Monday, December 17, 2012

White Men and Mass Murder: Did a Sense of "Aggrieved Entitlement" Lead Adam Lanza to Kill 26 People at Sandy Hook Elementary School?

It is good to see David Sirota and Chris Hayes talking about the relationship between white masculinity and mass shootings in the United States. So many folks are afraid to engage the obvious fact: white men are extremely over-represented among those individuals such as Adam Lanza who kill large numbers of people in one shooting incident. While folks like me can call attention to the public health problem that is white men and mass shootings, this is a conversation where "members of the tribe" such as Sirota and Hayes, are going to have to lead.

In the aftermath of the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, the reaction to my plain on the face observation that white man are grossly over-represented among mass shooting killers like Adam Lanza has been fascinating--albeit not surprising. Whiteness does not like to be confronted. It also hates being exposed to the light of truth.

Masculinity is equally resistant to any type of critical self-examination. The combination of the two, and an intervention which seeks to examine white masculinity in America and its relationship to violence, is destined to create a hostile reaction on the part of many white men.

In all, I am legitimately taken aback by the sincerity of the pain and offense at the idea that white men could be experts at committing singular types of crime in America.

Moreover, in surveying the comments and reactions to my (and other) essays about Adam Lanza, white masculinity, and gun violence, there is a tone of real hurt:

White Masculinity, like Whiteness, imagines itself as normal, innocent, and benign. The very premise that the intersection of those identities could result in socially maladaptive and violent behavior which is evil, and yes I use that term intentionally, is rejected by those deeply invested in a particularly conservative and reactionary type of White Masculinity, as something impossible. To even introduce such an idea is anathema to their universe. The language is verboten. The Other is suspect until proven otherwise; "real Americans" as "good people" are to be judged by precisely the opposite premise.

The hostility to the very obvious fact--that another mass shooting is in keeping with a pattern of white male gun violence in America--has followed a clear and dominant script.

First, to suggest that white men should be racially profiled (a claim I am not making, as "racial profiling" is ineffective police work) is "unAmerican" and not "fair." In this story, people of color complain when they are racially profiled; to suggest that white men should be subject to the same process is "hypocritical" and "reverse racism."

White privilege and the white racial frame are blinding: these same conservatives, and other members of the Gun Right, often advocate for the racial profiling of people of color under the language of "reasonable racism." But, these same conservatives and members of the Gun Right are reflexively against racial profiling when people like them could be subjected to it.

The second White deflection here is one that finds offense in the idea that white men should be critically examined as a cohort who are more likely to commit certain types of crimes.

The suggestion is made that blacks and other minorities are not studied that way. As such, it is not fair to say that the identities of "white" and "male" should be scrutinized. Said objections are 1) profoundly ignorant, and 2) mighty convenient and self-serving.

Black folks, and other minorities are the most scrutinized, examined, pathologized, dissected (quite literally in many cases), studied, theorized, conferenced on, and written about group in the United States. Historically, Black and brown folks are a "problem" in America. By definition, Whiteness, those overly identified with it, as well as its owners, are not accustomed to being challenged in such a way.

Ultimately, many are so invested in protecting Whiteness and White Masculinity from any type of critical interrogation about such identities' relationship to horrific mass murder in the United States; here, White Privilege trumps sanity, safety, and commonsense.

An aberrant variety of pathological White Masculinity, as embodied by mass gun murders such as Adam Lanza and John Holmes, is killing people--the vast majority of whom are white. Nevertheless, many in White America do not want to ask basic questions about the processes leading to these horrendous outcomes.

White racism, white privilege, and Whiteness, more generally, hurts white people. How so many are running away from hard conversations about those concepts, and their relationship to white crime and violence in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, is proof positive of that fact. Instead of protecting the lives of white children, many would rather ignore an obvious social evil that lies at the heart of Whiteness and its intersection with American gun culture. I can think of no greater example of how Whiteness is a type of property that is toxic to its owners.

There are some good folks asking hard questions about the relationship between Whiteness, White Masculinity, and gun violence. For example, William Hamby has offered up a great piece that is well worth reading.

There, he makes good use of a concept called aggrieved entitlement:
Rachel Kalish and Michael Kimmel (2010) proposed a mechanism that might well explain why white males are routinely going crazy and killing people. It's called "aggrieved entitlement." According to the authors, it is "a gendered emotion, a fusion of that humiliating loss of manhood and the moral obligation and entitlement to get it back. And its gender is masculine." This feeling was clearly articulated by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre. Harris said, "People constantly make fun of my face, my hair, my shirts..." A group of girls asked him, "Why are you doing this?" He replied, "We've always wanted to do this. This is payback... This is for all the sh*t you put us through. This is what you deserve."
At the risk of getting too existentialist, I'd like to propose a very simple and elegant explanation for not only school shootings but a host of other barbaric acts in recent years: White men are having a crisis of both aggrievement and entitlement. One need only look at the 2012 election season to see less brutal but equally mind-numbing examples of white men going mad because they are losing their power. The "Republican Meltdown" is a perfect example of men who previously had all the control escalating to madness when that control was lost.
Hamby continues:
Until the 1980s, when semi-random spree murders "inexplicably" became the province of young white men, there was no need for young white men to resort to this kind of thing. Whatever happened in society, they would be the winners. These days, it's still not the worst thing to be a white male -- not by a long shot -- but it's not nearly as cushy as it used to be. Women's rights have grown by leaps and bounds in the last 30 years. Marriage has become more advantageous to women than men since no-fault divorce and custody policy favoring women have become the norm. We have... (gasp)... a black president. If someone grew up indoctrinated into the God and Country of the White Man, it's easy to understand how regardless of personal circumstance, feelings of entitlement and superiority could already be on shaky ground. One need only look up any of the hundreds of "Men's Rights Movement" websites, which are often thinly veiled hate groups, to see examples of (usually white) men who seem to be feeling very emasculated and powerless.
I want to say this next bit very carefully. It is absolutely true that white men have lost a lot of power in the last few decades. Inasmuch as these shooters are angry about feelings of powerlessness, their feelings are at least understandable. However, white men needed to lose a lot of power. Without exaggerating, one could say that a history of America is a history of white men lording power over... pretty much anyone who wasn't a white man. If America was ever going to truly be a land of equality, white men needed to lose their power.
The thing is, losing power hurts. That's the "aggrieve" part of aggrieved entitlement. It's one thing for a bunch of white men to feel hurt because they are no longer the kings of their own private castles, rulers of all they survey. It's another thing for them to feel like they're entitled to power, and more importantly, entitled to punish others for taking it away. And that -- aggrievement plus the feeling of entitlement -- is what may well drive people like Adam Lanza to these horrific crimes.
Is he onto something here? Could this be the Rosetta Stone for understanding why white men, and privileged white men in particular, have taken to mass shootings as a means of expressing their rage and insecurity?

Is the psychic and emotional pain of realizing that white unearned privilege is threatened (even marginally) by the browning of America, upward mobility for women, gay rights, and the further dismantlement of American Apartheid (at least symbolically among elites and in the mass media) that deep a cut to White Masculinity, one which results in mass murder? How can White Men be so politically and economically strong as a group, but simultaneously so weak at the same time?

The paradox boggles the mind. Help me understand if you could.


nomad said...

'An aberrant variety of pathological White Masculinity, as embodied by mass gun murders such as Adam Lanza and John Holmes, is killing people--the vast majority of whom are white.'

white on white crime, as it were

CNu said...

Where handwaving, pseudoscience, and a definite political agenda are king, there is little room left for sober analysis.

adamabroad said...

There doesn't seem to be enough information at this point to say why he did it. And a model of behavior which suggests that he and other white men who've gone on killing sprees did it because they felt aggrieved at the societal reduction in power of white men, excluding or de-emphasizing other factors, seems to not make much logical sense, for a couple of reasons.

First: White privilege is largely invisible to white people, because of how "normal" it feels to be treated in a consistent way in American society, and how other ethnicities are treated isn't usually part of mainstream American conversation. Being invisible, it's not often thought of. If it's not consciously considered, let alone lamented, how can it be a motivation for murder? What's the evidence that this shooter was aware of it, or aware that it isn't as strong as it used to be?

Also, one must ask, if white men are aware they're not as powerful as they used to be, and they're all upset about it, why don't all white men start shooting into crowds? Where's the cutoff point between social pressure and individual desire? Does it exist in this theory of human behavior?

I don't think human behavior can be corralled into such a narrow pen. I understand that there are limitations on what we can imagine and do. And there are definitely issues with how the larger American society frames violence, even when we try to find the closest to reasonable justifications for murderers of various ethnicities. But I think the decision to murder, when chosen by people who understand what they're deciding, has to be understood on a case-by-case basis, even if one wants to categorize it as part of a larger trend. And I don't think the info you need to do that's been made known yet.

Anonymous said...

@Cnu yes,he may well have been highly medicated, but guaranteed, the big pharma powers that be will do anything to ensure we never have THAT conversation.

CNu said...

the big pharma powers that be will do anything to ensure we never have THAT conversation.

as well as anyone else (parents/schools/physicians) benefiting from the continuing medicalization of issues which weren't even known to exist a mere 40 years ago.

There are a lot of folk complicit in granny goodness' nasty business of suppressing cognitive diversity. The SSRI's aren't the only toxins being pumped into fragile developing nervous systems under color of authority.

The whole ADD/ADHD contrivance and abuse of Ritalin and Aderol is yet another exceptionally nasty business.

I suspect that one of the reasons you don't see much in the way of insane eruptions of ultra-violence against innocents by POC in the U.S. is that by-and-large POC don't participate very broadly in the use of these prescription psychoactive toxins.

jenicillin said...

@Cnu i have seen someone become insanely violent when given psychiatric drugs. It surely stands to reason that we should examine the possibilty.
However, being drugged can easily intersect with aggreived entitlement.
In a culture where white men are tacitly and directly told that they have the right to whatever they want,
best jobs, ownership of women, etc ad nauseum, a young man who seems to have been deprived of his "rightful" status, respect and masculinity could,
on psych meds, easily turn aggressively violent. meh.

Anonymous said...

besides, Mike Huckabee has already figured out that its is Sin and Abortion Pills what done caused it. So i guess Lanza just had a medical abortion and was distraught?

CNu said...

In a culture where white men are tacitly and directly told that they have the right to whatever they want,
best jobs, ownership of women, etc ad nauseum, a young man who seems to have been deprived of his "rightful" status, respect and masculinity could,

lol, I gather you found this a stretch even as you typed it?

Nah, bottomline on this shooter, as with the vast majority of other young, white male shooters this past decade, this fairly recent phenomenon has almost nothing to do with the stuff that CDV has unsuccessfully attempted to freight it with, and is instead the direct and predictable result of the intersection of firepower with SSRI known to produce toxic behavioral effects.

The only other known outbreaks of this type of behavior have occurred where there was broad abuse of pervitin by the Nazi's and to a far lesser extent in Asia. (Japanese invented pervitin (benzedrine) ((speed)))

There may be a racial component to the group affinities for these particular drugs, since POC tend not to pursue these effects to any meaningful extent, but beyond that, I'm just not seeing racial causation and I'm very hard pressed to see meaningful correlation given the vastly more striking correlation with the SSRI toxins.

jenicillin said...

@CNu well sure. Why is it just the maladusted, shy and bullied BOYS that do this shit? There are plenty of maladjusted girls who are also heavily medicated. They arent the ones mowing down 1st graders. Yes, psych drugs are dangerous and poorly understood, but denying a cultural intersection with white masculinity and extreme violence is facile at best.

jenicillin said...
kill off the assholes and everyone is happier...

CNu said...

For their part, female baboons, which live up to 25 years — compared with the male's 18 — inherit their rank in the gynocracy from their mothers and so spend less time fighting for dominance. They do, however, readily battle females from outside the fold, for they, not the males, are the keepers of turf and dynasty.,

thanks for playing!

chaunceydevega said...

@adam. great questions and insights. as i said, i am going to do something longer on these very issues. this really is a heck of a research puzzle.

1. white privilege exists. white people to varying degrees are deeply invested in it--we have survey data, experiments, and the like which have operationalized these concepts. however, they, like men with "male privilege" may not have the explicit vocabulary to describe the concept. this is "their country" and they know it. white privilege is also something easily threatened and activated.

2. I am surprised we do not see more of this violent behavior. Is it that these white male mass shooters are by definition outliers and extreme cases and the more common behavior in the middle part of the distribution for folks who fit the profile is drug use, alcoholism, doctor shopping for prescription drugs, spousal abuse, general rage and anxiety issues that are coming out as anti-black and brown affect? This is why we need to have a discussion of this public health issue so that the experts can weigh in.

3. To clarify. I am not making a causal argument where being "white" and "male" makes people go off and kill dozens. I am interested in the obvious puzzle around white masculinity as an identity in "imperiled" times and how there is a damn high correlation between white men of a certain class profile being very over-represented in a cohort that is committing a particularly heinous type of crime and has been doing so for decades. If this were any other group there would be volumes written on the subject and national conferences--and panics--about the matter.

chaunceydevega said...

@Cnu. I am describing an obvious puzzle. Instead of dismissing it out of hand and via appeals to monkey man naked ape sociobiology stuff which I find fascinating, but is not without serious methodological and theoretical problems--let's work through the logic I am offering about an obvious dilemma--why is x cohort over-represented, now for decades, among mass shooters?

You are onto something with your drug hypothesis. Access to those types of drugs could be a proxy variable for class and gender.

Could it be that a certain class of white men are being prescribed these medications, and this is leading to this behavior? Poor folks end up hospitalized or homeless if they are "mentally ill."

The middle classes and the affluent can do all sorts of stuff to medicate...and in the case of Adam's mom...indulge him, buy guns and keep them in the house and let him use them, and keep him out of school and off the radar.

As I said, there is so much going on here. Single variable arguments are likely not going to explain the puzzle and the outcomes we are discussing.

chaunceydevega said...

@jeni. "Yes, psych drugs are dangerous and poorly understood, but denying a cultural intersection with white masculinity and extreme violence is facile at best."

Great point. Why are we afraid to talk about masculinity and how it is constructed in this society?

Unknown said...

I think a major reason we haven't had, or will ever have a substantive conversation about race in America is because this is one issue that is painful for both sides, but furthermore, there is no way for white people to spin the race issue in a way they'll be able to hijack the moral authority. Also, the accountablity within the black community is seriously lacking. I call it the "little brother syndrome." Just like we as kids would fight our siblings, right or wrong, or even if we were just teasing them, it was our commonality that made it palatable. However, if someone who isn't like us does the same thing, it's akin to a declaration of war. So just like as a black man, I don't like hearing white people tell me what our community needs to do, I can empathize with white people in that there is no face-saver for them in the race argument. Even the Civil War. Everyone is taught in school that we fought to end slavery. In actuality, it was a state's rights war. The South didn't want the North telling them how to run their economy. Fast foward to 2012, it sounds more honorable to say we fought to end slavery. Unless and until the races can sincerely appreciate each others' indictments, we are stuck in a perpetual, social 1968, and have been for the past 45 years. As for this gun culture, no matter who you are, you only own a gun because you are afraid of SOMETHING. Whether it's a tyrannical government, gangbangers, or black bears in the kitchen, we use the semantics of "protection," interchanged with "fear." The problem with professing fear is the connotation which lends itself to powerlessness, which is, IMHO, the root of the "white privilege" tree, and these mass shootings are just a branch on said tree.

chaunceydevega said...

@Barry. I think you are more right than wrong. But, whenever I see this gross misreading of history I have to intervene:

"Even the Civil War. Everyone is taught in school that we fought to end slavery. In actuality, it was a state's rights war. The South didn't want the North telling them how to run their economy."

The Civil War was a war fought first and foremost over whether white people could own black people. States' Rights was the language of white people deciding if they had the right to own human property. Yes, it was fundamentally about economics--black slaves were the single largest Capital Good in the U.S.

The civil war was a battle over the central of slavery and white supremacy in American life and law. Read some of the actual statements of secession by the South, in particular speeches by the VP of the CSA. They knew they were fighting to protect white supremacy and slavery.

Good points on your part, but make sure to not get it twisted.

Also this part demands clarification:

"Also, the accountablity within the black community is seriously lacking. I call it the "little brother syndrome.""

I think Americans are piss poor on personal accountability in general--especially elites and the rich. Are you suggesting some type of false equivalency between white racism and black and brown people's responses to it?

Do clarify. I appreciate your chiming in. Do comment more.

Fanta said...

I know this is in a specific American context. But I've noticed this trend of White Male Rage in France too. There is this trend of so-called politically incorrect polemicists or critics who basically spend their time bashing everything, feminists, POC, gay people, talking about bien-pensance, and criminalizing left/liberal thinking. It's not the same kind of genocidal violence but it is still violence under the guise of subversion and freedom of speech. So we need to analyze White Male Rage in all its form even the most subtle. People like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck in America but also Eric Zemmour or Alain Soral in France disseminate violent thoughts about women and POC. They are not scrutinized like these shooters are because they do it so elegantly so professionally that no one would say oh they r angry. But they are. And I've tried to explain it. aggrieved entitlement is a perfect concept and it's definitely what's going on everywhere in the Western World. And it's scary because white men are weak but they still have all this arsenal of weapon and violence that can create this type of events. ANYWAY THIS WAS KIND OF MESSY. But I needed to say how this thing expresses itself in various country differently so you don't think it's a specific American thing.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if the author would provide data on race of spree shooters.

You tell us that Whites are overrepresented in spree shootings, but provide 0 datapoints to back up your claim.

Please provide us with the data you are using to come up with your argument.

Beloved said...

WOW! This is a very profound article.

chauncey devega said...

aggrieved entitled is a powerful concept isn't it?

chauncey devega said...

follow the links.

Beloved said...

Yes it is. It's an explanation to a lot of my questions.

A white male, actually said...

Not all white males are avoiding this topic.

One fact that jumps out is that overwhelmingly these mass shooters are killing random people. Lashing out over loss of unearned and abusive status would be expected to target the people who are gaining status. The KKK would be an example. They illustrate the point better than mass shooters do.

Perhaps it's as simple as copycat dynamics.

Another possibility is even simpler. Privileged white males have more money. The expenditure needed for an atrocity like the Aurora shooting is sizable.

The question remains open, since neither of those ideas seems adequate as an explanation.

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nativeamerican said...

Compared to the amount of singular murders commited by black individuals, these instances seem tame.

dw said...

weak? why are you scared of them then?

dw said...

"unearned privilege" what planet are you from? I am a white male and have no such given advantages, as a matter of fact when applying for different jobs I am told explicitly through the application process that if I was a woman or a person of color I am encouraged to apply. What exactly does that mean? "We only want those who fit into specific gender/racial stereotypes, if you don't you probably won't be considered for this position etc. regardless of accomplishment/ability etc. FUCK YOU and your outdated bigoted and ignorant statements, may you rot in hell!

dw said...

I don't think any of you understand that we are building a coalition of people (white OH MYGOD!) you will not withstand us! when the shit goes down you will have wished that we were your friends!

dw said...

when exactly would you like to meet? You piece of human excrement?

dw said...

Have you ever considered moving away from the country you hate? I mean if this country is so terrible on its face I would naturally assume that you would want to vacate immediately upon realizing your predicament. No? Please let me know what I can do to expedite the process of you going to your natural habitat i.e. hell. FU forever.

Judith Peart said...

Regardless of scientific data or an enormous scientific vocabulary ...these white men one way of another thought that they could violate humans because of their own wicked desires. They were not crazy. We all know that they had a well thought out plan to commit such atrocities. The sad thing is "insanity" is always their families plea out of such wickedness. With African Americans "savageness" is suppose to be their regular "monkey African behavior" especially when they kill on the streets or act ignorant; but with white males and mass murder done by white men "its a mental problem." Surely they have no "savage instincts" ... something happened that made them do it! as they claim blacks call "the race card" ...they call the "insanity card" all day long!

YouKnowMe said...

Wow, you really didn't get the point of the article, did you? Perfect exemplar you are.