Let me ask you a purely academic question: Hello?
— Dean Blehert

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A Theory of Murder

The thing about murder is it's too easy. Where's the game? You dent a body slightly -- if it were a car, it would be easily patched up -- and it's dead. The guy is gone.

In the arena of creating effects, wowing people, getting people to say "Man, you're too much!" or "Ummm, you're a great lover" or "Did you really just make that up?!" or "Oooh! Ahhhh! Don't stop!" or "ENCORE! ENCORE!" or "And the WINNER is..." -- in that arena, creating an effect upon someone by killing him or on others by killing their intimates is akin to aceing a challenging test by looking up the answers in the back of the book.

There's a game to not getting caught, and there are other ways to decorate murder with the semblance of intricate play, but I wonder how often something like the following happens (perhaps over several lifetimes, perhaps over decades):

A person accidentally kills someone he loves -- bumps that person off a cliff or puts a small hole in the otherwise intact face or by some small, seemingly harmless action causes a heart to stop, a clot, an unintended impact. Let's say it's sudden -- the person is very much there, full of familiar mannerisms and gestures, smiling, chatting, knowing your thoughts, responding to your words and expressions, and something happens, and the body is still there, almost looking at you, but has gone still, is unresponsive, no one is there, and you have no idea where your friend has gone, whether or not the friend still exists (and you begin to doubt, in the face of such apparently absolute absence, whether anyone could possibly ever have existed there). Let's say the body appears whole and unharmed or only slightly marred (as by a small bullet hole between the still open eyes).

There's a huge discrepancy between the enormity of the presence becoming an absence (friend here, friend gone) and the triviality of the visible causes (some slight damage to some tiny part of the body). The discrepancy would be less if the death had been slow and agonizing or quick and dramatic and gory. But here death seems too trivial an event to be associated with so huge a spiritual result. And it's particularly hard to deal with if you think you caused it -- if you handed the person the mushroom that turned out to be fatal or accidentally fired the gun you thought unloaded or, in play, tripped your friend who fell and hit temple against sharp stone and went still.

You did such a tiny thing, caused such a huge effect.

In such a situation, one solution -- one way you might make sense of it -- is to view your action as a terrible action causing terrible damage, magnify death, no matter how quick and simple, to monstrous proportions, live a life of pennance.

But a more attractive solution (since it lessens your guilt) is to say, after all, nothing much has been lost. We're just chemical accidents. When you kill someone, it's no big deal, nothing more than shutting down a few chemical reactions.

In other words, you reduce the enormity of the absence by deciding that there was never much of anyone there in the first place. Perhaps there SEEMED to be, but that abundance of beingness was an abundance you imagined, just as a child endows a doll with personality. You resolve never to do that again -- give depth of being to others, give others the means to disappoint you.

And if the loss was extreme enough (and your own carelessness flagrant enough), you might find yourself obsessed with proving to yourself that death is no big deal by killing some other people (intentionally) just to prove to yourself that it's awfully easy to kill people and makes no difference to the world or to you.

And along the way, you feel justified, since your victims inevitably betray you: You create what you think must be the ultimate effect upon them, but they reward you with no response. They just vanish. That pisses you off, so you begin to do weird things, like arrange bodies in lifelike positions, have sex with them, talk to them -- all desperate attempts to persuade yourself that you've created an effect on them by having them appear to be creating effects on you in return. I suspect this is part of the stereotype of the serial killer getting off on his killings, having an orgasm. And it's part of the rage associated with such people.

Eventually the only interaction that's real to them is killing, and that interaction is always initially a release, but soon after devastatingly disappointing -- an exaggerated parody of he letdown after bad sex, in the absence of live communication.

I'm not sure it ever happens that way (well, yes, I'm pretty sure), but I do know that we sometimes feel impelled to degrade our idea of identity and of the reality of other people. Killers and torturers tend to kill, as they kill others, their own imaginations. They no longer want to know that behind another face can be found another being like oneself with hopes and dreams. Life goes flat for them.

Since that perception of others, that knowledge that you are among fellow helloers, gets killed off when you kill others, soon it validates itself: You no longer need to deny that others like yourself exist, because, devoid of the imagination that lets you grant life to others, you can no longer grant life to yourself. When you begin to unsee the beings around you, you become less. In the absence of others, your own identity becomes unreal to you. After all, who else exists to agree that you exist? Having no playmates, no one to help (and a game is, among other things, a means to help ones teammates), you are dead.

So now it's OK to assume that others exist like yourself, because you dead yourself, devoid of dreams (it's no longer safe to dream), a distant spectator to the actions of your own hands. So the killing of those like yourself is now of no significance.

I wonder if it might happen that way?

And I wonder how engaging in wars creates killers -- or at least people dead inside. And I wonder how drugs designed to make us not feel much (so that we don't feel bad) might accelerate such a process. And I wonder what remains of the identities of those who promote and prescribe such drugs. No wonder they perceive that the person drugged has "improved" -- if they aren't really aware that there is someone there. Psychiatrist says "He's much improved." Parent says, "But he's like a zombie!" How is it the psychiatrist hasn't noticed?

The serial killer thinks those he kills are thereby much improved. They are purged of their phony eye-gleams and words and cutenesses. To the serial killer, life is a siren, a temptation to get caught in a painful trap. Chemicals pose as life. The serial killer frees the body from life as one removes bait from a trap. Not that psychiatrists are serial killers -- I suppose some of them aren't.

I wonder how those of us who'd prefer to be alive and have others be alive can create life faster than the deadly ones create death.

It must be odd to stand next to a living person and be unable to perceive the being. Here I am, miles and perhaps years from the "you" I address, and yet you are alive for me. I recall (partially) an old poem of mine about why I'd never become a serial killer: What if, without realizing it, I killed one of my readers!

1 comment:

Pam said...

Although this might be viewed by some (are you, reader, already unwilling to see that the people you talk to are alive?) to me this seems quite easily expanded to incorporate some of the most devastating things happening in our culture.

Dean says "Killers and torturers tend to kill, as they kill others, their own imaginations. They no longer want to know that behind another face can be found another being like oneself with hopes and dreams. Life goes flat for them."

I would add that drug companies release on the world — for monetary gain — lethal psychiatric drugs that then are used (and justified) — for monetary gain — by psychiatrists to drug even toddlers. But it's starting to come to light. See my blog of a recent article about Dr. Joseph Biederman, head of the Massachusetts General Hospital's Pediatric Psychopharmacology clinic, for producing the "science" that supports calling even toddlers bipolar. Bipolar toddlers? Come on! (http://www.bloglines.com/blog/Gypsymoth?id=29)