million miles from you, whose name we don’t yet know but whose face is camera-ready, whose conscience is clearing before the fact, is preparing a biography of his mentality in advance of a shooting massacre. He is almost certainly a he, and he is unhappy, and he is already fully armed. He is probably on Zoloft. He is likely to be a virgin with a history of isolation. He may be into hurting animals, or like Death Metal music, and there’s a strong chance he will have been said to have Asperger’s syndrome or ADHD. The movies he likes will tell a story about him and his displaced sense of self. There may be a girl who snubbed him. If he is older, it may be a boss who snubbed him but it’s more likely to be the whole of ‘society’. He may well be an expert in video games and have inscribed himself on a notional leaderboard, perhaps even taking up a role in life that mirrors a status he sees himself having in the game. He will write poems. He will watch porn. And there will be times when he doesn’t sleep for days, just drinking Coke, listening to music on his iPod and dreaming up scenarios based on the songs. He will hate jocks, the sometimes handsome and generally confident boys who snag the girls at school. Those he hates he hates with a vengeance. He might find girls disgusting. He believes he has a system of thought, his own, that education or company philosophy can’t get close to, and his feelings of inferiority quickly turn bombastic. He is lonely. And the biggest mistake he makes is to imagine there is nobody like him. Because quite a few are like him and some of them are already writing a long note to posterity.

The step from beta boy to Übermensch seems natural. One minute, Chris Harper-Mercer was bemoaning the fact that no girl liked him, that he was nobody and invisible and without status among his peers. The next minute he was telling a ‘lucky one’ that he could live while everybody else died. ‘I am God’ is code for ‘I am nobody.’ Anders Behring Breivik spent eight years preparing a manifesto of 1500 pages, an encyclopedia of wrongs. ‘2083: A European Declaration of Independence’ sets out his hatred of Muslims, Marxists and multiculturalists, building a case for genocide, and reads like it’s torn from the pages of a novel by Don DeLillo. Breivik emailed it to a thousand people the morning he went out and bombed a government building in Oslo, killing eight, before travelling to a Workers’ Youth League summer camp on the island of Utøya, where he spent an hour and a half on a shooting spree that killed 69 people. He then surrendered. Breivik’s manifesto is so much a part of him that nothing can take him off-course. Afterwards, his only regret was that he didn’t kill more people and he feels certain that he will be hailed in the future as a great hero. He sees himself as a knight templar, a hero of the modern crusade, blond, green-eyed, tall, armour-plated, and ready to command legions in their fight to purify the world. For him, technology’s great purpose is to make possible a counter-jihad, and the internet, the West’s great contribution to the deepening of the collective soul, will enable this. ‘Optimally, you will send your announcements only seconds before you initiate the operation,’ he advises.