Causes of Mass Shootings: What’s Wrong with Blaming “Depraved Evil?”

In the wake of both the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, the Dems have been calling for Congressional action on common sense gun control and Repubes have been wringing their hands and mumbling about mental health and video games. Now we have our very own Kellyanne Conway opining that it is depraved evil, and what we need to do is “work to understand it better.”

This kind of response is itself the heart of depraved evil. It is sickening and vile and Conway — I’m convinced — knows exactly what she’s doing. Let’s put on the hazmat suits — make that our space suits because hazmats may not be sufficient protection from the toxicity of this cognitive Tom fuckery — and wade through the sludge of Conway’s psyche.

Illusory Explanation & Gaslighting

This tweet is a prime example of illusory explanation — an explanation that doesn’t really explain anything, but seems to. She is saying that mass shootings are the result of depraved evil. Who could be for depraved evil? Everybody is against depraved evil, right? Whatever it is, it sounds bad!

Who could understand depraved evil? No one! None of us are depraved evils, are we? NO! We’re the good guys. So, yes, it is going to take lots and lots of hard work to understand depraved evil, and, maybe, we’ll never get there.

That’s what makes it illusory explanation. Obviously, anyone who would shoot 20 people dead and wound dozens more is a depraved evil. Anyone who would shoot 9 dead — including his sister! — and wound 27 more is a depraved evil. Who could understand what motivates anyone to do such a thing?

There’s no point in even thinking about it.

And that’s the point of illusory explanation: to stop any further thinking.

It is a form of gaslighting because: (a) there is a point of thinking further about it; (b) we CAN understand what motivates mass shooters; (c) while what they’ve done is a depraved evil, the shooters are not themselves depraved evils. Depraved evil isn’t their motivation. No one wakes up and says to themselves, I’m going to do me some depraved evil today. Partly, because everyone believes themselves to be one of the good guys.

The Causes of Depraved Evil

We know this because we’ve studied the causes of depraved evil. After World War II everyone, including social psychologists, were wondering what in the fuck went wrong in Nazi Germany that people would either actively participate in mass genocide or would stand by and let it happen. While everyone else stood around sucking their teeth, tut tutting, and wringing their hands, social psychologists rolled up their sleeves and began studying the problem. Here’s their major findings:

Milgram’s Obedience Experiment

Stanley Milgram conducted his infamous obedience study in which he recruited naive participants to take part in a study about learning. They would either be the learner or the teacher — the thing was rigged and the participant was always the teacher; the learner was always played by the same guy, but since the participants all came in one at a time, they assumed the other guy there was a random participant, too. The teacher was to teach the learner word pairs.

If the learner got it wrong, an increasingly severe electric shock would be administered by the teacher. The shocks went all they way up to 450 volts, which was labeled XXX, not for pornography, but for deadly! The experiment was overseen by a man in a lab coat. Both the learner and the supervisor followed set scripts. Because the learner sat in a second room out of sight of the teacher, he used a recorded response. Every response by the learner was identical.

The teacher saw the learner strapped into the chair and the electrode attached to his finger. The teacher heard the learner say that he had been diagnosed with a mild heart condition, and the supervisor assure him that “while painful, the shocks were safe.” At a designated points — the same voltage rates — the learner complained of the pain, requested to stop, demanded to set free, complained of heart pain, and went silent. At a point in the proceeding, the learner did not utter another word. Why? Was he dead? We don’t know.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch the video:

While all of the teachers expressed doubt, anxiety, reservations, 66% of them administered the shocks up to 450 volts. Every teacher went through 300 volts, even the ones who ultimately refused to continue.

This study has been done numerous times since then. Famously, once by Grzyb of the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland and Burger’s “ethical” replication, and the findings are the same. If there is an authority figure (a) telling you to do something and (b) assuring you that they are responsible for the harm done, most of us, sadly, will do it.

The Social Expectations of Mass Shooters

But, no one is telling mass shooters to mass shoot, so what do you have to say about that, smarty pants? Who’s the authority figure standing around making mass shooters mass shoot?

Good question. Social psychology assures us — and has convincingly demonstrated — that there are several sources of influence on our behavior. First is internal to us, the so-called dispositional factors like personality, health and mood status, levels of inebriation that kind of thing. And second is external to us, the situational factors like the social expectations of us in a given situation. These expectations are based on the people present, social norms, cultural norms, and the internalized people we all carry with us.

If one of those internalized voices is telling you that we are being invaded and our country is being turned on its head by all of these super bad people coming from outside and will destroy us. Then, you’re going to act on that voice. And, if that voice is condoning and urging violence, then violence becomes one of the expectations of how to behave in specific social situations.

The Rise of the Racist Rant

The rise of the racist rant is ample evidence of how a sub-culture has developed with a separate social and cultural norm of how you react to black and brown and Spanish and other non-English speaking peoples. If your peers — people you identify with as being part of your in-group — are shouting that one appropriate response to the invasion is to shoot immigrants at the border, then you have a higher probability of carrying through with a cruel unspeakable depraved evil act.

To respond to Kellyanne Conway’s statement that we must work to understand depraved evil, we don’t have to because we already do. Depraved evil is the result of setting up the the situation in which a plainly depraved evil act can be committed, not by a depraved evil person, but by a person convinced the act is the right thing to do in that situation.

Then by extension, hate can be eradicated by changing the situations in which people feel it is okay, necessary, or required to express hate. That is through the words we use to describe others. When the Ol’ Pussy Grabber talks to the press and says that Mexico is sending criminals and rapists, people who are inclined towards racial hatred hear that as affirming their beliefs. When he says that there are good people on both sides, people harboring racial animosity are hearing that it is okay to commit depraved acts.

In a very literal sense, we can eradicate hate by countering the words and voices of hate in the loudest clearest way possible. We can have unity by not only every person clearly condemning hateful acts and depraved evil, but by demanding that everyone around us does too, including our elected officials, and if they don’t taking steps to “punish” them socially either through ostracization with our peers and impeaching or defeating them.

I suspect that Conway knows this and is just throwing out a canard to distract and confuse us and sow discord.


  1. The hidden question in Conway’s message is, “Who really is the Depraved Evil?”, which allows the followers to assign the blame where they prefer, on the targets as the real evil, and see the shooters as heroes.

    The same Non-explaining explanation description applies to calling the actions “senseless”, i.e., fundamentally inexplicable. I’ve written about that:

    Liked by 1 person

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