By Laksiri Fernando –
It was a lone gunman, white American, Steven Paddock, 64 years of age, who had opened fire from a hotel room of Mandalay Bay Resort and shot and killed 59 and wounded 527 who were attending a country music festival in Las Vegas. This is undoubtedly terrorism in the method and execution but different to many other terrorist attacks and acts happening in the Western world in recent times, even different to Manchester suicide bombing at a similar pop concert in May this year.
For the Manchester terrorist attack there was a clear political motive that could be identified with Islamic terrorism or IS (Islamic State). But in the present case there is no clear political or social motive that can easily be identified. Although the IS has claimed that Paddock was converted to Islam a month ago, the FBI has dismissed it as mere propaganda. There was no difference between him and the target group in terms of race, religion or ethnicity. He didn’t have any known ‘enemy’ there in the over 22 thousand concert participants. He himself was a fan of pop music in the past, as reported. Therefore, there was no any apparent anger against the music event, except he was aging and most of the concert goers are young, with a generational gap between him and them.
The Killer: Steven Paddock
His brother, Eric Paddock, said that there was no indication whatsoever that he was going to do or capable of doing such a thing. ‘There is nothing, he had a job and he was content. It is like killing my own children.’ He was a wealthy man with couple of properties.
There had been several individual violent attacks or mass shootings in the past particularly in America without political motives and those were largely attributed to mental illnesses or psychological motives. However, there is no past record of any mental illness in Steven Paddock’s case and only report is that his farther, Benjamin Paddock, was identified as a criminal and a ‘psychopath’ with even suicidal tendencies. He had died in 1998. His mother aged 90 is still living with his brother. It is true that Paddock killed himself after the shooting, but it does not appear as it was a simple outrage, before committing suicide.
This was planned well ahead and Paddock booked into the hotel on 28 September even submitting his girlfriend, Marilou Danley’s ID. That was how the Australian woman became a ‘person of interest’ for a while in the shooting. But she was away in Japan by this time and no apparent involvement whatsoever although she might throw some light onto Paddock’s psychological background when questioned. It is reported that he was a professional gambler but no report as a drug addict. With so much of careful planning and premeditation, he does not appear mentally ill in the normal sense. Then how come, and why it happened?
Right to Bear Arms?
Free availability of arms and ammunition without restriction is one background to this incident. There were 16 fire arms, mostly automatic rifles, found in his hotel room from where he was shooting. In his home, where he was living, the police has found 24 other fire arms and explosives and electronic devices. He has another country home which is not yet inspected. It appears that the accumulation of arms and ammunition, and playing with them, was one of his hobbies like most of the national leaders or countries are doing today. Most prominent are North Korea, America, Russia, Syria and the so-called ‘Islamic State.’
The US Constitution, or in other words the ‘fundamental rights’ chapter says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This is quite a dangerous proposition tody. Apart from the US, such an absurd ‘human right’ is there only in Mexico and Guatemala, yet with some restrictions. Previously, many countries in Latin America also had this ‘right’ emulating the United States. The anomaly clearly shows that customarily claimed rights in any country should not be considered as valid human rights, just because of that custom or history.
More to the point is the fact that free availability of arms and ammunition is a major reason for this carnage in Las Vegas. This was the case before in many mass shootings in America which brought to the discussion again and again the issue of necessary gun control. Barak Obama during his final term was inclined to impose a gun control, but the famous right-wing ‘gun lobby’ prevented it from implementation which probably required a constitutional amendment. When Donald Trump contested for the presidential election, the ‘gun lobby’ was openly behind him, and still he strongly believes that it is not necessary. He however named Steven Paddock an ‘evil man.’
The proliferation of arms among citizens is same as the proliferation of arms among nations. Both signify a crisis in humanity. Only difference is that nations have acquired even nuclear weapons, and no one knows when those weapons might end up in wrong people’s hands. Arms industry is one of the most profitable industries in the world, manufactured even by allegedly most peaceful countries.
The total disarmament may appear as too idealistic, but strict ‘gun control’ in all societies and nuclear disarmament internationally at least might help control the situation. Although there are strong restrictions in acquiring and bearing arms in Sri Lanka, the proliferation of small arms among citizens have led to increased crime, robbery and killings.
The whole episode is about human destructiveness, which is spreading like a disease in many societies including Sri Lanka. Although this is violence, this particular violence cannot possibly be explained through the typical frustration-aggression theory or any other prominent social theory. There was no apparent social or economic reason for Steven Paddock to frustrate about. As mentioned before, he was a graduate, a retired accountant and a rich man with many properties. There must be some ‘psychological’ reason why he was angry about the society or others. One of the best explanations can be through what is increasingly understood as Narcissism.
Narcissism can simply be defined or understood as ‘behaviour characterized by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for self-admiration and particularly a lack of respect or empathy for others.’ This is based on what Sigmund Freud explained in his ‘Introduction to Narcissism’ (1914). The basic form of this drive also was part of what the Buddha analysed as ‘self’ or ‘ego’ (Mamathvaya). Many of the neighbours of Paddock have said that while his girlfriend, Marilou, was social, the Man was recluse and mysterious. Some have said he was aggressive. It is possible that many such stories come up after the event, and Las Vegas mayor called him a ‘lunatic.’
The local police and the FBI are now frantically looking for clues to identify a ‘motive.’ He must have had or not had a motive in the normal sense, other than killing and destruction. The destructive narcissism does not need a clear motive, in the normal sense, to achieve a particular objective, an outcome or to take a revenge. It can simply be destructiveness. He has not left any suicide note or any other warning/statement. But he has collected a large number of arms and ammunition for some time, before the event, for a solitary war.
Erich Fromm made a distinction between individual narcissism and social narcissism in 1964. The first can easily overflow into the second. That appears to be what happened in Las Vegas in Steven Paddock’s case. It can happen anywhere, if the chances are available for destructive personalities or groups. Or otherwise it can get mixed up with other movements such as religious, nationalist, student, trade union or even leftist movements.
A prevention in the former case of individual destructive narcissism is to have law and order, vigilance and not make arms available freely. A proper ‘gun control’ and laws even could have prevented destructive ‘Las Vegas.’ Law and order and gun control also necessary in preventing social destructive narcissism but at the same time there should be proper opportunities for peaceful protests and education to prevent such groupings and feelings.
In a country like Sri Lanka, the dismantling of the social-security and welfare systems, the promotion of competitive economic rat-race and breakdown of the family institution can propel both individual and social narcissism. The consequential social alienation as a result of the above factors can lead to both individual and social narcissism.
In America, the spread of narcissism is a well-studied subject for a while now, although the decision makers or policy brokers have not absorbed the necessary lessons. It was sometime back (first in 1979) that Christopher Lasch analysed ‘The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Diminishing Expectations.’ He was not talking about diminishing expectations as a ‘nation,’ but as individuals and as a society. The importance to emphasise the difference is that as Wilber Caldwell later revealed (2006), the other side of the narcissistic dilemma in America is the myth of nationalist superiority (American Narcissism: The Myth of National Superiority). In the case of Sri Lanka, however, this may be more in the form of ‘national exclusiveness’ than ‘superiority.’