Morpheus: “We never free a mind once it’s reached a certain age. It’s dangerous, the mind has trouble letting go.”
The Matrix (1999)
Recently I read an article in the NYT about James Holmes. It is a well researched, if somewhat biased, piece that lays out a lot of facts but fails to connect them in ways that would defy the standard “he was becoming nuts” narrative.
In my opinion the first clue that the standard “he was becoming nuts” narrative is wrong comes from the sheer scale, time span and effort he put into planning the mass shooting. It is not like he just started assembling the pieces after he failed some exam in June.
Prosecutors said in court filings released last week that Mr. Holmes told a fellow student in March that he wanted to kill people “when his life was over“. In May, he showed another student a Glock semiautomatic pistol, saying he had bought it “for protection.”
I believe that the available evidence suggests that he had seriously considered killing people at least 6 months before his failure in some annual oral exam. But what makes a guy with no criminal record or history of violence systematically plan and execute a mass shooting? And why did he kill seemingly random people? Why did he not choose and execute individuals who had wronged him? Think about it.. though he was allegedly banned from the campus in June, he probably knew where the professors who failed him lived and had enough info to go and execute the families of 2-3 professors at an opportunity of his choosing. So why did he choose to shoot up a theater when he could have killed the same number of more deserving people?
Now you may say that he was nuts- but people who have lost touch with reality are not known to be so deliberate, rational and methodical. In his last adultfriendfinder ad, he clearly suggested he was going to go to jail after the shooting. He knew that he would be captured alive and used a lot of body armor to make sure that a few accidental shots by overzealous cops would not spoil his plan. He even made sure that the suggestion that he might have “dysphoric mania” was conveyed to people who would be questioned by cops after the shooting. Isn’t it odd that the shrink he was seeing reported him as a threat but not mentally ill?
Some people think that his dismal performance in the oral exams in June 2012 is an indicator of his mental deterioration. I think otherwise, based on my experiences in graduate school. If you look at the guys GPA, other test scores and demonstrated mental ability, it is obvious that he is very smart. People of significantly lesser ability are routinely successful in complete graduate school, even in such s0-called demanding fields as neurosciences.
The sad reality is that most bio-medical (including neuroscience) research is fraudulent, cherry picked data or not reproducible. This is especially true for research findings originating from the so-called top-notch universities where the perverse demands of post-1980 neoliberal competition make it almost necessary to make exciting but fake findings up. The trick is to do it in a manner that will escape detection for the next 2-3 years by which time almost everybody is busy discussing the next set of exciting breakthrough.. I mean scams. The whole idea that graduate school in STEM disciplines requires exceptional intelligence, integrity or competence is a big fat lie. Any barely competent but clever scammer with charm and the ability to bullshit can get a PhD in pretty much any STEM discipline and go on to be successful academic. Academic institutions are secular version of seminaries, decided to propagating sophistic orthodoxy rather than searching for the truth.
Few people flunk or leave graduate school because they are incompetent. Disillusionment, loss of interest or better opportunities are the main reasons why people just stop caring and move on. James Holmes could have easily passed those oral exams if he was still as motivated in June 2012 as he was when he had joined the program a year ago.
But we already know that he was seriously planning the shooting at least six months prior to June. We therefore have to start asking what happened between June 2011 and the first two months of 2012. How did a guy who was interested and capable of getting a PhD in his area of interest morph into someone who was obsessed with killing people? Some of you might think that he was repulsed by the dark and seedy underbelly of academia. That is however unlikely as he had significant prior exposure to the workings of academic research. We can also discount the possibility of relationship troubles pushing him over the edge as he apparently did not have a long-term GF, nor was he ever a ‘ladies man’.
So what made James Holmes go from harmless nerd to mass shooter within the first 6 months of his graduate program? While it is possible that he always had fantasies about killing people, something occurred within a very short time span that made him act on it. What could that be? I mean, the guy spent a lot of his time by himself playing RPG games, smoking pot and goofing around on the intertubes. It is not like he was being influenced by other people and why did he slowly withdraw from people around him anyway? What was going through his head everyday and what was he thinking?
Here is my theory- He had an epiphany about his own life. He realized that almost everything he had done till then was a giant and pathetic waste of time and effort. He realized that he had been misled, conned and abused by a society that he had no intention of delivering even a fraction of what it has implicitly promised people like him.
This process probably started with his struggles at getting even half-decent jobs after he had finished his undergraduate degree with a 3.9 something GPA from a reasonably good university. His isolation after moving to Colorado helped focus his mind on something that he had willingly ignored before. He eventually reached a point where he could no longer believe in the socially sanctioned lies most hold on to. I guess he decided to take it out on some representation of what he hated.
What do you think? Comments?