An enraged lunatic, who goes on a killing spree, doesn’t murder randomly. On the contrary, there is a method to his madness; he targets a certain group of people. His choice of victims offers an important clue to his particular psychopathology.
For example, in previous essays we explored why the Columbine murderers, Harris and Klebold, had targeted their fellow high school students and why Binghamton’s murderer, Jiverly Voong, had targeted the recent immigrants, who met at the Binghamton Civic Center. In those two cases, a toxic mixture of dark emotions — envy being the key ingredient — motivated the killers. James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado killer, targeted those attending the new Batman film. Why that population? Apparently, those filmgoers played a symbolic role in his psychological drama, which we shall have to uncover if we are to solve this mystery.
Needless to say, moviegoers aren’t just seeking entertainment. Films seek to satisfy a variety of emotional longings, including the desire to see justice done, at least within the universe of the film. That is because they are troubled by the fact that this actual world of ours is rife with injustice. The filmgoers, who attended that fatal midnight showing of the new Batman film, came to root for that mythic embodiment of the hero, Batman, who defends civilization against the forces of darkness. Like all archtypcal heroes, Batman seeks to transform chaos into cosmos, order and light, thus redeeming this fallen world of ours. Holmes’ target was people who harbored such hopes, for, to paraphrase a song by the Rolling Stones, he wanted to “paint it black.” He didn’t want it redeemed, just destroyed.
Identifying with the Villain
Now here is the strange thing: Holmes identified not with Batman, but with the Joker, who symbolized — as played by Keith Ledger — the forces the nihilism, destruction and darkness, i.e., evil.
Does it sound odd that a person would adopt a negative and perverse identity and to that extreme a degree? Actually, it’s quite common. Consider, for example, politics, where nihilism — the complete negation of all values — is often writ large. The violent variety of nihilism is embodied in the statement of Che Guevara, “A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.” The Occupy Wall Street crowd possess Guevara’s hatred, envy and resentment.
The same could be said of radical secularism, also known as progressivism. It, consists in a ruthlessly perverse campaign to destroy traditional values — such as hard work, self-reliance, natural marriage, family, etc. Underneath the egalitarian mask lurks a nihilistic longing for the apocalypse. An apocalypse doesn’t always mean blood flowing in the streets. The apocalypse currently finds less dramatic expression as a subtle reign of coercion, repression and terror, implemented by a legion of unelected czars, demagogues, politically correct college administrators, and tin-pot tyrants. This is the zeitgeist, the manure, from which emerges such flowers of evil and other monstrosities, including mentally unbalanced lunatics who go on murderous rampages.
A Terrorist Without a Cause>
Holmes was not ostensibly political, but rather a terrorist without a cause, a revolutionary nihilist who would burn down the entire world, quite literally, had he the power to do so. Like Joseph Conrad’s secret agent, he was frustrated that he could not. We might add that the Joker, as the film’s director Christopher Nolan represented him, is not like those villains of yesteryear, motivated by greed. Rather the Joker is a kind of postmodern villain, imbued with dark metaphysical longings, more particularly the longing to undermine everyone’s sense of order and security and, by so doing, to precipitate the world into chaos, so that Kali the destroyer — and, following Guenon’s logic, Kali the egalitarian — may reign.
Why, though, would anyone seek chaos? Where lies the psychological gain? Those who do conceive freedom and happiness to drive from a release from lawfulness. They fail, though, to see its dark implications of this puerile expression of freedom.
Underlying the longing for destruction and chaos we often discover a perversity of spirit, as old as the hills — envy, the sense that no one else shall live and harbor hope for the future, if he who is miserable doesn’t.
Those who become demonic, who pledge their allegiance to the dark side, hate life — more particularly, goodness, justice, lawfulness, and hope for the future — and seek to destroy it. They hate it because it threatens to destroy who they take themselves to be, just as the light of the sun gives flight to the creatures of the night. And, as we are suggesting, they envy those blessed with goodness and hope.
Holmes’ Vendetta Against Batman Fans
Here, then, lies the answer to our mystery: In lieu of being able to destroy Gotham City, let alone the world, Holmes chose to do so symbolically, as do all terrorists, by murdering a certain group of people. In other words, James Holmes realized that he couldn’t destroy goodness, justice, lawfulness and hope — the very foundations of a world — but he could at least destroy those who longed for those virtues to be actualized, i.e., the filmgoers who were there that evening to view the Batman film, and who hoped, at least in the universe of that film, to see goodness and light triumph over evil and darkness.
Similarly, the Nazis weren’t able to destroy goodness and righteousness, so they sought to exterminate those who they saw as valuing goodness and righteousness, i.e., the Jews, Catholic priests, etc. And so, the battle was set up in Holmes’ mind — himself the nihilistic Joker, versus those in the movie theater who were rooting for Batman and all that he symbolized.
OK, but Why James Holmes?
Even a nihilist cannot endure being a nobody. If recent reports are correct, Holmes dropped out of his doctoral program, was unable to find a job and was having troubles with his love life. His huge ego inflation is compensation for his sense of nothingness. I.E., Holmes no longer saw himself as a miserable loser, as a kind of Raskolnikov, but assumed the mythic, larger than life, identity of the Joker, the devil incarnate from the Batman films.
Why, though, did Holmes transform from from a person who subscribed to the values, beliefs and hopes of his society to a person suffering from extreme alienation, anomie, nihilism and despair? And then why did he transform from a doctoral student in neuroscience to a coldblooded killer? After all, everyone has his share of problems, but not everyone becomes a despairing nihilist, and very, very few become mass murderers (although some would argue that it is fear of punishment that stops many people). As to what internal and external pressures burst the damn of Holmes’ sanity, thus letting flow the powerful river of a mythic nightmare, is another story, one which we shall not explore at this time.
Another question is, why are those who go over the edge to become mass murderers are almost always men. Why not women? Actually, there are Islamic suicide bombers. Alas, it’s getting late and I’m getting tired, so I’ll leave these questions for another time or for readers to explore on their own.