Kirby Farrell Ph.D.

A Swim in Denial

Are They Shooting at You?

The magic bullet of self-esteem

Posted Jun 14, 2016

The pop definition says you're insane if you persist in an action that doesn't get results. By that definition, you're living in an insane nation. People shudder at daily firearms murders, then rush out to buy weapons.  Panicky gun-owners have already put up websites claiming that the Orlando massacre was "in reality" a hoax designed to confiscate their Glock and AR-15 security blankets.

The denial is pitiful but not surprising. Denial drives all sorts of explanations that seek to rationalize the massacre.  Most of these fantasies illustrate one of the basic laws of behavior.  When scared, bipeds turn aggressive.  Flight turns to fight.  And so we have ISIS and Washington claiming the killer was a terrorist and a good reason to keep the nation eternally at war.  Gay folks imagine that the war is homophobia.  The conspiracy enthusiasts fantasize "big government's" relentless battle to disarm them.

But Omar Mateen had been to the gay club in Orlando perhaps a dozen times, though as a wallflower and, as the night went on, as an argumentative drunk. In fact there's some evidence that the man was increasingly paranoid and conflicted about his sinful attraction to partying and possibly to other males.  In an interview, his Dad has assured us that such forbidden behaviors will earn God's wrath, so his son's torment may have been larger than life.

Omar may have wanted to be a righteous ISIS bigshot. During his rampage he phoned the Channel 13 newsroom to proclaim "I'm the shooter. It's me." He was following the public reaction as it inflated his self-importance. In reality he was a nobody like the rest of us: an anonymous voice in a telephone boasting "It's me."  He wanted the world to confirm that he was a macho zealot, part of ISIS's grand plan and not a helplessly conflicted loser. 

ISIS would be one solution to conflicted sexuality, since the gang celebrates God with forced marriages and sex slaves. In his brief marriage, Omar beat up his wife to keep her submissive.  Yet he must have listened to Dad too, because anybody who becomes a record-breaking bigshot through slaughter wins global fame but also a trip to the undertaker's since most rampages end in suicide or police bullets.  In a word, evidence suggests that Omar was enraged about conflicts within him. He and his victims were unlucky to be living in a culture that worships guns and hands them out like cough drops.

Rampages almost always have a copycat dimension, and whatever his motives, Omar was also a copycat.  And the cops and the media also followed copycat scripts. ISIS offers a handy way of mimicking a military hero or pseudocommando.

A culture of gun-mania offered Omar a military combat weapon with which to break records. NPR has reported that the "Suspect purchased guns legally ahead of deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history." But then, the U. S. beats all other nations in gun ownership and gun deaths. You can bet that we also rank right up there in culturally-goosed fear and rage, as rant broadcasters and Trump Man indicate. 

It's a big order, but we need to change a culture that hands out military weapons like picnic spoons and confuses big shot with bigshot. 

Let me urge you to visit an earlier post that refuses to take denial for an answer:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/swim-in-denial/201603/license-conce...

That post wasn't popular when it appeared, but the bitter tang of adrenaline and gunsmoke are in the air this week.  Give it a read and see what you think.  If it strikes you as a useful way of thinking about firearms massacres, have a look at The Psychology of Abandon, in paper and e-book. Like it or not, we're all in this together.