One of the most fascinating dramas of recent times is being played out as I write: the manhunt for former Los Angeles Police Officer Christopher Dorner, who has so far shot three people to death and has threatened to continue his reign of terror against the LAPD until his name is cleared. It is a story right out of a Hollywood action movie. He is a twenty-first century Rambo, betrayed by the very institution he dedicated himself to serving. There are already Christopher Dorner fan clubs springing up. If these clubs are not more popular, it is only because of Dorner’s unfortunate choice of targets. He killed the daughter of his defense attorney and her fiancé. Had he only targeted those who directly betrayed him, more people would feel comfortable calling him a hero.
The Dorner story is just one of a seemingly endless series of rampage shootings that are making headlines almost daily. The most horrific in recent years was the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, which has ignited a national push for gun control legislation. However, this story is different. Ironically, the shooter is a law enforcement officer, dedicated to protecting the public, who is himself an ardent advocate for gun control!
Experts in violence have been informing us that these terrible acts are committed by sociopaths who have no conscience, likely resulting from some disorder in the brain. Christopher Dorner has thrown a wrench into this assumption. His manifesto, as well as reports from people who knew him well, make it difficult to support a diagnosis of sociopathy. If anything, his conscience reflects the current American ideal! He has been living by the values our society has been promoting for the past few decades: that we must not tolerate abuse or bullying of any kind; that we must stop being passive bystanders and actively stand up for victims against bullies; that the sticks and stones slogan is a lie and that words can hurt us forever; that the worst thing that can possibly happen to us is for someone to insult our race, religion or sexual orientation; that the N-word is the most destructive, and therefore the most taboo, word in existence; and that it is our moral duty to report all acts of bullying to the authorities, who will protect us from the bullies of the world and make them change their evil ways.
Dorner is an American success story, a black man who succeeded in a largely white educational environment, and a lifelong fighter against racism, injustice and abuse. As early as first grade he beat up a kid for using the N-word. But he didn’t stand up only for himself. He was a super-empathic everyday hero who felt other’s pain as though it were his own, ceaselessly and selflessly standing up for them without needing anyone to encourage him to be an active bystander against bullies. He joined the navy and the police force so he could devote his professional life to protecting the rest of us. He courageously stood up for one of my fellow Jews when other police recruits “sang nazi hitler youth songs about burning Jewish ghettos in WWII Germany where his father was a survivor of a concentration camp” (quoted from Dorner’s manifesto). He fervently supports the rights of gays and lesbians as well as other progressive causes, including gun control. And he did exactly what our anti-bullying education insists we must do: he reported acts of abuse by fellow police officers to the police review board.
Is Dorner a Sociopath?
So what went wrong? How could this man, with such an apparently model conscience, kill people? Is he a polished sociopath, incapable of empathy for his fellow human beings, who managed to fool everyone all these years?
Of course not. What has happened is that we have been given an incorrect understanding of violent behavior. The bullying paradigm, which has taken over all of psychology by becoming mandated by law, has created a dualistic “evil bully/innocent victim” model of human personality and dynamics. In this model, all purposeful aggression is committed by sociopathic bullies, people incapable of empathy who enjoy causing pain to innocent targets, especially ones who are weaker than themselves because they are cowards at heart.
Yes, there are indeed people who are incapable of empathy and cause pain to others just for the heck of it. But such people are rare. Most intentional violence is committed not by people who feel like bullies but by people who feel like victims. Pay attention to the news. A man is divorced from his wife, so he shoots up her family. A kid feels rejected by his peers so he shoots up the school. A man is found guilty by a judge so he shoots up the courtroom. How did Hitler get Europeans to exterminate Jews in World War II? Did he proclaim, “Let’s go bully the Jews! It will be so much fun!” No! He said, “We are the victims of the Jews!” And when people feel like victims, they are capable of the most atrocious acts and feel justified doing them. But it wasn’t only Hitler. Even in democracies, how do our leaders get us to go to war with other countries? Do they tell us, “Let’s go bully that country!”? No. They convince us that we are victims of that country, or potential victims, and we happy to send our armies there and blow them up.
And we don’t even have to look at murderers to see this truth. Look at marriages. Watch War of the Roses. Nice, intelligent people marry their soulmates and before you know it, they are treating each other like mortal enemies. It’s because each one feels victimized by the other.
When we feel victimized, we are angry, hateful and desire revenge. The field of bullying calls anger, hatred and revenge “bullying.” But this is wrong. Anger, hatred and revenge are by definition victim behaviors. When do we get angry? When we feel victimized. When do we hate people? When we feel victimized by them in some way. When do we get revenge? When we feel victimized.
The sociopaths are ‘us’
I hate to break the news to you, but the sociopaths are not “them.” They are “us”! We all become sociopathic when we feel victimized. Our conscience gets flushed down the toilet. We feel like we are the good guys, the innocent victims, and they are the bad guys, the bullies–and bullies, as we have been taught, are not to be tolerated. There is no room for them in our society; they must be eliminated. And that is why gun violence has become so prevalent in recent years. Our official anti-bullying education has been validating our distorted perception that we are the good guys who have no responsibility for the way people treat us, and that others are the evil bullies who have no conscience and need to be eliminated from society. Then when our pain becomes overwhelming and we despair of any hope that society will actually rid us of our bullies, we take matters into our own hands. We pick up guns and tell our bullies, “Hasta la vista, baby!”
There have been numerous manifestos written by perpetrators of mass violence. I challenge you to find even one such manifesto in which the murderer presents himself as a bully: “I have no ability to feel compassion for people, so I will kill as many of you as I can just for the fun of it. Oh, and by the way, I’m a coward, so I will only kill people who are weaker than me.” Every single one of them presents himself either as a victim of an evil society, or a crusader on behalf of his own victimized society against an outside evil force. Just look at the motives of the perpetrator of the most massive shooting spree in history, Anders Breivik of Norway. Look at every terrorist. They are all fighting on behalf of their own society against those that are oppressing them.
The only way to understand Dorner’s apparently defective conscience is by realizing that, like virtually all violent people, he feels victimized. Read his manifesto. (Disclaimer: I am not declaring that whatever he says is objective truth. His manifesto is simply the way he subjectively presents his experiences and thoughts.) He has spent his life trying to do all the right things, only to have his innocent worldview implode, like a child learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.
A victim of workplace bullying
Dorner has attempted to be a true hero fighting racism, bullying and injustice, only to discover that the worst racism, bullying and injustice are to be found right there in the police department, the body mandated to protecting people from these despicable acts. He reveals in depth what we all know about police: that they rarely have the opportunity to play hero, as depicted in TV shows and movies, but spend most of their time making money from other people’s misfortune, trying to squeeze as many overtime hours as they can from the bureaucratic activities involved in processing incidents. Dorner believed that the right thing is to inform the review board when fellow cops abuse their power, only to discover that rather than being commended, he was treated like a snitch, with the Police Department coming down hard on him and labeling him a bully! Imagine, irony of ironies, you have dedicated your life to fighting bullying and you get labeled a bully! Dorner wrote in fury, “How f**king dare you attempt to label me with such a nasty vile word [bully]!”
Imagine how Dorner felt when he discovered that the police attorney assigned to defend him was actually there to protect the department from him! That was the biggest affront of all! To add injury to insult, what happened to him in the LAPD was used to ruin his navy career as well.
Poor Christopher Dorner, a man dedicated to fighting bullying, became a victim of workplace bullying. And not just bullying in the common sense of the word, but of “mobbing,” the phenomenon being presented by the workplace anti-bullying movement as the true area of concern, whereby numerous staff members in positions of power unite to target and destroy a single individual within the organization.
Feeling so horribly betrayed by his employers, Dorner became consumed with anger and with the drive to clear his tarnished name. Unfortunately, when we are angry, our critical thinking gets muddled. Unable to think of any other way to accomplish this, he decided to go on a terror campaign against the LAPD, promising not to stop until his name is cleared.
The real cause of violence
That people in Dorner’s position are killing in response to being bullied should not surprise us. After all, the experts have been teaching us for decades that words are more lethal than physical attacks. In this view, killing people is not nearly as terrible as verbally insulting them–especially with the N-word. Dorner informs us that he began choking a fellow cop for using that word, and that what he really should have done is put a gun to his head. He also believes that even the slow, torturous death administered to Jesus was nothing compared to the pain of being called the N-word.
Dorner is not stupid. He is correct in assuming that killing people is the best way to bring attention to his cause. Nothing he could have done would have brought him more attention. He has even gotten what he wanted: for the LAPD to re-examine the case that got him fired. Unfortunately, by killing innocent people, he has tarnished his name even more than the LAPD could possibly have done. He will go down in history not merely as a bully but as a premeditated mass murderer–a terrorist against his own people.
Michael Moore, in Bowling for Columbine, presents an interesting thesis, that our nation has so much gun violence because we promote fear–specifically fear of Blacks. When we fear people, we see them as dangerous enemies from whom we need to be protected, so we go out and buy guns. Moore is on the right track. Except that we have been promoting much more than fear of Blacks. We have been promoting fear of everyone, for bullies are not limited to any one race or religion. Bullies can be any of us. They are all around us. They can be our parents and siblings, our teachers, our classmates, our colleagues and bosses, even our law enforcement agents. Everyone is a potential danger.
It is time to realize that it is not bullies that kill. It is not guns that kill. It is when we are angry–when we feel victimized–that we pick up guns and kill.
Our nation is determined to end violence, particularly gun violence. To do this, we are turning to our government to control guns. But guns don’t kill. Angry people do. If there are no guns around, people will kill with arson, homemade bombs and airplanes. The government cannot get rid of our anger for us. In fact, as Dorner discovered, when we turn to our government appointed officials to help us against those who are tormenting us, everyone’s anger increases.
Yes, gun control may succeed in reducing some gun violence. But there is only one reliable way to reduce violence in general, and that is by reducing anger. Accomplishing this is not a Quixotic dream. But we have been looking for the solution in the wrong place.
Anthropology, the scientific field we should be looking to
Modern psychology has been relying on researchers who know how to conduct random controlled trials (RCTs) for ways to reduce violence. Such studies are considered the only reliable “evidence” today in psychology. The researchers hope that the results of their experiments on a sample of individuals can be generalized to the society as a whole. So far the researchers haven’t been particularly successful in finding what works.
But we have forgotten that RCTs are not the only scientific method for acquiring knowledge. We turn to RCTs only when we don’t have a better method. Let’s say we want to learn about life in the ocean. If we have a choice between: A) recreating a miniature ocean, hoping that it will reflect what goes on in a real ocean; or B) going into the ocean and observing it directly. What would we do? B, of course. Yet when it comes to violence, we are doing A. We are looking to RCTs rather than looking at entire living societies.
If we wish to learn how to create a society without violence, the best scientific tool is not RCTs but anthropology. There are entire human societies that are practically violence free, and they achieve this without any formal government or police system. Learn about the Ladakhis. They possess no victim mentality. It is almost impossible to get them angry. They are much happier, resilient and harmonious than we are. In fact, there is an entire website dedicated to identifying peaceful societies and how they accomplish it.
How do they achieve peacefulness? Through wisdom, for wisdom is the solution to life’s problems. None of these societies teach their people the irrational victim beliefs taught in our modern society. They teach people how not to think like victims, as do all major religions, ethical systems, and successful psychotherapeutic approaches, such as cognitive behavior therapy, rational emotive therapy, Adlerian therapy and positive psychology. In fact, all decent self-help books teach people to stop thinking like victims.
Ironically, this age-old wisdom was made available to Christopher Dorner, too, but he rejected it. In his manifesto, he informs us that he attended a Christian elementary school, and his school principal recommended that he “turn the other cheek” when racially insulted. Dorner ‘s reaction was, “I’m not a f**king Christian,” and preferred our modern victim-mentality teaching that no one has a right to disrespect us, especially for our race. And no matter how hard and often Dorner fought those who said the N-word, they continued to say it, and he continued to get into trouble. His rage against insults ultimately led to his own undoing, as well as to the tragic destruction of several other lives.
To reduce violence, we need to stop promoting a victim mentality
It has become in vogue for social scientists to blame society for all individual ills. If there is anyone other than Dorner himself to blame for his terrorism, it is our own modern culture, which has rejected the wisdom of the ages and replaced it with an anti-bully/pro-victim philosophy. Beginning with preschool, we are teaching children a set of irrational beliefs that set them up for victimization–that we are entitled to a life in which no one disrespects us; that insults are worse than broken bones; that racial insults are the absolute worst thing of all; that bullies are evil and victims are virtuous; that our emotional pain is other people’s fault; that we must inform the authorities whenever we feel bullied; that the authorities are unbiased assessors of good and evil who can recognize that we are the good ones and our bullies are the bad ones; and that the authorities can be relied on to take our side against our bullies. As long as we continue to inculcate the population with these beliefs–we will find people whose illusions burst and resort to guns to create their own justice.
Education Editor, Israel “Izzy” Kalman, is Director of Bullies to Buddies (www.Bullies2Buddies.com), a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.
The Moral Liberal recommends Israel Kalman’s: Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies Into Friends