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Sandy Hook, Karl Marx, and the Minds Behind the Trigger
January 26, 2013
by Spencer Santilli

Once upon a time a lurking evil of society was personified by the cold and calculated serial killer who took lives to fulfill a primal or sometimes unconscious urge.  Such notorious figures as Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy are still terrifying, and the prospect of having a serial killer amongst us is even more so.  In recent years this ancient crime has evolved into a new kind of monster.  Our minds are now occupied with the fear of the mass shooting.  The recent plethora of deadly shootings in the United States, specifically the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, call for a drastic reinvestigation into the issues of gun control, mental health, and security.  What pundits and politicians are ignoring is the string of deep human and societal issues underlying the circumstances that push a citizen to commit such a heinous crime.  By deciphering recent incidents across the globe, evidence suggests that a growing percentage of the population is committing mass-murder to alleviate their pain—only to create so much more.

I: Heartache in the Heartland

In the last few years both the frequency and audaciousness of these mass shootings has increased.  One only needs to reflect on the past few years to understand what I’m talking about.  On January 8, 2011, in a crowded Tucson parking lot, Jared Lee Loughner shot and killed six people.  Amongst the deceased was U.S. Court District Judge John Roll, shot in the back trying to protect U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Loughner shot Giffords in the head, a wound that nearly took her life.  Since recovering Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly have started an organization bent on challenging the NRA.  

Fast-forward a year and a half to a crowded midnight release movie in Aurora, Colorado, where on July 12, 2012, James Holmes, dressed head-to-toe in combat gear, opened fire on an innocent crowd.  Holmes took the lives of 12 people and wounded countless others for life.  He is now involved in a legal battle concerning his mental health to determine whether he is psychologically fit to stand trial.  Most recently on December 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza used an AR-15 assault rifle to kill twenty-eight people, in what would become one of the worst mass-shootings in United States history.  The events at Sandy Hook Elementary have sparked a national debate about curbing gun-violence and adapting to growing mental health concerns.  Of the few who knew Adam Lanza, most claimed he was a quiet kid who had some issues, “Fitting in.”  Everyone, at some point or another, can admit feeling like they didn’t “fit in,” but very rarely did they choose to grab the nearest weapon and go on a killing spree.  There has always been a minute portion of society desirous of committing atrocious acts, but the evolution of both the criminal and the crime is disconcerting. 

II: Evil Knows No Bounds

In one of the worst terrorist acts in recent memory Anders Breivik, a self-proclaimed right wing Norwegian extremist, killed 77 people in separate attacks in Norway during the summer of 2011.  Breivik successfully detonated a homemade car bomb outside a busy building in downtown Oslo and drove himself to an island summer camp some miles away.  It was there, disguised as a police officer, that Breivik shot and killed 69 teenagers, counselors, and adults.  The mental state needed to carry out such an evil act is incomprehensible.  Breivik’s case has stirred up the usual arguments against violent video games, as Breivik frequently played such games, and mental health.  During the investigation Breivik was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia amongst other conditions, but was ultimately presumed to be sane while committing his ghastly crimes.  Although issues like gun control, mental health, and even violent video games are pertinent to the discussion, this incident reminds us that there are deeper problems that need addressing.

An interesting manifestation of the same desire is happening in Asia as well, although it has taken an even more bizarre twist. In the last few years China has seen a spike in a perplexing phenomenon, the knife rampage.  Multiple incidents in the last few years have uncovered some interesting questions that we must address in the United States.  For example in May of 2012, Zhou Yezhong stabbed eight people to death including his elderly mother, wife, and ten-year-old daughter.  This is only one of the many cases China has had to address in recent years, but the interesting aspect here is that the same kind of crime is taking place.  Even though Yezhong did not use firearms in his spree he was still capable of taking numerous lives in a disturbing manner, and although it is no consolation to the grieving families, Yezhong was not capable of the same death toll we’ve seen Breivik and Lanza amass.  What is at the core of humanity that drives people to commit such horrific acts of violence against both innocent strangers and family members?  This is where the nationally publicized dialogue falls short in their explanation.

III: Karl Marx
and the Generational Gap

Karl Marx was a 19th century thinker who, amongst numerous other things, offered an interesting revelation about social alienation.  Marx defines alienation (Entfremdung) as, “The systematic result of living in a socially stratified society, because being a mechanistic part of a social class alienates a person from his and her humanity.”  Could we then begin the necessary conversation that social stratification is greater than ever amongst all countries, not only the United States?  It is absolutely possible, at this moment, that alienation is more prevalent in society than we’re willing to acknowledge.  You might think that since there are more people we would be closer to one another.  Physically this is true, but when it is a different story when pertaining to our emotional and mental exchanges with one another.  It is obvious that technology is playing a substantial role in our alienation as we are consistently using a third-party medium to communicate with one another, as opposed to direct contact.  People are using Facebook and texting to communicate instead of talking face-to-face.  Of course Karl Marx’s definition of alienation is geared to the worker’s role in the economy, but it can be extrapolated out to every one of us because we are all part of the machinations of society—granted we all have varying degrees of responsibility and inclusion.  Is this not the same idea of “fitting in” that we met with earlier in Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter?  The facts are not always clear but it is hard to ignore the idea that the structure of society has created angst amongst those less fortunate.  Recently we are hapless observers to these deranged citizens as they pass out judgment upon the masses with bullets and death.

It could be argued that these mass-shootings are also a singular result of the loss of purpose for the average person.  Marx argued that, “The psychic value of a man consists in being able to conceive of the ends of his actions as purposeful ideas, which are distinct from the actions required to realize a given idea.”  As society becomes increasingly cluttered from exponential population growth, the ability for the average person to conceive of a purpose in life is decreasing.  Globalization has made the world infinitely closer and through technological innovation very few people are out of the vast reach of instantaneous contact.  The great economical machine is growing larger and now encompasses all aspects of humanity—thus further eroding purpose and simultaneously linking it to the pursuit of money, power, and material possessions.  

IV: Conclusion

There is of course monumental philosophical significance behind the disappearing purpose and very few, yet alone me, can answer all those questions.  Instead I offer this: as we move headfirst into this unforeseen future, we must consider that population growth, globalization, and rapid technological expansion is detrimental to the psyche of human beings.  Everywhere we look there are people in a hurry, often times hustling past with a shoulder nudge that goes unnoticed.  Is it so hard to believe that these quandaries could be a major contributing factor to the rise in violent spree killings?  We cannot, as a society, believe the notions that a lack of gun control and mental health care are solely to blame.  Wealth inequality, social stratification, technology, and even the Marxist Theory of Alienation are all important issues that are essential to solving this deadly dilemma.  Right now, lawmakers are negotiating laws that will limit a magazine to seven rounds claiming it will help deter these horrifying events.  As they bicker uselessly someone, somewhere, is already planning the next shooting without giving a second though to the sanctity of life. 

[1] Marcus, Barry. "Karl Marx and his Theory of Alienation:  How it can be applied to Modern Society." 16, September, 2008. <>

[2] Wihbey, John. "Mass Murder, Shooting Sprees and Rampage Violence: Research Roundup."  14, December, 2012.  <>

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