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Theodore Dalrymple
Aurora Beyond Us « Back to Story

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To Mr. Lusvardi,
The cause is not the rage. The cause is allowing the rage to build instead of dealing with it in a better manner. As to the reason for that, volumes could be written and still we would not know for sure.
Wayne Lusvardi,

That was actually a quite interesting comment but I would question your selection of uncontrolled rage, semi-arbitrarily targeted, as an alternative explanation to psychopathology. On two grounds:

1. Rage of that intensity is not something normal, in the sense that it is never felt by some people and only transitory in those who do experience it a some point in their lives. Having it take over one's life is a significant marker of psychological deviation.

2. Actually acting on such rage, at all let alone through the selection of targets that have essentially nothing to do with one's personal circumstances, is irrational. I understand it might be cathartic and target selection might make sense in some way logical to the killer [people "having fun"], but most people never seek such a kind of catharsis nor, in fantasy, select innocent targets over those who might actually have something to do with one's troubles.

Rage uncontrolled and targeted in this fashion is not an alternative to psychopathology but a subset thereof.

In addition, the explanations offered for his rage are pretty weak and pathetic, especially that one about his father's legitimate and non-rage-justifying job.

Still, that anger, ambition, jealousy and frustration are parts of the human condition is true enough. Their mere presence is not psychopathology.

Neither is acting on them, as it happens. We learn nothing by psychologizing every anti-social act of violence without considering alternatives.

What is crazy is taking it out on random strangers, and crazier yet is taking it out on random strangers in the genuine belief that they are somehow guilty of the killer's life problems.
Astute analysis by this author. And comments by J F Kessler and En Em below also provide a pretty good bead on the issue. A society exceeding 300 million has a population of wackjobs equal to a medium size Midwestern city. And an even larger number among us aren’t too tightly wrapped either judging from the common wisdom generated by this tragedy. The largest mass murder spree in our history was accomplished using commercial airplanes but we didn’t ban air travel as a result. Instead we controlled access, spawned a multi-billion dollar government industry dedicated to searching 65 year old grandmothers and chalked up this massive overkill as a win because we haven’t experienced any subsequent 9/11’s (knock on wood).

But controlling physical access to every movie theatre or all non-government establishments offering a target rich environment is too ridiculous to consider. Instead, we talk about involuntarily medicating those with serious mental problems or confiscating all 200 million firearms or developing some type of ersatz early detection profile. If the obvious solution of controlling access worked to prevent mass murder by commercial jet liner then why reject it? Maybe because the obvious solution is utterly impossible to implement – but then out of frustration we’re compelled to invent some kind of likely explanation for the tragedy and a corresponding solution to prevent future occurrences no matter how ineffective we know it will be. It’s not that we’re all collectively approaching the wackjob horizon point but sometimes it can be very hard to determine where to draw the boundary line for many Americans.

Noted British psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple states in the July 28 Wall Street Journal Opinion Page that the mass murder committed in Aurora, Colorado by neuroscience student James Holmes is unexplainable.

I asked a prosecutor friend and his wife residing in Pasadena whether Holmes’ actions were understandable to them.

He clearly thought Holmes’ acts were explained by “rage” at something not clearly identified as yet but strongly suggested in what we know so far. She thought that there was a “spiritual” explanation for the mass murders.
I asked them to expand on the reasons for their explanations and found them more sensible than that of any of the experts.

After considering their different takes on the atrocity, I believe the 1996 novel “Fight Club,” not the Bat Man movie, best captures up what both were saying.


In his experience my prosecutor friend said that Holmes’ heinous actions were likely explained by his “rage.” Rage at failing his graduate school oral exams, rage at his parents, rage at his being adopted, possible rage at his father’s occupation as a mathematician and software engineer assessing the creditworthiness of banks and individuals, or rage for some other yet unclear reason.

Holmes targeted a movie theater to take out his rage on young people close to his own age. He had likely not passed his oral exams and felt it unfair that he had failed while others were out having fun. He was now nobody and wanted to be somebody. He wanted everyone to know his name.

Apparently, Holmes had time to let his rage subside after his oral exams and redirect his life. Instead he used his time to order weapons through the mail, to plan and set booby traps in his apartment, and to plot out how he was going to gain entrance to the theater to carry out his crime without being prematurely detected.

Holmes wanted to send a message of his perceived personal injustice. Holmes’ acts were much like many other highly-educated persons who commit crimes of rage such as Cal-Tech graduate student William Jensen Cottrell who fire bombed 125 sport utility vehicles in the suburbs of Los Angeles; and accomplice Tyler James Johnson who fled and ran non-profit solar projects in Europe but ironically perished when the environment –- an avalanche – killed him.

Rage as Fighting

According to, rage can:

“…sometimes lead to a state of mind where the individual experiencing it believes, and often is capable of doing things that may seem physically impossible…A person in a state of rage may also lose much of his or her capacity for rational thought and reasoning, and may act, usually violently, on his or her impulses to the point that they may attack until they themselves have been incapacitated or the source of their rage has been destroyed.”

A key element that distinguishes rage from intense anger is vengeful motivation when a person has their pride, position, social status, or dignity threatened. Or when they have been publicly ridiculed as can often occur in my experience in government bureaucracies and elsewhere. Psychologists say that rage is associated with a “fight or flight” response often provoked by an external event to which the person chooses to fight back.

In Holmes’ case he was withdrawing from school –- flight behavior – only later to shoot people down in a dark theater where people couldn’t easily resist -- fight behavior.

Batman or Fight Club?

It has been speculated that Holmes was acting out a revenge fantasy from a Batman movie or comic book. But Holmes may have been more like novelist Chuck Palahniuk’s protagonist Tyler Durden in his book and movie “Fight Club” based on the book author’s actual life. Palahniuk’s style of writing has been appropriately called “transgressional fiction.”

According to, Palahniuk once was involved in a physical altercation while camping. But his co-workers avoided asking him what happened when he returned to work. Their reluctance to find out reportedly inspired Palahniuk to write “Fight Club.”

Coincidentally, publishers rejected Palahniuk’s first novel “Invisible Monsters” as being too disturbing.

The central character in the novel is Tyler Durden who uses his fighting club not only to stage physical fights among members but to fight consumerist ideology. Durden recruits other club members to pull off elaborate pranks on corporate America – foreshadowing the Occupy Movement that emerged around 2008. He then forms “Project Mayhem” – a cultish cell group that trains itself as an army to bring down modern civilization. The anonymous narrator of “Fight Club” states he “wanted to destroy something beautiful.”

At one point the anonymous narrator of the novel tries to stop Tyler Durden from his destructiveness. But the narrator finds that he, himself, is Tyler Durden, not a singular person, but a split personality.

Later Tyler blows up the narrator’s condo just as the real life Holmes rigged his own apartment for destruction. Durden also plans to blow up a skyscraper with homemade bombs but instead targets a national museum. In real life, Holmes picked the auspicious opening of “The Dark Knight Rises” Batman movie.

The story’s narrator later puts a gun in his mouth and shoots himself only to awaken later in a mental hospital. He mistakes the mental hospital for Heaven where he has a hallucinatory argument with God. “Fight Club” ends with hospital employees revealing that they are really “Project Mayhem” members.

Fight Club’s Spiritual Fight

One of the characters in the novel portrayed as a “mechanic” says: “If you’re male and your Christian and living in America, your father is your model for God. And if you never know your father, if your father bails out or dies or is never at home, who do you believe about God?”

The fictional character Tyler felt that getting God’s attention for being bad was better than getting no attention at all. As the split personality Tyler Durden states in the novel:

“If you could be either God’s worst enemy or nothing, which would you choose? We are God’s middle children with no special place in history and no special attention. Unless we get God’s attention, we have no hope of damnation or redemption. Which is worse, hell or nothing? Only if we’re caught and punished can we be saved.”

Sounding like Karl Marx, Tyler wants to utilize anarchy and revolution to change history so that “God’s middle children” will be of some historical significance. Absent fathers will somehow be returned through anarchistic acts.

Common themes throughout the novel are alienation and denial of worldly possessions. Again, as the character Tyler Durden exclaims:

“I’m breaking my attachment to physical power and possessions because only through myself can I discover the greater power of my spirit.” This rejection of the material world can also be seen in the acts of many eco-terrorists such as those cited above.

Actor Brad Pitt playing Tyler Durden in the 1999 movie version of “Fight Club” says:

“We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives.”

Why Are Holmes’ Actions Believed Unexplainable?

The reason that James Holmes’ acts are believed to be unexplainable is that they are the potential actions of Everyman and Everywoman. They are not necessarily reflections of psychopathology. They are part of the normal human condition that must be transcended unless we want to live in anarchy or by the Social Darwinist law of the jungle.

The average American who “has a life” in their church, little league, home schooling, watching or participating in sports, employed in a working class job, has a hobby such as vinyl record collecting or gardening, or even involved in their own vices such as gambling or the East-coast style of organized crime have a better grasp on reality than the so-called experts.

The 1996 novel the “Fight Club” unintentionally foretold of the emergence of the Occupy Movement. From what we know, Holmes was not an Occupy Movement member. But Holmes’ self-alienation and rage are reflective of that movement.

The movie “Dark Knight Rises” has been characterized as a violent depiction of the Occupy Movement as class warriors re-allocating wealth to themselves. We don’t know if Holmes knew of this negative portrayal of the Occupiers or whether he identified with them even if not a member. Did Holmes want to put a stop to the showing of the movie nationally by provoking fear of going to see it or having it withdrawn from circulation? Those who are enraged about something often fantasize that they have exaggerated powers.

Why Can Average People See More Clearly?

There are no heroes left in the “Dark Knight Rises” movie, which ironically James Holmes never saw. In the movie, average people are left to emerge as their own everyday heroes.

So it is with the loss of expert explanations about why James Holmes would commit such horrific acts. It takes average persons with common sensibilities who have not enclosed them selves in an artificial life to see things clearly.

A prosecutor with a long history of dealing with criminal behavior understands that the choice of rage to the perceived injustices of life is central to much criminality and individual terrorist acts.

And my prosecutor friend’s wife’s religious sensibilities, whether one agrees with them or not, seem to aid in a clearer view of what made James Holmes commit such acts than all the secular expert opinions that there is no explanation.

I asked my prosecutor friend’s wife what she meant by her statement that James Holmes’ actions could only be explained “spiritually?” She replied with three religious scriptures that I would conclude with here, here, and here.
"We know how schizophrenia develops. Crazy parents treating their young kids crazily. (Theodore Lidz and others did important research.)"

The Doctrine of Psychiatric Infallibily. no evidence (thus far) that this young man has schizophrenia or any other kind of mental illness.

Isn't that the point of the article?
Sure, it can.

We know how schizophrenia develops. Crazy parents treating their young kids crazily. (Theodore Lidz and others did important research.)

We have the facts. But so many people want to ignore them.

We need to bring real psychodynamic psychology to the forefront.
Then call the internet police.

I see Obama has uttered a few platitudes about gun control. No sane government would base its laws on an incident so unusual in nature but then...

As President Clinton was wont to do, I feel your pain. To the rest of you lot:

Islam? Gun control? I don't think bees and bonnets do you folks justice; more like sticks and behinds.

And Louise: you really should find a better hobby than asserting your personal animosity towards Dr. Daniels all over the internet.
I often get the impression when reading some comments on any article here or indeed elsewhere that the commentator has not even read let alone understood it and just uses the opportunity to express some opinion often unconnected and at the same time pour unsubstantiated scorn on the author.
The words `bees` and `bonnets` come to mind
"Our explanatory reach exceeds our grasp,...'and our obsession with finding the one unchanging thing does as well, thus the Platonic and Aristotlean dream fails because it must fail; it must fail because we're but human and fallible and cannot be anything else.
'Sigmund Freud once was asked by a doctor in Berlin with whom he corresponded whether in his practice he had ever treated an evil person.'

Yes. Himself.
@Brian Richard Allen wrote:

"..."islam's [sic] 'civilization.'" Now that is the definitive oxymoron."

Serious suggestion: Tolle lege ! (And not only authors who confirm you bias.)
There's not much trying to explain why in a country of 300 million people, a tiny fraction go homicidally crazy occasionally. A more important homicide pattern to understand, is that for the white rate to equal the black rate, they'd have to experience an additional Aurora EVERY THREE HOURS. The national homicide rate today is half what it was 20 years ago, thanks to higher incarceration and data-driven tools like Stop and Frisk. Hopefully, we can continue to use tools that implement differentially at appropriate targets without violating our value system.
Not sure why you take Doctor Dalrymple seriously on this issue. He is a psychiatrist. No profession has done more to remove the issue of personal responsibility from the legal system than psychiatry. You may want to research his professional history. He was an NHS psychiatrist, working in a state hospital. Prison psychiatry was a small part of his job. Crime and the avoidance of punishment have been major concerns for psychiatry since its inception.

Yes, there are people in the world who are just plain evil. Why should the state pay for pseudo-doctors like Dalrymple to treat them for illnesses they don't even believe in?
'I’m particularly surprised because the author is a medical man. Surely he subscribes to the notion that were it not for science and relentless research on physical ailments, diseases such as smallpox and polio would still be with us wreacking havoc on the human race periodically as they used to do. '

A medical man?

He's a psychiatrist. A Charlatan, a snake oil salesman, witch finder, pseudo-doctor.

And most of you seem to adore him for it.

He chose his audience well.

the mendacious and the gullible: a perfect combination.
what we must not forget is that some of us are introverts - we do not crave social interaction, in fact we avoid it because it only makes us put down our real interests to do whatever we have to do in the social sense. All we do is try to get back to our inner workings as soon as we can, because we are totally immersed in the wonders of discovery and imagination. That does not make us likely to be murderers, it is NOT the reason these things happen, so don't make us out to be dangerous just because we are introvert! I love and care about everybody, I just do not want to spend all my time in the company of other people !
I have to correct the absurd assertion made above, which was that guns kill people.

Inanimate objects don't kill people. People use inanimate objects to kill people.
I am surprised, and somewhat mystified, by many of the comments that appear after this piece. Science has made incredible discoveries, and it will undoubtedly make many more. But lest one forget that some of the answers science gives are not the last word on a given subject, one need only think about Newtonian physics vis-a-vis Quantum Mechanics. More to the point of the issues posed by this most recent act, anybody who firmly believes in the power of science to one day explain the behavior of people like Holmes should pick up and read the book "Wisdom", by Stephen S. Hall. The mind is, indeed, a terrible thing to waste. But, too, it may be the most inexplicable scientific process man endeavors to understand.
I am just surprised and grateful that it doesn't happen more often. That we have any social order at all is a miracle.
James Holmes did not dye his hair like the Joker. This point may seem trivial to many but it is profound. The real Joker has green hair. Ronald MacDonald has orange and red hair. James Holmes is not the Joker, he is just a clown.
The answers are all to be found starting in Genesis, chapter 3. The only "solutions" to be found, are in the New Testament.
The answer is wasabi.
Brian Richard Allen July 26, 2012 at 3:38 AM
J F Kessler mentions "islam's 'civilization.'"

Now that is the definitive oxymoron.

The manifestation of evil that calls itself "islam" and "a religion," to boot, is the absolute antithesis of Civilization. Is the anti-civilization.
Brian Richard Allen July 26, 2012 at 3:28 AM
More than enough that we recognize evil, surely and reject it and its effect, than that we seek its "causation" and/or to "understand?"
I’m surprised at the author’s train of thought on this matter. It appears he is basically throwing up his hands in dismay and surrender, stating that tragedies like Aurora will always be with us - that science will never be able to explain such horrors.

I’m particularly surprised because the author is a medical man. Surely he subscribes to the notion that were it not for science and relentless research on physical ailments, diseases such as smallpox and polio would still be with us wreacking havoc on the human race periodically as they used to do.

I am a non-medical layman but I’d wager and grant that “mental “ illnesses are infinitely more complex than mere physical ailments.
Once “germs” were discovered and blame placed on them for common illnesses, a vast range of illnesses became if not curable, at least treatable.

I don’t think mental illnesses are, for the most part, caused by a germ and therefore cures and treatments are much more elusive – but I don’t think we should simply give up and do nothing.
What a shame that a terrific stylist like Theodore Dalrymple should allow his thinking to be so cheaply distorted in the service of an ideological alignment. He has a sophisticated point to make here, but it's tainted by his decision to use as a mere smuggling vehicle for a crass (and crudely insensitive, given the occasion) defense of the right's hackneyed, sub-rational position on the right to build private arsenals. Newt and wool don't kill people, semi-automatic weapons and explosive booby-traps do.
Sigmund Freud once was asked by a doctor in Berlin with whom he corresponded whether in his practice he had ever treated an evil person. Freud, an early neuroscientist [flatworm] answered briefly and to the point: I have never found any patient to be what is termed "evil." I have found those who might be so called to be trash. How a civilized industrial society deals with human trash — obvious examples come to mind — is not to be decided on the basis of neurones firing this or that way because of personality/character "malformation" or early traumatization, or social maladaptation, or whatever. That problem is posed by persons like Breivik and Holmes, and our culture and the degree of resolve and intellect have to deal with it rationally, and decisively, alas, always after the calamities they devise for children and women and men. That will apply to political problems as well: Islam's civilization in particular.
Useless, as usual.