From the comments, on mass shootings

The comments were numerous, here is one from Malcolm Gladwell:

I see that someone included a link to my recent piece in the New Yorker on this very topic–trying to understand the rash of school shootings. In that piece, I used Mark Granovetter’s theory of riots. Granovetter’s original article is well worth reading:

Gladwell’s original piece is here.  And here is a comment from Peter Turchin:

Hi all,
My explanation of why the rate of indiscriminate mass murder increased 18-fold between 1960 and 2010 is developed in a series of blog posts. The first one is here:
and links to the rest are at the end of the first post.

See also Steve Sailer’s varied comments on the evolution of serial killers, and related matters.  There are other interesting comments as well.


I've a short outline of revolutionary ideas for Gun Control for criticism or adding to. Will send email later, as I can't add image to this message.

Turchin - "the real rate of inflation is probably underestimated by creative folk at government statistical agencies" - sigh. Where's the incentive for everyone who looks at inflation to lie? Is there a non-conspiracy theory version that accounts for inflation's being hella low during the recent surge in mass murder? And do male-breadwinner roles in stressed economies really accord with an equation of mass murder to terrorism - when other evidence suggests terrorists tend to be higher on the economic and social status ladder than the purported explanation explains? So sorry, but I do not buy this one and I would categorise it as Sailer-esque hinting at a theory without formalising and offering recourse to disproof.

I get the sense that some people have a pretty inaccurate mental model of the federal government. Where I see thousands of ordinary career workers, they see a few cackling POTUS henchmen with a strong view of the preferred official inflation rate.

People will understand government better when they realize it's just a massive bureaucracy with dozens/hundreds/thousands of people watching any particular action (and particularly those actions constituting the core functions of the agency).

There is error, inefficiency, and corruption in this world. I guess it is hard to take a world where it is distributed evenly? So some create bogey men. For the left it is the Evil Corporation. For the right it is Government.

A moderate seeks to balance risks.

The evil corporations are housemates of the evil government.

I like it, but it too is a partial view.

And "ordinary" is all too often the operative word.

"the real rate of inflation is probably underestimated by creative folk at government statistical agencies”

Nonsense on stilts. The 'real' rate of inflation is surely overstated. Judging by what average Americans consume now vs in 1970, it become abundantly clear that standards of living have improved dramatically. If you look at house sizes and amenities, frequency of dining out, vacation air travel, etc, you see vast differences. And that doesn't include quality improvement -- the cars and appliances are so much more efficient, reliable, safe, and durable. As a kid, I put countless of miles on a 10-speed bike that was far worse than the cheapest thing you could pick up at Walmart now (friction shifters, weak brakes that barely worked when wet, heavy steel wheels that would rust). The differences in what we eat and drink are equally striking. It is almost impossible to believe that Coors beer was considered a delicacy in places where it wasn't distributed. People where I lived near Chicago would actually load up the trunk and haul it back from ski trips out west (which were *driving* trips, since flying the family was prohibitively expensive) . And lastly there's the cornucopia of tech marvels of the modern world (computers, smart phones, digital cameras, streaming video, gps mapping, drones). I'm not sure what would have been more amazing to my 1973 self -- that we'd have all these things or that they would be dirt cheap.

And what do we have on the other side? What has gotten more expensive? Education and health-care -- two markets that have been almost irretrievably FUBAR'ed by the government.

How about killing by cops? The latest shooting is an attempted execution of a suspected drink driver as he pulled himself from the wreckage. The police officer who shot,in the neck, the drunk driver climbing from the wreckage us named after an uncle if his who was killed by a drunk driver. After sorting the suspect, who falls back in the vehicle,the officer appears to use his flashlight to find his she'll casing and doesn't tell anyone that he shot the suspect until medical personnel notice the bullet wound. The DA ruled the shot "accidental, negligent, but not criminal."

Isn't killing many people you don't know easier than killing one person you do know? Demonizing those you don't know is easier than demonizing someone you do know. In the South, people demonize unions and union members, blaming them for the economy's, and their, troubles, even though there are few unions in the South and most people don't know any union members. In the South, white people demonize Democrats even though, or because, they don't know any Democrats, other than the many black people they don't know. Most people in the South don't have much, besides their pride. Family members who don't amount to much are referred to as "sorry", a word than does double duty - the family member is sorry and so is the family (i.e., they are sorry he's in the family). Of course, pride can be a dangerous thing, whether an individual's pride, a regional pride, a cultural pride, or a religious pride. People in the South have lots of pride (as Southerners) and they are armed, something best not forgotten when the jerk you don't know cuts you off in traffic. The same can be said of anybody with an out-sized pride.

How many southerners do you know and can you explain why you elected to include this bizarre fantasy of yours in this context? Is there some evidence that mass murderers are frequently southern?

Pretty sure Rayward has stated on here before that he lives in or us from the South.

Not sure whether mass murderers are disproportionately southern, but there does seem to be a concentration of higher firearm death rates in Dixie.

Yes, I am Southern and I do have Southern pride, but I and my Southern friends and neighbors aren't mass killers. My point was about pride, sometimes called false pride, which motivates people to do all kinds of irrational things, in particular when that pride is hurt. As for fundamentalist (what Bart Ehrman describes as no fun, too much damn, and not enough mental) Sunni Muslims, religious pride may have something to do with their mass killings (and in California the killers' individual pride may have been hurt by one or more of co-workers), but the greater motivation is to help bring about the apocalypse (read Graeme Wood's March article in The Atlantic). Which strikes me as fundamentally irrational, not the apocalypse per se but that God needs any help bringing about the apocalypse: if He needs help, He is not much of a God.

Even in the South, the vote goes at least 40% Dem. How could you not know one?

"No more baby parts"?

Few murders are random events. In general, there is some kind of a relationship between the killer and the victim. Murder-suicides and gang killings don't surprise anyone. It's the apparently motive-less mass murder that gets peoples' attention.

Few murders are random events. In general, there is some kind of a relationship between the killer and the victim.

It depends on the global homicide rate. When it was at its peak ca. 1980, about half the murders were felony murders which occurred during the course of robberies and burglaries. The amplitude of stranger murder is higher than that of acquaintance murder.

Art Deco: You've got it backwards; There is more acquaintance murder than stranger murder these days and there were far more acquaintance murder than stranger murder in the 1980s -- the gap has actually been closing (this excludes, of course, "undetermined relationships" -- the plurality of present day murders). The DOJ stats are easy to find online:

Fair enough.

IIRC, stranger murders were quite unusual ca. 1960, with a rate around 0.5 per 100,000.

Sailer's been on a roll these last few months... Topped off by the San Bernardino shooting article spree. Nothing like some non white immigrant terror to get the juices flowing I suppose.

Political correctness kills. See San Bernardino.

How do you define "rash"?

Liberals employ crazy talk about gun control so they don't have to confront their massive mistakes. If there were (there is not) an increase in cases, it would be microscopic. The only increase is in demagoguery and media hype/hysteria.

Since 1993 (to 2013), the number of privately-owned firearms increased 56%, while gun homicide rate decreased 49%.

The rash of Muslim terror attacks is swept under the rug, and liberals talk about gun control.

It's not dishonesty. It's the agenda.

Good news: 12/11/2015: Obama signed common sense gun control law to prevent a ban on lead ammunition; to set a procedure to allow soldiers to carry on post; and to start a system for sales of surplus military pistols to civilians.

What constitutes "crazy talk" about gun control?

What's constitutes a "rash" of US Muslim terror attacks? One is certainly enough to justify attention, but should we start Muslim internment camps?

Good news: all categories of crime have been decreasing over this period, while the share of US Muslims increased.

Regarding "Crazy talk." Two devout Muslims murder 14 people and - wait for it - All Americans gun owners are the problem. If you think that is sane, . . .

"Rashes." Say 200 Muslim women come each year unvetted come to America to be married. And, one of them kills 14 Americans. Now, 80,000,000 Americans own guns and one of them commits an atrocity. I hate math, but even I can see that 1:200 compared to 1:80,000,000 is a material difference of a massive magnitude. .

Correlation isn't causation. But, "all categories of crime" didn't decrease (from 1993 to 2013) with the rise in numbers of Muslims in America, See 11 Sep 2001; Fort Sill. FYI: "War is a crime. Ask the infantry. Ask the dead." Hemingway

Moderate gun owners are shut out, and an industry that wants to sell "tactical" speaks for them.

Explain again why everything the San Bernardino shooters needed was considered a normal consumer product?

We market everything they need, the only defense being that most people only play at it.

What constitutes “crazy talk” about gun control?

'Crazy talk' is actually what is known, colloquially, as 'deception'. The President (and certainly Eric Holder) has been indifferent if not hostile to commonsensical and successful efforts at crime control, but makes a big to do about gun control. The incremental value of additional gun controls is disputed and small. Most of what they do is create extra paperwork for small town and rural hobbyists or prevent working-class inner city residents from arming themselves against feral young men. It only makes sense as public posturing or as a camel's nose under the tent for mass gun confiscation.

Some years ago, Law and Contemporary Problems published a stupefying article by a law professor in North Carolina who argued that hunting should be outlawed by court decree. Obama has spent his adult life among such people.

It is easy to spot the deceiving fallacy here. Gun control is not a uniform substance. Each individual policy has to be considered.

To illustrate, I was recalling conversations I'd have with an old friend. He was taking a gunsmithing class at a local community college. He would repeat the instructor's advice that you "don't do this to an Uzi Model A or you'll accidentally make it fully automatic." Then "don't do X to Y" and so on. We laughed, but I recognized two things. First, the gun owning community was interested in knowing those tricks. Second, they all applied to older models. Changes to law to make newer guns unmodifiable were working.

We learned last week that the San Bernardino couple tried to modify their guns, and could not.

Effective gun control.

Why was that effective?

Are you implying they would have killed more people with full auto? If so, why are you assuming that?

"Changes to law to make newer guns unmodifiable were working."

What changes to the law did that?

Mofo, I don't know which law. I am going by what my friend learned in his class. This would have been in the 90's, a time with less Internet footprint.

Political Correctness also Rapes. Sailer's pieces on Rotherham is what changed my views on refugees/immigrants etc. He has a new piece with a good argument that the Rotherham rape/sex slavery is the norm. The thing that jumps out at me is that the child rape and sexual slavery was so widespread that the entire pakistani community must have known. The wives, imams, etc. they must have known and gone along with it.

And all of the diversity folks not only knew but they went after anybody who said anything. The put someone in jail for speaking up about child rape. The diversity church is as bad as the Catholics when it comes to rape but they have more power. My politics used to be that PC was well-meaning but overdone. Now its that there are actual evil people running it, just like the church hierarchy was evil.

You bet there are evil people running it, but they think their motives and goals are pure. The employer world generally dreams of a labor force that is fungible, than can move according to employer needs, and that has no strong views that are parochial or exclusive, views that reduce the homogeneity of the labor pool across states and nations. This utility of such a reshaped labor pool leads to many individual actions (the invisible hand...) encouraging such an outcome. It has been noted by many that the aforementioned homogeneity of beliefs or opinions on controversial matters fits just fine with the desire of the US political left to encourage maximum racial and national-origin diversity, the displacing of the former majority. The left doesn't realize, apparently, that if they achieve their goal, at that victorious instant a new majority is defined. The employers still win. They and their backers still will be the ones with the money and power. Perhaps that is fine. I'm neutral on the issue.

The left fantasizes that a citizenry disarmed of actually useful defensive weapons advantages their cause. I suppose they are right in this way, that a suburban or prosperous urban neighborhood is unable to discourage or halt the predation of riots if they have no accurate repeating rifles of sufficient capacity. Therefore the politics of mayhem gains when the riot and the stick can go relatively unopposed. The LA riots revealed a police force reality: they simply retreated to their well-armed and remote neighborhoods, leaving the Koreatown residents to suffer, truckers to take bricks to the head, etc. Is that history morally neutral? The reality of efficient weaponry really does discourage both local government oppression and civil disorder, leaving elections as the proper tool of change.

I would take this moment to voice a complaint, that on this interesting blog too many choices by those in the news are labelled "mood affiliation" when "signal affiliation" would be much more accurate. Taking Leon Festinger's original meaning of "cognitive dissonance" as a dissonance between a person's beliefs versus those expressed by his nearest neighbors, those he most frequently interact with, resolving in favor of agreeing with those others, signal affiliation is important, and is how cognitive dissonance is reduced. Festinger thought about it, realized the political implications for urban opinion diversity (eventually not much), and promptly quit the sociology business.

"reduce"? "Increase the homogeneity."

Here's what I find interesting. There's always so much shock, hand-wringing, and/or searching for explanations whenever there's a dramatic occurrence of human on human violence. On the other hand, americans love to spend hours on end watching graphically reproduced depictions of spectacular violence on television and movies. In their free time, watching violence is what americans (and others all over the world) like to do. As little kids, through adult-hood, and into old-age, we will watch tens of thousands of hours of bloody depictions of people getting there heads blown off, butchered with axes, machine-gunned, blown up with explosives, etc. etc. This stuff accounts for a huge portion of the media that is consumed. So is it really that shocking that creatures who so much love to watch humans killing each other, will also engage in the same types of behaviors? Violence is not a pathological aberration. It is natural human behavior.

Not just that, as a gun culture turns to reenact those fantasies with a new "tactical" hobby centered on tactical guns. Not Gunsmoke fans with a 6-shooter, or even Rifleman fans with a lever action. They quote Matrix that they need guns, lots of guns.

Mass shootings are rare but they obviously are popular culture taken to an extreme. I think Gladwell's piece is good on that process.

Actually, Cowboy Action events are alive and well among competitive shooters.

In your imagination. Particularly graphic violence has been characteristic of the last 15 years, and you mostly see it in forensic programs like the CSI franchise, where a table full o' body parts is standard fare.

At one time, the State of New York required a film called Signal 30 to be incorporated into drivers' education courses. The film was quite jarring because, for all the babble about violence on television, the actual damage to human bodies (as you see in a car accident) was not depicted on cop shows. Aficionadoes of the CSI franchise get a dose of Signal 30 every week.

"The Silence of the Lambs" came out in 1991. "Natural Born Killers" came out 21 years ago. Before the 1990s, you had the slasher films of the 80s and even a few pretty violent movies in the 1970s. By the early 90s at the latest, graphic violence had been completely normalized in movies.

So, the trend of graphic depictions of violence in the media is opposite of the trend of violence in real life.

There's been a lot of research on that, and at best it's come to "results unclear." In many case, the result has been that viewing violence actually reduces acts of violence. Though I'm not sure if anyone's studied the relationship between depictions of violence and mass shooters. It's possible that there's a connection between seeing (or playing out in a video game) violent acts and some very rare types of individuals where no relationship exists in the general population. But I haven't seen anything indicating that's the case.

Mark Ames wrote a book on this subject:

'Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: from Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond.'

Here is the blurb:

Going Postal examines the phenomenon of rage murder that took America by storm in the early 1980's and has since grown yearly in body counts and symbolic value. By looking at massacres in schools and offices as post-industrial rebellions, Mark Ames is able to juxtapose the historical place of rage in America with the social climate after Reaganomics began to effect worker's paychecks. But why high schools? Why post offices?

Mark Ames examines the most fascinating and unexpected cases, crafting a convincing argument for workplace massacres as modern day slave rebellions. Like slave rebellions, rage massacres are doomed, gory, sometimes inadvertently comic, and grossly misunderstood.

Going Postal seeks to contextualize this violence in a world where working isn't—and doesn’t pay—what it used to. Part social critique and part true crime page-turner, Going Postal answers the questions asked by commentators on the nightly news and films such as Bowling for Columbine.

Tying the phenomenon to economics is too narrow. It does seem that a feeling of extreme humiliation is a trigger in a lot of shootings. Graduate students have killed faculty who don't approve their dissertations, employees have killed co-workers and supervisors when they get passed over for a promotion or feel insulted or bullied and young men who can't get a date have used mass violence to avenge feelings of rejection and inadequacy.

The bigger question is the "mass" part of mass shooting. In the old days, if a man felt humiliated and dishonored, he would challenge the person who wronged him to a duel. In other cultures, people sometimes take revenge on spouses and family members of people who have wronged them. Killing people who have no part in the quarrel or who are stand-ins for some imagined villain is the part that is most difficult to understand.

I found Turchin's analysis of the increase in mass shootings persuasive and it changed my previous skepticism about a rising trend in mass shootings. I think it helps that he correctly identifies the set of violence that needs to be analyzed separately -- violence against multiple individuals that is really directed towards society at large, or groups or institutions within that society. It is political violence, and if it has increased ten-fold since the 1960s, it may continue to increase.

One subset of political violence that probably needs to be looked at separately though is political violence originating or directed from abroad. Deteriorating working conditions and increased intrasocietal competition, etc. describe the American political experience. We have a number of mass murderers, however, that are reacting to a political experience formulated outside of American society and relate to religious/historical grievances that may even predate the Republic. To what extent are these trends responsible for the increase? In any event, I would predict that America will react more strongly against perceived foreign indiscriminate mass murder being directed or inspired from abroad than the disgruntled employee going postal (crazy) and shooting up his workplace.

Gladwell's piece was fascinating. It made me wonder what one would have found had Eric Harris been interviewed similar to LaDue. I am not very sure that the one wouldn't have reached identical conclusions.

Some of us think that we're just disposable cogs in this giant machine called "the Economy," and that its needs are the only things that matter anymore as opposed to real human needs for stuff like value, meaning, and community. But those of us who think that way are "communists," I guess.

I don't think you are a communist- I just think you are immature and naive to think your life should matter to anyone but yourself and those who actually know you and care about you. Grow up already.

Heh, I think maybe you are both outliers, on the two extremes.

You actually made my point for me. I agree with you - life *doesn't* matter; all that matters is what you can produce for the Market. So if life doesn't matter, why not go on a killing spree and blow away a bunch of people and yourself too, especially if you can't produce enough economic value? Note shootings coincide with declining wages and opportunities for the majority of people, coupled with the "it's all your own fault," mentality.

Odd. I can see what my high school friends' kids are doing every day through Facebook, and meet people who share my obscure and in some cases marginalized interests _before_ I move to a new city now. Something which was impossible to do even 10 years ago.

One of my grandfathers worked one of those "good manufacturing jobs" that are so lamented for being missing nowadays. It was so soul killing that my mother would tell stories of how he, a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, would break down crying on Mondays because he couldn't face another week of it. My other grandfather worked as a construction foreman, often not seeing his children for weeks at a time because the job site was so far away he'd leave before the kids got up and get home after they were in bed. Nowadays, my biggest problem with work is keeping the cat from meowing into my phone while I'm on a meeting, since I work at home because my fortune 500 company didn't see any reason to replace me when I moved to a different city when my wife went to college. I think the "cogginess" of your job is what you make of it: My job feels pretty Dilbert-y at times, but I wouldn't dream of trading it for what my grandfathers did, and I did choose to move from the exact same job my father had to the job I currently have.

I don't really see any reason to believe that human needs like value, meaning and community are any less served now than they were 50 years ago. A lot of the stuff from that era that we celebrate now was actually pretty dreary in comparison to what we have. If anything, it feels worse now simply because we realize all the options we have now, whereas what we had was all we could have 50 years ago.

Turchin's economic theory sounds awfully thin to me.

Tyler, I sent you some data recently from SSA on historical wages that deconstructs the "40-year stagnation" hypothesis.

The data show clearly that in the 10 years between 1973 and 1982, real wages fell (about 12% based on CPI and 3% based on CPE), and wages have grown only modestly in the past 15 years, but from 1982 to 2000 real wages increased smartly (25% based on CPI, 35% based on CPE).

Life has always been a struggle. I don't believe the 21st century has been especially arduous- most of us can look back a generation or two in our own families to what we would consider grinding poverty. I think lots of people are under the impression that life is no longer a struggle for lots of people, or shouldn't be, and are surprised to find that it is.

Where's my hoverbike?

"Life has always been a struggle. I don’t believe the 21st century has been especially arduous- most of us can look back a generation or two in our own families to what we would consider grinding poverty."

But I think that Turchin's ideas coupled with media impact is pretty powerful. What Americans didn't face half a century ago was the near impossibility of NOT being constantly exposed to people more rich and famous than themselves. You could stay in your bubble of modest success in 1962, and remain relatively blissfully unaware of a growing population of status-seeking high achievers in which you don't amount to much. But no longer.

So rampage killers do so because someone else owns a Ferrari and they only own a BMW?

Wander through any even smaller city and observe that there is a wrong side of the tracks and the nicer part of town, often made up of mansions that couldn't be reproduced today. Many people walked or rode the bus daily past these homes on their way to and from wage slavery at the local factory and their own modest hovels. There's always been a substantial difference in wealth and fame in even the most primitive societies.

Maybe there are more people and more nut jobs running around. The welfare state is also destroying the nuclear family which used to provide people with a lot of emotional and psychological support. The radicals in society continue to attack traditional marriage and values. This is just one more notch in the belt of society's misanthropes.

Some models of insider-crime (and espionage) might also be useful. I don't see them mentioned yet.
The big picture is that a sense of personal failure and disgruntlement can lead to many kinds of destructive behavior. And group cohesion often prevents early detection of precursor behaviour. A few links:

"Perhaps only 2 or 3 percent of human beings are ‘sociopaths’ who lack such inhibitions and to whom killing another person is no more stressful than stepping on a cockroach. The Army recruits their best snipers from this small minority."

Witness the violence that happens on the streets to maintain the power structure (for drug sales, etc.). Throughout human history, the ability to kill other humans has conferred a selective advantage. I think that under the right circumstances, the vast majority of humans are capable, it's that it's not necessary.

The thing about mental disease is that in the minds of the shooter, they had a really good reason. Maybe the voices told them so.

In the past, people like Adam Lanza would have an outlet. The Army would draft and discover them, then send them to kill Germans. Nowadays, the Army does not want them. They want technicians who can drop bombs from 12,000 miles away.

Have the killing sprees coincided, albeit approximately, with the decline in smoking?

The world has a great and growing number of people with unresolvable anger. Anger in children is not even recognized. There are no therapies that deal with it. Drugs do not solve problems. It is not something responsive to behavioral economics. My son had such problems. He died in 2010. Do continue your discussion. It will have no impact on the need.

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