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A killer's clues . . .

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By Nicholas Provenzo from The Rule of Reason,cross-posted by MetaBlog

More spot-on analysis on the Virginia Tech Massacre, this time from psychotherapist and psychologist Dr. Michael Hurd:

Here are three clues to what contributes to the attitude of a killer--chillingly, illustrated in the aftermath of the disaster.

The killer's roommate: "If I was told before he was depressed or suicidal, I definitely would have kept an eye open ... I definitely would have tried harder to be his friend or know a little bit better."

Dr. Hurd: You can't be friends with a nihilist hell-bent on destruction. Evil is not the same as emotional conflict. If you still don't understand this in the aftermath of the tragedy, then you're never going to understand it; and the way is paved for another one, and another one after that. Killers flourish in a psychological atmosphere where their potential victims think like this. This man didn't need counseling, and never would have benefited from it. He needed to be stopped, back when he was stalking women and making threats, and otherwise violating the individual rights of those on a campus.

The killer's creative writing teacher: "He was so distant and so lonely," she told ABC's "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "It was almost like talking to a hole, as though he wasn't there most of the time. He wore sunglasses and his hat very low so it was hard to see his face."

Dr. Hurd: Many people are lonely. They can't find people with whom to connect; they can't find people on their "wave length," if you will--that is, people who share their philosophy or sense-of-life. Yet they want this connection, and they generally seek it out. Cho didn't want it or need it. He only wanted and needed to destroy. Don't try to understand it; it's too irrational and sick to contemplate. But, at the same time, don't try to relate it to the realm of the reasonable, either.

The killer's poetry teacher: "I know we're talking about a youngster, but troubled youngsters get drunk and jump off buildings," she said. "There was something mean about this boy. It was the meanness — I've taught troubled youngsters and crazy people — it was the meanness that bothered me. It was a really mean streak."

Dr. Hurd: Come on, professor. You can say it. Go ahead, I dare you. Say it. He was EVIL. He was BAD. He was not quantitatively different from your average, stressed out college student...he was qualitatively different. He acted with choice, no less so than the 9/11 killers, the Columbine killers, or the Oklahoma City killers. It's not mental pain or anguish. It's hatred and evil.

Yet as Hurd indicates, look just how reluctant these three individuals are to describe evil--that is, a substantive threat to the living and the good--as the thing it is.

If the take-way from this tragedy is that people like Cho--that is, the viciously amoral and depraved--are helpless victims who only need our "love," "compassion" and "understanding" to deter them from their path, I think we will only pave the road for the next unspeakable tragedy. There are people who choose to be utterly nihilistic, and it is our right to defend ourselves against them.

http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/002475.html

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Dr. Hurd: Many people are lonely. They can't find people with whom to connect; they can't find people on their "wave length," if you will--that is, people who share their philosophy or sense-of-life. Yet they want this connection, and they generally seek it out. Cho didn't want it or need it. He only wanted and needed to destroy. Don't try to understand it; it's too irrational and sick to contemplate. But, at the same time, don't try to relate it to the realm of the reasonable, either.

http://ObjectivismOnline.com/blog/archives/002475.html

I have a hard time coming to terms with an analysis like this, and I think it stems from my disbelief that certain people are hopelessly evil. After certain acts such as this shooting, the 9/11 attacks, or the holocaust, it doesn't much matter if the people behind them are hopeless or not; justice must be served. But to write off the VA Tech. massacre as incomprehensible doesn't help one bit. I think it would be more beneficial to strive to understand the person's motivation, if for nothing else than to stop similar murderers in the future.
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I think it would be more beneficial to strive to understand the person's motivation, if for nothing else than to stop similar murderers in the future.

Those 32 dead bodies were his motivation. He craved the destruction of himself, of others and of existence. And since he wasn't an all-powerful dark lord who could bring the pillars of creation (not to be confused with Goodkind's pillars) down and wipe out existence, but merely a human, he did what all his type do - kill.

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I'm not saying that you're wrong but I don't think you can possibly speak that conclusion with any degree of certainty unless you are a psychiatrist who personally knew Cho Seung Hui. Was he evil? Absolutely. I usually hold the opinion that generally good people can do very bad things. But this isn't an instance of someone snapping and shooting his wife out of anger. As has been mentioned, this guy exhibited a very rare kind of anger and hatred.

And it's pretty obvious that he craved the destruction of himself and others. That doesn't really qualify as a psychological or philosophical conclusion, since it's truth is self-evident. But I think it's awfully presumptuous of you to assume that he didn't have other motives. He may very well not have had other motives. But no one will ever know for sure.

And he was absolutely mentally ill. Senseless violence like this always results from mental illness. It isn't comparable to Nazism or radical Islam, because those killers are following an ideology. When someone kills without any apparent goal other than killing for the sake of killing (his incoherent ramblings on that video don't really provide any evidence that this was not the case), then it is safe to conclude that that person is mentally ill. And, as a person who is not mentally ill, you will not be able to fathom what his motives might have been and, similarly, he would not have been able to describe them to you in a way that made sense. He didn't think rationally about this like a normal person.

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I'm not saying that you're wrong but I don't think you can possibly speak that conclusion with any degree of certainty unless you are a psychiatrist who personally knew Cho Seung Hui.

Whom are you addressing?

If it is I, I can only say that I have never encountered such a clear cut case. I'm sure there were other psychological factors such as asserting his will (his impotence) over others by eliminating them. Maybe to become famous if he thought he could get out alive. And who knows about that.

Hate drove him. His desire was to kill. Naming his ends does not make me a psychologist, nor need I or anyone be one to grasp that much. Nor do I have had to know him personally to reach this conclusion.

Of course we can fathom his motives. We can't fathom his experience, or see through his eyes. At least, I don't possess the skill of temporarily experiencing that kind of existence.

I, for one, don't believe he was mentally ill in a clinical sense. I do think he was mentally evil. Were his mental processes (whatever these were) in conflict with reality? Yup. You can be a psychotic all on your own, practice irrationality long enough and anyone can become "mentally ill". You don't need the help of a "mental illness" "afflicting" you as if by a force outside yourself.

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This depends on how you define "mentally ill." But, by the legal definition, he most certainly was, because a judge had ruled him as such and he had spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

I'll grant you that hate was his desire. I just think it's simplistic to say that the dead bodies were his only motivation. He talked about how he hated the rich, hated religion, hated "charlatans," etc. I think this speaks to the fact that revenge played a large hand in his motive.

As far as understanding his motives...I must respectfully disagree. A sane, rational person cannot truly understand the motivations of something like this. When psychotics voice their motives, they frequently don't make sense. Think of it in terms of religion. When the theist claims that he believes in God, you don't truly understand what he's talking about. Why? Because the word "God" has never been defined in a cogent manner. It doesn't make any sense to the theist either, but he thinks it does, and so he continues to believe.

Same thing here. A psychotic's motives are incomprehensible, but they remain his motives, nonetheless.

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Same thing here. A psychotic's motives are incomprehensible, but they remain his motives, nonetheless.

And, unless his faculty of volition is damaged or impaired, he also remains 100% culpable irrespective of whatever voices or urges happened to pop into his brain sufficiently to declare him genuinely mentally ill. To be classified as evil it matters only that he knew that what the voices or urges wanted him to do was wrong and that it was in his power to refrain from following through. That he can be, and was, also classified as mentally ill, is a secondary issue on the determination-of-evil score.

As to incomprehensibility, I recall from The Fountainhead a quote along the lines of 'don't examine a folly, only what it accomplishes,' and I then further recall Dr Peikoff saying in one of his recorded lectures "consider the source" (it was a quote by Toohey). In this circumstance, it would be an idea to distinguish between truly incomprehensible and (as Thoyd points out) our now mere inability to get enough data to form an understanding on the grounds of Cho being dead. This does not mean we shouldn't try, based on what other information he did leave behind and what others can provide. I can't remember if it was Dr Hurd or Dr Binswanger who noted that there was a definite cross-over from psychoepistemology to psychopathology, that after a while a grievously bad set of mental processes volitionally automated by someone will cause that someone ultimately to become a killer. I do know that Dr Binswanger touched on part of it in one of his Psychoepistemology lecture series, and mentioned Dr Stanton Samenow on the matter, but I am pretty sure Dr Hurd has written something more substantial as well.

Dr Binswanger noted that in the long run - and, by all accounts, Cho had a very long run - we are all responsible for our psychoepistemologies. That, along with volition, is part of the reason we may be able to ascribe evil to a person even though his psychoepistemology of the moment is automatised. Figuring out how and why Cho became what he did would, if researched by a competent and objective expert in mental health and/or psychoepistemology, would be invaluable to psychology, for general diagnostics, criminal profiling etc, and therapy. It would also further concretise the tie between epistemology, psychoepistemology, and mental health. For extra credit, a good philosopher would also tie the matter into the state of the culture, existing bad philosophies, and further demonstrate the need and value of Objectivism by showing how only Objectivism is capable of both fully comprehending happened and how to stop it recurring in the future.

JJM

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I saw a brief picture or two of Cho holding weapons that reminded me very much of the video's we get from Alqueda and other terrorist organizations. That isn't much to go on, but it may be a clue to follow up on. Unfortunately, people are focusing on the pain and suffering he caused -- and calling it a "tragedy" -- rather than being righteously angry at him; which is very similar to the reactions shortly after the terrorist attacks of 911. There is enough of a parallel here that makes me wonder what is happening to this country. I mean, is it altruism, pity, empathy, or what that is going on here?

A co-worker suggested that he must have been harrassed for being mentally ill that led him to take in out on the people around him. And while there are people out there who delight in their cruelty towards the mentally ill -- and the mentally ill ought to be angry about that -- there is no specific evidence that he was being harassed at all; for having a mental illness or for anything else. It is remotely possible that he misinterpreted those trying to help him as harassments, but I have known people with mental ilnesses and they tend to be more resistive than violent when someone offers them help.

His two plays (if he wrote them) were not as violent as I was led to believe, but they did seem to be saying that he thought some sort of injust had occurred to him (i.e. "winning life's lottery" only to have it taken away from him in "Mr. Brownstone"). But, again, this would require specific evidence that somehow those students at Virginia Tech were involved in that injustice.

If nihilism was involved, then I think it may have been on the order of hatred of the good for being the good -- which is why he would attack students in the Engineering Building at VT. There may also have been a resentment of the mentally healthy in his premeditated mass murdering evil.

And, yes, I was disappointed that Fox News Sunday did not portray him as evil, but rather simply as mentally disturbed.

Be expecting a whole host of psychologizing away his killing spree.

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