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Empathy For the Devil

One of the peculiarities of being a blogger is that people expect you to say something about things that happen that everyone’s talking about. Even if you don’t have anything useful to say. Which is pretty much the case with respect to the Newton massacre. Alan Jacobs already said better than I could most of what I believe, both about gun control and its limits, and about mental health services and their limits.

But I am moved to say something about Pat Buchanan’s frankly appalling column that smugly suggests that back in the good old days when Americans feared God, there were no mass-murderers. Certainly nobody who went to mass faithfully from childhood and served his country honorably would ever do anything so horrible as kill his own wife and mother and then over a dozen strangers.

There certainly have been mass-murderers who have been motivated by a desire for notoriety, but there’s no evidence that this was a key motive for Adam Lanza, and guess what – notoriety existed back in the good old days, too.

There’s no particular evidence that Adam Lanza was motivated by the desire for fame. We don’t know much at all about his motivation; one of the scarier things about his crime is that while on the one hand everybody “saw” it coming – everyone knew he was troubled, and he was getting various services in consequence – nobody saw “it” coming – the attack itself came out of the blue. There’s been a great deal of discussion about guns and mental health, but the only person I see who’s inflating Lanza into something larger than his own small self – doing his little bit to create the kind of media myth he ostensibly blames for such horrific crimes – is Pat Buchanan.

As for me, what I find most terrifying about stories like Adam Lanza’s is not realizing that neither I nor my loved ones can ever be perfectly safe – I already knew that – but rather that I can all too easily imagine what it might be like to surrender to a horrible impulse. I can’t quite imagine my way into the mind of someone who picks off little children with a rifle, but any number of other horrors are mentally accessible. It only requires focusing intently on the normal rages and frustrations that bedevil anybody, and closing off everything else, including the access of other minds.

We share a kinship with monsters, not because we are all part of the same “depraved” society but because we are all part of the same depraved species.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

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