August 17, 2009

Why Did George Sodini Shoot Women?

Assuming his log was actually written by him, here is my best attempt at using it to answer the obvious questions.

Disclaimer: I never met him, didn't do an evaluation of him, etc.  Basing this entirely on the log.

My markup of Sodini's log here.

What was the basis of Sodini's rage?

What does Sodini talk about most in his log?  Not women, sex, or dating, but time.  Time wasted and the lack of a future.  He was realizing he had run out of time.

Not only did he not attain his life's goals; he was going backwards.  He had had sex and girlfriends in the past; now the years had slipped by, no more "hot hotties" for him.   He at least had attained a good job; but now there was a chance he'd be laid off.  Even if he wasn't, he realized that his skills as a .NET software developer were becoming obsolete.  He had found a church to be a part of; he was then kicked out of the church.  All the things in life that defined him were going, going...

The "how to pick up women" books and courses were a Hail Mary longshot.  Note that he didn't try these in his 20s or 30s.  This was a desperate last ditch attempt at achieving something long lasting.  On the videos, it's obvious he's hopeful, optimistic, even excited that this might work-- maybe he had a second chance at women?  It failed.

The only thing missing from this list would be being diagnosed with a terminal illness.

All the real things which had defined him were disappearing; all his attempts at making real the things he imagined could define him were being stymied.

At 48, George Sodini was watching himself disappear from the earth.

If he didn't hate women, why did he choose to shoot women?

The note showed obvious anger towards specific people, e.g. family, "Andy,"  pastor Rick Knapp.

Despite how much anger he had towards them, however, he never confronted them.  These individuals probably had no idea he even hated them.  He wasn't a confrontational person, he couldn't muster the "balls" (his word) to say something to them. Instead, he vented in private:
"That felt good," he wrote after the Andy tirade.  You wouldn't write that if you just yelled at Andy.   This is why he put their addresses in his log- the chance someone else would harass them.  (Note the anger so many have towards Rick Knapp and religion now-- they're taking Sodini's side, and they don't even know Knapp.)

In short, he was afraid of the people he hated, afraid in the way a 17 year old boy still fears his father, even though he might be stronger than him.

He was resentful of women, but despite media proclamations, there is nothing in the log indicating he hated women.  He repeatedly identified that his problem with women was himself, not them-- but he didn't know what exactly his problem was. Nor was he afraid of women-- he wasn't even particularly shy.  He liked meeting new people; he was about to chat up to a woman at the gym.  However, he didn't really see women as people, as individuals, only as tools for his own validation. 

His family, however, were real people.

Just to get the courage to kill people he wasn't afraid of, Sodini had to make practice runs; he even "chickened out" of the plan at one point.

George Sodini was likely too afraid to confront, let alone attack, people more powerful than him.  It's fairly typical of mass murderers to therefore choose a nameless proxy for his rage; in this case, the symbols of his wasted years.

In the end, this was the closest level of intimacy he was going to get with them.

Was Sodini a narcissist?

No.  Maybe.  He had narcissistic traits, but many other traits were very non-narcissistic.  It's hard to know-- but that's not the question you want answered.

This is the same problem with postulating any psychiatric diagnosis or label (e.g. autism or Asperger's.)  While possible, while it might explain his failure with women-- who knows?-- it does not explain why he killed people.  That's what you want to know. 

He seems to have been depressed; that might explain suicide, but not homicide.

So whether he was a narcissist or not is less important than asking why he killed people. 
I can say with confidence that if he was not psychotic, the violence was the result of narcissism, that specific part of him.  There are three characteristics of all narcissistic violence: 1. To the outside observer, it appears to be "first strike," unprovoked, or disproportionate to the situation.  To the perpetrator, it is the appropriate amount of response to a perceived attack on identity.  (Think 9-11, Columbine, etc.)   No one after a narcissistic rage says, "wow, I guess I went a little overboard."   There is no guilt. 2. It is a response to shame, to failure, to loss of identity.  Killing your wife's lover probably isn't narcissistic rage.  Killing your wife is.  3. Immersion, singlemindedness; obliviousness to outside factors.  Whether it takes three seconds or three hours, all you think about is the violence.  The violence is the only thing protecting your identity.

Anger is not a necessary part of rage; euphoria, elation, and even orgasm occur during narcissistic violence.

Did he have low self-esteem?

The core of all narcissism is low self esteem, specifically a misunderstanding of the potential of one's importance in the world, but in any case Sodini did not think he had low self-esteem.  The log doesn't say, "I'm a big ugly jerk."  It says: I look good, smell good, I have a good job, women like me.  Given that all the pieces were intact-- he couldn't understand why he couldn't succeed.   The reason was that the intact pieces were not put together correctly.   He doesn't tan because he thinks he's ugly, he does it because he thinks young women will like it.  But he's 48.  Tanning isn't going to make a 48 year old man look any better to young women than high heels on a 48 year old woman is going to entice a young man.  At that age, you're either attractive to them, or not.  Tiny details like that don't change the picture.  Worse, it looks bizarre to everyone else.  That's the part he didn't get, though he had a brief glimmer of it: "young women were brutal when I was younger, now they aren't as much, probably because they just see me just as another old man."

He didn't overcompensate by inflating his ego, either: "i'm ok at what I do... not at the top of the class, but I do a good job."  No mention of how awesome his biceps are; no disparaging the women as too stupid to realize how awesome his biceps were.  He's fairly realistic about himself.

Why didn't he just go to prostitutes, or take one of the "meet a bride trips" to Russia or Southeast Asia?

Prostitutes would have been a temporary physical thrill, but they wouldn't have provided what he needed: validation.  He knows prostitutes are in it for the money; likely he figured a "Russian Bride" would be faking it with him as well.  The point wasn't sex, it was finding someone to confirm he was worth it.  Also, these "outlets" aren't simply condemned by society, they're made fun of.  Disappearing is bad enough; being laughed into oblivion is much worse.

If he had had a date with the mystery woman in the html code-- or a date with any woman, could this all have been prevented?


Nothing is predetermined, of course, but history serves as a guide.

First, Sodini did have a date, at t least two confirmed, one a year earlier and another in May.

Second, what George was looking for was someone to love him in spite of himself; e.g. unconditional love that he felt he didn't get from his mother (don't you roll your eyes, he pretty much said it himself.)  If his mom didn't love him, how was he going to get anyone else to love him?  Answer: he'd have to convince them.  By definition, anyone he managed to get to love him could not actually love him- because he had to get her to love him.

Consider the "pick up women" books and courses.  He looked at dating as a strategy; he needed to learn the tricks.  But he has reasonably good self-insight, so what do you think he would think if the tricks worked?  If he succeeded in "getting" a girl, he'd immediately diminish her as inferior: "I had to trick her to get her."  He wrote:

He exudes confidence People believe bull shit if delivered WITH CONFIDENCE.  Get it??
He thinks the confidence is a trick, not something real.  And the words one says to get girls, ahead, etc, are bullshit.

Imagine after tanning for a month and lifting weights, he met a girl at the gym who fell in love with him.  Part of his thinking would be that had he not tanned and worked out, she wouldn't have liked him.  Sodini was 48.  How much longer could the tan and the muscles last?

Was he a pedophile?

Not exactly, though "regressed pedophile" might be technically accurate.  His focus on getting girls "20 years younger", or "finding it fun talking to young kids" is just looking for someone naive enough to believe his tricks.  He clearly had a sexual interest in fully developed women.  Of course, had he managed to convince a 16 year old to like him, he would have to declare to himself:  "she's so much more mature than her years."

Was he a religious nut?  Did he believe that he would go to Heaven regardless of what he did on Earth?

If we take him at his word, he did believe this.  However, why did he choose to believe this, yet simultaneously dismissing everything else in religion as crap?

He chose to believe it not merely because it justified his actions, but because it confirmed he, as an individual, had existed and was worth it.  If going to heaven depended on what he did in life-- well, he didn't do anything in life, so he'd be sunk.

But if God had selected him for salvation, then he existed, he was real, there was something about him other than his external life that made him worth saving.    His individuality alone is what got him into heaven.

Correct reasoning of the Christian logic would conclude that if knew he was saved-- his identity validated-- then he didn't need to kill anyone.  And if he did kill people, he did it from a selfish place that would imply he wasn't saved after all.  It's hard to believe that 13 years in hat church and their bible study, he didn't understand this.  He "picked and choosed" a religious doctrine that fit his life, instead of the other way around.

As Sodini insane?

Insanity is a legal term, not a clinical one, and thus must be discussed using relevant laws, i.e. Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania uses the M'Naughten test to determine insanity: 

1. Does the defendant suffer from a mental disease?  Who knows?  I can say I find no psychosis in his log; and I'm certain that had he gone to trial, there'd be dueling experts saying he did or did not.  I see aspects of depression, I don't see bipolar or OCD.

2. Did he know what he was doing, or that what he was doing was wrong? This seems incontrovertible.  He planned, changed his mind, conducted practice runs, etc.

In the interest of teaching and public discourse, I'll concoct an insanity defense that fits the available evidence:

An insanity defense would have to show that either this was not a rationally planned operation, or else that he was ill and deluded for over a year.  So a defense might be that Sodini's log was actually written all at once, on the day of the shooting (note the web address includes "20090804").  He gave no other hints to people, to internet forums, or even within his published google searches that he was thinking of shooting people.  He had bought guns, but it isn't even clear he ever fired them before that day.  He appears to have snapped suddenly, all at once, and invented a delusional backstory that made him want to shoot people.

He knew there was something wrong with him (he had googled Avoidant and Schizoid) and described himself as unable to find pleasure in things.

He was 5'10", 155 lbs- though videos and pictures seem to place him considerably heavier.    Did he take steroids?  Did he have a disease?  In his photo he is waring a red or pink bracelet.  Breast cancer, or AIDS?

At some point, the depression was acutely exacerbated by either the physical changes, sleep deprivation (google searches have him up at 3am and again at 5am) and then a self-reported return to drinking, possibly marijuana.


If you could say something to the future George Sodini's, what would you say?

Murder is wrong.  You know that, right?  You may think it is less wrong than what you've suffered so far, but it isn't.

Next, with respect to committing mass murder: it won't work.  Mass murder is the violent expression of being a pussy. The people killed are almost never the people who actually hurt you-- they are the nameless collateral damage of your fear of confrontation.  Every person who Sodini felt hurt him is still alive.  Every person he shot was nothing but polite to him, if they had any contact at all.  This is almost universally true about mass murderers.  In other words, the people who you think hurt you most got punished the least.  Is that what you wanted?

The problem is fear.  Even with a gun, Sodini was too scared to confront the people who most sacred and enraged him.  That's probably where you're at, too.  Meanwhile, the scary people get to say, "whew!"

In order to beat them you have to confront the people who are actually hurting you, when they hurt you.  When the bully comes around, stand up for yourself.  You may get beaten up-- you will get beaten up-- but you won't be a coward.  That's the part that counts.  Not only will you feel good about yourself, but you will eventually terrify the bullies.  There's nothing scarier than a guy who won't stay down.
Next, you should know that mass murder doesn't earn you a place in history, you aren't guaranteeing immortality.  The only reason you think it does is because like most Americans, your view of history is tens of years.  Do you know who Howard Unruh is?  Killed 13 people with a Luger.   But the crimes happened in 1949.

Worse, the internet is the new arbiter of memory.  A hundred years from now, a person is as likely to come across the name "George Sodini" as he is someone who posts a lot of pics to Flickr, which is to say, not that likely.

The quest for immortality, like insomnia, is mostly in those who fear they haven't accomplished anything.  "I need more time."  No, you need to do more with the time you were given.

Does media reporting of this cause more shootings to happen? 


How can the press effectively report without causing more of them?

There's not much, unfortunately.  The problem isn't the press, exactly; the problem is our changed relationship to the press as our defacto historians and thought police.  They tell us the facts, but frame them in the historical context they think most applicable. But since there is no other "media"-- most stories come from AP and Reuters, for example; and the type of people that go into journalism are of a certain mindset, etc-- they establish the parameters and the language of discussion.  It's fourth generation warfare, played out on TV.  We want to know about mass shooters because they have been telling us we want to know, and they produce the story in the way we want to hear it.

There are some things the press can do better: report the story straight, like a boring day on Wall Street.  No pictures of body bags, no sirens, no swat teams.  All that stuff will get out, but don't mainstream it because then those images become the point of the story, and thus the point of committing a crime like this.  These things will leak out on the internet, of course, but that's ok: no one is going to say, "I so want to do something that will be remembered only by crazy internet detectives on metafilter."  (Unless the perpetrator is a crazy internet detective on metafilter.)

Never, ever, show a picture of the killer on the news (unless it's a manhunt.)  The public will find a picture of him if they want to, but by the media displaying it for us, it tells us we need to know it; it tells potential murderers that if they commit a murder, their identity will be the most important part of the story.

In other words, they should report mass shooters the way they reported 9-11-- gross generalizations about "terrorists" and little focus on the backstories of the individual perpetrators (other than Atta, name one hijacker), and massive focus on emergency personnel and victims. Hell, they don't even celebrate it as an attack, they call it by its date.  That kind of coverage doesn't inspire copycats.  (It doesn't inspire very much of anything, actually.)

Will this happen again?

Yes.  This is the generation that wants it to happen again and again.  I defy anyone to tell me they overheard someone say the following sentence: "why would anyone want to shoot young women at a health club doing latin dance?  It's crazy, it just doesn't make sense!"   Anyone?

No, this is what you hear, everywhere: "I don't condone what Sodini did, but I can understand it..."  That feeling is societal.  It takes on different forms, sex, politics, etc, but the form is an illusion, the substance is "I'm not the person I thought I'd be; no sees me the way I want to be seen." 

It may not be a shooting rampage-- it could be a bombing, or a "politically motivated killing"-- but it's the same: "they" kept "me" down long enough... 

It's social justice, narcissism style: everyone deserves what they get, and gets what they deserve.