Tuesday, July 24, 2012

James Holmes, Sociopath? "There was a horrible smell of lime and burning flesh, something like the strong smell of urine...But you get so used to it that you could eat your sandwiches in there too."

I shared my piece on James Holmes and white privilege over at The Daily Kos. At this point, it has about 550 comments. Do check it out and chime in. Of course, there is racism denying and deflection among the comments; but many of the most common observations involve the claim that James Holmes is a "sociopath," "crazy," or a "psychopath." As such, that should be the framework through which his deeds are viewed.

Consequently, we must a priori grapple with questions surrounding mental health and personal responsibility. I absolutely agree. However, there could be a more basic fact which drove Holmes' behavior that the general public and the pundit classes are loathe to acknowledge.

Folks love to call these mass killers "crazy" or "sociopaths." Such a diagnosis by armchair psychologists is quite common in the aftermath of a murderous tragedy. Why? Because we need to reestablish a sense of normality, and to convince ourselves that such barbarisms are the result of atypical urges among humankind.

Moreover, James Holmes' deeds make the rest of us feel "good" and "normal" because such conclusions identify murder, mayhem, and violence as "unnatural" acts. In this framework, to kill at will is therefore made "crazy." Many people would not want to admit that violence is perhaps something natural for humans given that we are apex predators, and our history is one of blood and destruction.

Until the premier headshrinkers get access to The Batman Shooter and practice their craft, we must entertain the fact that Holmes simply killed at will because he could. Nothing more, nothing less. The banality of evil is real. They are not all bogeymen, some killers are pedestrian, boring, uninteresting, opportunists. Some of these killers are just run of the mill bureaucrats.

Richard Overy interviewed Nazi war criminals before their trials at Nuremberg. His book, Interrogations: Inside the Minds of the Nazi Elite, is a tour through the wickedness that is man given the opportunity to kill with impunity. The subjects of Overy's interviews--SS soldiers, guards, and others--are true sociopaths.  

Source: (HQ BAOR, interrogation reports from No. 1 Sub-Centre, 10 Dec 1945. (D) Taped conversation held on 3 Nov 1945 between Ernst von Gottstein and Eugen Horak - Document 13 in Interrogations: Inside the Minds of the Nazi Elite, Penguin, 2001, pp. 371-74.
Comment:  Ernst von Gottstein (Hauptbauleiter OT, Gauamtsleiter fur Technik, Gau Karnten) and Eugen Horak (interpreter in Gruppe VI/C of the RSHA).  If any subsequent information about Eugen Horak's service record and how he ended up in Auschwitz has come to light, I am not aware of it.  Department VI/C was responsible for espionage and counter espionage abroad, C was responsible for Russia and Japan.
Horak:  I was present in Vienna when they were loading up people for one of those mass evacuations.  Hundreds were crammed into wagons, which normally took a couple of cows.  And they were thoroughly beaten up as well.  I went up to a young SS man and asked if the beating up was really necessary.  He laughed and said they were only scum anyway.  You know the whole thing was so unnecessary and one could well have got on without it ... what was the purpose of all that beating up? I have nothing at all against the gas chambers. A time can come when it is useful to the race to eliminate certain elements. Extermination is one thing but there is no need to torture your victims beforehand.
I saw some incredible things at Auschwitz. Some SS guard personnel could not stand it any longer and had to be sent to a nerve clinic. When my party arrived we were divided into two sections: those who were really keen on the whole affair, and those like myself who were continually asking for something to distract us. .... One SS company actually mutinied and tried to get themselves posted to the front. But they had to carry out their orders. It was just at the time that Ogruf [sic] Dix gave the orders to increase the death rate.
Von GottsteinThe motto of the SS ought to have been 'Meine Ehre ist Gehorsam' (My Honour is Obedience). 
HorakYou're quite right. .... These people lose all feeling. Roschke for example once told me quite callously that he had volunteered for duty in the crematorium because they got so much time off afterwards. This duty was absolutely repulsive. One had to stand the whole night in the crematorium. There was only one door and no windows. The two sentries had to go in, lock the door and pass the key through the peephole to the officer outside. They were only connected to the outside world by telephone. An NCO and a private were normally on duty, but in a concentration camp experience counts a good deal more than rank. The one with more experience generally had a pistol and the other a rifle. There were nine people on duty in the crematorium, themselves known candidates for the gas chamber. They knew too much and were eventually exterminated as opportunity arose. 
There were four ovens on the left side of the crematorium and the gas chamber was on the right - a normal size room with a narrow door and no windows. They did not use gas but a powder which at a certain temperature gave off poisonous fumes. It must have been quite agreeable because the people never made a mess. The sentries had to see that the nine people on duty didn't escape through the ventilators. And they watched them pulling the bones and the pieces of flesh which hadn't burned out of the ovens, or dragging the bodies from the gas chamber and cramming them into the ovens. There was only room for one body in each oven. There was a horrible smell of lime and burning flesh, something like the strong smell of urine ... (both laughing). But you get so used to it that you could eat your sandwiches in there too.
 I do not know if James Holmes is part of Horak's tribe. We must wait, gather evidence, and let the experts do their work before coming to such a conclusion. 

The more comforting decision rule has us lumping The Dark Knight Rises mass murderer in with sociopathic Hollywood characters like Hannibal Lecter, or real life monsters such as the SS guards at the Nazi death camps, or those men who ran the slave ships during The Middle Passage.

We can sleep easier that way. 

It is more frightening to accept that James Holmes could just be the killer next door. Am I wrong? Given the right combination of circumstances, are we not all capable of mass murder like James Holmes?


Anonymous said...

I'm struggling to understand why people are so consumed with this mass murder when there is/has been mass murders happening in Chicago. Where is the sympathy for the INNOCENT families who happen to be poor and become victims because of their environment? People are assuming that moviegoers were innocent just because they were seeing a movie....I don't get it. You live in Chicago Chauncy. Maybe the fact that people are spendiing time offering analysis of James Holmes is privilege in of itself. A friend of mine said.."he was probably smarter than everyone in the movie theater" sigh.......


CNu said...

It is more frightening to accept that James Holmes could just be the killer next door. We can sleep easier that way. Am I wrong? Given the right combination of circumstances, are we not all capable of mass murder like James Holmes?

You are right. Most of these humans live in deepest denial of the killer-ape in their nature.



Perfectly normal.

Culturally normative.

Human livestock management is predicated on clear understanding and manipulation of this fundamental truth.

Psychopaths rule and dominate the species because they understand its nature and suffer no imposed limits wrt what they're willing to do in order to exploit it.

This has proven itself an evolutionarily stable strategy at least since the time of Sargon.

fred c said...

So I looked at the comment stream on the Kos, Jeez Louise who could get through such a thing? As a concession to the brevity of life I skimmed it. A nice admixture of the many shades of reasonable, or not so much.

But the point: why are these things immediately characterized according to the race of the miscreant?

Those Nazis, they were a lively bunch. Recall, though, that after the war psychologists did some experiments to see if Germans were more likely than other groups to do such things under orders. It was shown that they had no monopoly on willfully participating in officially sanctioned torture, most people would turn up the switch if it were part of an organized program and they were following directions, i.e., if there were a reason.

So it seems that we all have a little bit of hell in us. No surprise, really. Call it the Killer Ape routine, although the bonobos (sic) seem to be a cheerful lot.

Is this guy crazy? Yes, if you ask me as a person. As a lawyer, though, the question becomes is he competent, under the requirements of this particular legal situation. Then the answer becomes no. You can be quite insane in general and still competent to write a will, for instance, or stand trial for an intentional crime.

This gunsel should not lead us to condemn or question the capabilities of White young men in general, no more than any particular crime by a young Black man should lead us to such questions. The percentage of individuals who commit serious crimes is, in both instances, miniscule.

Why there is a difference in how the two situations are treated is, however, an interesting question. And the evidence of our shared media experience is compelling that the reason for the difference is racism, and White privilege. Both of those things are bigger problems than the adding of a dozen or so names to the many thousands of people who will be killed this year in our blessed country. If I may be blunt.

CNu said...

Richard Overy interviewed Nazi war criminals before their trials at Nuremberg. His book, Interrogations: Inside the Minds of the Nazi Elite, is a tour through the wickedness that is man given the opportunity to kill with impunity. The subjects of Overy's interviews--SS soldiers, guards, and others--are true sociopaths.

Magne shooooot....., Hugo Boss designed the flyest gear of ALL TIME for them Waffen SS jokers.

{teeheehee..., CNu said "jokers"}

CNu said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Men are the mass murderers, and we have to wonder what kind of world men are creating. I think it is the complete moral failure of toxic patriarchy in its death throws. I can't believe any woman would ever live with a man who owned guns!

So men are the problem, any solutions?

CNu said...

In the contracting (collapsing) economy - death squads will come sooner and cheaper..., in fact, a backlog of killer-ape aurora copycats independentlytry'na get it collectively jumpstarted already....,

chaunceydevega said...

@Mb. There was a damning piece in the Tribune last week about crime in Obama's former neighborhood. What is he to do about it?

@CNu. Is there a little James Holmes in all of us?

@Fred. Adorno and Millgram. Goldhagen, despite some methodological issues, makes a devastating argument in Hitler's Willing Executioners. Given the right circumstances our society is capable of mass psychosis--we have before during Jim and Jane Crow, the slaveocracy, Manifest Destiny, and the genocide of the First Nations.

As an attorney, do you think he will walk?

@GT. I may post a short video or link on this, but you can't forget that women are barbaric too. Many were just as deeply involved in eliminationist movements as were men. Also, women during the Russian Revolution and World War 2 put in real "wet work" and took out lots of people.

CNu said...


A "little"?!?!?!?!?

The threat of becoming Reginald "Fleece" Johnson's newest cellmate is all that holds the floodgates closed.

A. Ominous said...

"Is there a little James Holmes in all of us?"

Funny that we're more likely to ask this sort of (bizarre rhetorical) question when the perp is, uh,... you know. Not Colored. Why is that?

And what a funny way to exhibit over-identification with the Oppressor (laugh). I mean, I don't remember any such soul searching when, eg, that cannibal-of-color ate a man's face off in Florida...

A. Ominous said...

PS Are we EVER going to talk about Jarrell "The Invisible Hero" Brooks?

GT said...


Good retort but I hate racial body count contests I get that noise from my Yiddish cohorts ...

In the good ole USA white makes remain leaders of the killing fields nonetheless when it comes to public massacres

makheru bradley said...

What is he to do about it?—CDV

That anon-MB ain’t me but I’ll respond to the question: When in the course of history have people who’ve committed imperial violence against people of color abroad ever been concerned with violence against people of color at home?

“Extermination is one thing but there is no need to torture your victims beforehand.” – Horak

Reads like the mantra of the Executioner-in-Chief. OBTW, his pathological pandering to the psychopathic vote appears to be working.

[According to a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, President Barack Obama is ahead when it comes to national security and being an efficient commander-in-chief, but behind when it comes to the economy. Obama is shown with 45 percent as opposed to Romney's 35 percent in national security and being a good commander-in-chief.]

Anonymous said...

"As an attorney, do you think he will walk?"

He won't "walk." He'll either be convicted or found NGRI. Either way, he isn't going anywhere.

fred c said...

What Anon. says is doubtless true, "he isn't going anywhere." John Hinkley was "not guilty" on the insane thing, but if he ever sees daylight it'll be carefully rationed.

This guy, there's little in the record that I've seen on which to judge his chances of being found to be incompetent to commit the crime. He seems rational enough, he did not cooperate after arrest and asked for a lawyer. He doesn't display that carefree attitude that we see sometimes in genuinely crazy people, and he's not defending his actions with the weird rationalizations that are fairly common and indicative of true delusion.

He has that deer-in-the-headlights look of a guy who understands his situation well. Isn't he claiming amnesia now? That just looks like a desperate attempt at exculpation, doesn't it?

No, I think he'll just get a nice little team of lawyers who will run a by-the-numbers defense based upon attempts to prove things that have worked in the past to get guys off, or at least to get a better result than the death penalty.

When all is said and done, a good defense lawyer's job is not to get guys off. It's to get them two-to-five instead of seven-to-ten. Real criminals know this, and are deeply appreciative of a lawyer who gets them a cut down sentence. In this case, not guilty/insane would be the best possible result, but even life without parole would be something of a victory.

But as Anon. said, he's not going anywhere, probably ever. The rest is details.

Anonymous said...

Attention please! Important!
(This is no joke!)
Please do NOT hesitate to pray to God (have to be quick about it) to take James Eagan Holmes' life, so people will not suffer anymore and also people should rest in peace and such. Please pass it along. I hope James Eagan Holmes' life will end pretty soon!

A. Ominous said...

It always amazes me how the 1st century and the 21st century (and every era between, apparently) can co-exist so comfortably. Anon, what are you using to fortify your lethal magic spell? Chicken blood or holy water...? And how do you think your Internet connection works... helpful demons? If only Holmes had relied on prayer...!

Fowl Ideas said...

James Holmes is not a mystery. He's just another very embarrassing incident of negative feedback.