Parkland Florida. Seventeen children dead, twenty wounded. The deep sorrow of parents. Our hearts grieve with the parents of Parkland Florida. A mindless insanity of immense suffering. Our hearts break with yours.
This pathogen is at the core of evil.
The pathology of the Parkland Florida shooter is located in a terrorist mind. The Parkland Florida school shooting is a terrorist act of pathological anger and pathological violence.
Technically, the Parkland Florida school shooting probably won’t be classified as a “terrorist” act because it lacks a political agenda. But the presence or absence of an expressed political agenda is merely a superficial feature of the pathology. The core of the terrorist mind is the same in the Parkland Florida shooting, in the Las Vegas shooting, in the Manchester bombing, in the Orlando shooting, in the Boston marathon bombing. These are all variants of pathological violence.
I would define acts of traditional terrorism that are couched in a political agenda and the school shooting in Parkland Florida that is more clearly mental illness as being variant forms of the same pathological anger and pathological violence.
Pathological violence has an isolated mind variant and a group-mind variant, but it is the same core pathogen of pathological anger and pathological violence.
The construct of “terrorist” needs to be more fully conceptualized. The goal of the terrorist mind is not to create terror, its goal is to create immense suffering. The fear created by the terrorist mind is a byproduct of the power-control dimension of the pathology, but the primary motivational goal is not to create fear, the desire of the terrorist mind is to create immense suffering.
The pathogen creating the shooter’s motivations, distorted thinking, and horrific actions are the damaged brain networks that twist into deep sadness into pathological anger and pathological hatred.
The act creates immense suffering. That’s the motivational goal. Unlocking the origins of this motivational goal will be found on a sadistic line. Understanding the pathology of sadism is key to unlocking pathological violence. The terrorist mind WANTS to create immense suffering, and it receives gratification in creating immense suffering.
The pathology of pathological violence and the terrorist mind displays in three features:
A complete absence of empathy. The violence is emotionally cold and completely heartless.
An absence of shared social morality. The act of violence is unconstrained by shared social morality and values of right and wrong.
Gratification from inflicting immense suffering. The terrorist mind seeks to create immense suffering and receives perverse gratification from the suffering it creates.
These three features define the terrorist mind, and each feature leads to unraveling the damaged information structures in the brain that creates the terrorist mind.
The Manchester bomber, the Las Vegas shooter, the shooters in Paris, in Orlando, and in Sandy Hook, the Boston marathon bombers, 911, are all variants of the same core pathogen, the same set of damaged information structures in the attachment networks of the brain.
The school shooting in Parkland Florida is an act of the terrorist mind.
How can we prevent this? We can’t… at least not yet.
Gun control legislation will not stop the pathology of the terrorist mind. America clearly has a gun culture that acts to support the emergence of pathology, but seeking to limit access to guns will not stop the terrorist mind because the terrorist mind does not reveal itself before the act. Gun control legislation may be reasonable and sane, but it will not stop Las Vegas, or the Boston marathon bombing, or Sandy Hook, or Orlando.
The clear psychopathology of the act leads to hopes that the mental health system can solve the pathology. Professional psychology cannot stop the pathology. I am a clinical psychologist. The mental health system cannot solve the pathology. We can identify risk factors. In 100,000 people who present risk signs, only one will trigger into pathological violence. We can identify the 100,000, but we cannot identify the one who will trigger into pathological violence in the 100,000.
There are many people who feel alienated, who harbor grudges, who are angry. Yet none of these people become a terrorist mass killer. The terrorist mind isolates, it does not seek therapy. It spins deeper into its disturbed isolation until it triggers.
Perhaps mental health services have stopped hundreds or even thousands of mass school shootings, but we just don’t know about it because the killings never happened, because mental health services prevented the act. So maybe mental health services are doing wonderfully, yet it only takes one isolated brain to slip past the mental health system to create the trauma of the mass killing.
We live in a world where the trauma pathogen of the terrorist mind will be able to inflict immense suffering on our psychological whole. It will find our vulnerability and strike at our vulnerability. This is the world we live in.
The most effective immediate-range solution is to harden the targets and reduce our vulnerability.
The longer-term solution is for professional psychology to develop a more complete understanding for the terrorist mind and the structure of the pathogen that will allow us to unlock the pathology, restore empathy and shared social morality, deactivate the desire to cause immense suffering, and intervene on triggers before they activate the violent act.
The task facing professional psychology is to more fully understand the pathogen of the terrorist mind to identify a more specific set of risk indicators, reducing the 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 1,000, and it is to develop the interventions based on the pathology of the terrorist mind that will unlock the pathology and restore normal-range socio-psychological functioning.
And we must understand the triggers that activate the terrorist mind into pathological violence, to identify the 1 in 100,000 who presents the immanent danger.
Professional psychology faces two tasks:
1.) We must be able to identify the pathogenic agent in the terrorist mind that motivates the violence, improving the quality in identifying the risk factors to more clearly identify the terrorist mind;
2.) We must identify the triggers that activate the pathogen into the act of pathological violence. Why did this vulnerable person trigger into this event of pathological violence today? What was the surrounding psychological state that formulated the motivation, and then activated into the motivation.
The absence of empathy (emotionally cold and heartless violence) and the absence of shared social morality of right and wrong speak to the social isolation of the terrorist mind. This is caused by damage to the intersubjective networks of the shared psychological state.
Yet loneliness, isolation, and alienation is abundant in modern culture, and is ubiquitous in young adulthood, yet does not trigger into the coldly sadistic violence of the terrorist mind. The key to stopping the pathological anger is identifying the triggers to the violence.
That is what I’m working to unravel, the triggers that set one brain on the path of pathological violence while in another brain the pathogen remains dormant. Early indications are that the triggering structures are on a line of shame and self-destruction, when the psychological isolation is combined with self-shame, self-destruction, and hopelessness triggers, the pathogen activates into pathological anger and pathological violence.
Interventions targeting the self-shame and hopelessness lines are likely to be productive at deactivating the triggers to pathological violence.
The terrorist mind contains a self-destructive meme-structure. The mind of the Parkland Florida shooter did not complete the self-destructive line of the pathogen. His life is over, the self-destructive line is present. He will be in a prison cell (a cage) for the remainder of his life and may likely face the death penalty. His act of pathological violence ended his life along with the lives of his victims. But the Parkland Florida shooter also remained alive through the event, he did not self-suicide or provoke his killing by police. His violent act did not include his own death, although it involves his self-destruction.
The mind of the Parkland Florida shooter therefore contains the pathogen that activates into the terrorist mind, as well as the triggering structures that activated the terrorist mind into pathological violence. The mind of the Parkland Florida shooter holds a wealth of information.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857