America's Rational Killers

12/06/2007 09:35 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A teenage gunman in Omaha just killed eight civilians in a random act of
violence. He then killed himself. Earlier in the year a teenage gunman
killed thirty three civilians in Virginia. He then killed himself. Last
year a gunman killed eleven school girls before killing himself. The
Columbine killers left a mound of dead bodies in Colorado before killing

Every few months we are subjected to the same horrifying narrative, and
every few months we mourn, and move on. We seem to have become consigned
to the suicide killers among us. We chalk it up to irrationality, and
that seems sufficient.

Yet, these people are not irrational at all. We know that because Camus
told us something about those who commit suicide after killing others:
the fact that they kill (punish) themselves after killing (hurting)
others is a clear indication that they were rational at the time of
their murder, and rational at the time of their suicide. They could
recognize the difference between bad and good. They felt guilt. Guilty
people cannot be irrational.

Labeling people irrational is an act of laziness. It allows us to
disparage them, and disclaim responsibility for their behavior, and
engage in self-flagellation without introspection. This was the same
thing we did when 9/11 happened. Those men were not irrational guerillas
who learned to fly a plane. They were rational murderers. They had
reasons for why they behaved that way.

To accept the rationality of a mass murderer is not tantamount to
blaming oneself. Innocents are not to blame. It is, however, an
opportunity to evaluate the circumstances that led to the mass
murderer's behavior. We, unfortunately, seem not at all interested in
that. On one hand we are afraid that we might find ourselves implicated
in "their" behavior. On the other hand we are too arrogant to think such
a person's actions deserve to be subjected to critical reflection ("why
should I waste my time thinking about an animal").

The gunman in Omaha left a note saying he wanted to be famous. The
Virginia Tech gunman sent packages to the world's largest media groups.
The Columbine killers dressed up in correspondence with film characters
of great notoriety. When will we realize that America has a problem: it
has created a culture where affirmation from others is the sole method
of individual validation left. It is not the presence of guns; it is not
the absence of religiosity; it is not the breakdown of the family. The
simple fact is that we are growing up to think that we are only complete
if others give us confirmation of our importance.

How did we get like this? Actually, scratch that. We have always been
like this. Rational murder has always been with us. In another age, such
people didn't go to malls to kill, but to Europe or Africa. In another
world, troubled people simply become Taliban and suicide bombers and
kill. We have to ask how our culture can produce complete individuals,
and we have to do it without waxing nostalgic about a mythical age "when
these kinds of things didn't happen." Because that is simply another way
of escaping to the very real problem we have to face.