We expect it in the US. Across the pond murderous rampages are a dime a dozen. Not here though; not in good old placid Blighty; and not in Cumbria and Northumberland; and not once a month! These details, coupled with the sheer brutality of the murderous rampages perpetrated by Derrick Bird and Raoul Moat have left the media and public shocked and dumbfounded.
The first incident sparked the call for tighter gun control regulations. It was a knee jerk response born out of the unwavering belief that there must be something we human beings can do to prevent these seemingly random acts of mega-violence. But looking at both incidents together, it is quite obvious that gun control is not the answer. On the one hand we have reticent Derrick Bird, who had a clean police record and had held a gun licence for over 30 years without issue; then at the opposite end of the spectrum we have steroid abusing, recently released prisoner Raoul Moat, who, through his criminal connections, was able to obtain a fire arm illegally. It’s hard to see how changing the UK gun control laws – already some of the most stringent in the world – could have thwarted either of these men.
This lack of control leaves us with a sense of helplessness. We are hardwired to find reason—a uniquely human trait entrenched in our evolution. But what is the reason?
Anomie [an-uh-mee]–noun Sociology. A state or condition of individuals or society characterised by a breakdown or absence of social norms and values, as in the case of uprooted people.
“[Durkheim] believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for good or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life.”
Changes to the economic fortunes of a society? Check. Discrepancies between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what is actually achievable in everyday life? Check.
Has there ever been a truer statement from the past that fits the present? Probably, but let’s not dwell on that.
As we climb out of the deep trenches of recession we are starting to realise that, fundamentally, very little has changed. Bankers are still taking home multi-million pound bonuses; the English football team are still a group of underperforming adulterers and blackguards; and the rest of us must trudge on in our collective anonymity, facing pay cuts, redundancy and negative equity.
The capitalist dream is not the dream we were promised we would achieve through diligence and hard work, and we’re pretty unhappy about that. Some of us more so than others, and a rare few – also crippled by unrequited love, humiliation and poverty – would rather not continue with this pointless charade. That was certainly the case for Derrick Bird and Raoul Moat.
Loss of girlfriend/wife/thai prostitute? Check. Facing poverty/jail/general destitution? Check.
I don’t blame these men for wanting to kill themselves. But why kill other people?
It’s not unreasonable to assume that both men were suffering from some deep seated psychological problems. In particular, Derrick Bird’s apparent quiet and pleasant disposition coupled with his unspeakably vicious killing spree has the classic hallmarks of a maniac. But why the second rampage so soon after the first? This detail enables us to draw some conclusions . . . to find reason.
As I said, we are raised in a society that constantly pipes the capitalist dream to us; the message of success through hard work and determination. However, as we grow older, the vast majority of us find, as Durkheim posited, “significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what [is] actually achievable in everyday life.” At a certain age – probably middle age – we realise that the relentless progression of time has outrun the fruition of our aspirations; it’s too late. For many of us this means passing down our hopes and aspirations to the next generation. For those like Moat, with no business, no girlfriend, an aggressive, paranoid and narcissistic personality, it means settling old scores with those that have wronged you and, perhaps most importantly, leaving your own legacy by immortalising yourself in print and etching your name and face into the minds of a nation.
It’s not uncommon. In fact, according to leading American forensic psychiatrist, Dr Park Dietz – who has extensively interviewed many of the USA’s most notorious mass murderers, including Jeffrey Dahmer to John Hinckley– in a country the size of the US, “saturation-level news coverage of mass murder causes, on average, one more mass murder in the next two weeks”. And if you think that this is an absurd theory, then think back to the spate of attacks on children in China. It began with a schizophrenic janitor stabbing 14 children, followed soon after by a bus driver who stabbed 24 kids, then a teacher stabbed 16 and so on.
Johann Hari commented in his recent article on the media’s irresponsible coverage of the Moat case, “The psychologists say that currently we are adopting the most dangerous tactics possible. We put the killer’s face everywhere. We depict him exactly as he wanted, broadcasting his videos and reading out his missives. We make his story famous. We present killing as its logical culmination. We soak him in glamour: look at the endless descriptions of Moat as “having a hulking physique” and being “a notorious hard man”. We present the killer as larger than life, rather than the truth: that these people are smaller than life, leading pitiful, hate-filled existences.”
Judging by the plethora of bouquets and messages of sympathy banked against the front of his house, the mourners flocking to the site of his shooting and the posts on the wall of the Facebook tribute group ‘R.I.P Raoul Moat you legend!’ it seems that Moat received exactly the sort of send off he, or any other lonely, depressed narcissist would dream of—more than he could have possibly achieved at the end of his hum-drum existence. Is it any wonder such copycat killings occur?
So, how can we curb this? People have a right to know the facts don’t they? Surely it’s in the interest of public safety to be told about such events? Yes, but as Hari goes on to say, it’s all in the manner in which the story is reported.
“[I]n the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, [The American Psychological Association] suggested some simple guidelines. Don’t show the killer’s face, or incessantly repeat his name. Don’t repeat any of his manifestos or grievances. (They’re always tedious drivel anyway.) Don’t glamorise him. Don’t offer up a 24/7 drumbeat of excitement. Report the facts soberly, and, where there must be coverage, lead with the victims. Make them human. We should hear the name of Chris Brown, the man he murdered, more than Raoul Moat’s. Tell us about him. In general: play down the coverage. Don’t give the killer what he wanted.”
Despite the warnings, it’s clear that the message isn’t getting through to our necrophilous media, who are only too pleased to cash in on the gory details of any tragedy. It is a grossly irresponsible and exceptionally callous way to handle such a situation, particularly for the people directly affected by the actions of the perpetrator. Stricter gun control laws are all very well, but what’s really needed is stricter laws governing the way in which the media can cover such events.
Aside from this we can only hope to try and collectively nurture a fairer society that prides community over the individual, and accept that some things are beyond our influence – there are all manner of man made and natural disasters that can obliterate us at any moment – and while this brings us no closer to understanding the rampages of Derrick Bird and Raoul Moat, we can at least accept our powerlessness in preventing them.