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Running Amok

February 23, 2013

Was Christopher Dorner running amok?  He was in the news recently, although he’s been displaced by other shocking events by now.  Remember him?  He was the fugitive ex-LAPD officer who was accused of multiple murders, and who died in a shoot-out with police.  Was this incident an instance of a more general malaise called running amok?

It seems to happen when a man believes he has been mistreated by society.  He has a grievence that cannot be resolved.  He has no place in society.  His only recourse is to kill himself.  In doing this, he wants to take as many other people with him as possible.  Stephen Pinker described it in his book How the Mind Works.  You can read the quotation here.  He tells us that this phenomenon is not a result of modern western culture.  It occurs in primitive cultures too.  The only difference is that modern weapons are much more deadly, with the result that many more people can be killed by one man running amok.

What can we do to prevent such a deadly and destructive thing?  Maybe we should pay more attention to grievences, so that they can be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.  Often an individual would have a grievence against a group, such as an ex-employee against the company that fired him.  Maybe the company feels no responsibility for the person once they’ve fired him.  It might just be lack of sensitivity.  It might be adherence to letter of the law.  Of course, the fired man may be unreasonable too.  Still, wouldn’t it benefit society to attempt resolution of a grievence.

One thing I don’t know is how many aggrieved people go on to commit violence.  How many of them feel so alienated from society that suicide and murder is their only option?  Perhaps many people harbor grievences but most of them move on with their lives.  Perhaps they could tell us how they survived the damage and accomplished this change.  In any case, the results of running amok are now so terrible that preventing it has become important to all of us.

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