"I felt all inner development was ceasing,
that all becoming and growing were being choked,
because a single idea was filling my entire soul."
— Susan Bordo, Toward a new psychology of gender”*--
Everybody loves a murder mystery. The American mass media are only too ready, willing and able to crank one out on a moment´s notice to their advertisers´ unabashed, unabridged delight. The fact both parties are encouraging the very thing they proclaim and defame to the stars above they “abhor” is of no interest to them. Violence sells, sells, sells -- better than sex.
Every time there is a massacre in America we hear the same comments. Over the years, this blog has recorded them.The killer was a nice guy, even kind, basically normal. The reason he did it is ultimately unknowable.
Typical -- all too typical -- is the CNN report with this headline: “The unknowable Stephen Paddock and the ultimate mystery: Why?”:
As authorities dive deep into Paddock's computers, itinerant high-rolling lifestyle and finances, they still don't have an answer.
They still don't know why.
Clark County Undersheriff Kevin C. McMahill seemed almost apologetic Friday afternoon when he told reporters that despite running down some 1,000 leads, investigators still haven't come up with "credible information" concerning Paddock's motive. Chasing down all those leads "helped create a better profile into the madness of this suspect," McMahill said, but "we still do not have a clear motive or reason why."
The previous evening, Sheriff Joe Lombardo summed up the mystery man this way: Paddock "spent decades acquiring weapons and ammo and living a secret life, much of which will never be fully understood."
We thoroughly disagree with all those pro forma post mortem pronunciamientos about a mystery man.
First, by asserting the motive is not known, the media and police mystify -- glorify -- the murderer. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben uncovered the underlying dynamic in his discussion of another phenomenon that is supposedly beyond comprehension: Nazi concentration camps.
To say that Auschwitz is "undecipherable" or "incomprehensible," comes down to euphēmein, to adore it in silence as though it were a god; that means, in spite of one’s good intentions, one contributes to its glory.**
And second, there is nothing mysterious whatsoever about why Stephen Paddock did it.
* * *
47 rifles and ammunition purchased over 20 years in 4 different states; prior scouting of possible assassination sites; mathematical calculations of the trajectory of his bullets; sending his girlfriend to the Philippines at the time of the massacre: everything points to the same motive.
Stephan Paddock had an idée fixe. It organized his life for him, gave it meaning, sense, direction. Possessed by an all-compelling fixation resistant to any change, such a person functions normally apart from his idée fixe of which he may nor may not be aware. The fact that family, friends and neighbors tend to view such men as normal -- that he would be the last one to do such a thing -- gives the killers´ game away.
There is a more inclusive term, monomania, in which a person has an idée fixe but may be aware of it. He knows, at least at times and on some level, his idée fixe is absurd; nevertheless, he cannot discard it. It is bigger than he is -- a lot bigger.
He is, in short, insane but only partially so.
The novel Moby Dick presented the classic example of an idée fixe/monomania. Captain Ahab dedicated his life to chasing down and killing the whale Moby Dick because it bit off his leg at the knee:
The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung …He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it … Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form. Ahab's full lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted … This is much; yet Ahab's larger, darker, deeper part remains unhinted … Now, in his heart, Ahab had some glimpse of this, namely: all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad. Yet without power to kill, or change, or shun the fact; he likewise knew that to mankind he did now long dissemble; in some sort, did still. But that thing of his dissembling was only subject to his perceptibility, not to his will determinate.***
We do not know if the Las Vegas shooter was aware or not of his idée fixe. For us, the distinction is less important than other considerations.
Idée fixe began as a parent category of obsession, and as a preoccupation of mind the idée fixe resembles today's obsessive-compulsive disorder: although the afflicted person can think, reason and act like other people, they are unable to stop a particular train of thought or action. However, in obsessive-compulsive disorder, the victim recognizes the absurdity of the obsession or compulsion, not necessarily the case with an idée fixe, which normally is a delusion. Today, the term idée fixe does not denote a specific disorder in psychology, and does not appear as a technical designation in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Nonetheless, idée fixe is used still as a descriptive term, and appears in dictionaries of psychology.
We previously analyzed another man with an idée fixe that had disastrous consequences.
Captain Ahab-style, Henry Kissinger was obsessed with revenge against Vietnam for having outmaneuvered and defeated him at the Paris Peace Talks. (See our post "´Henery´ Kissinger Debunked," August 11, 2015). To get even, Kissinger sought an alliance with China at any price against Vietnam. Closed factories, lost jobs, ruined families, an increasingly powerful and arrogant China: the tab for Kissinger´s idée fixe of vengeance goes on and on. A third world war is not out of the question.
A second example of a Washington idée fixe involved a president so hell-bent on revenge that, like Kissinger, he gravely jeopardized American strategic interests.
George Bush Junior´s counter-terrorism chief, Richard A Clarke. wrote that Bush made an idée fix out of Iraq´s President Saddam Hussein:
Iraq was portrayed as the most dangerous thing in national security. It was an idée fixe, a rigid belief, received wisdom, a decision already made and one that no fact or event could derail.****
Despite the total lack of evidence, Bush insisted Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Despite all rational considerations of balance of power relationships in the Middle East, in 2003 Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. After three years, Saddam Hussein was found hiding and hung. To see the concrete consequences today of Bush Junior´s war, randomly turn on any TV news.
Is another Washington idée fixe in the making right now before our eyes? Is Donald Trump a Captain Ahab, North Korea his Moby Dick?
For that matter, the reverse may also be true. For three generations of North Korean leaders, America has been a white whale to kill.
If either is the case, any rational settlement of the Korean crisis is out of the question.
Inexorably, we come to an unthinkable thought; you won´t see it on CNN. If Kim Jong-un is now or is becoming an idée fixe for Trump, Trump and the Las Vegas shooter have something fundamental -- indeed, primordial -- in common.
We know that Trump is prone to idées fixes. Exhibit #1: his wall on the Mexican border.
We will have confirmation of North Korea as a Trump idée fixe not in TV talking-head debates or learned treatises but when bombs, probably nuclear, start to fall. Don´t be surprised if and when it happens: Trump´s fire and fury like the world has never seen is actually part of a time-honored scenario. To wit:
Moby Dick ends with the whale destroying the ship. Everyone dies except the narrator of the story. Captain Ahab is lashed to Moby Dick.
The whale swims away, disappears.
#MobyDick #idéefixe #NorthKoreaasanidéefixe #HenryKissinger #GeorgeBush #StephenPaddock #StephenPaddock´smotive #Trump´sidéefixe #GiorgioAgamben #Auschwitz #SusanBordo #RichardAClarke
*Susan Bordo (1996). "Anorexia nervosa: psychopathology as the crystallization of culture". In Mary M. Gergen, Sara N. Davis. Toward a New Psychology of Gender, Routledge. p. 441.
**« Dire qu’Auschwitz est ‘indicible’ ou ‘incompréhensible’, cela revient à euphēmein, à l’adorer en silence comme on fait d’un dieu ; cela signifie donc, malgré les bonnes intentions, contribuer à sa gloire. » Giorgio Agamben, Ce qui reste d’Auschwitz, translated from Italian into French by Pierre Alferi, Bibliothèque Rivages, Paris, 1999, p. 40. [My translation]
***Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chapter xli, pp. 181-3.
****Richard A Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, Free Press, 2004, p. 265.