During the contentious power struggle between the elite and the workers, individuals at times of chaos rebel against expectations. This is known as class consciousness, according to Karl Marx (Ritzer: 42). Although I don’t believe that the shooters were particularly targeting the 1% based on their victims, the people of this world who commit these acts are dealing with frustrations. These shooters turn to violence when they are not heard, or when they don’t have the words to describe why they are angry, because they are dealing with class battle and therefore an educational one, even on a micro level when you consider the concept of power distance between fellows. This could be from the relationship between teacher and student, to the people and politicians, to a patient and their psychiatrist. What is happening with these shootings is leaders unintentionally make people feel that the world is not a safe place while turning the workers against each other by using certain stigmas that create distance between people and their fellows with mental illness.
Anger is a big part of mass shooting, but without words that anger turns into careless action. While still considering classical sociological theory, let it be said that the rise of secular society can be compared to the Calvinists in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, because shooters too are un-phased by potential consequences, with secularism being a new religion to our modes of conduct. The Calvinist people believed in predetermination, so they didn’t see the value in choice; they just made actions, maybe not like James Holmes of the Aurora shooting did, but there are similar themes (Ritzer:43).
Emile Durkeim’s theory stood out while comparing suicide to mass shootings. It’s almost common knowledge now to believe that people who are mentally ill tend to go one of two ways: Some kill themselves, some kill others. Shooters choose the latter. While making the comparison to Japan, the Japanese have a collective conscience that believed that suicide is more normal, stemming from the actions of the ronin samuri. In current society, too many of the overworked Japanese people kill themselves to get out of the routine, motivated by what Durkeim says to be the collective conscience (Ritzer: 47). More and more, we are seeing mass shootings take place…they are copying each other as the collective ego manifests itself as a new norm that looks a lot like a collective conscience, and similar yet opposite to the suicides in Japan.
James Holmes reportedly had a quarrel with his psychiatrist (Phillips: 2018), which is an indication of a lack of respect for power distance. This relationship is the micro to Marx’s macro. With society having a fractal-like effect, our capitalist society has a greater power distance between authority figures and citizens, or in Holmes’ case, psychiatrist and patient. After the shootings, law enforcement, in Holme’s case, responded by him giving a psychiatric evaluation (Reid, 2014). He got given a diagnose and declared guilty, despite his plea for reasons of insanity. Mental health systems seek to abolish this behavior, but I feel that it’s something that 1960’s experiment can describe, in addition to the classical theories. John Calhoun lead an experiment to predict the outcomes of the increasing human population and it was found that the mice started to totally go against their nature in a highly communal and connected space. They, however, did not have semi-automatic weapons, and it’s unfortunate that we do, but the people that commit these shooters, according to the FBI would not have failed a background check.
According to the trends of the last half a century, it is the sick that commit acts of deviance, including mass shootings. What has not changed, according to Anne Hendershott, the writer of Natural Law and the Sociology of Deviance, is the societal values that are based on unwritten laws that stretch from community to community. The boundaries that are created, she suggests, “protect us from the instability of moral panic” (Hendershott: 45). In a post-structural age, those laws are more ambiguous than they ever have been. Although Hendershott doesn’t bring post-structuralism into the equation, what is brought in is the concept of mental illness, deviance understood as sickness instead of a moral flaw. She does bring up globalization in regard to moral judgment. She says that globalization has, “created societies based less on shared culture than on narrow calculations of individual self-interest” (Hendershott:46).
This brings us to Adler and Adler’s ABC’s of deviance. Deviance is contingent on attitude, behaviors, and conditions. Attitudes are internals, so in regards to a case like James Holmes, he was suffering from mental illness. He got diagnosed with delusional disorder and schizotypal personality disorder (Reid: 2014.) This would obviously influence his behavior, thus his reason for dressing strangely, dyeing his hair orange and dressing like the Joker. Schizotypal people tend to have weird appearances…the conditions mean that the shooting at a Batman film provided him an outlet to dress as the Joker. He had an affinity for the film and delusions regarding his relation to it.
While also going deeper into Hedershott’s article, the medicalization of deviance is brought up. Sociologists named Conrad and Schneider (1980: 6) wrote that eventually deviants would no longer be labeled as evil. While some people consider shooters to be mentally ill, the conspiracy community stood up for Holmes and a film called, The James Holmes Conspiracy, was created. People said that there was another shooter, despite police reports saying otherwise. The other explanation for a justification of deviance being medical has to do with the pharmaceutical industry. People pointed fingers at psychotropic drug companies and psychiatrists, much like the one James Holmes had. Many say that psychotropic drugs make people commit shootings, but sociologists say otherwise.
A sociologist and a four-term U.S. senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had something to say about why shootings happen. He wrote about “defining deviancy down,” and pointed to the horrifying trend of unacceptable behaviors becoming acceptable (Hendershott: 46). There is a lot of numbing going on in our society because deviance has become normative. Many deviant behaviors, as he says, has been increasing. This is even in a time of prosperity for our society. What he considers to be “defining deviancy up” has to do with the old normal being now stigmatized (Hendershott: 46). It’s increasingly twisted. With the common assumption of narcissism being a factor, these shooters are seeking out attention. While serial killers used to bring that, now it’s old news. We don’t hear about serial killers as much, but mass shooters make the headlines that serial killers used to.
We are in a tricky time period while considering post-structural beliefs dominating American hegemony. People are pointing fingers in all different directions…the issue isn’t black and white though. It is not about good vs. evil, sick vs. sane. Just as ordinary people were responsible for The Holocaust, ordinary people are committing mass shootings, while being labeled ill when this society is just as sick.
The macro has a huge influence on the micro. Certain conditions are allowing these events to happen, and it’s not just because American’s are allowed guns. There are many truths that make up our understanding of this world. There are a lot of factors playing into this, and unfortunately not enough solutions. While everybody turns to the experts to diagnose or lead, people become victims to them. But that is what the world is made of: victims and predators, it’s just a shift that we are seeing in the semantics of those labels.
Karl Marx once said, “A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor compendia and so on. A criminal produces crimes,” as quoted in the book, Criminology: A Very Short Introduction, by Tim Newburn (Newburn: 25). In a world where there is such a huge demand on the economy, people are pressured to produce. While some fall short because of “mental illness” others pursue careers that start from having something to study, and in certain cases something then to enforce. It’s part of the yin and yang in the world that there is a balance, and while bloody battles used to fill that hole, we’re actually no more violent than we used to be. Think of the days when people were burnt at the stake, merely over religious beliefs. As the politicians keep saying, “We need to create jobs!” because our survival depends on it, but entropy is just as natural as creation.
Mass shooter’s are indirectly creating through destruction, acting under the same pressure that everybody else is under to create—some people respond worse than others to pressure though. Environments activate certain genes. Although they are not all uniform, people like James Holmes would not justify his actions by saying he was under mind control if the naturally occurring psychotic gene didn’t activate along the way.
The conspiracies, however, are creating more of an outlet for deviance as they take the forefront of certain people’s minds. People commit mass shootings for different reasons. It is wrong to stereotype them as all the same, especially since after the shooting we hardly hear anything about them to understand. Although deviance is a part of society, we are witnessing something like our world has not seen before. It most likely often has to do with a need for power, which is what people are under pressure to grab as part of the American dream, a dream with stereotypes that some people fall short of due to attitudes, behaviors, and conditions. While the macro exists in an ambiguous state in regards to defining deviance, people too are not quite sure what the right action is. As a result many don’t conform to it.