Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Dystopia, Musings, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism > The Peculiar Rationality of Aaron Alexis

The Peculiar Rationality of Aaron Alexis

While some events deserve a prompt commentary, others are best explored once the proverbial dust has settled down. I am sure that all of you are familiar with the Washington Navy Yard shooting in which Aaron Alexis fatally shot twelve people, and injured three others, inside the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

Though I had initially considered posting my thoughts about that event within a couple of days after it occurred, it seemed prudent to wait until a clearer picture of that incident and the guy who did it was available. In any case, the new bits of information have only bolstered my original views about Aaron Alexis. So let us begin by dissecting the first and most widespread belief about the shooting incident, namely that Aaron was suffering from a serious mental illness.

By now, most of you have heard media accounts of his supposed short temper, beliefs, odd behavior and demeanor. Many talking-heads in mainstream media are expressing feigned outrage at how an individual with his “history” could obtain a security clearance. However the idea that Aaron had serious mental illness is problematic for a very basic reason.

A diagnosis of mental illness, serious or otherwise, is highly subjective and dictated by prevailing socio-political fashions rather than any interest in the welfare of the diagnosed individual.

While I do not dispute the existence of depression, schizophrenia or hypomania that is severe enough to require medical treatment for helping the affected individual, it is all to clear that a lot of what is diagnosed as mental illness is anything but that. Antidepressants are routinely to people whose mental state is a normal reaction to a fucked up world. Kids with anything other than highly conformist behavior are diagnosed with ADHD. Male sport stars who sleep with many hot and willing women are diagnosed with “sex-addiction”. Nor is the trend new of labeling otherwise normal behavior new. Some of you might be aware that homosexuality was, as late as the early-1970s, considered to a mental disease.

The label of mental illness is therefore largely about an individual being someone other than a mindless, conformist, willing and disposable slave.

Face it.. would we be questioning the sanity of Aaron Alexis if he was a famous musician, actor or sportsman? Or what if he never shot those 12 people? What fraction of short-tempered introverts who believe in some conspiracy theory end up shooting a dozen people? Society is certainly not interested in the mental state of a white guy who wears an “official” uniform and ends up shooting some unarmed black guy because he matched the “description” of a suspect. Or what about some white guy serving the american armed forces who ends up shooting civilians in a country invaded by the USA to supposedly spread “democracy”?

Is there really a fundamental difference between a black guy killing 12 people in the USA and some white guy killing a similar number of civilians in some occupied middle-eastern country?

In both cases, the people killed were innocent. None of the victims were asking for it nor did they personally know the guy who killed them. Yet one event is seen as a great tragedy, a sign of poor vetting, inadequate security precautions and so on. The other event is just seen as an unfortunate accident in the supposedly altruistic projects of spreading “democracy” in the world.

So what is going on? Is someone mentally ill because they did not wear the right “uniform” when killing a dozen people? Or could it be the skin color of most victims? What about the skin color of the shooter? Or what about those who followed orders to kill hundreds or thousands of civilians who had never previously harmed them? Were the soldiers who followed such orders good soldiers, mass murderers, sociopaths, morons, mentally ill or all of the above? What about drone jockeys who blow up children unfortunate enough to be at the wrong wedding party in some godforsaken middle-eastern country?

It is clear that a lot of our supposedly cherished beliefs about “right” and “wrong” just don’t hold up under scrutiny.

Some of you might say “but.. but that guy believed the government was using radio waves to keep him awake at night and mess with his head. Isn’t this proof that he was nuts?” OK, let us look at some other beliefs that are considered normal and healthy. Take religion.. Christian evangelicals often talk about hearing or talking with a voice nobody else can hear. Are they widely seen as mentally ill? What about devout Muslims? Surely, interpreting two books written in an archaic form of Arabic years after the death of the guy who supposedly said all those things should create some doubt. But don’t many of that particular faith exhibit an unusual certainty about the divinity and veracity of what was written in those books, even if they are functionally illiterate. The same is true of Christian bible literalists and Hindu traditionalists who are sure about the validity of their beliefs even if most have not read the books they claim to believe in.

Believing that the government is using radio waves to keep a person awake at night is no more insane that living you life according to the words of some thousand-year old manuscript of dubious authorship.

This is not to say that the mental state of Aaron Alexis had no impact on his actions. Clearly the guy had ongoing problems with insomnia and may have suffered from infrequent hallucinations. However the intensity of his mental issues was not sufficient to affect his ability to perform his day job. The guy was not retarded or otherwise of sub-average intelligence. Nor was he particularly confrontational for a black guy. The shooting cannot therefore be explained away as the work of a seriously mentally ill individual. It was not especially random or poorly planned and he clearly wanted to go out after he had killed as many people as he could. His actions were rational, even if they were not conventional.

So what was going on in his mind?

Here is my analysis of the factors that might have led him to do what he did.It comes down to extrapolating the two dominant pathways in his life before the shooting. Note that they are not mutually exclusive. You may or may not agree with it and that is fine.

Pathway 1: He was becoming more mentally ill, but well enough to understand that.

Where do you draw the line between sanity and insanity? Is the distinction between the two that clear? Maybe he felt his mental stability was deteriorating and that this was his last chance to do what he always wanted. He was like almost all Americans, certainly aware, that we do not treat people deemed mentally ill well- especially if they are not rich, male and non-white. He was all three. How many of you would care for those you pretend to love if they were mentally ill, broke or homeless? Countless men like him are routinely left to allowed to wallow in poverty, prison or die. Maybe he understood his lack of good options and decided to take a few others out with him. Sure.. his victims did not deserve to die but neither did he deserve the almost inevitable and totally avoidable suffering inflicted by a profit-minded society on people like him.

Pathway 2: He was tired of life and wanted to exit on his own terms.

Everything we know about him to date suggests that he was a lonely and somewhat socially awkward guy. Whether this was due to his personality or mental illness is anyone’s guess. Maybe he felt that his life was at a dead-end and he had no future worth living for. It is not as if he was going to get a stable job, meet the love of his life and live happily ever after. Some might say that a guy “like him” should be grateful for having a job, any job, in the first place. Well.. as it turns out, he thought differently and there is not much anybody can do about it now. Those of you who feel he was an ungrateful black guy are certainly welcome to go and tell that to him in the afterlife.

In conclusion, the primary motivation for his actions were rational regardless of the secondary precipitating factors.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. September 30, 2013 at 4:14 am

    Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    Martyrhood euthanasia is surely rational.

  2. Webe
    September 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Both pathways strike me a less than compelling; don’t know anything about the guy.

    Believing the gov’t is keeping you up at night (or controlling you) with radio waves would in fact be much less insane if you were joining a community of people who all thought the same way — not that it would be more plausible, just that you would have better psycho-social balance.

    Unmentioned are the SSRI’s which always seem to be involved in these things: one of the most interesting aspects of such medicines (besides not really having a causal explanation of how they are supposed to work) is that the side-effects can be remarkable and tend to be very unpredictable for any given individual, meaning that for any individual person, they amount to a drastic experiment (of which we cannot specify the parameters).

  3. The Plague Doctor
    September 30, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

  4. October 3, 2013 at 10:03 am

    1. “His actions were rational, even if they were not conventional.”


    2. “He was becoming more mentally ill, but well enough to understand that.”

    So, which?

    If he was somewhat mentally ill and becoming more so, his action (mass murder) is not well-characterized as “rational.” The mass murder might be something we can somewhat understand and perhaps to some degree sympathize with, (if we accept your description of the hopelessness of this man’s situation), but it is not thereby rational. Where is the ratio? Alexis didn’t gain as much as he lost– if it can be said he gained anything at all. Nor did anyone else gain, (and of course his victims lost everything when they lost their lives.)

    There may be some cumulative positive effect to these many freakout mass murders– they do have some appearance of being protests of a sort– (and I doubt it)– but this still does not point to their being rational.

  5. June 12, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Some of you might say “but.. but that guy believed the government was using radio waves to keep him awake at night and mess with his head. Isn’t this proof that he was nuts?”

    It’s not as crazy as it first sounds when you consider the phenomenon of gang stalking. Electronic harassment is often a big part of that. Google it. Gangstalking is designed to mentally and physically stress people out to the point that they either die of a heart attack or suffer a mental breakdown and commit suicide.

    Strange that all these mass shooters usually come from among the socially disenfranchised and are used as tools to further the agenda of the Powers That Be by committing what amounts a terrorist attack which even before the dust settles is followed by cries for gun control.

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