Monday 2 October 2017

Who was Stephen Paddock?

The worst mass shooting in US history, breaking a grisly record set just over a year ago. With depressing regularity some murderous arsehole turns his guns - and it is almost always men - on defenceless people and makes a pathetic name for themselves. Today Stephen Paddock, an otherwise unprepossessing Nevada native from a retirement village outside of Las Vegas has that infamy, though typical of all mass murdering gunmen he took his life before the police reached him.

We don't know a great deal about Paddock or his motivations. We don't know why he chose to kit out a hotel room at the Mandalay Bay with heavy duty weaponry, or the twisted narrative he concocted to justify these murders to himself. Sadly, because these things are far from uncommon, we almost do not have to. There is some suggestion of psychological problems, "weird behaviour" and large gambling transactions, but none of these in themselves are remarkable. Perhaps the gambling got out of control and Paddock snapped, but nothing about the crime suggests anything other than cool-headed premeditation. Assembling an arsenal with the appropriate range and selecting the right room overseeing the concert required methodical planning.

As we have seen in previous shootings of this character, an abiding motif is the gunman imposing themselves on the world. Where a situation has got out of control, a murder spree is the most extreme way of stamping individual authority, of forcing everyone not only to sit up and take notice but respond to a situation of their making. Typically if certain people or groups of people are held responsible for the situation the gunman finds themselves in, they are usually targeted. If it's impersonal forces then the victims are usually people unfortunate enough to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet there is something slightly unusual about Paddock's crime. Typically mass murderers, whether non-political or of the white supremacist/IS kind, are there among their victims, as if the proximity to murder inflames them further and gives them the last minute rush of supremacy before either the police close in or they assert final control by turning the gun on themselves. Paddock, however, kept at a distance, as if his mind could only cope when his victims were reduced to small stick people in the street light. The screams, the terror, the blood, all this was at a remove, almost a concession to recognising the enormity of what he was doing. He wanted to do it but, unlike other mass killers, didn't want to be part of it. Yet this distance enabled him to inflict more suffering and take more lives. As military thinkers know well, separation makes killing easier.

Sad to say, we know this is not going to be the last time. Everyone knows this is going to happen again, that there are many more Stephen Paddocks. Yes, the stupid gun laws leave a lot to be desired and do nothing to stop an inadequate with a grudge from going out in an inglorious blaze of murder should they choose. But there are wider questions here of dog-eat-dog individuality, alienation, toxic masculinity, and a culture that glorifies redemptive violence. This is what Paddock was, a repository and an embodiment of all this shit. And as the roots of American mass killing lie close to inner city gun crime, military worship and the imagined hatreds, it's going to take more then pious sermonising and gun control to prevent similar tragedies from happening again, and again, and again.


Unknown said...

His father was a well known life long criminal, but not a murderer.
To the gun control freaks:
What right does any person have enough fire power to nearly kill over half a thousand people in a few minutes?

Robert said...

The political climate these days being what it is, no one has the power to break the stalemate between the 50% of Americans who insist that guns are the problem, and the 50% of Americans who insist that guns are the solution. The thing that occurs to me is that there are plenty of countries in which guns are at least as widely available as they are in the US, Switzerland for example and some — many Latin American countries come to mind here — have, as far as I know, cultures that idealise violence in much the same way that Americans do. As far as I know, they don’t have mass murders with guns at anything like the rate that they do in the US. That being the case, I have to wonder if the fixation on guns is helping to distract attention from some deeper problem…

Anonymous said...

"dog-eat-dog individuality, alienation, toxic masculinity, and a culture that glorifies redemptive violence. This is what Paddock was, a repository and an embodiment of all this shit"

Er, you seem to know a lot about him, perhaps you should be talking to the FBI? Or maybe you're just speculating and pontificating like everybody else?

I presume that almost everyone would agree that Stephen Paddock was a very bad person. But then so are a lot of other people who don't massacre random strangers in large numbers, even though they could easily do so.

Phil said...

Of course I was speculating, But the thing is this is not an isolated incident, they happen with depressing regularity so it is quite possible to draw on what's happened previously to make suggestions about the present. And - what a surprise - we find a man with a grudge against Las Vegas hotels and a history of misogynistic behaviour. This is entirely in line with other mass killers. I hate to say told you so, but ...

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised no one has pointed out to you that this is NOT 'The worst mass shooting in US history'
Up to 300 Kakota men, women and children were slaughtered by the US 7th cavalry on Dec 29, 1891 at Wounded Knee.
Or on November 29, 1864 when Colonel John Chivington's Colorado volunteers slaughtered 148 Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians.
Then there was 'The Bombing of Black Wall Street' in Tulsa Okla, where white citizens used dynamite and planes to bomb the city, leaving 8000 homeless and 80-300 Black people died after white cops gave out weapons to every able-bodied white person.
There have been several other massacres of Black people, but these are not seen by many as they've been carried out by white people.
And just one thing to end on, on the same day as this massacre, around ninety other people died from guns, two thirds of them self-inflicted.
The politicians over here are just fixated on the gun ownership,what the 2nd amendment meant and so on, and don't want to look at the wider problems we have, like lack of health care, deadly dangerous workplaces and a deadly dangerous racist police force.
While California burns, Huston and Miami drown, Puerto Rico is destitute (even before the hurricane) the clown in the White House is more concerned with football players on their knee and Rex Tillerson's IQ
People in the US need healing, but more of course importantly change, which ain't going to come from the Dems or Repub. There are a lot of people fighting for you, you just don't get to see them very often