There are 10 people dead and seven wounded following the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Soon after the massacre President Obama rushed to the podium with his usual tedious and repetitious musing about more gun regulation, mentally ill persons at risk for violence and the evils of the NRA. He argues that Congress and the American people need more rather than less politicizing of the issue. What we need is more solid theory and less partisan politics.
What can Human Paleopsychology tell us about the Roseburg shootings? It all has to do with the psychology of peripheral males – better known as losers, beta males, wimps, geeks, girly men and the like. The worst of all is the omega male – the loser among losers. His most agonizing and defining trait is that of turning women off sexually, and he is forced to scurry about quietly on the periphery of all things sexual. While the male alphas are fighting women off and the betas can at least get a date on occasion, the omegas wade in a swamp of sexual frustration, self-hatred and hatred of the world in general.
It is from the ranks of the omegas that many of the school shooters come. Whether it be the Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook or Roseburg massacres, look for extremely frustrated and alienated young males full of hate for themselves, for the girls and others who reject them, and for a society that ignores them.
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Sociobiologists argue that nature endowed these young males with a powerful impetus to breed and spread their sperm far and wide, and their brains, hormones and behavior all conspire to that end. When that mission cannot even get off of the ground, the physical discomfort, the sense of something important being lost and an overwhelming hopelessness is palpable. When schools are highly sexualized – as most are today – the sexual loser's misery is all the greater. He starves while others sate in a land of plenty.
Now let's take a look at the Roseburg shooter. The New York Times tells us that 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer was a withdrawn young man who wore the same outfit every day and was abnormally close to his mother who fiercely protected him. He and mother shared a small one-bedroom apartment. Neighbors remember him as a reclusive and apparently fragile young man who shaved his head, wore dark glasses and seemed to shun social interaction.
He apparently sought solace on the Internet, was fascinated with the Irish Republican Army and dabbled a bit on at least one dating website. Although extremely shy, he would occasionally yell at neighbors when displeased over something and was generally seen as unfriendly.
According to The Daily Beast, Mercer was of mixed race with a Caucasian father and an African-American mother. According to relatives, the father separated from the mother early on, and Chris was essentially fatherless. He showed a strong disdain for organized religion and reportedly asked his victims about their faith before shooting them. He appeared to hate Christians the most.
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The Daily Beast article tells us Mercer expressed admiration for Roanoke shooter Vester Flanagan and said that "people like him have nothing left to live for … people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. … A man who is known by no one, is now known by everyone. … Seems the more people you kill, the more you are in the limelight."
All forms of extreme violence are complex and multi-layered phenomena. Mercer was a shy, confused, mixed-race, mother-dominated and father-deprived young man who simply could not find a secure place in the violent and sexually saturated world we live in. He was a peripheral male who hated everyone who appeared superior to him – and that was most everyone. And there are literally millions of them out there, as Donald Trump opined on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Friday.
Television pundits are throwing words around like "madman," "terrorist," "mentally ill gunman" and "psychopathic killer." Some of the many school gunmen over history may fit into one or more of these categories. but most do not. Typically, school shootings cannot simply be blamed on too few gun laws, clear instances of mental illness or sadistic psychopaths. And we cannot go out and round up all of the peripheral males who feel ignored and cannot compete on the dating field of battle.
In medicine, we first pin the correct diagnosis on a problem and only then do we apply treatment. When addressing school shootings we hear about numerous pie-in-the-sky legal and political solutions, but little in the way of a diagnostic understanding of the problem. The concept of periphal male appears to one large piece of the puzzle.